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How do I tell my kids we’re too broke for Christmas?

Cecily Kellogg

In this installment of Tough Love, Cecily Kellogg from Uppercase Woman offers her advice on how to deal with the effects of a family financial crisis during the holiday season. She’s living it herself, so she knows how it feels.

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Little girl with no Christmas gifts

tough love with Cecily Kellogg

The question

The bad economy has been hard on our family. My husband was laid off and we are struggling. As a result, Christmas isn’t going to be what my kids are accustomed to. Even though I know we overdid it in the past and that’s not the point of the holidays, I’m still bummed. What do I tell my kids? Do I tell them anything? They are in first and fourth grade.

Signed, Laid Off For Christmas

Cecily answers:

Kids know

Yesterday my daughter’s preschool teacher told us that we needed to have a parent-teacher conference (our first, but likely to be far from the last). Apparently, my daughter has been defiant, and has made her time-outs a joke. Why is my daughter acting out? Likely, it’s because of the massive stress in our house related to our current financial struggles. We’re heading into our second Christmas of no gifts for the grown ups, and it sucks.

While we try not to talk about the money struggles in front of our daughter, guess what? She knows – and she’s only four. Your kids must know what is going on, right? They are undoubtedly smart and sensitive young folks, so they already have a sense of your financial reality.

Tell them the truth

My notice from the teacher reminded me that I needed to spend some time discussing things with my daughter – even if it’s just in general terms – and remind her that things will be okay, and she doesn’t need to worry. I think you can have a similar conversation with your kids, and I think you can also use the global financial issues as a framework for the discussing. It’s highly likely that many of their friends will also be experiencing a Christmas with fewer gifts this year. Maybe you could structure the conversation around the overall economic issues rather then centering on the ones in your house.

I don’t know if you have kids who believe in Santa, but you could also talk about the fact that because so many mommies and daddies are struggling this year, Santa has to spread the presents farther than ever, so there may be a few less under the tree for them. We’re planning on taking my daughter to the store and having her pick out a toy to give to Toys for Tots to help Santa out; after all, there are plenty of children that will get no gifts at all this year. This way we can shift the focus away from our struggles and help my daughter see the big picture. I hope. She is only four, after all.

I’m so sorry you’re struggling this year too. I, personally, cannot wait to see 2010 go away and I hope quite fervently that the door hits its ass on the way out. Good things for everyone in 2011, I hope. Good luck to you.


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