How do cash-strapped African-American parents tell their children that these difficult economic times make it “challenging” for Santa Claus to bring them gifts?
Although the spirit of Christmas is in the air, many low-income African-American families are not feeling so eager about it this year. Many are trying to figure how to not ruin the idea of Santa Claus for their children despite these unpredictable economic times.
Even though the economy is bad, Carole Lieberman, who is a psychiatrist and best-selling author of Coping with Terrorism: Dreams Interrupted, told theGrio that parents should not break the magic of Christmas or tell their children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
“The fact that things are tough this year makes it all the more important to keep this magic alive,” she said. “Parents can explain that Santa wasn’t able to bring them exactly what they asked for because he had a lot of needy children to give presents to this year.”
The impact of these difficult times was revealed in the Census Bureau racial statistics released just two weeks ago. The data indicated that the average white person last year earned income roughly 1.7 times higher than that of African-Americans. It was the widest ratio since the 1990s.
Additionally, the statistics showed that low-income African-Americans are increasing. The number of African-American households ranking among the poorest — those earning less than $15,000 — jumped from 20 percent to 26 percent over the past decade.
Yet Child Development and Behavior Specialist Betsy Brown Braun told theGrio that it doesn’t matter whether you are African-American, Asian, or any other race, because the economic times are making it a challenge for many parents to buy gifts for their children.
“It’s a sad time for every child of an unemployed parent whose money is tight right now,” Braun said to theGrio. “Kids are probably too young to understand the nature of the economy right now, so it’s hard to explain to young children the realities of the economic downturn.”
Braun who is also the author of You’re Not The Boss Of Me: Brat Proofing Your Kids and Just Tell Me What To Say emphasized to theGrio that parents should focus on what is important during Christmas, like spending time with friends and family.
“Parents should not emphasize gift-giving,” Braun said. “They should also be really careful to keep their own guilt in check, because the child will react to whatever is negative or positive.”
In fact, one African-American woman —who wished to remain anonymous —said although she grew up in a low-income family, she perceived Christmas as a wonderful holiday centered on friends and family.
On Christmas day, her mother would tell her and her siblings that she had paid Santa for their toys, so they only received a certain amount of gifts.
Looking back, the woman said it made her and her siblings feel better about Christmas, because they still believed in Santa Claus and admired their mother for what she “was” able to get them.
Indeed, Braun said from an early age it’s important for children to grasp that Santa Claus never brings everything -let alone half—of the things on their list.
“Even children from the wealthiest families will be disappointed —unfortunately,” Braun said. “Usually children who have less will appreciate Christmas more for the small things.”
There were also other experts who agreed that parents should stop focusing on the materialistic things during the Christmas holiday.
Dr. Fran Walfish, who is a psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, told theGrio that children remember the quality time that they spend with their parents rather than the gifts they receive. Therefore, it is better for parents to place attention on what they can give to their children, rather than what they cannot.
“I have helped people of all ages and I have never treated an adult who remembers a specific materialistic gift that they received for Christmas,” Dr. Walfish told theGrio. “However, they come in remembering the family connection gained during the holidays.”
Since this “family” connection plays a key role in a child’s development, Dr. Walfish emphasized that parents should encourage their children to create their own ideas about the holidays.
“Current research on child brain development points to brain growth coming from invaluable one- on-one connection,” she said. “In a way, Santa Claus is a part of the folklore of our culture. It allows children to create their own ideas about the holiday after discussing it with their parents.”
To continue the gift-giving tradition of Santa Claus, Child Development and Behavior Specialist Braun stated to the Grio that low-income parents can create ‘family-time’ coupons for their children: “Parents can give their children a coupon that entitles them to family time. For example, if the kid likes to read, the coupon will entitle the parent to take time out of the day to read the child a book. It’s very simple and yet great one-on-one time.”
Truitt encouraged low-income parents to take their kids to homeless shelters to help them realize the true meaning of Christmas. It was a suggestion that he has given to his patients who are going through the holiday without a steady income.
“Parents can take a Christmas day visit to a shelter and have their children offer one of their toys to those at the shelter,” Truitt told theGrio. “From this visit, the children will realize that they have more than most do.”
He also proposed that low-income parents place a small, extra gift in their children’s hands stating it came from Santa.
“The letter could read: Dear Billy, please deliver this gift to someone in need for me, thank you, Santa,” he said. “By giving to the less fortunate, the children will not only appreciate what they do have, but they will also realize the true spirit of Christmas.”
Indeed, realizing the true meaning of Christmas is something that experts said everyone should take into account. Therefore, parents and children need to nurture each other and not focus on gifts.
“During lean financial times kids may think that their gifts are fewer because they’ve been ‘naughty,’ ” Psychotherapist Julie Hanks said. “However, it’s important for parents to emotionally prepare children for receiving fewer gifts by focusing on gratitude for what they already have and by giving to others.”
Regardless of the different courses of action, Dr. Walfish said low-income parents can take this Christmas to bring holiday cheer to their children.
“When things go south, we all need to remember that this is temporary and that nothing is perfect,” she said. “The sooner one can embrace themselves —flaws and all— the faster we can accept and embrace what’s really important during the Christmas holiday.”