Warning – contains strong opinions! If you are a big fan of elf on the shelf then please don’t read this!
During half term I had the rare treat of a day off! No children. No work. A proper, time to myself kind of day mooching round some charity and gift shops with tea and cake thrown in – utter bliss. During this trip I had a proper encounter with Elf on the Shelf. I’d sort of heard about it before, but here I was with plenty of time to look AND read the story – Eek!! The title of this blog may be a give away, but I was left a little alarmed. Whilst on the surface it looks very cute and finding the elf in the morning and seeing it’s adventures might be fun (although a whole lot of work I don’t need in December), my shelf/ves will remain very much elfless!!
As I was reading the box I was straight back to last Christmas and the puzzlement I experienced when my 3 year old was asked on multiple occasions if she’d been good so Father Christmas would bring her presents?? Stop right there! When did presents become rewards for good behaviour? (No I didn’t say that in my reply– I nodded politely. Nearly a year later I still haven’t worked out what an appropriate response should be to this question that is usually posed with the kindest of intentions. If you have any suggestions then I’d love to hear them.)
I know the whole Santa knows if your naughty or nice thing isn’t a new concept, but it’s not one I’ve heard given any serious emphasis before. Maybe it’s because up until now we’ve had older children in our care so we’ve not had to worry about them taking it seriously. However, as a parent of younger children, Elf on the Shelf feels like taking it to a different level.
Pause and imagine that for a moment your partner decided to tell you that in the run up to Christmas they were watching your every move very closely and regardless of extra pressure or stress, work wise or home wise that if you didn’t meet the standards they set you wouldn’t get your Christmas present. Being totally frank if my husband implied that my Christmas present was dependent upon me completing all my share of our household responsibility to the agreed standard in order to get my Christmas presents he would be told exactly what he could do with said present (and it wouldn’t be taking it back for a refund!) If it’s conditional then perhaps it should be called a Christmas reward and not a Christmas present………. Anyone else feel uncomfortable with that?
Secondly, who’s going to be the parent on Christmas day who watches their child go to their stocking all excited only to find that Santa’s decided that they were so badly behaved in December that their stocking is empty? No loving parent I know is going to do that! If you are threatening a consequence that you don’t mean then what does this say to your child about how reliable and trustworthy what you say is? Maybe they’ve never tested you that far, but what if one day they did? What would you do then? What happens if you don’t do the things you say you will?
I know once 1st December arrives, unless you are exceptionally fortunate, most parents need to brace themselves. The combination of over excitement, multiple extra events, being indoors more, dark evenings and end of term tiredness mean that parenting without frequent meltdowns, sibling fall outs and general stress can be more challenging than trying to get a herd of cats to complete an obstacle course on a windy day. I’m also pretty confident empty threats of withdrawing presents are NOT the solution to this. There has to be a better way.
According to the Oxford Dictionary gifts are “ A thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present” To be a gift it surely be given without condition not subject to behaviour or achievement. They are a demonstration of love and care NOT approval or even being deserved. Having seen how much time, effort and expense so many parents go to in order to give their children gifts that they will love I am convinced that the intention is to show their children love, that they’re valued and to give them great memories of Christmas.
When we make a gift subject to good behaviour, be it through open threats or through cute little elves we take something really precious out of Christmas and that message of love and valuing the person is compromised. In a season that is all about giving generous gifts to those we love we can send our children a very powerful message.” The question we must ask ourselves: is whether the message we are actually sending is the one we want our children to receive?