Parenting Traps

The season’s gifts

This year there’s less to give, but maybe more to receive.

By Virginia A. Smith
December 20, 2009

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Earlier this month, I saw my neighbor Val down the street and took off (in her direction) at a sprint. Two years ago, she’d passed along her daughter’s bike to my daughter Meg. Christmas was fast approaching, and it was also two days before Meg’s 7th birthday.

We’d been hoping to get Meg a new bike, but with the grand sum of 34 cents in our checking account and exactly nothing in our savings account, I mustered up some chutzpah and asked Val if her daughter had another outgrown bicycle she could pass along to my daughter.

Things have never been lavish in our household, with writer and schoolteacher parents funding things, but in these hard economic times we’re getting downright Scrooge-like, relying on “pass-along” presents and used items we buy on eBay. We know we aren’t the only ones; another friend has already asked me for Meg’s old toys to wrap up for her toddler for Christmas.

My kids, ages 7, 13, and 15, are learning hard -- and valuable -- lessons about money. I tell my 13-year-old son, you say you need more T-shirts? You’ll find them under the tree on Christmas morning. You’d like a video game? We’ll see what we can find on eBay to go with the things we bought for you on Black Friday.

The message to our kids is, we love you madly and we’ll do our best to get you what you need, but 34 cents doesn’t go as far as it used to. And we’re not the only ones who think that being honest about the family’s financial situation teaches kids lessons about our values, too.

“Christmas is not about racking up debt,” says Neale S. Godfrey, author of Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees. “Tell your children the truth: This is not a good year.” Instead of traditional presents, say, “We’re going to band together as a family and give a gift of ourselves -- a chit for teaching knitting or baking cookies together, even for a ‘no-fighting’ zone.”

As for the bike, Meg received it for her birthday, with full credit to Val and her daughter for their generosity. And Christmas? There will be fewer presents, but I suspect that it will be as joyous as ever.

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What have you cut back on this holiday season?

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