Santa plays by the house rules with parent friendly presents

Mum-of-seven Jen Hogan is grateful the Man in the Red Suit works alongside parents and only brings to children the things he knows the parents will permit... so no dwarf hamster this year

Jen Hogan with her children Chloe, 15, Adam, 12, Jamie, 10, Luke, 7, Zach, 5, Tobey, 3, and Noah, 1. Picture: Nick Bradshaw

CHRISTMAS is coming, the geese are getting fat. The children are looking for this and this and THAT! Yes indeed it’s almost that time of year again and, as the lists grow longer and longer, I’m filled with a dread of what may appear on them. Requests for various animals and mounting costs aside, I worry that the Man in the Red Suit may well be asked for something that is not allowed in this house — or not allowed yet, anyway.

Most of us have great ideas about the sort of parents we’ll be. We have ideas about rules, boundaries, aspirations, what we will and won’t allow, what age we’ll allow certain things happen and what will never be acceptable. Yes, most of us have great ideas about the sort of parents we’ll be — and then we actually have children.

While I have always made a conscious decision to be my children’s parent firstly and friend secondly, I have found my “considered maturity” called into question once they started school. It was easy to be dismissive of baby and toddler gadgets I considered unnecessary and some, frankly, ridiculous.

It was easy to refuse to engage in extravagant early birthday parties, of which such young children could be in no way appreciative or possibly understand, and it was easy to dress my littles in a manner I liked, without any regard for labels or trends — give or take the odd necessity to include a top bearing “Dora the Explorer” or the superhero of the moment.

Fast forward a few years and, along with having to deal with a lot more “opinions” from my older children, I have also found myself in the sort of territory that is more associated with the school-aged children than their parents. Where once, the opinions of other parents didn’t really matter, now, the rules that they have for their children and the things that they allow for their children have a knock-on effect for mine. From feeling the pressure to involve your child in more after-school activities than suits your pocket or time schedule — “because everybody is doing it” — to bending the rules to resist exclusion, few of us are immune to parental peer pressure. It can assume the role of subtle or unintended, to a more-obvious attempt at coercion, but one thing is for sure, any lingering mammy- guilt makes you the perfect target.

From feeling the pressure to involve your child in more after-school activities than suits your pocket or time schedule — “because everybody is doing it” — to bending the rules to resist exclusion, few of us are immune to parental peer pressure. It can assume the role of subtle or unintended, to a more-obvious attempt at coercion, but one thing is for sure, any lingering mammy- guilt makes you the perfect target.

From feeling the pressure to involve your child in more after-school activities than suits your pocket or time schedule — “because everybody is doing it” — to bending the rules to resist exclusion, few of us are immune to parental peer pressure. It can assume the role of subtle or unintended, to a more-obvious attempt at coercion, but one thing is for sure, any lingering mammy- guilt makes you the perfect target.

Phones, iPads, inappropriate computer games, and consoles are likely to be on the Christmas lists of many children around the country this year, including mine. The difficulty begins really when the requested gifts either don’t suit your pocket or your values.

It’s hard to dig your heels in about phones and electronics when your children’s peers have access to them. It’s hard to say “no, you’re too young” when they explain their friend’s little brother has a phone, never mind their friend. It’s even harder to say no to the sort of computer games that are being played widely by children who really are too young to deal with the level of violence that they’re being exposed to through them.

Unintentional and indirect as it may be, having children can bring you back to a level of peer pressure that you haven’t experienced since you were in the school playground yourself. A time when it seems “everyone” is allowing something and you have to try to stay true to your values and beliefs. The difference is when you’re a parent, you’re not the only one who has to handle the consequences of your values.

I know, that the inappropriate computer games situation is an unbendable one here, but it’s not easy. Some of my children’s friends are allowed to play them and as I explain frequently to my own troops, it’s different rules in different houses. With lots of different personalities in the mix, some of my children accept this explanation more readily than others. The parts I really struggle with, however, are not the comments “but Johnny, Sam, Mary are allowed to do, have, go etc” that I hear from my own children, but the stories that I hear about exclusion from conversations because a son is told “sure you’re not even allowed to play these games”, to omission from playdates because “if I let you come, my mam won’t let me play (insert particular game’s name here) and then nobody will be able to have any fun”. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

The parts I really struggle with, however, are not the comments “but Johnny, Sam, Mary are allowed to do, have, go etc” that I hear from my own children, but the stories that I hear about exclusion from conversations because a son is told “sure you’re not even allowed to play these games”, to omission from playdates because “if I let you come, my mam won’t let me play (insert particular game’s name here) and then nobody will be able to have any fun”. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Santa will receive a lot of correspondence from this household this year and, hopefully, he will have reinforced sacks available to cater for the number of children.

I am however, eternally grateful to the Man in Red, for the fact that he works alongside parents and only brings to children the things he knows the parents will permit. Therefore, Santa will again politely decline my seven- and five-year-old’s requests for a phone, goldfish and dwarf hamster!

What the expert says

Orlaith Flannery is Head of Occupational Therapy in St. John of God’s Hospital in Dublin. As part of her work, she is used to helping people to cope with stress and pressure.

Orlaith says the important thing is to be clear as to what are the boundaries, what suits us as a family, what I as a parent accept and what values do I want for my children. Then, there are also the financial boundaries. Sometimes people spend more money than they can afford, which creates a different pressure for themselves, when they find they can’t afford day-to-day things because they’ve spent on the frivolous stuff for the kids in an attempt to keep up.

“It’s important to move away from the group thinking to be an independent thinker... maybe talk things through with your partner, so that you’re both on board.”

Children can sometimes try to “divide and conquer”, she says, but adds that extended family have their part to play, providing support for the tough decisions.

“It’s important to hold firm with your choices. Your decisions might not always be the popular decision, but it’s the one that’s right for you and for your kids,” says Orlaith.

In situations where you’re worried that your child might be left out of something “you can give options, such as suggesting a relocation of the playdate to your home. Kids are all so different. One kid will actually accept it and another child will attempt to bend and stretch every rule that they possibly can”.

Orlaith advises that if you find it difficult to stand strong or maybe speak out to a parent who might attempt to coerce you into going along with something you’re not comfortable with then “keep some distance and reduce the amount of time that you will be exposed to that particular force. Should, ought and must are great sticks that we as parents beat ourselves with,” says Orlaith. “Be careful of the conversation in your own head. Remind yourself that you’ve made this decision and you know why you’ve made this decision. You don’t need to be accountable to anybody else”.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

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