What to expect when they’re expecting a certain something
Sometimes their most-desired gift just isn’t available. Here’s how to let them down while keeping the holiday joy.
Many children today have raised the holiday wish list or letter to Santa to an art form: a document to be labored over and carefully considered, perhaps even rewritten or reordered a few times before completion. It receives attention and focus that homework assignments only dream about. But sometimes, no matter how elegantly it’s been crafted, problems arise in the execution.
Like the time a few years ago when Michelle Bocci’s daughter requested a Furby for Christmas – and there were no Furbies around. Bocci, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, finally managed to buy one on eBay for close to $400, but when she met the seller at a local restaurant, the woman tried to demand even more money. And a Merry Christmas to you!
Clearly this is not the holiday vibe you want, nor the blow to the budget, but what’s a parent … er, Santa … to do when the coveted item, the list-topper, the pièce de résistance, just can’t be acquired?
To start, take a deep breath. “Twenty years down the road children are not going to fault their parents for the latest electronic gizmo they didn’t get,” says parenting expert Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day (Iron Gate Press, 2014 – 2nd edition). “They’ll find other things to fault you for, so don’t worry,” she adds with a laugh.
Don’t buy memories, make them
Gifts generally are not what gets stored in a child’s memory bank, Newman explains. Instead, family rituals and traditions make a lasting impression. “That’s what’s remembered as a highlight of growing up, not the trendy toy they didn’t get,” she says. So be sure your holiday preparations and celebrations include more than just frantic shopping. Participate in religious activities if that’s part of your tradition, bake cookies with your children, share gifts or food with those less fortunate in your community, or create handmade ornaments for the tree, suggests Newman.
But of course you can’t overlook presents altogether, so back to the matter at hand … . Yes, your child is telling you he’ll die without the latest whatever-it-is, but does that sound like something he’s actually interested in? Will he enjoy it after the wrapping is ripped off? Or does he just want it because everyone else does, too? Did he see an enticing ad on TV or online?
“Always listen to what kids are talking about before the holidays,” says Jane Erickson of River Forest, Illinois, whose two children now are in their 20s. “Ellie always wanted a dog, so one year we got her a battery-operated dog that did tricks. The glee on her face when she opened it was magic, and it wasn’t even on her list.”
It also may be helpful to emphasize that just because something’s on your child’s list, that doesn’t guarantee delivery.
“Sometimes the sleigh was too full, so Santa brought this instead,” says Erickson. And because her family celebrates the birth of Jesus at Christmas, Erickson also linked her children’s wish lists to the three gifts Jesus received when he was born. “They knew they’d get three things from their list,” she says. “And it might not be the top three, so that gave us some wiggle room.”
Plus, with a little finesse, you could still pull off getting the most-desired gift – even if it doesn’t make it on the right day. One year Anu Varma Panchal’s daughter, Radha, requested a Squinkies carriage that could not be located, so Santa brought her a note on Christmas morning saying it was taking a little extra time to make. “The day it finally arrived – via my sister and Amazon Prime – I rang some jingle bells and said, ‘Hey, did you hear those bells?’” recalls Varma Panchal, who lives in Tampa, Florida. “Then we went to the door, and the present was waiting outside. Radha was so excited she was pounding the box in joy.”
However, even if you’re going to be a hero a little later, there’s still the question of how to make Christmas morning or Hanukkah night a magical time for your little ones. “Starting with very young children, build traditions,” says Newman. If your kids love pancakes, start the holiday with a special batch. Or play a family game of Monopoly. When you do open gifts, take turns, she suggests, so kids can see what others got and how they like it. “Have them look away from themselves to see how others feel.”
Then maybe pile in the car with some hot chocolate and drive around to look at decorations. “Just create memories with your children,” says Erickson. “That’s what they remember, not a toy.”