3 ways to reject the holiday goody bag.
I grew up in the 80’s, and still have clear February memories from my elementary school years. I remember picking out a box of brightly-colored pre-fab Valentine’s Day cards from the grocery store. I remember dutifully opening the box while in front of the TV on the evening of February 13th. The paper was flimsy, the edges were poorly perforated, and I had to work slowly to prevent the cards from tearing when I broke them apart. Sometimes there was a corny joke; the fancy ones came with a scratch-and-sniff sticker. I would put each card in a tiny envelope and haul them off to school the next day.
Sometime between 1985 and 2021 this ritual drastically changed. This February 14 (if my kids actually go to school in person), I guarantee they’ll both come home with a backpack full of — not simple store-bought cards — but birthday party caliber goody bags. There will be cute little pink and red packages with curly bows stuffed with stickers, temporary tattoos, Fun-Dip, tiny erasers, pencils and peanut-free chocolates.
I might be able to validate this practice if it was an isolated event. But parents out there know these bags are not only exchanged on Valentine’s Day; versions of them also come home for Halloween, Christmas, Hanukkah, Lunar New Year, Easter, Ramadan and birthdays.
This practice goes beyond school. Heather, who lives in the Midwest, told me her daughter’s class was encouraged to mail a New Year’s card to every student in her class during virtual learning. In December, Sarah, a mom in California, lamented about the “You’ve Been Claused” package that had recently arrived on her doorstep. I knew exactly what she was talking about, because we had the same thing go around our neighborhood in October. In the fall it was “You’ve Been Boo-ed,” but it is the same idea. You hear a knock and run to the door, only to find a “surprise” bag from a mystery neighbor. Inside is a cornucopia of kid treasures and a note instructing you to pass the fun along to another neighbor.
Yes, I love that my kids are learning about different cultures and traditions in school. And yes, it’s fun for kids — and they need all the fun they can get these days. I get it. But come on. Enough is enough with the goody bags.
I commiserated with both Heather and Sarah that these are clearly gendered practices that just create more work for moms, on top of the inhuman schedule we’re already trying to maintain. I laughed out loud when Sarah described her reaction to the cheery “You’ve Been Claused” bag on her front porch. “NOW on top of everything else going on, I had to run out and find the perfect gift for my kid to drop off at another poor, unsuspecting mother’s door. Moms — we just screw ourselves over all the time.”
These Pinterest-perfect goody bags aren’t just time consuming, they can also make mothers who do not participate feel judged. And let’s be honest, after a year of parenting in a pandemic, judgment is the last thing we need in our lives right now.
So for Valentine’s Day 2021, let’s consider some alternative options.
1. Your Kid Steps Up. If this is important enough to them, they can do it themselves. Give them some construction paper and markers and set them loose. Sure, the valentines your 6-year-old produces are going to look really different than what you could produce. But there is something beautiful about clunky drawings and misspelled names. Plus, your child takes full ownership of the project, which can’t be a bad thing. (If they break down in tears half way through, move on to Option #3.)
2. Someone Else Steps Up. After all, it doesn’t HAVE to be the mom. Maybe our partner steps in, or an older sibling, or a grandparent — anyone else in your child’s life who has more time than you do. And whatever they create — great. We shall not judge. Because outsourcing Valentine’s Day means one less thing on our ginormous to-do list. (If you are saying, “What a joke, if I don’t do it then it wouldn’t get done.” Then move on to Option #3.)
3. It Doesn’t Get Done. I know — gasp. This option seems unfathomable. But really, what is the worst that happens? Your child is the only kid in class without a treat to exchange, and they are disappointed. So, you have an honest conversation. You validate their feelings, but then explain that you do not have unlimited time and energy, and must make some choices about how to spend the hours in the day. And then you both move on. Done!
Missing one goody bag event is unlikely to have a lasting impact. In fact, it might even be good for our kids. Frankly, if this tradition is happening in your school or neighborhood, chances are your kids are already enjoying a healthy dose of privilege. And this scenario is also a nice nod to Mother Earth, who must be groaning under the mountain of useless kid-junk we all accumulate in our homes.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting a motherhood mutiny. Some moms (and hopefully some dads) love doing this sort of thing, and I think that’s great. If Valentine’s Day cards and goody bags bring you joy, then more power to you. I fully admit that once in a while when I have the bandwidth, I too like to sit down with my kids and make cutesy crafts. But these are extras that should bring us happiness, not added stress.
For Valentine’s Day 2021, when we are all stretched far beyond our limits and barely holding it together, perhaps it is worth asking ourselves some questions. Is this fun for me? Am I benefitting in any way? Am I participating in this relentless cycle of holiday exchange because I want to, or because I feel like I have to? What can I do to take things off my plate right now? If in the end you decide to skip the school valentine exchange (or any holiday thereafter) I welcome you to join me in one of the above alternatives.
But if you genuinely enjoy holiday exchanges and move forward with elaborate goody bags, please consider attaching an extra little love note for the moms…
I actually like doing these little bags. Putting these together was fun for me. But I certainly do not expect this from anyone else. We are all doing our best to keep up with work and kids and families. And so today I show my love for you by giving without any anticipation of reciprocation.
Happy Valentine’s Day! You are officially off the hook.”