Monday, 21 December 2009

The Presence of Presents

I had hesitated about posting this, but I have noticed that a few of my fellow stepmum bloggers have posted about how difficult they find the materialism of Christmas, so I thought I'd add my own "Bah Humbug" to the chorus.

I've said before that it worries me how materialistic SD is becoming. Despite the fact that the BM is always pleading poverty, she seems to have no trouble buying SD the latest laptops, gadgets and toys, which often make our offerings seem like not much. In the past, DF has vastly overcompensated by buying a ton of stuff that she neither wants nor needs, and has often remained unused. We had a blazing row last year about the amount of money he spent, and this year, to avoid a repetition he agreed to me setting the budget and buying the gifts for her. I have stuck largely to things I know she needs and will use. A new fleece blanket for her bed in the cold weather with her current favourite Hello Kitty on it. Some nice new clothes, some funky socks and underwear, the fluffy slipper socks she likes, and a book on recycled crafts seeing as she loves to make things.

We had also talked about buying SD a bike. She has a bike, but it's not a very good one, the brakes aren't brilliant, she finds the twist-and-click gears hard to use, and of course as she's shooting up at a rate of knots it will soon be a bit small. We'd said we'd get her one if we could afford it.

At the moment, we can't afford it. I have been doing some selling on Ebay to try and get some cash coming in, because neither of us have had pay rises this year due to the recession. I'd originally planned to save some of that money from selling to get her a new bike. However, a few things have changed. Firstly, I got into my university course so all being well, I'll be starting it in September next year. Which means our income is going to drop considerably, and we really could do with throwing extra cash at our debts in order to try and get outgoings as low as possible for next year. And secondly, given our financial situation, I don't think we should be spending £200+ on a new bike for a child who spends 7 days a month at our house. We can't let her take it back and forth to BM's, as we can't trust that it will not get damaged or "lost" aka sold, at BM's. So what it will largely do at ours is sit in the shed, certainly during the winter months. I'll admit I am also a little influenced by the fact that SD has chosen not to see us on Christmas Day, but has nevertheless expressed a keen expectation of presents when she does choose to come, which has more than a little ring of spoiled child to it. It transpires she wants to stay with her Mum's family on Christmas Day because they are having a party, it's more fun, and there will be of course lots of presents from all the relatives.

I have tried over the last year or so to instil in SD a realisation that she (and other children like her) are actually lucky to have what they have and get what they get at Christmas and birthdays etc. I sponsored a child with SOS Children's Villages, a child the same age as her, who is orphaned and growing up in a foster family in Tanzania, in the hope that this might help, but she has expressed no interest in the sponsored child or writing to her or anything like that. To be fair, DF predicted she wouldn't be interested, he says kids these days just aren't interested in "that sort of thing" and he was right, she is far more interested in cute baby animals and sponsoring a dog through Dogs Trust than she is in the human cause. OK, so maybe it's an age thing, but surely parents have a responsibility to teach their children about the less fortunate and about doing things for others? I can forgive SD for being 11 years old and not interested in kids less fortunate than herself, but I can't forgive DF for thinking it's perfectly OK to allow his child to grow up materialistic and self-centred and not challenge it.

On one of my stepmum boards recently I came across another steppie whose teenage SD has a boyfriend whose family are not at all well off, and he goes without a lot of things. Said lovely steppie and her partner had bought the BF a winter coat and some decent warm stuff for the cold weather, which I thought was just lovely. She said how appreciative the BF was of anything that was done or bought for him, in comparison to most kids who think it's their right to get what they want. She also commented on how seeing her boyfriend's underprivileged upbringing had also started to make the SD a little more grateful for what she had. So maybe it just needs to be a little closer to home than Tanzania to make an impression?

I don't really know what the outcome of the bike dilemma will be. No doubt DF will want to buy her one regardless of whether the money could be better used elsewhere, but I wonder if we might be able to reach some kind of compromise on it, such as waiting until the better weather when she will actually be able to make use of it, or even finding a decent second hand one. I'm a mountain bike nut, so I know plenty of good sources, and people who will check a bike over for me for safety and durability. When I was a student, I bought a secondhand mountain bike for £50 and it lasted 3 years of cycling round Edinburgh nearly every day, so surely it would be acceptable for an 11 year old to use a few days a month? One thing I do know from bitter experience is that buying things you can't really afford is a recipe for misery, and from a selfish perspective, my eye is more on how we are going to manage in a few months time when I'm a fulltime student and only earning a fraction of what I do now. I just don't think DF will see it that way, and will think I am the epitome of steppie Scroogedom!


  1. I am with you on the bike thing. We are tight on money this year, and we were last year also. Last year I bought the Wii game system from my friend for a fraction of the regular cost, and this year we bought a used computer from another friend. It would be different if she was using the bike A LOT, but not 7 days a month. I would try to find her something second hand.

    Maybe instead of adopting a kid in Tanzania(not that it was a bad thing) you might try adopting a local family or working at a soup kitchen and taking SD and DF with you. Maybe if SD actually sees kids her age dealing with hardship, it might hit home a little more.

  2. I hear you on the bike thing too. I always felt like a schmuck when I would do the math in my head and add up the days that a big ticket item such as a bike would actually get used at our house. And when kids are at the age that they outgrow everything in the blink of an eye, it's hard to justify such a big expense sometimes. All of the gifts that you described picking out for your SD sound lovely - I think your DF made the right choice in delegating the task out to you! - G

  3. I don't see the problem in comprimising for an afforadable 2nd hand bike, if it's all cleaned up when she 'open's' it, she probably won't even know!

    What happened in the end?

    Also, i'm with you on the whole materialism thing. My stepson, is incredibly materialistic, this year he wanted a laptop as well as money to pay for a school skiing trip (over £1k) - both items of which his mother said he could have - if we paid half for - without consulting us first! I'm on half pay at the moment, so there's no way we can afford to spend that sort of money. So the £100-odd we did spend looked mean - even though we went to great effort to get him nice gifts and were looking forward to seeing him. The upshot of this wrangle resulted in him refusing to come over to ours on Boxing Day - after some considerable head-twisting from BM. DH heard her on the phone coaching him to say he didn't want to visit mine and DH's family - and was upset he wasn't asked if he wanted to go! I mean he's 11. And all families visit each other at christmas - hardly abuse! Besides, he always enjoys visiting our families.

    I feel the same as you - although you know the children are being manipulated, you can't help feeling sad for dad's left behind. We decided not to buy for each other so we could spend more on SS, then he didn't even turn up, and wouldn't answer our calls on christmas day either. We hadn't started a fight with BM or been rude or unreasonable, but still we get it in the neck. It's tedious, boring and disheartening - when you're simply trying to do your best. And i know it's not SS's fault, but he's being brought up with some questionable values, in my opinion, values i don't think much of. I can only hope by setting a good example he will benefit from it/ us in the long term.