The holiday season sets everyone up for disappointment. After we are beaten up by enduring the exhaustion of planning, cooking, eating, and cleaning for Thanksgiving, we are immediately bullied by black Friday, cyber Monday, and then free shipping days. Add to those catalogs and more, including making gingerbread houses, house decorating, white elephant gift exchanges, school performances, and vacation packing, travel, and returns.
So how can we avoid becoming passengers on the holiday ship “The SS Overdone:” where too much from the giver is often interpreted as too little by the receiver. Holidays are for making memories: Thanksgiving is about family, food, and familiar faces, and, forgive me, being thankful. Other holidays can be about many times equal portions of gifts and guilt.
So, what’s your tradition? Is it most often holiday cheers or holiday tears?
Everyone is under pressure to get it “all right.” So, let’s not reset this holiday. Let’s recalculate the emotional, physical, and psychological cost to both ourselves and our families. If we think back our own early memories of the holidays may include both the rituals and the receiving that remain embedded in our brains. What can parents do to infuse the holiday with more meaning, instead of the frantic sprint through December?
How about gift-wrapping yourself for your kids? A parent’s presence can be one of the best presents. Your full attention in picking and decorating the tree with cherished ornaments, cooking special holiday treats, making, and sending special crafts and cards to relatives and friends are rituals that they will cherish when they become adults. Recalibrating your own personal daily December metabolism into a more relaxed holiday mode will also give your children permission to do the same. And in this age of constant tech-connectivity, perhaps also including, and personally modeling, a few well-chosen digital holidays.
Now about those holiday gifts: when we can get almost anything delivered to our doorstep in one day with one click, what do we value? Are your children looking forward to the holiday, or with packages piling up every day, are they just expecting more and more?
Holiday wish lists for children and teens are sometimes very long and sometimes very short. Both can create a tempest in your house. There is, of course, the yearly holiday tradition that has the latest coveted holiday item flying off both bricks and mortar as well as internet shelves. Without getting into needs versus wants, perhaps a focus on both values and budget would be appropriate. Often both indicate a firm and immediate no with a simple short explanation: for example, the iPhone 8 for a nine-year-old or a $500 drone for a 10-year-old. Similarly, how can parents explain a values and budget rationale to their family when their child asks why they’re not skiing in Zermatt or lying on a beach in Saint Barts.
Reality does not have to result in a demeaning or short-tempered answer. Parents also don’t need to dismiss the request by emphasizing how blessed, and satisfied, children should be to live in a certain neighborhood, or go to a good school. But first do listen to the children’s “why.” The response can then be more focused.
“Mom, Dad, this could be so easy. I only want ONE thing, a PlayStation. Cousin Bobby just got one! It is so cool.”
Now comes your reply using the equation of your family’s values and budget. Compromise is necessary, but difficult. Discussing alternatives can be met with resistance. Maintaining calm is your goal. Please remember not to steer “The SS Overdone” aground on the reef of guilt. As far as compromise with younger, and often older, children, a suggestion:
Induce giving through donations of effort or targeting a need in the community. For younger kids, try “Are some of your toys lonely? Can we donate them to a new home? For every toy you donate we can put away X dollars toward your PlayStation/iPhone/laptop fund.” Saving can never start too early and children as young as second grade can understand these kind of value concepts. But beware, often lurking in the season’s background are well-meaning grandparents or other relatives that could sabotage your holiday messages. Saying no to certain wants for children and teens should free you up to say yes to providing your family with a more relaxed, joyous, and memorable holiday.
With all due respect to Santa, and Amazon, often the best presents don’t come in a box.
Dr. Don Shifrin has been a pediatrician with our practice for almost 40 years.