In a September blog, I asked parents to tell me what kids-and-money topics have them worried. I received a lot of different questions, and in a subsequent blog, I answered a sampling of them. Some of the questions and concerns centered around holidays and gifts, so I held onto them for this holiday season.
Alan, father of Kerry (15) and Melissa (11) Colorado
I have two daughters and they fight about everything but they are especially brutal when it comes to getting gifts. They're really terrible -- and we taught them to know better. I dread birthdays and Christmas because they are so ungrateful.
Last Christmas, my mother gave Melissa a camera that had belonged to my father. He used that camera take pictures at every family gathering. She unwrapped it and said, "What am I supposed to do with that? All my friends would make fun of me for having that old thing. It isn't even digital!" I was mortified, my mother was so hurt. I'm not proud of how I handled things but I made her thank her grandmother and then I told her to give it to me, and that I would be honored to have it. Later that evening I heard the girls making fun of the gifts they had received.
While parents don't like to disappoint their kids, their kids' outspoken disappointment is a huge annoyance. Close to 98 percent of parents would reprimand a child who voiced ingratitude, and this father is also in the majority of parents who would make their kid apologize immediately. There should be real consequences for the girls' ungratefulness. Assess what messages you may have unintentionally taught. Also, parents should rehearse proper gift-getting etiquette with their kids --have them role play. Keep explaining to them that a gift is given from the heart and should be treasured.
Mirella, mother of Tony (12) and Gina (9) North Carolina
Whenever it's time for gifts for my kids, I get sick to my stomach. I am divorced and doing the best I can to make a good house and life for my family, but there isn't much money left for gifts or extra things. During the year, my kids understand that we don't have money for everything they ask for and we talk about it.
The problem is the father. We have been divorced for three years. He doesn't visit or do very much with our kids, but when it comes to gifts -- he goes crazy. He spends so much money and buys them everything. I want my kids to have nice things, but it makes me look bad. I feel like he his trying to buy the love. He looks like the best father ever, and I'm the one with all the responsibilities.
This is a question I get asked a lot -- it affects so many of us. If you're the one with the greater income, try to make sure you're not doing things (like this dad) to show up the other household. In your case, as the parent with less money, you are taking the important step of talking to your kids about your situation. You've made that commitment to be open with your kids about money matters.
Explain to your kids that it's not a matter of who loves them more, just who can afford more. Be sure not to bad-mouth the other parent -- that will hurt your child. Spend quality time with your kids -- making holiday decorations, hand-made gifts for the grandparents, watching holiday movies, and talking about your favorite holiday memories. The holidays are about love, sharing, and making memories. They should never be about money!
Mark & Dan, parents of Chloe (9) and Christina (12) Massachusetts
We have two amazing pre-teen daughters -- we're the luckiest dads! We have raised the girls to have a budget and allowance, thanks to you. They're very good about sticking to the program. We're also very conscientious about setting the right examples, so we keep a family budget, make shopping lists, and sometimes even keep spending logs to see where our pocket money goes -- which is sometimes shocking.
When our kids get money gifts from grandparents and other relatives, we disagree about how the girls should handle the unexpected cash -- into the jars, or let them enjoy it.
Congratulations for being so on top of your family money matters and doing such a good job teaching your kids. I'm glad that you asked this question because my thoughts on this particular subject have evolved.
I used to advocate dividing up the money gifts into the budget the same as earned money - perhaps with a larger-than-usual portion going into Quick Cash. Now, thanks to my own kids and grandkids, I think that gifts should be enjoyed in keeping with spirit in which they were given. I don't want kids to feel that the budget system is punitive or mean. Also, kids can be pretty creative. I have heard that kids have figured out to ask for gift cards instead of cash, which seems to be a loophole in the plan. I would still ask that the kids still put a portion of their gift money towards charity.
The holiday season should be a happy and joyful time of year, but I know it can also be a time of stress and even depression. The important lessons are that ongoing, open, and honest conversations are essential. As part of your conversations, remember to reinforce your family values, and the meaning of giving and receiving gifts as an expression of love and appreciation.
Please keep your questions coming and feel free to share your comments and experiences in the space blow.