Christmas, Divorce and Dictionaries

Now that it's a few days past Christmas, hopefully the food-coma-toy-overload-family-cheer hangover is subsiding and your life is returning to normal.  Did you overspend?  Was it only when you started wrapping presents for your children did you realize that you might have taken it a little too far this year?  Or were you conservative and stuck to your plan and budget?

For my core family (me, my sweetie, and our 4 youngest children), the gifts are kept to a minimum and much care goes in to picking out things that they will really get use out of.   Each child only has a couple of things to open, and 1-2 gifts from Santa.  This is done because all of our children have multiple holiday celebrations involving a massive amount of gifts with other parents.  Welcome to the land of divorce!  And I'm not just referring to the sheer volume of gifts in other houses either.  I'm talking over-the-top presents as well.   Like an iPod touch for a three-year old.  Or a new flat screen for the bedroom of an eight-year old.*   In our home, a conscious decision was made not to indulge in the age-old traditions of 1) competing with the opposite parent for the coolest gift given, and 2) spending money than we don't have in an attempt to "win" our child for the holiday.    I understand the lure of "guilt shopping" and I have fallen victim to it in the past.   I can related to the internal rationalization that happens when you get caught up in the frenzy of sale flyers and holiday mayhem and tell yourself  "If I buy  XYZ-child this really awesome (insert overpriced trendy toy here), they will totally love me".  Been there, done that, and moved on.

When I was twelve, my parents had been divorced for two years and my father was struggling to make ends meet.   For 1992, he was paying my mother an insane amount of money in child support, and he was living in an upstairs apartment at my grandparents house.   When Christmas came around, I remember feeling excited because my dad always managed to get us really cool gifts.  The year before, I had gotten a little 10-inch black and white television for my room at home.   I unwrapped my present with glee to discover that it was a gigantic, super deluxe, full of color pictures and amazing facts . . . .  dictionary.  Yes, a dictionary.  At my age,  I had no clue how to process this nor did I understand what I was supposed to do with a dictionary for Christmas!  Where was my cool present?  When I got back to my mother's that evening and showed it to her, the nasty comments and remarks started almost immediately.  And continued yearly until I stopped talking to her.  It wasn't until I was a parent of a small child and money was tight did I get the significance of the dictionary.  He had very little to work with that year and wanted to get me something that would be educational and hopefully I would use for many, many years.  When you really think about it, it was a very thoughtful gift.  It's too bad that I didn't see that at the time.  I never gave him a hard time about it - I was raised to be polite and say "thank you" regardless of what the gift was in front of me.  But I'm sure the look on my face gave away my disappointment and I hate how that must have made him feel.

The children in my house are blessed with an abundance of people who love them.  Some of those people have a ton of money to spend on presents, some of them don't.  I'm okay with that.  From me and my house, I want them to understand the value of money.  I want them to understand that there are things should be earned when they reach a certain age and not just given to them because it's the trendy thing to do.  I want them to understand that there are tons of children in our country that don't even have a home, nevertheless the stockpile of toys they have, half of which aren't played with.  I want them to understand that their world will not end if they don't get another American Girl Doll.  But most importantly, I want them to understand and appreciate that if a Christmas rolls around and there's a "dictionary" under the tree, that we love them more than all the words they could find in it.

* It is purely my opinion that these gifts are inappropriate for the children in my life.  Everyone is entitled to determine what works for the children in their own life.  

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