When your teen hands you their extravagant Christmas list filled with expensive tech, you feel a wave of nausea at the financial reality, then react with laughter, criticism, or ridicule, wondering where they think your money tree grows.

Not to mention your resentment because no matter what you buy them, they don’t seem to care anyway.

Your teen isn’t ungrateful or entitled and you haven’t failed as a parent.

Experience creates perspective.

Your teen has never worked a full-time job to pay a mortgage, keep the place warm with lights on, kept a reliable vehicle and gas, put food in the fridge, clothes on their backs, AND had money left at the end of the month to buy gifts.

Their Christmas wish list reflects their dreams on paper. It’s a written description of the experiences your teen is seeking, their values and budding beliefs, creating an opportunity to connect with them in a new way.

  • What is important to you about this item?
  • Have you ever used it before?
  • Do your friends have it?
  • What did you like about it?
  • How did you feel?

What if your teen’s wishes are out of your budget?

No matter how outlandish you think their list is, laughing and asking, “Who do you think you are?”, followed by a barrage of reasons why they don’t need those things is invalidating and shaming.

Rather than saying, “We can’t afford those things”, which creates assumptions about value/worth, try saying, “These items are outside of our budget.”

Then have your teen choose one of the larger items and help develop a strategy for them to buy it themselves. Your teen feels supported and will have greater ownership of that item.

Create visual aids like a telethon thermometer to show progress toward their goal, keep motivation high and build confidence as your teen connects time, earnings, and value to this item.

Here’s a few variations:

  • Offer to go 50:50
  • Find a quality, used version
  • Purchase and older version, yet new product

Watch the full video here

Earning your teen’s validation

Christmas is not a magical season to buy your way into your teen’s heart or be in good favor for another 364 days. Your worth as a parent doesn’t come from your wallet and going into debt creates even steeper expectations your teen will love you more, cherish your gift, etc., all of which end in resentment, judgement and more shame.

Giving from guilt because of a divorce, a recent move, death in the family, etc., comes from the lie you’re responsible for or can fix your teen’s feelings. Lies. Doing the work to forgive yourself is the greatest gift for both of you.

Growing gratitude

Understanding what it takes to earn money and find a meaningful gift for another person is an important learning curve that takes the focus off receiving. Set a small budget and have your teen buy gifts for siblings or extended family (using their own money) or have a family night and make homemade gifts together for giving.

Giving changes hearts, literally. Find opportunities to volunteer with your teen or include them in buying gifts to support other families to move from ME focus to WE perspective.

Build appreciation for what your teen already has

Every birthday and Christmas after our boys opened gifts, we asked them to bring out an equal or greater number of items from their rooms. This created interesting conversations about priorities with toys, clothes, etc., and what creates value.

The items that came out of their rooms were sorted into garbage, recycle or donation. Our boys chose a specific person to give to, our church or thrift store. This kept the clutter down and they rarely had piles of toys or clothes they didn’t use.

What if they still don’t like it?

Have you ever sought after something that seemed so important and you swore you’d use it every day? Then sometime later you realized you didn’t need it and rarely use it? Your teen is human too, so expecting them to love and use every gift is unreasonable and unfair.

Get off the guilt trip and find ways to resell, refund or donate those items knowing someone will use and appreciate it. This creates space for honest and vulnerable conversations as you both create a deeper understanding of each other.

Christmas is filled with traditions, expectations, complicated relationship dynamics and heightened emotions that can turn your holiday into a stress fest. That’s why having a community of caring parents to vent and share with while feeling supported and encouraged is even more important.

Join me in The Empowered Parent Community for LIVE Q&A at 1pmPT today (Tuesday) to get answers, strategies and resources for your current parenting challenges. This private community includes a FREE 30-day trial so jump in now! Even if you can’t make the LIVE Q&A, post your comment in the group and I’ll address it in the video so you can watch it later.

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Aly Pain

Growing up, I was the smart, fun girl on the outside and a frantic, anxious mess on the inside. I spent years healing the pain of dysfunctional family relationships, including eating disorders and a suicide attempt, to break the cycle raising my own teen boys.

Today, I’ve been happily married to my husband for over 23 years, and we have 2 incredible teen boys. My passion is empowering parents to build healthy, respectful relationships with their teens without giving up or giving up, even if they've tried everything and are at their wits end.

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