31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Short On Commercial Presents, Big On Heavenly Blessings

Single With Children: Sometimes you have to practice what you preach

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 12/22/04

For years, I've told my kids Christmas isn't about material things.

I've lectured about how out-of-control commercialization has taken away from the true meaning of this holiday. I've reminded them time after time that all the "stuff" we give and receive has a tendency to cloud the reason we celebrate this sacred time of year in the first place.

Of course, year after year, right after delivering the speech, I could be found frantically searching online and hitting all my kids' favorite stores in the mall.

It's a real shame I didn't listen to my own good advice. It's painful when I discover I am paying nothing more than lip service to important things I profess to believe. It's about as palatable as eating my own words.

This Christmas finds very few presents under our tree. I wish I could say it's because I finally understand the message I've tried to convey to my family. I wish I could tell you the empty space beneath our Christmas tree was due to a deliberate effort on my part to remove myself from the material aspect of this year. I could tell you those things, but they wouldn't be true.

This December, a few unexpected and unplanned expenditures, not to mention my decision to replace my worn out coffee- and tea-stained carpet, find my Christmas budget at a critically low level. When I realized this, my first thought was sheer panic. How would I break it to the kids? How will they deal with not having a barrage of presents to unwrap. How will I afford the therapy required to help them deal with the fact that very few things on their "wish list" are going to materialize before their eyes on Christmas morning?

The most disturbing question I found myself asking is almost too embarrassing to admit: What will they think of me if I don't come through with the goods?

I am ashamed of myself. Why would I expect my kids to buy into my "Christmas isn't about the presents" soliloquy when I have made it my business to stress myself and my checkbook far beyond reasonable limits?

How could I fault their high expectations? They were taking their cues from me.

I dreaded the conversation, knowing I would have to sit them down and explain that things were tight this year. I didn't know what to expect, and my heart sank every time I approached "the talk."

I finally explained my dilemma and told them gift-giving would be dramatically scaled back this year. Before they could say a word, I found myself apologizing.

I expected intense, deep disappointment. What's more, I felt I deserved whatever grief I might feel. I am chagrined at how little faith I had in my kids. Rather than admonitions and rants, my announcement was met with hugs and warm support.

It turns out I have been the one who has been so wrapped up in the wrapping up! I was the one with the problem and the misguided notion that my performance as a parent relied solely on my ability to overindulge.

A few weeks ago, I was certain this would be the most disappointing Christmas my kids have ever had.

Not only did I underestimate my budget, I also underestimated the heart of my children. I guess through the years, when I would wax poetic on the true meaning of this season, at least two people were paying attention. Next time I might look into living what I lecture.

I feel more blessings and love this Christmas. Time formerly spent in the mall, has turned into more time to spend with those special people who mean the most. Love really is the reason for the season. "Less" really has turned out to be so much more.

Merry Christmas.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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