Last Friday, after an emotionally charged day, I headed out of the office and straight for my favorite retail stores for some Christmas shopping therapy. Whether receiving an emotional boost or making a dent in their children’s lists to Santa was the goal, lots of people had the same idea. As we did a crazy consumer dance in every aisle to let one person past, in or out, I remarked to one woman, “It sure doesn’t look like we’re in a recession.” Several people heard my comment and agreed with it. From there I headed to another store where I checked out at close.
On Monday morning, while picking up my daily skinny vanilla latte at the local coffee shop, one of the girls who usually serves me (and who I’d bumped into on Friday night with my overflowing cart), asked if I was done with my shopping. “Almost,” I replied. “But I did some serious damage, not only to the list, but to my wallet!” The other barista behind the counter chimed in the conversation with, “The news reported record breaking sales over the last six days.” Hmm, so I wasn’t the only one who’d broken the bank playing Santa instead of tightening my purse strings during this tough economic period. I have a feeling many parents feel the way I do: Anything for my children.
Knowing why I spent so much money didn’t stop me from fretting over it a little. Why do I feel compelled to get my children every single item on their lists even if I can’t really afford it? I was still pondering this question when I sat down for a workshop entitled “Poverty and Relationships: Working Toward Success” later that afternoon. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I would get an answer for my question.
It goes back to my childhood. I grew up in poverty. Yet my mother spent ridiculous amounts on my brother and me at Christmas. She didn’t make much money but ran her credit cards up to their limit then paid for her extravagance all year. Why? Because as we learned in the workshop, one of the driving forces for those in poverty is relationships. Providing those materials things was a way for my mother to express love. And even though I would be considered middle class, recession or no, a pile of presents beneath the tree is also my way of expressing love to my children. That and the fact that they still believe in Santa and wouldn’t understand why he had to cut back this year due to the economy. Hence the record breaking sales.
Unlike my mother, I don’t max out credit cards because I don’t have any. This keeps me out of real financial dire straits: If I don’t have the money, I can’t buy it, no matter how much my children may want it. Still, since Christmas and birthdays are really the only time I give them gifts (non necessities) and I don’t have a workshop to produce them in, I’m grateful for everyday low prices, discounts and sales.
As parents there are countless ways to express our love, and I choose to express mine in this particular way. Of course just as each parent must decide which holidays to observe/celebrate, each must determine when enough is enough regarding spending. A parent’s willingness or ability is subjective and should be respected by others who do things differently. I’m grateful that while I figure out the right balance for my family, certain stores make the process more affordable.
If you’re anything like me, Santa can have his elves. We’ll take retailers!