Wednesday, 7 December 2005

More money than sense

Apparently, people spend an average of £137 on each of their children at Christmas (still harping on it, sorry). That is a huge amount, isn’t it?, even if you only have the requisite 2.4 children (don't bother to fish out the calculator; I've done the sums for you: it's £328.80). And I believe it’s the poorest people, those who can’t afford it, can’t manage to pay the mortgage or the rent, are already in debt who spend the most on Christmas presents for their kids.

Why is that?

Hype? Peer pressure? Children nagging their parents for the latest toys and gadgets? G-d forbid a child should go back to the playground after the holidays without the desirable play station or mp3 player or whatever! What are parents to do? After all, they do want to stay at least on speaking terms with their children. Ok, I’ll slap the companies making those ‘indispensable’ artefacts. Slap!

Hang on, though, isn’t there something else going on here? Could it be that parents lavish money on their kids because they feel guilty for not ‘being there’ for them? Aren’t they trying to buy their love? I’ll slap the parents too, I think. Slap!


  1. Wow. That is a lot of money (did the conversion: $237 USD). We probably only spend about half that, but even then, we do give lots of presents, far more than we got when we were children.

    It is very hard not to overdo it at this time of year -- I find myself torn between wanting my child to have nice things, and wanting him to understand that lots of nice things aren't really what makes for happiness in this world.

  2. what nowsmellthis said.

    i have spoiled small person again this year. but i don't do it by way of compensation - she is lavished with love, hugs and fun 365 days a year. there may be an element of guilt-assuaging as i work full-time, but i make no apologies for that.

    her gifts this year are books, snuggly things and fun making-stuff sets. no posh electronic gadgets for my little girl, thanks (does a boppit count?!) thankful she doesn't watch tv that much (at my house, at least) so she is not too indoctrinated in the "must-haves".

    bloody christmas.


  3. I think it's a lot of things. But in my case, when my kids were little, I bought too much because when I was a kid, I got nothing. Literally. My mother had no money for Christmas. She was the sweetest best mom in the world, but we were too poor for presents.

    So I knew that I was trying to make up for my own childhood. Impossible of course. But it didn't stop me.

  4. R, one would also want to teach children that money doesn’t grow on trees and you can’t always get what you want, and that humble things can bring lots of pleasure too. Hmmm… not easy.

    SG, I’ve never had a ‘small person’ to spoil: it must be fun. I’m sure yours doesn’t want for cuddles, etc. She sounds lovely and so do her pressies.

    TLP, I’m sure that wanting to make up for one’s own childhood deprivation must be a very strong motivation too. (Whenever you talk about your childhood I want to cry – such poverty!)

  5. I am young enough to have been part of the generation that got spoiled with lots of presents - though there were no electronic toys then; the closest thing to a gadget I ever got was one of those rabbits/dogs/elephants with a battery that walked, squeaked and then did a somersault. Oh, and a doll with pull-out hair and one that spoke if you pressed a button in her back. I actually thought the battery-powered light brick for my Lego house was amazing!

    But what I remember enjoying most about childhood Christmases is a) getting the one present I really desperately wanted each year; b) of all the other presents, liking best NOT the ones I had listed, but any surprises, no matter how small, because somehow I knew this had cost my mum more in effort and thought; b) any present that led to 'making things' and lasted more than the day. My favourite was those sticker pictures - I had one with a fantasy forest on the left and a sunny field on the right, with evil animals and fauns and things, and good princesses and knghts, to stick on - I loved the 'two worlds side by side' aspect of it, and the naughtiness of hiding an evil elf in the corner of the sunny plain. And I got a set of playing cards once with all the flower fairies on, and spent days making them into little families according to my judgement of their positions in the hierarchy of attractiveness (How scary is that? I punished the ugliest ones by making them have no partners or children!!!).

    A sad fact now is that, as a child, my surprise presents were spot-on, and it showed how close my mum and I were. Now, she still tries, but she gets it wildly wrong, still buying me coloured woolly gloves and matching scarves when I wear gloves about once in the year, strange necklaces from Marks and Spencer, the latest blockbuster gold-block novel on offer at W.H Smith and recommended in her Daily Mail, a green glass cat paperweight with space for little square notes of paper in it, a diary with naff cartoon little girl on it, patterned tights (I have worn only trousers now for 10 years). The 'matching accessories' are actually hints, attempts to get me to 'take more of an an interest in your appearance' and 'stop wearing black all the time'.

    Oh, and, relating to your points about the overimportance of Christmas, Bela - my mum was heard, two years running, to express the view that one of the main positive sides of my father dying 18 months ago is that she no longer has to struggle to find him enough Christmas presents '('men are so difficult, aren't they?'), and that it was especially convenient of him to die now that C&A and Littlewoods are no more, 'because that would have made it really difficult'.

  6. PS I should also say, I can't get my mum's presents right either. She has chanigng colour themes for both home and clothing, and just as I am clued up on the terracotta and aubergine with cream, it turns into sea green and midnight blue or russet and old gold, LOL.

  7. I have issues with the whole "wish list" concept. I just had my baby shower last Sunday, and in spite of constant pressure to register, I never did because I feel really uncomfortable specifying a list of things I expect people to buy for me. It seems to undercut the whole "gift" concept.

    Holidays were weird when I was growing up. With a mentally ill mom, we never knew what we were going to get. One year she took all the old family board games (missing pieces, stained boxes and all), wrapped them up, and gave them to us. Another year, she got angry at her mother and smashed all the gifts, still wrapped, on the snow-covered lawn, so the rest of us would see them when we drove up. The closest I've ever seen her come to displaying remorse (though she never apologized) was the following morning when she opened one of my father's gifts to her, an alabaster box from his stay in China, and saw that it was smashed to splinters.

    She stopped speaking to me four years ago, but when my dad visited us recently he came bearing two "gifts" from my mom: a full-length christening gown and a blue romper with trucks on it. Since she knows her grandchild will neither be Catholic nor a boy, it was difficult to know how to interpret these items.

    All this is to say that I am deeply appreciative of gifts that show that the giver actually spent some time thinking about me and my likes/dislikes. It doesn't matter if it's spot-on. If someone says, "I remember you said you like pink so I made this pink scarf," I'm touched near to tears. You remembered something I said I liked? Wow. It really is the thought that counts -- or even the demonstration that any thought took place at all. I hope my kid inherits the same sense of gratitude for the caring that gifts represent. I won't handle an Xbox-demanding kid very well. :-)

  8. Lulu and WW, thank you so much for those fascinating reminiscences. They sound quite painful still. :-(

    Some of us are better at choosing presents for our family and friends than others. I’ve always found having to produce the ‘perfect’ present at a given time very difficult. Serendipity is a better way - when it happens. I also regret the fact that presents are invested with such importance and loaded with such meaning all the time. One should be allowed to get it wrong the odd time without its being a sign of lack of love or whatever. It’s especially hard to buy for people we’ve known for a long time and who’ve been given everything they might have wanted over the years. There can also be an element of competition, which I detest. One thing is sure: mothers can be relied upon to get it wrong most of the time – subconsciously or not.

  9. I bet TLP doesn't get it wrong.

  10. Oops, I meant 'except TLP'. We all envy the young Pezes, don't we?

    vwwii or vvvvvii or wvwii: how can I tell?

  11. *whispers*

    i spent £1 each on the chicklets' christmas pressies last year (mainly because i quickly realised how over-indulged they were going to be with pressies from relatives and i figure we have many years ahead when they are going to be demanding expensive pressies)

    and, er, nothing on their first birthday (although that was more to do with the fact that chicklet #2 had to have an operation the week beforehand, so (a) a lack of organisation but also (b) the fact of the operation reminded me that it's our health not an abundance of expensive pressies that really matters)

    sorry, didn't intend to sound sanctimonious, but that really is how i feel again this christmas, having just had chicklet #2 in hospital again

  12. p.s. am i therefore excused a slapping, B?!

    p.p.s. i think it's 1.7 children these days (and maybe even 1.1 in italy!)

  13. Yes, you are, UC. And I hope your kiddie is making a good recovery. :-)

  14. Aw. Well, in my case, the birdies are too small to bug me for anything, and DH and don't feel guilty about lack of time with them; this year has been very good in that respect. Frankly, it's just a frenzy of child indulgence. They are so sweet and little, the desire to see their faces light up just overwhelms you. And I can see that it would be a stronger urge for someone who's having a lousy year -- i.e., bad finances -- hence the foolishness of overspending. We have budgeted carefully though, and are leaving the real overspending to the grandparents. That's what they're for. ;)

  15. F, it sounds like you've got the right attitude. :-)


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