Q. Normally my two children (six and eight) get loads of presents at Christmas. However, this year my husband lost his job and finances are much tighter in the family. I don’t know how to explain to my children that they will be getting a lot less this year. Both myself and my husband feel we are letting them down. We’re both pretty down about it and normally we really love Christmas. The children are asking about things they would like that I know we can’t really afford and I don’t know what to say.
A. With the country unfortunately deep in recession this Christmas, many families are in your position and worried about finances and how to celebrate Christmas with their children. Financial worries can take their toll on people and it is easy to become stressed and depressed about everything.
It is quite likely that your children have sensed what is going on and are probably concerned as to how you are worried and stressed. The first step to helping them is to sit down and explain to them the situation in a child-centred way that they can understand.
Tell them that as a family you have less money, meaning there will be less expensive gifts this year. However, emphasise that you are still going to celebrate Christmas this year, and that you are going to have fun together as a family. While they might be disappointed, they might also be very understanding and glad you have explained things to them.
In my work, I am always amazed at the resilience of children and how they can be understanding of family difficulties.
Remember that, as you approach Christmas, what children value most is happy and connected times with their parents, rather than an excess of toys and gifts.
Be creative about how you can have a fun yet low-cost family Christmas this year. Brainstorm fun and interesting, though inexpensive, gifts that your children can have and consider alternate options for sourcing these presents (for example, charity shops, second-hand sales, even making them yourself and so on).
Make a list of activities you can do together as a family over the Christmas period such as visiting family and friends, special trips to museums and public attractions or even a special family walk, etc.
Putting them up on a special day-by-day chart over the festive period can add to the enjoyment. Consider establishing new family traditions and rituals at Christmas that aren’t to do with presents (such as baking together or lighting candles on Christmas Eve), but which could be equally memorable and special.
If necessary, do contact charities (such as the St Vincent de Paul) for extra ideas and support on celebrating a low-cost family Christmas.
Remember that your children are likely to follow your lead in how you cope during these challenging times. If you display an attitude of active coping towards your worries and if you make a commitment to celebrate the small but important things in family life, then it is likely that your children will follow suit.
In my experience, children can be less materialistic and more able to grasp the real spirit of Christmas – as one of sharing and being close to family – than their parents appreciate.
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, December 2012. John writes in The Irish Times Health Plus every Tuesday.