feeling the strain at Christmas

dadzclub recently ran a survey on how much we spend on our kids at Christmas. In the main, we spend £100-150 per child. This dads story tackles the issue of commercialism in general and pressures on parents.

I’m pretty used to Christmas coming early, in my job (creative and artwork manager at leading baby brand) it generally starts around June or July. Despite that, I’m shocked that it has started - even though I can see it coming a mile off in my diary (and the 400 critical paths that come out of my ears every day)!

What has shocked me even more though was when I got up one Saturday with Z (my son, 3). It was a rainy day, pretty miserable so I put the TV on whilst he and I were cleaning the house. Now we don’t usually do TV, Z is pretty much a TV free zone, he functions better without it - but I thought let’s put it on for some background noise.

Oh dear…..seriously, every single advert from 7-10 was for toys. It was insane. Boys toys, girls’ toys, unisex toys, guns, dolls, cars, dogs, cats, strange trains dressed as gerbils, the list goes on…

What was even worse though was the look on Z’s face. He was mesmerised, pupils blown as if he had overdosed on too many sweets. He wanted everything, all of it, even the train dressed as a gerbil and I was so horrified that I had to turn it off. Of course, for Zach that was like cold turkey, he was so upset, all he wanted to see and dream of was the shiny plastic, crazed pumped fists from boys playing with cars and the copious amounts of primary colours.

Once things had calmed down, it started to make me think about loads of things. Do I spoil him too much? Is this what Christmas is really about? Am I part of the problem?

The last one is quite easy to answer and I guess I have to be honest and say, I am part of the problem. I work for a company that brings out a line every year for Christmas. It’s not huge, its not advertised but it’s there and it’s there for people to buy for their children. I don’t have any control over it, other than it is my job and I have to do my part, but… I am part of the problem.

The other two were much harder to answer though…

I do buy Z a lot, but it’s not usually based on his requests. I use toys as a bargaining and reward tool. You see, we have entered the terrible two and three’s - and a lot of things tend to be a battle with him at the moment, as he deals with finally understanding that he is his own person and not an extension of mum! He also has the experience of hormones coursing through his blood.

To help him understand that toys don’t grow on trees, we have started a chart on our wall in the kitchen. 10 stickers for doing something good equal a toy. He can pick that toy, but the list tends to be vetted by us first as, if he is anything like his mum, it will be the most expensive thing first. At the moment he is massively into Octonauts, Thomas, wooden trains and anything to do with tractors, so it’s quite easy.

What we have also made sure of, is that toys do not replace real life experiences. I worry for Z, you hear so many stories of kids just zoned out on their Wii’s or PlayStations and I completely don’t want him to go down that route. I want Z to experience everything in reality, not virtual reality; so getting outside, connecting with nature and the earth is really important to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, toys have their place, absolutely. I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it wasn’t for my Eagle Eye Action Man or my Big Trak BUT as a kid I spent my days on the beach with my family, in fields with my friends and in the forest with Scouts. Toys complimented my life but they weren’t just my life, my life was much more than just the latest bit of plastic. It feels like toys these days are designed to keep you indoors and not expose you to the hideous dangers of the outside!

I guess Christmas is a bit different; it is the season of giving after all - but just because you give doesn’t mean you have to give a lot! A kid can get as much fun out of a colouring book as they can out of a PlayStation. I worry that sometimes people buy toys to compensate for something else. It’s hard for modern parents, we don’t spend enough time with our kids really, modern life and the expense of buying a house, two cars etc etc. means most parents have to work - but toys aren’t the answer, spending quality time with them is.

If you don’t have much time don’t give them something else which is going to mean they will spend even less time with you. Give them an experience, give them a memory, give them an adventure, give them excitement, and give them something that encourages you to bond with each other.

I think that is the best present anyone could give their kid for Christmas….

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