The high price of a perpetual Christmas

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Christmas is fast approaching once again. The constant barrage of hype, color, noise, ads, and pressure seen on the faces of so many parents to do it "Big" again this year, is telling.

Unfortunately, "Big" for many families is to buy more and more plastic, brightly colored toys, which are hard to differentiate in terms of uniqueness of function. It also means buying whatever "fad" toy that is the rage this particular year. Its' rarity also means it will be extremely expensive and the parent will "fail" their child if they are not able to purchase one before they are "sold out." As Christmas approaches, the pressure builds along with the debt and stress, potentially increasing the frequency of domestic violence in families who cannot compete in this artificially induced market.

What is also very sad about this story is that the "shelf life" of the toy, in terms of interest to the child, is typically, very short. Even the bright colors and competitive hype can not carry many of the toys beyond a few weeks of interest. The debt, however, typically lasts much longer than the interest in the toy that was designed to make you feel like a "great parent."

For those unable to scrape up enough money or credit to purchase these toys, the sense of failure and shame can be over-whelming on Christmas day when their children have to watch more "fortunate" children show off their gifts. For theses families, we have charity organizations that "give" toys to the parents. The public shaming continues as the parents pretend to be grateful while the media emphasized their inadequacy with displays of more and more ... lights, toys, diamonds, and smiles.

How did we get swept into this tsunami of "celebration" of the birth of a simple man, seen as the son of God, who threw the lenders out of the Temple of God? When did we begin to measure human value by indiscriminate buying? Purchasing more and more with no clear guidelines of what is "valuable" and how much is enough.

The gradual building of this pressure to consume and measure our lives and self worth by non-essential material goods, began years ago. Today, our media demonstrates for us dissatisfaction with adequate lives. Ripping down walls, "up grading" good enough floors, walls, cabinets, and furniture. Encouraging "trading up" today's lifestyle for the current fad. All of this encouraging "temporary" to be the new standard for lower quality products. Remember the contempt for "made in Japan" products of the past? Now it is "made in US" products that are devalued even by our own people, while encouraging production of theses inferior products to "create" meaningless jobs. Work just for a pay check without pride built in , is meaningless for sure. The question "what do you want to be when you grow up?" is talked about less and less in our society.

A recent example of our changing values is demonstrated by the current ads for diamond rings with up to 60 diamonds. Hey Valentines Day is coming. How will you know he loves you if you are still wearing a single diamond ring in this world of confusion about how much is enough? These ads feed the monster of greed, insecurity, and discontent in a nation that has lost track of our values. How much is enough? Where we put our time, money, and energy, becomes the values of our lives.

All which brings me back to Christmas, the media, and our children who are more and more confused about their value to the world. All the latest toys are not a substitute for what they don't have at home.

Our children, most of which presumably are "wanted" are raised and warehoused in daycare centers from an early age, until they transfer to be warehoused in schools and after school "activities. School, which use to serve as the primary function of education, are now the parenting centers of our children's lives. A friend refers this phenomena as "modern day orphanages." Even if their physical needs — food, diaper changes, education, and safety — are met, there is little time for individual nurturing of this unique child.

Schools are not up to the tasks being asked of them. Even "good" schools and teachers are worn down over time by too many roles to perform, too many students with special needs, too little reward — pay and accolades — and too little freedom for creativity in the classrooms. Raises and smaller classrooms alone would not be enough to overcome this growing problem for our children.

Parenting is a verb. It is a commitment to active passing on of our family and cultural values, goal, and dreams. Parents and extended family, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who live d close by use to share this job. Today many do not have access to these important family shaping people on a regular basis. Who is that guide in our children's lives today? Who models for them the answer to the question: Who and what do you want to be when you grow up? Who teachers them attachment and commitment to another loving person which allow them to grow into adults that can stay in long term relationships with spouses, and their own children and grandchildren.

So how does this fit in with the issue of the distortion of Christmas? Yes, you can buy more and more presents, which ties you to more and more dept, which ties you to more and more need to work long hours away from your children ... feeling more and more guilt. All contributes to this glut of meaningless gifts.

Schools, after-school programs, and constant sports and activities frenzy, keep our children busy while we are absent from their lives. Teachers, daycare, and coaches, are not a substitute for the lasting connection of a child to a parent, or grandparent.

So what do we want for our children? How can we plan for their needs and not just feed their media driven wants? Children will always have ever-changing wants. Our job is to differentiate between wants and needs, to ensure they have what they need first: connection, consistency of love, an education that includes values demonstrated by the most powerful people in their lives, their mothers, fathers, and extended family.

It is not too late to be the parent we dreamed of being, but it will take work to break these societal patterns. Remember, the results will affect not just your children, but also your children's children. Now that is a gift.

Susan Joy writes from


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