Monday, December 19, 2011

The Holiday Gift-Giving Dilemma

Here it is the holiday season, and we haven't bought a single thing for our kid yet.

Buying gifts for the holidays has always been difficult.  More than once we have given things to Danielle that she didn't like, and she's pitched fits of epic proportions that made us wish we hadn't even bothered.  My mother once bought Danielle the entire set of Harry Potter books and her response was disappointing.  "I'm shocked that grandma would buy me books when she knows I hate books," she complained.

Each year, the gift-giving dilemma has only become harder.  She doesn't have any hobbies or interests, so it's very difficult to find things that she likes.

Her birthday turned out to be an exercise in frustration.  We bought her a portable music player, but rather than thank us, she complained about it openly in front of everyone attending her birthday party.  She was unhappy because we didn't buy her the exact model she wanted.  We'd had a talk before her birthday explaining that she wasn't going to get the device she coveted, so she shouldn't have been surprised.  Unfortunately for everyone, she was angry and disappointed, and didn't hesitate to share it with everyone.

Danielle has been hoping for a cell phone this Chanukah.  Although we were giving it some genuine thought, we decided against it for several reasons: 1) her behavior has been pretty dreadful, as witnessed by her recent rock-throwing episode; 2) we had substantial problems with her behavior with regards her old phone; and 3) we can't trust that she'll follow the rules, given that we've told her to stay off the social media web sites, and we caught her at it again.

So last week, when we sat down with our family therapist to discuss Danielle's latest behavioral problem at school, we decided that the cell phone was off the table.  The therapist agreed that Danielle had really violated our trust, and helped us explain our reasoning why the device wasn't going to appear this December.

Now our holiday gift-giving has become just that much tougher.  Even on a good day, she's almost impossible to please.  Knowing that her coveted holiday gift isn't coming will just make her all the more angry and disappointed.

I can't say that I entirely blame her.  I'd be disappointed, too, if I had my heart set on getting a cell phone and I knew that it wasn't going to happen.

Unfortunately Danielle is her own worst enemy, because she makes so many decisions that leave us in a position of being unable to trust.  As a parent, I don't feel that giving her a cell phone is a wise thing to do.  She's demonstrated that she won't follow our wishes with regards to the social media sites, she's made it clear by word and by deed that she's not going to follow the rules, and when she had a cell phone in the past, we were frequently confiscating it because she was using it to send text messages while she was at school, and insisted on contacting people we had asked her not to contact.

We had an interesting conversation in the car this past weekend.  She said she needed us to trust her.  We explained that it was almost impossible, considering that every time we did, she violated that trust.  She seemed to understand, but I'm not sure it will change much.  Trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose, and it's going to take a long time before we can trust her.

Our gift-giving dilemma isn't just limited to the question of what to buy.  Some of it is that it is just difficult to be motivated to go out there and shop.  It is hard to be filled the desire to buy gifts for someone who has done the things Danielle has done to us.  It's really difficult to want to buy tons of stuff for someone who regularly insults you, disobeys you, and then criticizes you when you do buy something.

FosterEema and I haven't been hugely elaborate with our gift-giving for each other this year.  We got FosterEema a single-serve coffee brewing machine with our credit card rewards points, and I got some exercise clothes and a couple of pairs of running shoes.  Since I really needed the shoes, we just went shopping and I brought the stuff home and started using it immediately.  FosterEema didn't want to wait for her coffee machine, so when it showed up she put it on the counter and started using it.

We will get Danielle something for the holidays, and we will try to make it nice.  What that will be, I don't know.  I am completely out of ideas.  We've talked about starting to purchase things she will need as a young adult, such as linens and dishware and small kitchen appliances, but I know she'll be disappointed with those items as well.

I think she'll be disappointed with anything we buy her, if it's not a cell phone.

When I was a kid, the holidays were something I always enjoyed.  Our family was upper-middle class, and there were always tons of gifts.  My mother enjoyed buying stuff for her family, and we always had the money to afford it.  We always had lots of things we were interested in, and I don't think my mother ever had to spend a great deal of time fretting over what to buy us.  I think she was just as excited to watch us open our gifts as we were to receive them.

It's really hard when I contrast the holidays my family celebrated when I was a child to those we observe with our own child.  For me, the holidays were a time of great celebration.  For Danielle, they are a time of anger, disappointment and loss.  Although I do understand where her feelings come from, it doesn't make them any easier to deal with.  Instead of this being a time of year that I anticipate, the end-of-the-year holidays have become a time of year that I dread.

For me, the third quarter of the year, which is dotted with birthdays, Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas, is a time of year I'd almost rather skip.  I find myself wishing that things were different.  I wish that I could give my kid the kind of holidays I had growing up.  I wish I could look forward to my child's eyes glistening with excitement and gratitude, instead of seeing them cloud over with rage and disappointment.  I wish this could be a happy time of year for all of us, instead of a sad reminder of what we all wish could have been. 

Oh, were there a fast-forward button on the VCR of life. 

I'd push it and hold it down hard until January 2nd.


  1. I think "hope chest" ideas (linens, small appliances) are a little bit silly for most teenagers, and probably a waste of money in your case. Unless a teen is about to go away to college (which I know Danielle isn't), I don't know of any parents that would purchase those things.

    How about a lo-tech, pre-paid cell phone? They are not expensive. Of course it's not the one she desires, but it's step in the right direction. Maybe you can ask her if she wants that, or would rather not have one at all? She might want some talk minutes over nothing! Once the minutes are gone, they're gone. You can still find phones that are not internet-ready. She'll have to earn money somehow to reload the talk minutes on the phone.

    I'm sorry the holidays are so dreadful for your family. I am sure Danielle feels the anticlimactic mood, too.

  2. What about decidng on the amount you are willing to spend on her and giving it in gift cards? Teens usually like itunes, or maybe there is a movie place you could get gift passes too, some $$ just on a prepaid Visa so she could shop for what she wants with you or Foster Eema or another trusted adult? At her age, shopping trips are considered fun usually, or you could help her use the gift cards on line.

  3. I love the above responce. It is perfect. Really perfect. It is good, sound advice - and I am sure that Danielle is very aware of the mood as well.

  4. I was going to suggest one of the "kid" cell phones that only allow you to call certain numbers that the parents approve, but she probably doesn't want that. We are doing gift cards for Bug. She can only have certain things at residential anyway. What about a gift card to Target or Walmart or a store like that so she could choose her own gifts?

  5. I'm on the gift card bandwagon!! Maybe one gift card can be a small amount to an electronic store or cell phone place with a plan of how Danielle can work towards the rest with you periodically giving her money towards the phone. She has to earn it, but has a base amount built in as a gift, say $25-$50. Maybe it's 3 months of earning. It puts her in control of if she ever gets it and maybe shapes her behavior.


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