This time of year it's easy to worry about being Scrooge out of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" – or to worry about overdoing it.
How can you just enjoy the holiday season with your family?
Try a present "draw." My in-laws use a pick-a-name-from-a-hat system for our kids and their 18 cousins on that side of the family. Each cousin buys one gift for just one other cousin.
Limit adult-to-adult gift giving. My husband and his three siblings no longer exchange presents with each other. They like to keep the focus on the kids, their spouses, and their dad.
Give enrichment presents. If your kids like music, give them lessons – "something you can get them that contributes to their growth," says Michelle Barratt, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence, and the mother of five.
Take kids shopping with you for their siblings and others. "You have the chance to make it a parent-child event," says Barratt. She just took her 11-year-old with her to buy for an urban ministry – and rewarded him with a trip to Starbucks.
Make a budget. "Every year I sit down and think about what kinds of gifts I want to buy and how much I want to spend," says Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. Avoid simply heading out, without a plan but with a credit card, he says.
Explain downsizing to family members. It's OK to sit down with them and say, "This is going to be a pretty lean holiday season," says Turner. "It doesn't mean we don't love you as much." An iPhone 5 doesn't mean more or less love, he says. "This is a really good life lesson."
Be moderate. "If your kids expect every year they're going to get 50 gifts under the tree, that's setting an expectation that love really does mean more gifts," says Turner. "They may feel that's what the holidays are all about."
Show love through more than gifts. Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy knew someone who expressed his love by buying gifts, not by giving hugs. Some people incorrectly thought he was just all about money, says Hindy. This year Hindy plans to give "small and meaningful gifts with cards, notes, and statements of affection," he says. Still, he worries about disappointing anyone. "It would be a lot easier to pull out the credit card," he says. "And I think that's true for a lot of folks out there."
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