When I answered my seven-year-old’s Christmas request for an iPod Touch recently with a “no” (and a side of “are you kidding me?”), he shot back: “But you don’t even have to pay for it! It’ll be from Santa.”
I was temporarily stumped, but I reminded him that not only is Santa on a budget just like we are, he also knows (being magic) what certain parents’ rules are.
But my son brings up a vexing point for frugal-minded parents: You want to make your kids happy this time of year—but playing Santa in a grand style can kill your budget.
Is it possible to recast Santa as a cost-conscious gift-giver? Or should the holidays be conveyed to kids as a money-free zone, with no acknowledgement of bills coming in January—or of family values in general?
All the holiday hoopla, plus the intensity of kids’ desires, makes Santa a tough suit to fill. I’ve seen moms run around like maniacs, trying to get the exact X-box or iProduct or whatever.
The pressure blunts your ability to parse the difference between real wants and temporary ones. Kids’ll ask for anything shiny and new; that’s their job. It’s ours to see the difference between what they truly want, and what they perhaps want to want.
Also, when we shower our kids with presents, we may confuse them, particularly if they see us fretting over bills or clipping coupons the rest of the year.
You don’t have to turn into a Grinch, but I’ve stopped worrying that a dose of reality will kill the buzz of Christmas fantasy. My kids aren’t getting an iPod, but they are getting affordable items they’ve shown they truly want. That’s a Santa strategy I can get behind.
Make a list. What kinds of gifts are kids you know asking for?
Denise Schipani blogs at Confessions of a Mean Mommy. Her book, Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later, will be published in April 2012.