Family cancels Christmas: Good parenting or Grinch parenting?

Internet users were quick to cast judgement when a Utah family swapped exchanging Christmas presents for volunteering and giving.

Courtesy of Warner Home Video
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Deluxe Edition.

When their three children were acting ungrateful two Utah parents decided to follow through on their threats — Christmas was cancelled.

Lisa and John Henderson replaced presents from Santa with service projects, anonymous gift giving, and “adopting” grandparents for Christmas dinner. (Decorations, celebrating the birth of Christ, and other family traditions will stay)

“Instead of focusing on what they will be getting, we will be keeping the focus on what they can give,” Ms. Henderson writes on her blog, noting that she expects her children to better appreciate presents from other family members, as there will be fewer overall gifts. “I really think that we as parents need to take a step back and look at our motivation for giving gifts to our kids.”

Though Henderson declined to comment on this story, after the post went viral, Henderson defended her choice on Fox News, and she and her family appeared on Good Morning America, the five Hendersons settled in on one couch. 

It’s a familiar trope — the spirit of Christmas, to many, remains even when gifts are taken away (take the Grinch, for example). But the long blog post drew polarized reactions from readers, with many using the moment to comment on the Hendersons' parenting.

As of press time, about 650 commenters shared their thoughts on Henderson’s post.

Some commenters and Twitter users say that the Hendersons gave their children a “blessing,” and others shared stories of their own canceled Christmases

But others took the entitlement that Henderson describes as lessons children learned from their parents. Others said the punishment should not have been handed down “on a day that comes once a year.”

“You don’t use a holiday to punish your child,” says one.

Perhaps the firestorm reaction can be explained by the combination of two topics that spark high emotions and strong opinions — parenting etiquette and holiday traditions.

On Henderson's television appearances, guests commented on how she handled the situation. 

Jeannie Cunnion, who wrote “Parenting the Wholehearted Child,” told Fox News that Christmas gifts should not reflect a child's behavior — in fact, an undeserved and unearned gift, like the gift of Jesus, best encapsulates the Christmas spirit.

But Ericka Souter, an editor for The Stir, told Good Morning America that Henderson is a “hero for parents with bratty kids all over the country,” encouraging parents and children to make a habit of volunteering and donating clothes and toys.

Books that help parents through the inevitable tension are abundant online, showing that a market in helping parents navigate the holidays has thrived in recent years.

One, Mark Musser’s “Table Talks: Christmas is Jesus’ Birthday, Not Yours,” encourages parents to read and discuss a daily devotional that touches on the true spirit of Christmas. Another, Lori Fairchild’s “Everyday Christmas,” helps families find time to focus their attention on Jesus.

Henderson acknowledges the negative reaction she received in an addendum to the post.

“The attention you get from posts like this is not good and actually extremely difficult to handle,” she writes, noting the number of criticisms. She says that she hopes her post empowers parents “to feel like it’s okay to take a stand.”

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