Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

Cutting Through the Noise


The holiday catalog from a popular retailer arrived in the mail recently, and our two sons had a great time looking through the pages and finding countless items they wanted to play with. With every page turn came exclamations of “That’s my favorite!” and “That is just like, so awesome!” They tore, cut, and glued their “most favorite” photos to paper as we talked about what they’d like to do with these new toys. When the excitement died down, my mom brain took over.

“These prices are crazy! Where is all of this stuff supposed to go? Don’t we already have something like this?”

This time of year can be overwhelming! One of my roles as a parent is to make the most of the fun by managing expectations and what is realistically possible. While it would be exciting in the moment to buy everything their hearts desire and watch the joy on their faces as they open everything, it is not at all realistic. And really, where is all of this stuff supposed to go?

Our children are inundated with so much information on a daily basis, through TV commercials, catalogs, and/or peers. Honestly, we as adults are flooded too! It can be challenging to cut through all of the noise. As parents, my husband and I look for strategies for our family to focus on each other instead of focusing on things.

A few years ago, I came across the Something you want, Something you need, Something you wear, and Something you read strategy for gift giving. We’ve done this for the past two holiday seasons, and it has really helped to focus us on being thoughtful and specific with gift giving. We’re also able to talk about wants versus needs, and the boys aren’t nearly as overwhelmed by stuff and can fully enjoy discovering their gifts. This allows us to all enjoy each other a bit more, and is much easier to organize! How will you and your family cut through the noise?


Santa Has Elves, We Have Retailers!

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!

– Tammi

Photograph courtesy of Bill Roehl.