Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Christmas... unwrapped.

Being the mom on a budget is sticky sometimes. Even when I *can* buy something for my kids, many times I choose not to. Sometimes it's because I know I can spend my money on other, more useful things. Sometimes its because I just don't need one more thing cluttering up my house. But mostly, it's because I don't want my kid believing that they are entitled to everything they ask for and everything they see that their friends have.

Yesterday was my kids' first day back to school. Like every kid after Christmas break, mine were anxious to get back with their friends and compare how they made out from Santa.

Charlie Brown was super excited when, on Christmas, he got a Kindle e-reader. It's not the fancy kind, it's the $79 version with "special offers". He also got a wii game that he was really hoping for - Zelda Skyward Sword or something like that (the guy at GameStop totally knew what I was talking about even if I didn't.) Charlie Brown even got some cash, with which he bought himself two hermit crabs and the full setup to go with them.

But when he got into the car yesterday after basetball practice, he said, "ya know mom, I was really excited to tell everyone about my Kindle but actually, it was no big deal. Two kids in my class got an iPad 2! One girl got an iPod touch and a laptop. A few kids got a Kindle Fire. Mine seemed so... unexciting."

I am almost 40. I am WAY past caring what people think about me. But I am no dummy. I know that elementary school has a very precise pecking order and in today's society, it's peck or get pecked. The pecking comes in the form of electronic gadgets and our kids are at the bottom of the pecking pile. Although I wouldn't have gotten him anything different, I have a hard time thinking about how his excitement was crushed under the sheer volume of his friends' bigger, better, more expensive gifts. Truthfully, we are not interested in getting our kids a bunch of expensive electronic devices. We think they are a distraction as well as being a huge responsibility for someone so young. Hundreds of dollars on a small, fragile device for someone who's not even old enough to stay home by himself yet? No matter how mature or careful he is, he's 10. That's just too early, in my opinion, for me to spend a bunch of money on something just for him alone. We didn't even get him the Kindle - his grandparents did (with our blessing). The Kindle seemed like a good choice - CB is a voracious reader and Amazon just came out with an affordable option for the e-reader so we figure the timing was right. I don't think it ever crossed his mind that the "basic Kindle" was anything less than awesome until he saw what his friends were getting.

I still remember the Christmas just before I turned 12. I was in 6th grade and my parents bought me a Seiko watch. It was gorgeous. Did I understand how valuable it was? No of course not. They could have bought me a Timex and I wouldn't have known the difference. But it was their money and they could afford it and that's how they wanted to spend it. In retrospect, it seems strange that my parents would give me something that was so valuable - as a parent now myself, I feel like "valuable" gifts are more like the reward for becoming an adult. Like, when you're a kid you make due with whatever your parents give you and when you're an adult you can spend your money on the nicer things.

As for other parents buying their kids expensive gadgets - I don't begruge them one teensy iota. Why should I care? Like I said, if they have the money and want to spend it that way, so be it. If they buy their kids an xBox 360 or a laptop or an iPad or a cell phone or whatever. Their family - their business. All I'm saying is, it's so tough getting my kids to understand why *WE* don't buy them those things. Right now, as it is, we have enough going on in our family that we have a hard time giving focus to each other; there's basketball practice, cheerleading practice, scouts, church, work, meetings, homework, etc. If we had any more distrctions in our household we probably wouldn't see each other for days at a time. Limiting our electronic access is the way our family makes it work. But to someone who's 10, whose friends all have Facebook accounts and play Angry Birds in the car on the way to school, to him it all just seems... unfair.

Charlie Brown has a very good head on his shoulders. It seems like he knows why his dad and I have made the decisions that we have, even when he doesn't necessarily like them. I am hoping, and praying, that by not giving our kids all that the world has to offer, it will leave them wanting more. But not more from the store.

Texan Mama


Bridgett said...

So so hard. We do have electronic devices, but they belong to the family (we have a PS3, for instance, but my husband uses it as much as the girls!). But there are always differences between what our kids get and what other kids get for Christmas or birthdays. It helps that the income range at our school goes from "we went to Italy for Christmas" to qualifying for free lunch. We fit nicely in the middle and it isn't that big a deal. We have friends with far more money than we do, who go to a school where they are at the poor end, and so the trip to Harry Potter at Universal, the I-Pad, and designer clothes for their 10 year old was met with "why can't I have nice things for Christmas like my friends?" It's all perspective.

It sounds, though, like Charlie will figure it out. Little disappointments are no big thing. He'll enjoy the kindle. If he wants more, there's his whole adult life to play with new gadgets if that's how he wants to spend his money and time (ahem, my husband, ahem, my brother).

Jennifer said...

This is one of those hard parenting things. I was Charlie Brown. We never had really lavish gifts when I was growing up, and I didn't expect them. Sometimes it kind of bummed me out, but mostly I was happy with what I had.

I do think it is one of the reasons that David and I spoil our kids now though. We think that "well we didn't have it, but we can afford it so why not." I'm not sure that's the best though. We always say that we are going to rein it in, but then we never do.

nicole said...

I think you are doing the right thing, and I think Charlie will figure it out too. As you said, for other families they are making choices right for them, and you are doing the same. It is hard knowing other kids get nicer things, but I try to focus on the positive with my kids. I think being honest about why you don't buy it all is great too--even if they don't understand it or resent it right now, hopefully down the road they will appreciate your priorities.

Gigi said...

I think, without a doubt, you are doing the right thing. And I even went so far as to explain why I felt the way I did (no, you may not have $80 sneakers because in 6 months your feet will grow; etc.) Children have to learn that they can't always have what others have - whether it's due to means or values. (and I totally get the "disconnected" thing. I know kids grow away from parents as they age - but I totally believe that they do it sooner when they are connected/online. It's better to keep the electronics away as long as possible; so you continue to have their attention while you teach them values/morals)

I have a feeling that Charlie Brown has a good head on his little shoulders and will one day understand all your reasons.

Yay - I'm so glad you posted! I was just thinking of you.

Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El/e/Mrs. Seaman) said...

Oh, I could write so much in response to this that it would be a blog post in itself. But I need to still my fingers.

You are spot on. You are doing the right thing.

I will say he remembered who go what of the kids who got better. Certainly there were some who received less? We forget about them...

Jennifer said...

I cannot believe what kids have! A kid in Noah's class (3rd grade) sent me a friend request on Facebook. I was incredibly uncomfortable with it. Noah has been asking for a Facebook page for over a year now and I won't let him have one. I can't think of anything useful or productive he can do with one. He did get an iPod touch- but that was luck. He inherited it. I had an iPod touch and then this past summer, I got an iPhone and so we gave him the touch. He was ecstatic, but I set up the controls HEAVILY and it stays in my possession and he must ask to play with it.

Ellen Stewart (aka Ellie/El/e/Mrs. Seaman) said...

A repair of last night's...

I will say he remembered what the kids got who received more. There had to have been children who received less.

Anna See said...

i think we all, regardless of age, experience post-Christmas letdown. i think it is best to not even try to compete, b/c even if we had all the gadgets in the world, it would never seem like enough. jack never got a single gadget. that seems weird to type. but you know what, he wasn't missing out. marg felt let down after christmas when she heard about all the kindle fires an itouche out there.

kristi said...

Yes I totally understand this post. I have a 16 year old. She is always talking about what the kids at school's crazy. She is gonna get her dad's old truck to drive and some kids get brand new cars!