parent opinion

Constance Hall: Your kids won't remember the plastic crap you're buying them.

For a while, I’ve wanted to write something about Christmas presents. Because some of us are putting so much pressure on ourselves to find that excited smile on Christmas morning. But the selfless mother whose true happiness comes from seeing her kids happy is too often unfortunately greeted by the selfish kid.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the irony of Christmas; it’s supposed to bring out the best in people but in actual fact, like with anything that’s had an overload of pressure applied to it, it tends to bring out the worst, from family disputes forced into confrontation, to negotiating time with the kids for separated parents, to kids who go from caring angels to greedy sh*ts.

Christmas time is when it all gets real… fast.

Constance Hall speaks to Mia Freedman and gets honest about money. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

Now there is a growing trend of f*cking off all together at this time of year – flying to Bali, driving to a secluded holiday destination, or, as one of my friends is doing, pretending they’ve gone somewhere and just staying home in the air-conditioning, drama free.

Of course all of these things crossed my mind. I mean, I’m an adult now. The magic is well and truly dead. But because of that and because I had so many damn kids, Christmas is all about my kids. More specifically, about them seeing the family.

You see, kids will act like the scum of the earth before Christmas lunch. You’ll hear them muttering words like “I wonder what Uncle Jay has got me,” completely disregarding the fact that Uncle Jay just got divorced and broke his back in the same week. You can try to explain that to them and they’ll nod along but you can see in their greedy eyes that all they’re envisioning is the toy aisle at Kmart.

That was me as a kid, it didn’t matter what the present was, I just remember the glee in my brain as we drove to Christmas lunch and I anticipated my loot.

But guess what? As an adult I don’t remember any of the presents I got… I don’t know which aunty got me what present, I don’t remember which uncle didn’t get me anything and which ones spent money. I don’t remember which cousins parted with outgrown clothes for me. I just don’t.

ADVERTISEMENT

What I do remember is my family: all getting on, all laughing. I remember my Uncle Will playing cricket with me, and my Uncle Jim taking me for motorbike rides around the block. I remember my Aunty Robbin massaging my feet without caring that they were covered in mud, I remember my mum drinking white wine with the world’s loudest laugh as my uncles told stories from their teenage years. I even remember the way she looked as she wiped the laughter tears from her eyes. I remember my Aunty Lisa counselling me through a breakup and my Aunty Olivia discovering alternative paths for me to rejoin the education system. I remember feeling heard, like I was part of something and people really cared.

I remember Dad’s family. Nothing ever mattered with my dad’s family, no matter what sh*t had gone down, everyone put everything aside to gather around and listen to one of the many storytellers of the family. Even the most composed of my aunties would make their way outside with approving nods of laughter, listening to their brothers telling their tales of mischief in childhood.

I remember my Nan, the respect we were all taught to have for her and my Nonno. They never got out of their chairs because we were well-taught that the first thing we had to do was greet them and talk to them for as long as we held their curiosity, even if as a 12-year-old we were bored. Nobody dared to go and chill with the cousins before greeting the oldies. My Nan would look at me, really look at me, with glassy eyes, and she would tell me I could be anything. And I remember believing her.

I remember my Aunty Mary and how patiently she would sit and wait for her greeting. She never pushed in front of anyone to say “hi” to me, she knew I’d come to her when I was done filling in the rest of my family with my uninteresting but highly important news. And she would ask me questions that nobody else had asked. She wasn’t a drinker and so would leave before Dad took us home, but never without reminding me of her phone number and how unconditionally welcomed I was at her house.

I remember my Aunty Peter; she was my confidant, I could tell her anything and she’d never be shocked. I remember my oldest Aunty Geraldine, more like a grandma, who would oversee everything. I remember she always made sure I was okay. She’d ask about my mum and her family no matter how many years had passed since she left my dad.

My dad came from a family of philosophers and I remember every bit of advice I was told by them, like: “Question everything, nothing is beyond questioning” and “Spend time with those whose attributes you want to inherit, because inevitably, you will inherit them,” and “Search for freedom, above everything else. Your freedom, others’ freedom. Always choose freedom.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Those three uncles have now passed, along with my dad. And when all you have is memories, they mean a lot more than a plastic water gun or new teddy that will be discarded within the month.

Listen to Constance Hall join Mia Freedman on her podcast, No Filter. Post continues below.

As an adult, it’s not all fairytales. This year I considered packing it all in, driving far away and excusing myself from the whole family. I didn’t want to deal with judgement and under-the-breath remarks. Nobody can hurt you or get up in your grill like family can. But there is one thing I kept coming back to, my family’s love for my kids and for me is pure.

And the kids’ memories of family, chosen or blood, even if it is only on that one day a year, is what will one day form their connection with community, their ability to keep people together, their ability to truly care about other people. That, and the fact that my mum thinks my kids are her kids and hasn’t spent a Christmas away from them.

I don’t do adult presents and I ask my friends and family not to get me any. You should hear the relief in their voices when I tell them. There was a time where I believed that I had to up the ante every year, to really impress my kids. Those days are over, we have scaled back in a big way.

This year, a lot of people have lost their homes in fires in our country, and this week the charity I work with took in another girl, five years old, abused and in danger.

Some people think I’m taking the magic out of Christmas by asking my kids: “Do you want two presents or do you want one and to be able to help someone in need with the money we save?”

But I disagree. The kids won’t remember the plastic crap you bought them, they remember the grandma who drove four hours south just to see them. They remember the uncles that taught them how to kick a football. They remember the summer night swim with their mum after everyone had gone home.

This Christmas, be that aunty or that uncle. Be the person your nieces or nephews or kids write about in 25 years, just because you cared on Christmas Day.

My advice? Downsize on materials and upsize on experiences.

And guess what? When one of my kids agrees they would be happy with one smaller present so we can donate the funds to help someone else’s Christmas, even a bitter old cow like me sees… therein lies the Magic of Christmas.

Read more: 

00:00 / ???