Thursday, November 13, 2008

Breaking it to the kids

Our local news ran a segment on how to let the kids know this might be a somewhat less jolly Christmas. As I watched, I found myself growing more and more dismayed. Most of the advice was subterfuge.

Buy them lots of little presents. Lots of $1 and $5 things. So, you know, they still get open fifteen thousand boxes…start a co-op with other parents…enlist Grandma and Grandpa to buy-buy-buy for you, and you’ll pay them back when things improve…

You’ve got to be freakin’ kidding me!

Now, I’ll admit that in terms of how many toy boxes they get to open, this Christmas will go just like every other Christmas for the Denizens. I hand each of them a toy catalog and a pen, and they get to circle up to ten things they want.

They will get two of those things, maybe three if what they’ve chosen is inexpensive enough.

They’ll also get some clothes, clothes they need. This is another part of the segment I found disturbing: How to “trick” your kid into “accepting” something “practical” as a “present.”

Sorry. That was way too many quotes. It’s just that the whole concept seemed so unreal to me that…it had to have “quotes” telling you that it wasn’t “really” what they were “saying.”

My kids always get clothes for Christmas. And they don’t question that they are presents, and darned good ones, too. Granted, I’m not boxing up the new underwear and pretending it’s the best gift, ever! or anything crazy like that…but hey. Boo Bug has been pestering me for weeks, months even, about wanting a new nightgown.

She’s going to be super excited to get two warm, fluffy nightgowns with matching slippers and headbands, no less! under the tree at Christmas.

But the thing that bothered me the most was the whole feeling of the segment, which was basically, “How to fool your kid into thinking that nothing is wrong.”

Here’s a novel concept: How about sitting down, looking them right in their earnest little eyeballs, and telling them the truth, instead of trying to create a kind of bubble around them, a Perfect World in which there is no struggle, no worry, no mounting debts and unemployment and crazy?

You don’t have to dump the full horror into their little laps, mind you. I’m not going to tell my kids this is the worst economy I’ve seen in my adult life, that I’m actually a bit frightened about how it will all play out in the end, that even my hopeless optimism is having a hard time seeing a “quick turnaround” here.

But I did tell them that I’ve been looking for work a long, long time now – and have found nothing. That daddy’s job ended, and he’s just starting a new one and doesn’t have a lot of hours yet. That money is really tight, and that we need to be very smart and careful about how we spend it.

I told them another truth, too: We will be OK, in the end. No matter what, we will be OK.

Even if we end up living in an apartment with grouchy neighbors all around us, we’ll be OK.

The house doesn’t matter. The clothes don’t matter. The toys don’t matter.

We matter.

And we will be just fine.

Big hugs, everybody.

Now, go pick up your danged socks and do your homework and do not make me say it again!

I say this with love, my darlings, I say this with love…


RobinH said...

The year I was seven, my parents were going through some fiscally tough times. My mom had no budget for Christmas. Nothing. But she had a fabric stash, and so what I got for Christmas were the new clothes I needed- and doll clothes that matched all my outfits, out of the scraps. I thought it was marvelous! It's one of the few gifts from that age I still remember.

It was over twenty years later that my mom told me how much she'd worried that year, and how badly she'd felt that there were 'no Christmas presents'...and I could tell her that on the contrary, it had been one of the best years ever. I wouldn't have wanted to miss those doll clothes, or a single lopsided Christmas cookie I decorated (by myself!) for anything.

You have a way healthier take on this than most of consumerism-driven society! :)

Anonymous said...

I can remember when my parents were talking about the cold war and bombs....always around me but never to me. I can't say how scared I was. If they had explained things right to me I think I would have been much less afraid.

Stephanie said...

I couldn't agree more. I was aware from a very young age that money was tight in our house. And, sure, I didn't get the same cool clothes that some of my friends have - but shopping at the 'hand-me-downs from [the daughter of one of my dad's co-workers]' store was just as fun. Being aware of the realities of life from a young age made me the frugal (some might say paranoid) person I am today with the humongous emergency fund which has housed and fed me for the past year and will continue to do so for at least another one if I so choose. Which reminds me - back to the job search...

Carrie said...

I agree! We just have two kiddos (and we're done) and our policy is three gifts per kid. Three was good enough for Jesus, so it's good enough for them. I try to come up with one "special" thing for each, and the other two things are toys or books that they can BOTH get use out of for a good long time. I do have some fun when it comes to stocking stuffers--simply because the stocking has always been more my favorite part than the gifts themselves--but there have been no protests against the three-gifts policy. We also make a "happy birthday Jesus" cake the night before and let them decorate it, then light the candle and sing when we open presents and have cake for breakfast. I want it to remain centered on HIM, not on gifts. Whatever gifts grandparents, etc. choose number and price-wise is of no consideration to me at this point. They can do what they want! :-)

Anonymous said...

AMEN! My parents went through a rough patch with finances when I was a kid - and fought and were grumpy - and never explained it to me or my brother. It seems silly not to allow them to see reality, because in the end the sight of our parents facing reality and explaining their concerns and working it all out is a good thing, a very good thing.

Dysd Housewife said...

Amen Sista. People all over the world have simply come to think of Chrismas as "gimme" season, instead of balancing things out, they go WAY overboard, because they don't want to teach their children the value of a modest gift regardless of what it is. I'll be dang happy if I find a nightie under the tree this year.

Anonymous said...

In the book "Eight is Enough" (not the tv show, but the book) Tom Braden mentioned a Christmas when the pile of toys filled half the living room, and at some point during the day one of the younger children started crying and said, "I'm so tired. I don't want to open any more presents." Sometimes there's too much Christmas.

What you might consider doing, after you've told them the truth, is to suggest something they can make for the others. It might be lopsided cookies, it might be a very simple ornament made from items found in the left-over bin at Michael's, it could be a promise to do a much-hated chore. But at a crucial time, when they might be anxious, having them think about what they can do, rather than what they get, might be more exciting for them.


21stCenturyMom said...

My kids are all grown now but they don't remember the days when their grandparents were alive and the presents spilled out from under the tree and filled the room with any fondness at all. We all like the simpler Christmas which is good because this year no one has any money so we are declaring 'home made only' for gifts. I can't wait!

Galad said...

I think adults worry more about the gifts than kids do. I've always found if we were honest with our kids (at a child's level), they are much happier than guessing wrongly why their parents are stressed.

I really like the suggestion about helping them bake or make something for someone else. It really helps keep the holidays in perspective.

Kali said...

As usual, an excellent observation and plan. I am glad I didn't see the article that set this off. I would have been ballistic!

My mother stressed crazily every Christmas, maxing out her credit cards to give us the holiday she wanted us to have. We hated it. We were broke! And the gifts were never 'right' for the one they were given to (actually, with 8 kids, I can understand how that happened) and she was so miserable when we didn't 'appreciate' her financial sacrifices (which also affected us all year long).

We are blessed to be clothed, fed, and (mostly) employed. We do not 'need' basic life necessities, which used to be the staple of earlier gifts.

Nowadays we stress shared memory experiences for our holiday gifts... a 'Present of Presence' at an event such as The Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall or this years Big Apple Circus in NYC. You pay for your ticket and get there prepared to share the experience with one another. This constitutes the entirety of your gift giving/receiving for all the participants. Imagine...a $40 circus ticket, a $12 train and subway round trip (for most), and you have finished shopping, wrapping, and opening for 15 people (so far this year).

The memory lasts FOREVER. Now in its 5th year, we are all very glad to have this shared family-and-friends tradition. We share photos, and even made a book of one year's shared event.

Louiz said...

Since my (3 1/2) daughter is currently still more interested in wrappings and boxes, I'm not too worried about this year, and she will get clothes she needs too, but I always did as a child (and indeed still ask my parents if I can have x or y for my present this year please). She loves drawing pictures for people too, and we've made some lovely cards that way!

knitalot3 said...

I think we should get you on that segment instead.

Gee... I wonder why some kids are so materialistic and self centered.

Good post!

Anonymous said...

I must confess that as a child there were always tons of presents under my tree, but mostly it was because my mother liked to gift wrap--really. She saved pretty much all the "needs" and wrapped them for Christmas. I can assure you that not only would the underwear be under the tree, but each pair of panties would be individually wrapped! I was not quite that over the top with my own kids, but we did include the practical and stick it under the tree. Now I have grandchildren. This year they will get 2 toys each, a garment, and a $25 savings bond. Why two toys instead of one? My DD homeschools, so one will be educational in nature to add to their stash of things to use in scbooling and the other will be just a toy or video or something. I also have stockings, so there will be stocking stuffers, some of them knitted. I do have a budget, and I will be able to stick to it.

Anonymous said...

We downsized Christmas a couple of years ago things began to escalate with the grandparents buying more presents for the children than parents and Santa combined. Their father and I heard (can't remember where) a rhyme that went:

Something they want
something they need
something to wear
and something to read

And we adopted it. The kids have never felt deprived, they get a variety of presents and we aren't stressed out by the cost of Christmas or the frazzled children who cease to see the gift below the wrapping paper after the first hour. We also instigated a family ritual where only one person opens their present at a time (youngest in the room opens one, then the next youngest, and so on until the eldest has had a turn. Then we start again with the youngest). The kids are more excited about the traditions of Christmas (which they refuse to bend even a little) then they are about the presents.

21stCenturyMom said...

You have to read this Jon Carroll column - so perfect:

ps - sorry about the mail. Why does life have to be so damned hard right now? Maybe there really is a Santa Claus. Maybe

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the person who was suggesting ways of "fooling children" has ever actually fooled a child? I know my child was the smartest, cutest, most adorable child ever born; but I could never get away with anything around him. And I wouldn't have tried to trick him, that is plain disrespectful. What is wrong with telling the truth and working together? Not letting the child feel responsible for getting the family out of financial trouble, like in the depression. I came from a large family that was financially challenged, but there was always the feeling of We Are In This Together, and , as you said we will be fine. And we were.