My Irrational Fear of Under Consuming

I have a confession to make. Last night I examined our tiny pile of Christmas presents and thought, “Is it enough?” I started to wonder if the girls might be disappointed on Christmas morning.

I had to firmly remind myself that they will love any sort of present. They will each receive the requisite new outfit, some new books, and a toy. Plus, they will have their stockings and gifts from relatives.

You see, I was shaken by the latest statistics on Christmas spending. For 2010, each Albertan will spend, on average, a little under $1400 on the holidays! These sorts of headlines remind me that our household is not average. And that is enough to push me into the arena of self-doubt.

My rational self says that the girls are going to be happy with their presents. They will learn that the holiday is more than just gifts. But my irrational, self-doubting side wonders if the girls will feel cheated (the base of our tree will not be over-flowing with gifts like the trees of children’s books or movies). Or, if others will judge our small offering of gifts to our children.

It’s fear. Because we are a demanding culture. As parents, we are fearful about not doing the ‘right’ things for our children. Instead of slowing down to question the demands, we are conditioned to speed up to keep up.

There is the fear that our child will be left behind academically or athletically. There is the fear that our child won’t fit in if they don’t have the right toy or pair of jeans. There is the fear that our teens will succumb to the evils of this world if they aren’t enrolled in enough activities to keep them ‘out of trouble.’ There is the fear our child might be the one to be abducted, molested, run over by a car, or seriously injured because we weren’t looking out for them.

Slow parenting starts with waging a war against these fears. We need to be proud of our little tree climbers, our children with fewer toys than the rest, our children who don’t use a tutor to get ahead, our teenagers who want to travel without their parents. We need to be confident that our children will find their own way because they have been brought up with less limitations on their time, their creativity, their intellect.

So I am stifling the fact that we are significantly under-spending compared to our fellow Albertans. They’re just little fears. I can overcome that.

8 Responses to “My Irrational Fear of Under Consuming”

  1. 1 Mama Tortoise December 26, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Hi Jocelyn – Yup, this is what you get to look forward to. And not just at Christmas. The Bear gets gifts from classmates at Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter and the end of the school year!

  2. 2 Perpetua December 20, 2010 at 5:38 am

    I’m obviously not the average gift-piling citizen, but I really admire what you guys are doing. And not in an “oh, isn’t that quaint” way. I think your level of commitment to slow parenting is awesome.

    The scary thing about the $1400 number is that it’s an AVERAGE. So some people are spending WAY more than that (and if you consider how bad our economy is here in the U.S., where people hardly have an extra 100, let along 1000, it’s mind-boggling when you see that our average is actually above that).

    • 3 Mama Tortoise December 21, 2010 at 5:53 am

      THanks for the comment, Perpetua!

      The price tag of $1400 blows me away. But I should clarify that this is Christmas spending, not just spending on gifts. So this amount would include money spent on Christmas dinner, or decorations, etc. But then again, that’s the average per person which means MJ and I would be projected to spend $2800 this season! (That said, I do have to go pick up our organic free-range turkey this afternoon which is going to cost us a pretty penny)

      I wondered if Americans might be curbing their spending habits this year. After seeing the footage of Black Friday, I wondered if Americans are slowing down the spending or perhaps just more savvy and looking for a good deal?

  3. 4 roma December 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Oh man, I can totally relate to this post and both of your comments. But I am so shocked to hear that the average Albertan spends $1400 during the holiday season?!!?

    I was asked the other day what my 14 mth old was getting for Christmas. I said ‘some bath toys and a couple of outfits’ and the person who asked me was looking at me.. with the look that said “yeh what else?” I felt I had to justify myself.. so I continued the conversation saying ‘well she has been given too many toys that she doesn’t play with… and will get more from others…etc etc’ and then I realised nothing I will say will make a difference – people just don’t understand and they just associate Christmas with buying big and my little collection of bathtoys and a couple of outfits’ just doesn’t measure up.

    I could write a lot more on this and the perceptions of others but will try to keep it short 🙂 Negative reactions of people when we have given ‘charity gifts’ or home made/baked goods/hampers in the past (we’re doing this again this year!) never ceases to amaze me.. But you’re right, it’s time to be unapologetic and if people know and love you, they will understand why we react the way we do – and it’s not about saving money, it’s about living simply, getting back to what is important in life and for me, that’s not spending $1400 on ‘gifts’ that may end up in the trash within a few months!

    • 5 Mama Tortoise December 21, 2010 at 5:27 am

      Thanks for you comment, Roma.

      It’s nice to commiserate with others online! People do think that it is weird when we give so little. And there’s such a stigma with being thrifty. I sometimes want to put a sticker on the Bear’s forehead that says ‘we can afford it but we’re choosing not to!’ Which is silly because there shouldn’t be any shame in spending in small amounts. But the pressure can be SO tough!

  4. 6 Pamella December 19, 2010 at 8:00 am

    I totally understand what you mean! Although we don’t have children there is still this expectation during the holidays to give. We don’t buy presents. We gather as friends and family to spend time together. However, we are not absent from that fear you talk about.

    Mom and dad drop by with a surprise gift. OMG! Does that mean we should go out and buy a gift to give back! We are invited to a few friends parties over the holidays. OMG! Do we have to go and buy gifts? Would they be happy with baked goods or a bottle of wine?

    We dropped the idea of gift giving over 10 years ago. But there is still that expectation that if you receive a gift you should return the gesture with a gift. We did this for a few reasons: 1. To avoid the stress during the holidays (gift ideas and shopping malls) 2. To watch our spending. UNNECESSARY spending 3. To remember what this time of year really means.

    I am surprised that no matter the holiday OR the religious belief behind it, there is always spending and gift giving involved. WHY!?

    • 7 Mama Tortoise December 19, 2010 at 9:46 am

      Thanks for the comment, Pam. You’re right, we all feel that pressure about gift giving. We all want to follow these social norms but it’s so hard when you disagree with them or if you simply can’t afford it.

      The Bear received gifts from her classmates at pre-school. They were just small things but they were enough to make me wonder if we should reciprocate. But I’m standing firm. It has to stop somewhere or else gift giving will continue to escalate.

      It’s time to be unapologetic about avoiding gift giving. If people know you and love you, they will understand. If you’re breaking some hard and fast social rule with a person and they are offended, I guess you have to ask yourself if that person is company worth keeping?

      • 8 Jocelyn December 25, 2010 at 6:27 am

        Really? Presents from the preschool group? Is this what I have to look forward to? I thought it was bad enough when I heard from my sister-in-law that my nephews had to invite their entire class to their birthday parties…and they had to plan an extra special activity to no- doubt keep up with or surpass the expectations that were set from previous classmate parties. I would like to meet the people who started this vicious cycle!

        Keep doing what you are doing and, with hope, we can break these chains of expectations.

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