Yes, You Can Say No to Your Kids
Lately I've been doing a lot of radio and TV interviews on the subject of how parents should tell their children they'll be cutting back on gifts this holiday season (see Putting Santa on a Budget). Reporters covering this story have been getting some surprising reactions from parents.
Even though parents say they want to ease up on spending, they sometimes seem reluctant to stand up to their kids. As one father put it, "You have to buy them what they want."
Unfortunately, it's that kind of thinking that got so many families into financial trouble in the first place. Sure, you want to buy your kids some of the things they want. And you also want to surprise them with gifts they never expected. But you don't have to buy them everything they ask for.
It seems parents need reassurance that they can say no to their kids and get away with it. So let me share some uplifting anecdotes I've picked up during the course of my interviews.
One woman, for example, recalled that after the stock-market crash of 1987 her father gathered her and her five siblings around the kitchen table, gave them a Sears catalog, and told them they each had $20 to spend. The kids didn't mind making their choices, and the story has become part of the family's holiday lore -- a Christmas tradition in itself.
One father told me that when he was a cash-strapped graduate student, he told his daughters, then ages 6 and 4, that they wouldn't be getting too many holiday gifts. The girls came up with their own idea for raising money: Their mother made delicious sweet potato pies, so why not sell pies to their neighbors and friends?
One idea I suggested was to give children a gift of time and personal attention instead of big-ticket gifts, taking then on a one-on-one "date" with Mom or Dad. Asked by a TV reporter what her kids would think of that idea, one mother just rolled her eyes.
Okay, this strategy may not work for every family. But don't assume your children wouldn't want to spend time with you (and get a free movie or a meal at their favorite restaurant). I'd like to think that most parents and kids have a better relationship than that. And if you don't, isn't it about time to start one?
Finally, some parents figure they can't get away with saying no because Santa will always come through if they don't. But don't hesitate to tell your kids that Santa works hand in glove with Mom and Dad. If they buy into Santa, they'll buy into any tale you weave about how he operates.
When I was a kid, we got our presents, as customary, on Christmas morning. But many families in my neighborhood had the tradition of getting gifts on Christmas Eve. Puzzled, I once asked my parents, "When does Santa come?" "Early," my parents replied. Sounded good to me.