How to cope with not having enough money to maintain a lifestyle in a culture oriented toward the acquisition of goods.
The days of five dollar board games and ten dollar push toys are long gone. Today children want Santa to spend lots of money on the latest in electronics, designer jeans and hundred dollar shoes which glow in the dark. Although many in the Mental Health Community disagree, most Psychologist report believing Santa Claus is a normal and healthy phase of child development. However, for a recently divorced or separated parent who has seen their income cut in half, maintaining Santa’s image of rewarding good little boys and girls is challenging. When a parent can only afford food and clothing, do they take the dream away? Do Santa and his reindeer disappear into the darkness?
Researchers report most children by the age of six know the truth about Santa Claus and where the money for toys comes from. Many learn the truth from friends and family, others figure it out on their own. Children as young as six have searched the internet and learned the truth about Jolly Old St. Nick. Psychologist and counselors report children, adolescents and many teens who know the truth, keep the myth alive for parents who want to keep Santa real. Changes in lifestyle are difficult, especially during the holidays. Twinkling lights, flyers, newspapers and pop-ups on tablets, laptops and cell phones can turn excitement and anticipation into anxiety and depression if you can’t afford to fulfill a child’s dream or purchase presents for family and friends.
The internet is full of ways to tell children times have changed and money is tight. Even more ways to change the meaning of the holidays, putting more emphasis on the true meaning of the season – directing children away from material desires toward a sense of gratitude. A task difficult to master in a society which brands, classifies and judges. With so many adults telling their story and so many in the media speaking out, we learn the effects of “not having what other children had”. Many tell a story of feeling left out and unfit far into adulthood. Even those who appear successful share feelings of inadequacy and of being on the outside looking in.
Divorce is hard on the family – the immediate and the extended. Not having enough money to maintain a lifestyle in a culture oriented toward the acquisition of goods is challenging. Children are growing up in a very different world. They know and understand the role money plays in today’s society. Perhaps this is why Psychologist suggest telling the truth. Not your perception of the truth – the truth the child needs to hear. Your wealth as a parent is not dependent on how much you can spend. Constantly saying, “I can’t afford it”, or “I don’t have the money” makes it about you and the divorce, not the child. Instead explain how things have changed, how special they are and how much they are loved. Spend time doing things you wouldn’t normally do. Tell them parents must pay for the things Santa brings and instead of asking what they want, let them choose from a list of items you can afford.
Making the holidays about you and your insecurities about money can lead to childhood anxiety and depression. Maintain the joy and excitement of the holidays with creative thinking. If multiple items come in a package, wrap them separately; use newspaper as wrapping paper and stuff stockings with the unexpected. Maintain customs, activities and routines as much as possible. If your new lifestyle includes second-hand stores and soup kitchens, tell them in advance and prepare them for the experience. Children grow up faster, know more about the world they live in and understand the levels of society’s norms. They probably know more about your money than you would want them to. As you provide guidance, convey honest expectations and maintain truthful communications, admit to yourself, and communicate to your ex-spouse, family and friends, “This year the holidays are going to be very different, for yourself and your children.” Things have changed.