Thursday, December 15, 2011

Beware of the looming Gifting Anxiety

This post ran last year and resonated with many. I think we could all use a little reminder...

I’m no fan of staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap gifts only to have my daughters wake me up pre-dawn. I really appreciate sleep. I’m nearly finished, just a few more to wrap.

One would think completion of such a large task as wrapping would usher in a feeling of relief or satisfaction.

It never does.

After everything is neatly wrapped with personal tags dangling, I step back and look at the whole of my year-round efforts of thoughtfully hunting treasure for my family and friends. Instead of thinking,” Wow! It’s beautiful!” I think, “Wow! It’s such a small pile.” How crazy is that? I need to remind myself we've a home with a holiday tree we chopped down ourselves in the forest and a real fireplace. We have heat and food in the pantry. Warm beds. Coats. Each other.

We’re trained to think that our children will feel completely dejected if there's still standing room in our living room on Christmas morning. We believe our home should look something like the home of Herr and Frau Silberhaus in the Nutcracker mixed with an FAO Schwarz two-story display that assaults the senses.

It really gets under my skin. I fall for the illusion every year. I begin to feel like I’m a bad mommy because I didn’t scout out enough gifts. I didn’t give enough. Enough of what? I'm not even certain.

This tempts me to race out at the last minute and fill that void with more gifts.

Attention, shopping never feels psychological voids. Nope. Na-uh. No way.

The reality? I really don’t have enough time to think about what else could be truly meaningful. I’ve spent the entire year searching and thrown a lot of thought into the gifts that sit before me. To think I’m going to find the great and profound missing pieces in the last hour is a bit foolish.

If I did race out to buy more, it’ll likely be gift filler, meaningless stuff thrown in to aid in the illusion that quantity trumps thoughtfulness. A cheap acrylic sweater isn't going to tip the scales.

Why this feeling always overtakes me every year is a real stumper. It is far out of line from my standard shopping mentality.

Perhaps I need some sort of therapy. Or perhaps, we’ve been conditioned to think we will never give enough presents to our children. The latter is a horrible thought. It would be cruel if I had succumbed to this as a deliberate marketing tactic. The only thing we can give more of to our children is love.

I need a distraction. I think hot cocoa with whipped cream and sprinkles, a fire in the hearth and a family game of dominoes under the tree might do the trick.

I think that’d make more sense than racing out now to buy stuff that’s going to be massively discounted in a few days. Besides, I'm not even certain I want the items when they're 80% off so why would I pay full price?

I KNOW others deal with this psychological issue every year too. How do you manage?


NMPatricia said...

I definitely will be looking for other comments. You don't know how much I appreciate reading this admission of someone else. I fall to the whole excess at Christmas time all the way around. Too much money spent, too much food eaten, too much of everything. And yet it never feels enough. My kids are older and no longer really want to exchange gifts. So I am left feeling really like I am an inadequate mother - even knowing the agreement! The commercialism and the blatant appealing by businesses to buy hits a peak at this time. And no matter how rational I get, there is still an emotional pull. Sigh. I wish I were immune.

The Queen of Fifty Cents said...

We have a saying at our house: "If there were no gifts, there would be no garage sales." I love asking people at sales if something was a gift; almost always they admit it was. My solution is to stick as much as possible to gifts that can be consumed (I'm a very good baker!). Experiences are good too - a play, a meal, a visit to someplace special.

Alex M said...

It's hard for us because we don't have kids but have lots of nieces and nephews. Growing up, our aunts and uncles never gave us presents -- but that seems to be the norm now. Each kid gets so many gifts that it seems numbing. We have less to spend than the other aunts and uncles (and we don't have kids getting gifts in return). Our gifts go largely unrecognized in the pile of bigger and better offerings.

Of course, the parents appreciate our gifts and always thank us. But for the most part, I don't know how much they register with the kids. I just gave my niece a shirt and small smock for her birthday but it was a non-reaction because her Uncle gave her a hairstyling type of doll at the same time. But then again, I hate tripping over toys and thinking my her mom has to clean them up. A couple of new shirts means she has more to wear before they have to do laundry.

But practical matters don't appeal to small kids!

Anonymous said...

I'm reading the comments and each one rings true with me, including your column. I feel inadequate at Christmas because a voice in me says my children should get more. Why? So they can be numbed by the whole experience of giving and receiving? I firmly hush that voice by remembering all that my husband and I do for our kids - things that money can never buy - like listening to them without lecturing, going to their events and cheering them on, giving them a structured and nurturing home.

On a fun note, my co-workers are throwing a Christmas party where we all bring a White Elephant gift - you know, we dig through our basement and find something that we REALLY don't like (preferably tacky in nature) and wrap it up. This really lightens the Holidays for me. :)

Anonymous said...

I just hold my breath and wait for the holidays to be over. Am admittedly a grinch this time of year, though I enjoy giving spontaneous gifts without social pressure all through the rest of the year.

Would like to try and be a consistent aunt (of 13 neices and nephews so far), so I've started making sure to send a birthday card to each neice and nephew. Thought I would try and be a nice aunt this holiday season and found great gifts for the kids (all on Etsy). For the big-sibling family (10 children in one of the families) I was lucky to find a really cool vintage comic memory game they can play together. It was not cheap. I had to charge it. Usually my second week out from payday is very dry, even to the point of not having quite enough to comfortably buy groceries. One thank you would be nice, whether it is from one child or my brother or his wife. Now that I took the plunge and bought presents (and was excited about them... I would like to play a superhero vintage comic memory game :) a thank you would be so nice, and if no thanks are forthcoming then I may not try and be a nice aunt next year. (Though the tug to find something is definitely there. It is fun to give!)

With my boyfriend's family we are doing the Christmas thing, and I would have liked to have spent more time this year hunting for thrift treasures. So much happened this year and only in the past few weeks have I had the time and concentration. It would be so nice for the holidays to just be fun, and about playfulness, but I am already cringing imagining my boyfriend's mother saying that we got our gifts from 'dead people' (she has a pretty continuous commentary about our thrifting, that what we find is 'dead people's stuff'). So.... already feeling like crying a little, thinking about a potential lack of appreciation (We have thrown in a couple of bottles of wine from a local winery.). In that respect I wish we had more, and there is still a person or two I would like to find something sweet for (in spite of putting seashells in a jewelery bag and thinking it will probably be well-received, for a cousin...I'd love for something cool to jump out of the woodwork but I don't think there is even time now, before we leave town, to thrift more for this year).

Anyway, yes... all this resonates. The social pressure to buy and give can be rather intense. I was thinking recently how it can be sort of ugly, when giving is sometimes about showing off, who has the most money or the most ability to buy presents...

pillarorpurpose said...

As my kids get older and they begin to understand things more I feel it's my duty to mold them into caring, loving people and I hope that they see Christmas as a day to be together with family and not a day of counting gifts and comparing themselves. My kids will each get 1 gift (that is what I have prepared them for). I continue to remind them of the several boxes of toys in the garage that they don't want anymore. I bought a few clothing pieces on Black Friday, things they "need" and I chose not to wrap them. Same with today, I got a couple shirts and a pair of jeans for my kids, didn't wrap those. We will (fingers crossed) go on a road trip to visit their Abuelo and Abuela and the experience of getting there and being there with everyone else during Christmas should be enough for them, it is for me and I hope they feel the same way. I love good bargains and I would rather give them a gift card and have them shop after Christmas...not like they are going to run out of toys. Part of me feels a little guilty about not getting them more but that is just me battling my own past experiences. When you think about Christmas do you think about the toy that you didn't get that year?

spiffikins said...

No kids in my world right now, but I have a similar problem every year at this time.
If I'm in town, I have a standing invitation to Christmas dinner with good friends. I've done this a couple of years, and each year, when I arrive, I'm presented with gifts from not only the host couple, but also from other people who are at the dinner!
The first year I was completely surprised - I had no expectations of this - and had not brought any gifts with me!
The second year, I was worried that this would happen again, so found gifts for everyone - mostly gift certificates.
This year, I'm not sure what to do - I don't have any exciting ideas for gifts, and really, hate to fall back on gift cards again - and at the same time, I don't want to buy stuff just for the sake of having "something, anything" to give.
I'm contemplating baking something, but I know they are trying to keep away from sweets :D

aj said...

I totally can relate to that is hard to get away from for some reason.
But I have really been trying to get to the point that I buy one really special thing for each of my 3 kids and then a couple needed things (always try to buy things they would need anyway like socks, lol).

The one thing that helps is the fact that they get their presents from their grandparents & aunts & uncles on Christmas Eve...and I know that they will have gotten so many presents already that by the time we open on Christmas morning they are already overly gifted so I don't need to add to that excess!

I have seen some insanely crazy Christmas' in the past where the grandparents bought so many presents it really made me cringe just thinking about it. It was enough for 10 families. (Atleast they are bargain shoppers but...really!? how much does one 2 y/o need?) But my Sister & I have tried to get them to calm down a bit. They do it because they LOVE their Grandchildren!!! Sound familiar?

Anonymous said...

44 is still a baby sister from where I am..enjoy this year as much as any other and will not come again!
The buying thing is not so much a worry for me....I try to buy within my means and make many of my gifts (this takes some searching out and planning and some help from my husband sometimes), and we thrift.
I was not always so relaxed about Christmas, when our children were little I was right out there with the best of the spenders, I bought into the marketing schemes and the fads of the year.
I began to see what remained of those gifts into the months ahead and found that it was nearly always the gift of family and gatherings and games and walks and visits to the local lighting events and the traditions that we shared on Christmas eve, and the making of cookies and decorations, cocoa and marshmallows, caramel popcorn and the smell of oranges and evergreen boughs, paper snowflakes and is these things that enchanted each member of the family, that was remembered and longed for...and in time we began to make those things the highlight of our holidays...we DO thrift many of our gifts for each other and we enjoy it! Our grandson has a new "used" play fort in the basement this year and he loves it! We gave our newly married son and his wife a set of "used" crystal goblets from an estate sale...they absolutely adore them...all five children and the grands have something with a little history in their possession this year! Even hubs and I, we have a new "used" street sign with our name on it that a friend bought at a farm sale!