The Struggling Student Rants—Your Wallet vs. You

Holiday Stress-Shopping

It’s no secret: being an adult equals stress.  Some adults are more stressed than others, some handle it better than others, and some prefer to pretend they’re Peter Pan and hope for the best.  Then, once a year, you have your “festive stress” to add to the list.  Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, or nothing at all, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the commotion called “December.”  The holidays should remind us of sparkly lights, family and friends, brisket and latkes, wrapping paper and ornate decorations.  But the sad reality is, they usually don’t.

This time of year not only intensifies any pre-existing anxiety, it also creates stressful situations out of nowhere.  Things like finding the money to finance gifts, finding the time to go shopping for these gifts, accommodating everyone’s wishes, and cooking up the perfect meal – all while trying to juggle work deadlines and AU assignments – can be enough to make us all go mad!  However, whether we want to admit it or not, the torture is self-imposed.  We try to pull off the perfect day by going through weeks of hell, only so we can post about it on social media or hear our family brag about how many goodies they ate or how many new things they get to add to the existing pile of things.  To make things worse, the strain we self-impose to pull off a picture-perfect holiday can be overwhelming the best of years.  Now add COVID-19 to the recipe.  I won’t get into the details; we’ve all heard how this pandemic has affected everyone’s mental health and anxiety. What I will get into the details of, is the anxiety you’re imposing on your poor wallet!

Something to think about: our wallets typically cringe at the sound of “Christmas” during the best of times.  Credit cards go into the red in an attempt to convince that Santa is real, and that Tommy has been a good boy all year.  Mommy and daddy will have to prove this, of course, with a $2,000 PlayStation or Xbox purchased from some back-alley re-seller.  I’m not a parent – I cannot relate, so I try not to judge.  But when I first heard how much money friends and family were spending on their children over the holidays, in an attempt to brighten their spirits, I admit I had second thoughts about how bright they really are (guys, if you’re reading this… I still love you).

There are families out there struggling to keep the power on and keep food on the table—literally.  Mass layoffs from COVID-19 are no secret.  The Globe and Mail  recently published some of the results of their annual poll, surrounding holiday shopping habits.  Another national survey by Credit Canada, called the annual Reality Check Index, showed that one-in-four Canadians, from coast-to-coast, will have to skip Christmas altogether this year and that one-in-ten Canadians aren’t even sure they’ll be able to pay their household bills. So, if you’re feeling alone in all this, know that you are not.  We all need to be patient and make rational decisions as we wait to ride this out.  Christmas can still be magical, even without the baked ham and PlayStations.  If you don’t believe me, I simply ask that you step back and think about it for a minute—from both an emotional perspective and as a reality check.

More Meaning, Less Stuff

Kids are messy.  You ask them to do something—fun or not—chances are there will be plenty of screaming, crying, laughter, giggling, resistance, snot, and possibly some dried-up ketchup and finger paint along the walls.  Still, most kids will walk out of any situation smiling and smug, like the proud Power Rangers they are, with an attitude ranging from “bring it on suckers!” to “can we do that again?” The more imagination, the better.  Trust me when I say that years later, if not the very next week, the screaming and crying, the snot, the siblings’ hair-pulling contest, and eating frozen leftovers or a ten-course gourmet dinner on Christmas Eve will long be forgotten.  What will live on in their minds, until they’re back in diapers again decades later, will be the hugs, the giggles, and everyone together in the same room.  I know that’s what I remember.  Who gives a shit about the $200 She-Ra Crystal Castle set—which, by the way, got torn to pieces the minute it was taken out of the box?  I just wish my cousins were all here to laugh and fight with!  This holiday season try to put your worries aside and simply spend time with those you love.  Truly spend time with them—don’t watch TV or mindlessly scroll through social media while sitting next to them.  Put down those phones and turn off the TV.  Yes, there will be screaming and crying.  But that will be over the moment you bring out the blankets and chairs.  What are you going to do with blankets and chairs? Build a fort, of course!

Reality Check

Throughout generations, all kids have been known to be bratty from time to time.  Heck, I was spoiled rotten to the core most of the time!  However, each generation gripes about how those succeeding them are too coddled.  I’m not sure if there are any actual studies out there, confirming or denying this.  I am sure that it makes sense.  10-year-olds in 2020 are definitely not as “tough” as the kids raised in the 1950s and they definitely have a more entitled attitude than 10-year-olds did in the 1980s.  This doesn’t negate the value, of course, in any child protection standards and legislation now in place.  But the sad reality is, we now try to buy our children’s love and make up for lost time with them more than ever.  Do their eyes light up when they see that new toy on the store shelf ….um, sorry, on Amazon?  You bet they do.  So did yours, 10, 20, 30 years ago, maybe even today.  Did that toy make up for missed time with mom, dad, grandma, or grandpa?  I’ll leave that for you to answer.  We think that the more things we buy them, the happier our children are.  I’m sure that most of us, however, can agree that things don’t fill the void in our own hearts—so why should they fill any void in our children’s hearts?  This year, new family traditions can be created, such as setting a limit on the number of gifts or designating one gift from Santa and only one from both parents, all the while adding a weekly Sunday family night and sticking to it all year round.

Another idea is to give your children the option of an actual “thing” or the opportunity to do something in the future that they have long had their hearts set on, such as going to the local zoo next summer.  Also, if parents are struggling this holiday season to put food on the table, they shouldn’t be scared to sit down and have an honest conversation with their children and tell them what’s going on.  Kids are usually much smarter than we think.  They likely already know that something’s wrong, so don’t be frightened at the thought of ‘burdening’ them.  It’s also really important they understand that it’s not all about spending money.  If they don’t immediately have the reaction you expected, don’t let the guilt consume you; they will eventually realize they need to be a bit more understanding.  Plus, most children don’t have Young Sheldon’s temperament, they have trouble regulating their emotions.  Heck, most adults do too!

Holiday shopping deserves its own branding of hell, with or without a pandemic looming over us.  I know people that start shopping in June, hoarding junk away until they can surprise their loved ones in December, with yet another pair of socks or ugly sweater (Really, you shouldn’t have).  Why do we feel obliged to buy things for others?  Gift-giving isn’t as simple as we think; it’s a complex, emotional, process.  It should be about showing appreciation, not obligation.

I would much rather prefer the luxury of time with you, laughing over memories of youthful ludicrousness, while sipping on a glass of smooth white.  The best present I received this year, and it’s not even December 25th yet, was a thoughtful, handwritten letter from a friend across the country.  It’s rare to even receive actual Christmas cards in the mail anymore, never mind handwritten letters.  We’ve lost the true feeling of connection, which is what the holidays are all about, and I’m not talking about Wi-Fi.  This year’s isolation should make people realize what’s truly important more than ever before.