This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.
That is a tough question, one I have been experimenting with for the past few years. The more I have read about it, the more I’m understanding the motivations behind gift giving (and receiving) and finding a happy medium in my life.
I grew up in a home where Christmas was a big deal. Mum made sure there were lots of surprises under the tree. In hindsight, I wouldn’t consider that she went overboard. She spent what she could afford, and chose wisely. There was usually the “main” present (sometimes it was “the” toy I wished for, sometimes not) which was usually a board game, or the latest Barbie house or car. The rest of the presents were small treats and items she would have to buy for me soon anyway, like clothes and school supplies.
Moving forward a few years, it took me a long time to realize that my husband and I had fallen into the same pattern that I perceived his parents were in. She would tolerate being treated like crap all year, as long as he gave her the Christmas she wanted, which meant buying her everything on her wish list. Yes, I can see how dysfunctional that is, but at the time, that tactic covered up a lot of what was really wrong with my marriage.
After the divorce, I found myself in a relationship with my current boyfriend. He had recently separated as well, so neither one of us had much money. As I have found out since, gifting has never been important to him, he just doesn’t feel the need to give or receive material possessions. That first year, Christmas went horribly. It was a wake up call I needed though. My daughter got a contract job which took her out of the country from November until April, my boyfriend had to go out of town to visit his children over Christmas, and my own family gathering wasn’t until Boxing day, and was a 2 hour drive away. Summarized, I ended up with one present (as opposed to the pile I was used to), and if it hadn’t have been for one very good friend, I would have been alone on Christmas day.
I wanted to get past the feeling that I had that I was not cared about, based on the number and value of presents I received. I felt shallow and ashamed that this affected me so much. I felt like I was someone I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be so reliant on presents to make me happy.
The next year, my boyfriend changed the days he was away so we could be together more, and it ended up that he was able to spend more time with his kids by adjusting the schedule as well. Between he and I, we decided no gifts, mainly due to money. I tried to pretend that Christmas didn’t happen. I didn’t decorate, I moved through the social obligations, bought gifts for other people, but nothing for one of the most important people in my life. It hurt. It felt like I was missing something big.
Talking to some friends, and reading about gift giving, I learned a few things. There is a book which talks about the 5 languages of love, and yes, gift giving is one of them. Supposedly, we all use these 5 languages (quality time, acts of service, verbal affirmations, gift giving and physical touch), but each one of us places different importance on each one. In my case, due to the lack of the other four, gift giving and receiving had become my number one.
In my current relationship, the other 4 are very strong, but after years of conditioning, I still struggle with a lack of gifts. As I learned from Valentines Day, if we focus on what is important to us (time together in a relaxed atmosphere) the “no present void feeling” is nowhere near as strong.
I have convinced my boyfriend we should do something small. I have a gift card that I won that can be used at any store in the all, it expires in February, so we are going to split that for gifts to each other.
To me, it is an expression of love to give someone a gift. It shows you took time to think about the person when they weren’t in front of you. The monetary value is not as important as the though behind it. For example, right now, I’d be happier with an umbrella (lost mine a while ago) than I would an electronic gadget or pricey jewellery. An umbrella would also show me that someone took notice that I was without one and wanted to keep me dry.
I’ve accepted that Christmas is whatever I want to make it, and this year I’m putting the effort into making it a good one.