Childless watching children open presents

Am I a spoiled brat or do I have a point? Read on and let me know.

At Thanksgiving, we watched old home videos from the 80s, back when my niece and nephew were toddlers and my husband and my mother were both still alive. I braced myself, expecting a flood of tears, but mostly I was fascinated—and horrified–watching myself. I liked the 80s look with the big hair, big glasses and preppy vest outfits, but did I really talk like that? Do I still? Yikes.

It was hard seeing my very old father watch the younger version of himself. It was shocking to realize my parents were younger at that time than my brother and I are now. I watched my mother playing with my niece and wished that I had more time with her and that I had given her grandchildren. She loved little ones so much.

But most of the videos seemed to be of children unwrapping Christmas presents. I do not find this entertaining. I have been watching other people’s kids unwrap gifts all my life, starting with the early days when my parents, my brother and I spent Christmas Eve watching my cousins open their presents while we had to wait to open our own at home on Christmas morning after church. Sure, there would be one or two things for us, but mostly we sat and watched as they ripped the wrapping paper, tossed aside gifts they found boring, and screamed as they unwrapped the good stuff.

In later years, I have watched my friends’ children and my step-grandchildren open their presents. I find it hard to sit benevolently smiling, especially when they give nothing in return. Couldn’t they at least offer a crayoned card or a Popsicle-stick reindeer? Something cheesy from the dollar store, so they know they need to give as well as receive? Sigh. If you’re watching your own children or grandchildren unwrap the gifts you chose for them, it might be wonderful, but I’ll never know. Don’t rub it in by making me watch.

I know my brother and I were equally spoiled. Our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents showered us with gifts. By the time all the packages were opened, you could barely walk through the living room for all the toys and wrapping paper. But these days, Santa is mighty stingy with me. The little girl in me feels deprived already. I don’t need to watch someone else’s kids opening one gift after another.

I know Christmas is not all about presents. It’s about the birth of Jesus. With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, I’ll be at church four days in a row, doing music for the regular weekend Masses and then for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m looking forward to it. On Christmas Eve, I will enjoy the choir’s goofy gift exchange, then go home exhausted to my quiet house, my dog, and my tiny artificial Christmas tree. All good.

I know you’re not all Christian. Maybe you don’t exchange gifts at all. In that case, you probably can’t wait for the madness to be over. Me too. I love Dec. 26. I’m a big fan of ordinary days.

So there it is. Am I a rotten person? I hesitated to post this, but here it is.

I hope this time of year is good for you, however you celebrate it. Your presence is an ongoing gift to me.

My gift to you: my post at Unleashed in Oregon on why dogs are more fun than children.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Let us know in the comments how you’re doing.


11 thoughts on “Childless watching children open presents

  1. You definitely aren’t mad or bad or selfish. Sometimes it is hard adulting – knowing that society expects a certain reaction from us, but not necessarily feeling that way deep in our souls. There is a self-centered child in all of us screaming, “What about me?” but some are better at controlling/repressing it – we all want to be acknowledged. Personally I do love giving to my nieces and family, but it is hard at times as well being the single childless aunt because there is no one to make me the center of their world in return – that can be lonely. It also means I have to acknowledge that I will always spend more than I will receive – I will spend maybe $200 on one family and receive $50 in gifts – that is fine and part of the deal except when someone in that family complains of how expensive it is to buy gifts and maybe proposes that we stop buying gifts for the big people. Christmas amplifies all this and puts us in a small space with extra stress and alcohol. Be kind to yourself and enjoy December 26th.


    • Thank you, Taninaus. Someone actually did propose that we stop exchanging gifts. It hurt. I think you make a very important point in saying there’s no one to make us the center of their world. And you’re right, it will never be equal. That’s part of being a grownup, but it’s still hard.


  2. Hello Sue! Yours is a perspective I hadn’t considered before. My hubs and I are childless (his choice, after we married, long story), but on my side of the family there have always been small children. First there were my own younger siblings (there’s a 15-year gap between me and my younger sister, and 21 years with my brother), and now my younger sister has three of her own ages 6 and under. They all live out of state and I don’t always see them at Christmas. We also just found out that my hub’s youngest brother and wife will be making us an aunt and uncle next year. That child will be the first everything on his side of the family – first niece or nephew as well as grandchild. Christmas has not held any special magic for me for many years because there are no little ones under my own roof, I don’t even decorate our house at all, but it’s always been fun to watch the other little faces light up and get excited about Christmas. December 26th is actually my birthday, and has always been overshadowed by Christmas because by the time the 26th arrives everyone’s just “done” with all the hubbub. Now that I’m north of 40 yrs old, it’s kind of just meh. For me it is what it is, the world hasn’t stopped around me just because we didn’t have children, so I’ve learned to be at peace with it (a very long journey) and roll with it. As with all things, this too shall pass.


  3. This is a sore subject for me. I have several step-grands. For years, we have done the one-way, zero-reciprocity gift-giving with them. My husband has complained for years about the one-way thing. I never really thought of it, not expecting much out of a child. (Although in hindsight, children should be taught to give from what they have to those who have less, in my opinion. This would be (gasp) their parents’ job.) But the first two step-grands pulled a doozy years ago and it changed the course of Christmas gift-giving for the grands from then on. At 5 yrs, both #1 and #2 step-grand, so not the same year, just once apiece per child, opened all their many gifts from us, and then turned to my husband and I and said “Is that all?” That really stung, as it was a lot of gifts. I spent the next several years justifying continuing to buy them gifts (not to myself but to hubs who really took offense at their ingratitude). It happened once more with step-grand #1 when she was around 11 or so. Really deflating to us, but I can’t not buy the step-grands gifts. I’m trying to be a good step-grandmom, often in the face of not-so-nice gossip about me. Anyway to this day, hubs says it’s a one-way street, a depressing conversation that I relive every.single.Christmas, and re-iterates his stance that he does not want to buy for them. We came to a good middle ground just this year with the goal of slowly tapering off as they get older. We’ll see how it goes. So, aside from that thought, taking into consideration all that you say, normally these gift exchanges in a broad, general sense don’t bother me. Truly they don’t. I do have a family member that is “Santa Boss,” who insists on playing Santa and insists that each person open their gift and every.single.person watch while the gift is unveiled, for all present to oooh and aaaah over it. It took about 15 years but I finally got that this person is comparing each gift that each family member gets. It is not about appreciation and showing thanks to the giver at all. Thank God for Luke 17:3 ministries. They really keep me on track with these narcissistic family members.


  4. So. Many. Gifts. In a large family we get invited to a lot of birthday parties. Everyone brings a gift. A birthday girl might receive 20 gifts at her birthday party. That’s a lot of stuff. And a lot of time wasted watching a kid receive, receive, receive. But what do you do?

    At family Christmas parties we’re the only adults without children. You know what I’ve noticed about kids? When they are hurt or sad they want their parents. When they are super excited they want their parents. No one seems to want to show US their new whatever. Or sit next to us while they rip off the paper. They want their parents. All around me are the lovely voices of wonderful mothers exclaiming, “WOW!”, “How pretty!”, “Make sure you give Grandma a hug to thank her.”

    I could do that. But no one wants me to.

    We pass the time by saying, “Hey Kid! Show me your cool new truck.” Every once in a while a kid will take the time to show us. Usually not. They are showing their parents or already playing with their cousins.

    So I’m right there with you, Sue.


    • Oh, Anonymous, that’s the pits. I just finished my Christmas shopping, including wading into the toy department for gifts I suspect the little ones won’t appreciate–and they will not remember where they came from. Freaking Santa Claus, I guess. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope. It will all be over in less than two weeks.


  5. Thank you for this! You are right. It is not that I am mean and grumpy about other people’s children – I can love them and feel my heart lifted by them too – but, it’s like other people’s holiday photos, you know? A few go a long way. Enough already! And your comment about Santa being stingy with you, and about someone suggesting that you and they no longer exchange presents – well, me, too. Yes, the little girl inside me feels left out and alone – I am so glad I am not the only one to feel this!!!
    I did explain finally to my sister that even if we did not give each other presents, she probably still got and gave one or more to her daughter, my niece, and ditto with her partner; whereas I am nobody’s most important person; and she got it, thankfully.


  6. This is so true. When I was a kid in the seventies I bought presents with my own money for all the grandparents and aunties. I also prayed for them every night, although I’m not religious now. Often they begged me to stop the presents but I couldn’t. My sisters were the same. I bought a little lacy silver after-dinner mint tray for an auntie, soap on a rope for the pops, bubble bath for grandmas, that sort of thing. I even stitched names into handkerchiefs. I never see this happening now. I would have loved a homemade card from nephews and nieces, or some small thing they had chosen themselves for me, even if it wasn’t their money. But nothing, no return gift.


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