“WHY do you do it to yourself,” a friend without children asked me the other day. He was referring to the horror I put myself through each year trying to give my children “the best Christmas ever”.
Last year, there was a desperate Christmas Eve hunt through a dozen shops trying to find the latest and greatest computer game, Zhu Zhu pet hamsters, a robotic dog that swims, a particular Lego limited edition construction kit, and a sea monster doll that came with her own resuscitation/hydration chamber.
But going back to my friend’s question, the answer at least to me and probably to most parents is pretty simple: we want our children to have a Christmas they will always remember. We love to see their faces light up and hear the squeals of delight when they unwrap their presents.
The challenge is to manage expectations and budgets. There is a risk of annual Christmas inflation, as the extraordinary array of presents the kids scored from Santa last year becomes the new baseline against which this Christmas is judged. We’ve certainly fallen into this trap. When sorting through my six-year-old daughter’s chaotic room (aka the black hole of Calcutta) a few weeks ago, I found a still-packaged Zhu Zhu pet from last Christmas along with assorted other gifts once or twice played with before being discarded and forgotten.
My 10-year-old boy is a bit better. He tends to treasure his possessions, especially an impressive array of Lego constructions, and where he was once the worst nagger for this or that toy, he has steadily broadened his interests and is now much more engaged with sport and playing outside with his mates.
Through this year we’ve also engaged in what some “experts” call “strategic deprivation” as far as toys and other new acquisitions are concerned.
We’ve gently wound back on new possessions, toys and other impedimenta, and encouraged our children to engage in a lot more physical activity.
With a busy weekly round of gymnastics, acrobatics, swimming, ice skating, school and homework, both are as happy as larks and usually too tired to make new demands for this or that thing they’ve seen on TV. They also know that part of their Christmas package is holiday figure skating lessons (which is a pretty good thing for parents to watch on a hot day) and that, as a consequence, there won’t be quite as much around the Christmas tree.
That isn’t to say there won’t still be a last-minute Christmas Eve rush, and that we won’t still over indulge them a bit. But hopefully this year we’ll manage to get the balance right. We’re aiming for a happy and stress-free Christmas. And that will be something to remember!