Sending Gifts

gifts falling from the skyWe’re already getting into the holiday season again. When you have a difficult relationship with an adult child, this can be one of the hardest times of the year.

The weather turns cold and the days grow short, and the family you’re supposed to enjoy feels anything but warm and close. It can seem as though good times will never return.

I recently received an email from B., who asked about gift-giving. I knew that B. wouldn’t be the only parent dealing with this issue, so I thought this might be a good time to address it.

Don’t Keep Sending Gifts Into a Void

If you’re like many estranged parents, you’ve sent gifts in the past to your children and/or grandchildren, and received nothing in return. Not a big hug. Not a thank-you. Not even an acknowledgement that they received it.

There’s an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” If you continue to send gifts without receiving an appropriate response, you’re putting yourself in a position to be hurt. All the silence and rejection you receive from the second time onward is avoidable.

The appropriate response to a gift is a thank-you. For adult children (and their children) who aren’t in a position to respond appropriately to gifts, love and good wishes are sufficient to let them know you’re still there. These sentiments cost no money and very little time to send, and may be worth more than you know to your child.

You might wonder whether physical gifts are more likely to make it to your grandchildren than kind words, and worry that if they receive nothing from you, they might not know you.

While your desire for connection and contribution is understandable, your efforts to send gifts to your estranged child or grandchildren in spite of your child’s apparent lack of gratitude can aggravate the situation. Estranged adult children often interpret gift-giving as controlling and manipulative, rather than thoughtful and generous. In these cases, NOT offering gifts can be seen as more thoughtful and generous than anything else you could do!

However, if silence is an improvement over where you’ve been with your adult child in the past, and if you can stand to keep giving and giving with no guarantee of a return, you might decide to send a gift anyway. Just be sure to send written words of unconditional love along with the items. Don’t make them guess that you love them and wish them well. Spell it out.

You probably already know this, but it bears repeating: Never ask for anything when offering a gift. Gifts that come with a request are not gifts, but bribes. Even a “Just let us know you got this” can be considered a request, so it’s best to avoid it.

For anguished parents who’ve been sending gifts and getting no response and feeling resentful, hurt or angry, my recommendation is to spend the money and time on yourself that you would have spent on them. Make your own life a little more comfortable while you deal with this unhappy state of affairs.

What To Do Instead

You deserve love and good times this holiday season. Do your best to surround yourself with kind, affirming people who appreciate you and make you smile. Give yourself a real, honest-to-goodness, physical or experiential gift to celebrate the fact that a new year begins every single day. And be sure to say a silent “I love you” to yourself while you’re at it.

Gift ideas for YOU:

  • Time with someone who adores you
  • A best-selling novel to read by the fire
  • A gorgeous sweater (or jumper, for my U.K. friends)
  • Jewelry or a watch that celebrates your uniqueness
  • Lunch or dinner at your favorite restaurant
  • A massage, manicure, pedicure or facial (these are not just for women, guys)
  • Time and space to write your memoir
  • A weekend away
  • Tickets to an event
  • Reconnection with an old friend (including airfare if necessary)
  • A consultation with a personal organizer, interior decorator, or image consultant
  • Equipment for your hobby
  • Dance lessons, a gym membership, stunt driving school, foreign language classes, etc., etc., etc.!

Anything you’ve ever dreamed of, you can at least get a taste of. Make something happen for yourself before the end of the year.

Many thanks to B. for the email that inspired this letter.

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