The current difficult economic times has many parents struggling over Christmas gifts and how it will affect their children this year. There are many families that are going to be forced this season to choose between food, mortgage payments, prescriptions, gasoline, and heating their homes. Although everyone is affected, the elderly, the parents that have been recently laid-off, and the poorer families, are being hit particularly hard. Unfortunately, the financial predictions for the next couple of months are rather bleak and conditions are not expected to improve dramatically by Christmas.
While I certainly do not mean to minimize the pain and difficulties that this Christmas season may bring, I am suggesting that it can present opportunities to recapture some of the traditional American family and Christmas values. As readers of my articles well know, I am a strong believer that the best gift a parent can ever give their child – is simply themselves. “Doing with” will always be more meaningful to a child than simply “buying for.”
As I have mentioned before, our fondest childhood memories are usually those that centered on family involvement – often when we were the poorest financially. Think about it for a moment. Think about your fondest memories when you were a young child. What were they? Chances are they were something you did with your family. The money or the gifts that may have been involved are not what you typically remember the most.
Shortly after my award winning book, “The Adventures of Seamus the Sheltie” was published, I began to receive requests from parents for certain difficult subject areas for children to be dealt with by Seamus in the next book. Interestingly, this exact area was one that was frequently requested by many of the parents. In fact, I just completed the chapter dealing with Christmas and children during poor economic times. What follows are some of the ideas from me and from that chapter.
1) Make some of your own Christmas decorations. Make this a family project and be sure to involve the children. This can be inexpensive and really fun to do together. There are many crafts books that are chocked full of ideas that can be checked out for free from your local library. It is amazing all of the neat things that you can make with paper, tape, and string. These things should always be done with – not for – the child.
2) Remember stringing popcorn when you were a child? This is still a fun and inexpensive activity that can produce beautiful garland to string around the windows and doors. Again – be sure the child helps and is involved.
3) An inexpensive children’s book makes a wonderful gift that can last over time. I am talking about a book that you read together with your child. One that has content designed so that you can easily discuss the stories with the child. My recent book, The Adventures of Seamus the Sheltie, was written specifically with these goals in mind. Remember that children’s books can also be checked out free from your local library.
4) Don’t forget that if your situation does not allow for buying a book or easily visiting a library, make up your own stories! My grandfather did this with me when I was a child and those times and stories are still among my fondest memories.
5) Drive – or walk - around with the family and look at the Christmas lights in your area. Riding together in the car is also a great time to sing a few holiday carols.
6) Start a new family tradition: Everyone (that includes Mom and Dad) will make one Christmas gift for each family member. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. It will be the thought - and the process - and the love - that will count. Chances are you still have the small things that your child has made for you tucked away somewhere for safe keeping. Those precious things are the thoughts, memories, and the love that I am talking about.
Remember that your child will be looking to you to understand what is happening and how they should feel. So get that frown off your face and stop apologizing like something is wrong. Smile and share your love for each other and celebrate the season with your children. Do this – and they will smile and celebrate with you.
We can’t change these difficult times and what may be a lean Christmas, but we can greatly influence how our children will experience them.