The Art of Giving and Receiving

What does it mean to give a gift?

Hopefully many of us would view it as an act of giving something to another person without strings, payment, or expectations.  At a time when gifts run rampant, sometimes it seems we forget this.  Gifts become symbolic and if we get one person a gift well, we expect them to return the favour, even if they never asked for a gift and we were never forced to get them one.  Yet this was never what giving was supposed to be about.  So what should we remember about gift giving?  Well, as hard as some of this may be, there are three things we really ought to remember this holiday season, not just for ourselves but for our children as well…

1. A gift is something that we think the person will like, but it does not mean they actually will like it.

This can happen to all of us – even the best of us.  My husband thought he hit the jackpot in getting me a particular book last year for my birthday.  Let’s just say it was not on my list of “must read” books and is probably better suited as kindling.  The problem is that as the giver of a gift, when an effort is put in, it can be like a slap in the face when someone doesn’t appreciate the gift, but we can’t force them to like something.  However, we can mitigate this by showing our appreciation of the person’s thought and effort; in the case of my husband, I know exactly why he thought I would like the gift and I love him all the more for thinking that deeply on it.  I also let him know this.

With our kids this is what we need to be focusing on – teaching them how to appreciate the effort from people even if they don’t like the gift.  If someone thanks you for the effort and means it, it becomes a lot easier to accept they may not actually like the gift than if they don’t thank you at all or are openly upset by it.  Our kids are bound to do this at some point because they have zero inhibition skills, so don’t get mad, but prep your damage control skills in the interim and possibly even practice with them ahead of time.

2. We have expectations that because it’s a gift, people should appreciate it regardless, but what if the thought isn’t there?  I say: No appreciation necessary.

I have been given some gifts where “thought” was a word that was antithetical to the actual gift.  Often they were gifts the giver wanted or thought was cool but decided instead to get them for me, without a thought as to what I would like.  Case in point: At 20-something, I was given Star Wars Monopoly.  I hadn’t played monopoly in years and although I like Star Wars, I would never buy something “Star Wars” because that’s just not me and I don’t love it like that and this person knew that very well.  In university, I also had a boyfriend who was told by my friends I wanted a romantic Valentine’s Day.  What did he get?  Two CDs he wanted so he could copy them once I opened them.  Thanks.

Should I have been thankful they spent money on something that was “for me”?  I don’t think so.  I frankly would have been happier with nothing because at least I then wouldn’t have felt the need to reciprocate at some point.  When I think of young children who are given something that they absolutely don’t want and they were clearly not even part of the thought process, I struggle with the idea of asking them to say thank you.  (Note though it’s different with people who simply don’t know your child or people who are passing on something that will mean something in the future, like when grandparents often inadvertently share something that is beyond a young one but will be meaningful at a later time.)  If you want to save face, thank the person yourself, because otherwise you’re asking your child to lie and I have a feeling that’s not something any parent wants their kids to do.

3. A gift is something we cannot take back no matter what the recipient does with it.

If my daughter breaks a new toy that we have given her in the first ten minutes of playing with it, well, so be it.  I have no rights over that gift, it is hers.  She would probably be upset and although I certainly do not have to replace it, I also have no right to get mad at her.  A teen given a new SmartPhone may not use it the way you want, but if you gave it as a gift, it’s not yours to hold over their head or take back, no matter what they do.  In short, we shouldn’t be giving a gift if we can’t let go completely and relinquish our control over it.  No gift should be used as bribery or to force certain behaviours out of others.

What this means, most notably with respect to gifts for kids, is that there are things that probably shouldn’t be “gifts”.  If you think your child is ready for a cell phone, should it be a gift?  As much as you want to see the glee on their face when opening it as a surprise, imagine their disappointment (or possibly anger) when you have to clarify that they, in fact, cannot use it as they see fit and you will be monitoring all usage.  Or that if they don’t use it “properly” you’ll be taking it away.  The thing is, these “gifts” are often things we should be using as stepping stones for our children’s independence and we should be including them in the negotiation stage as to what it means to have something like a cell phone, an iPad, a computer, etc.  They should come with discussion and an understanding of the responsibilities and conditions that come with having one.


When it comes to gift-giving or receiving, we sometimes ignore the spirit of the act.  We should be thankful for people’s efforts and thoughts, but this shouldn’t be a time where we feel indebted to others.  At the end of it all, it is a time of giving if we choose to and of relinquishing all strings attached to our gifts so others may enjoy them (or not) as they see fit.  If we can do that, it will be a wonderful time indeed.

By Tracy Cassels

December 23, 2013