Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Gift of Giving

by Linda Shaw

A Christmas gift from Grandmother

As my son joyfully wraps himself around his GI-Joe Jacket,
his grandmother laughs with delight,
clearly happy to share in his joy.

Gift giving is an “art” that families use to create social bonds. Psychologist have noted that, “giving gifts is a basic way of establishing and strengthening social relationships.” It’s a kind of glue that bonds us together as family and also as friends.” ( Schudson)

Family gift giving experiences bring both emotional ups and downs. Like any art that requires practice, patience, and imagination, I have come to realize that families that appreciate the significance of the “gift of giving,” value not only how to respectfully consider and give gifts but also how to receive and respond to the spirit in which gifts are given. As families we can work together to teach one another the emotional significance of the “gift of giving.”

“It is better to give than to receive.”

Although gift giving can be taught at a young age, emotional understanding begins when a child realizes the joy that gift giving brings to his family and friends. It is usually within the teen years that the desire to increase emotional bonds blossoms. “Gift giving might be considered a good indicator of emotional involvement in family and friends because it is such a tangible and concrete and therefore measurable expression of feeling towards other people.” (Komter and Vollebergh)

As teens and young adults begin to experience the pleasure of familial and social relationships the desire to strengthen these emotional bonds through gift giving increases. With repeated positive experience family members can discover that “gift giving brings peace and pleasure to the giver” helping the giver to subsequently receive the “greatest gain”. ( Langer)

Respecting the “Gift of Giving”

Gift giving can emote “a range of feelings,” such as sympathy, moral obligation, entitlement, or feelings of being involved in some else’s life. So what if the receiver does not receive the gift as we might hope?
Families can learn how they can best communicate the love with which a gift has been given. Difficult situations can be avoided through the setting of expectations and examples, as well as open communication before gift exchanges occur.

Gift presentation is also key. We wrap presents not only to hide their contents and create an air of suspense and attractiveness, but also to convey a quality of respect for the person to whom we are giving.

If all goes awry, do not fret, make sure family members learn from the experience and keep trying.

Making a List?

Should you give gifts that are on your child’s list?
What message does it send to give only what is on a child’s list or to give nothing that is on a child’s list? Do lists create an element of entitlement or do lists help families understand the intricacies of changing needs and personalities?

Although lists create an air of commercialism, “the commercialism of Christmas is a sign that people are choosing to express their social natures and their generous natures through material goods that are both convenient to buy and permanent as a social bond.”(Schudson) Lists help open avenues of communication between family members and lists help to define us. Lists can also help extended family who do not live near by remain connected. Lastly lists help us remember: sizes, personalities, interests, events, tastes, and what it was like at a certain age. When I think about my childhood lists, I remember the fun anticipation they brought. I remember because I made a list.

Grandparents and parents understand that as leaders in their child’s life the art of gift giving requires more than giving what a child may ask for. While I believe wish lists help develop imagination, and build communication skills, I do not believe that parents need to feel obligated to adhere strictly to a list. Children by definition lack the experience and wisdom that parents have. Parents can direct the paths their children walk by carefully considering the gifts they purposely choose for them.

How has gift giving increased your family bond?

How have you dealt with the child that did not receive all or exactly what they asked for?

Did you get everything you wanted on your list?

Komter, Aafke, and Wilma Vollbergh. "Gift Giving and the Emotional Significance of Family and Friends." Journal of Marriage and the Family 747th ser. 59.3 (1997): 11. Print.

A gift that gives right back? The giving itself - The New York Times
Dec 11, 2007 ... "If I don't let you give me a gift, then I'm not encouraging you to think about me and think about things I like. ... Effective Loving



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