Naturally, the holidays are high-stress and jam-packed with events and gatherings. As they approach, I think of the movie “Four Christmases” and how they juggled four events in one single day. With so many events, the couple agrees to using “mistletoe” as a signal that it is time to leave. At one point, Vince Vaughn’s character, Brad, silently cries in anguish, “Mistletoe! Mistletoe!” as his overactive adult brothers wrestle him to the ground in a headlock.
Sometimes, thinking of the holidays puts us in a headlock with these biggest holiday gift-giving boundary issues.
Problem: Family Doesn’t Respect Your Rules
It takes a village to raise children, and when some of your village is undermining you with inappropriate gifts (like a mature video game or clothes that are too revealing) it can be frustrating. Most likely, they are not purposefully disrespecting you, however it still requires some parental maneuvering.
Solution: Communicate With Your Kids
Throughout the year, have discussions about gracious way to accept unwanted gifts or gifts that are not allowed. The best way to do this is to explain to your children your reasoning. You can say, “I know that Uncle Paul plays some intense games that we don’t allow you to have. We really feel that those games aren’t good for you. If Uncle Paul gives you a game at Christmas that’s rated as Mature, you need to know that we will have to exchange it for a more appropriate game.”
It’s also important your child knows how to accept these gifts without making a scene, lying, or making the gift-giver feel bad. You can coach your child to say something like, “Wow! I don’t have this one yet!” or “Thank you for taking the time to think of me.”
Problem: Value Inequality
It happens all the time at gatherings and it is easily one of the quickest ways to alienate adults. Someone buys very extravagant gifts, making other family members feel inferior. What if Aunt Laura brings in a new American Girl doll with all of the accessories, but Aunt Britney can only afford a few Shopkins?
I spoke to a dear friend who explained it like this: “I know that giving nice gifts sometimes bothers others in my family, but I don’t actually do it to show off. I do it because I remember how it felt as a kid to see my parents fail to plan for the holidays. I was so embarrassed to exchange a last-minute bag of holiday cookies from Kroger with someone who had obviously put a lot of thought and care into a gift for me.”
Solution: Be Empathetic
Consider that Aunt Laura may have reasons for her extravagance other than showing off: desire to please, fear of rejection, insecurity, or even a heartfelt desire to show her thanks and love with the nicest gift she can afford. Changing your mindset and understanding other reasoning helps you accept this other person’s gifts without tying in your own feelings of worth.
If you notice an offended gifter, talk with them privately and say something like, “I know Laura always seems to bring these huge gifts, but I want you to know that it says nothing about how much you love us or we love you. Gifts are just a token, but the real treasure is having you in our lives.”
Problem: Present Inequality
There’s always the perfect gift giver – the one person who always has the right gift picked out for your child, leaving your child unimpressed by their other gifts. If Granny gives your child a new Paw Patrol set, but Nana brings a bag of organic wooden blocks, there’s bound to be a wildly different response from your kids.
Solution: Gratitude Coaching
Preparing your children ahead of time is key. Explain to your children that they will most likely get some amazing gifts and some mediocre gifts. Talk about this scenario in reverse, emphasizing gratitude for the intent instead of the actual gift: “What if you spent hours making Nana a beautiful painting and she merely responded, ‘Thanks’ but then she gushed over a new car that I bought her? You’d feel pretty sad, right?” This encourages your child to graciously accept every gift he or she receives.
Be sure to discuss duplicate gifts, as well. Often kids will receive the same gift and blurt out, “I already have this!” Encouraging gratitude for the intent will save your children from offending other family members.
The holidays are stressful enough without adding in the dilemmas that gift giving and receiving can cause. Communication will be your saving grace.
Celeste Coffman is a Licensed Professional Counselor and owner of the Quiet Mind Collective. Read her blog for more tips on managing stress and anxiety, or become a registered member to access videos, resources, and more detailed articles. Sign up for her next course Parenting Anxious Kids.