Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Make Your Gifts Memorable And Meaningful

December 12, 2005

Christmas is fast approaching. Many of you are already wrapped up in choosing meaningful gifts to make the holiday special for your children, grandchildren, spouse, relatives or special friends. These gifts can further develop relationships bonds by their symbolic representation of the thoughtfulness and care that went into the selection of the gift.

What makes a good gift? A good gift giver has a knack for paying attention to relationships, knowing what people want, need or what their interests are. Giving the perfect gift shows attention to detail, imagination and creativity. "It is the thought that counts," or at least it should be. Depending on the recipient, a homemade gift can be perfect.

A well thought out gift shows that you know that person and that you understand their needs. A poorly chosen expensive gift won't have the impact of a less expensive well-chosen gift. Gifts take on special significance if we give them when they are needed. Timely gifts are remembered.

Traditional men aren't as good as women at gift giving. They rush out and buy gifts without much thought. They don't know sizes or forget what they have given previously and give the same gift again.

Another mistake is buying something with a credit card. If the spouse controls the check book, the gift loses its luster when he or she feels they are paying for it. Setting aside cash or saving in a special gift fund is a better way of giving than writing a check that comes out of the family budget.

Gifts are symbolic. The gift and the exchange of it define the relationship. It is a sign of equality when adult children begin to give back gifts of equal value to their parents. Unless the giver is in a superior position, for example, parent/child, boss/employee, or grandparent/grandchild, the gift exchange should be approximately equal.

If the gifts are unequal, it shows that one party doesn't understand the relationship or is an inept gift giver. People think about and work hard to keep things in balance. An unequal gift creates guilt and confusion. That explains why my wife pays attention to such things.

Gifts in courtship. The giving of gifts adds romantic spice to courtship. Giving unexpected gifts after marriage calls attention to the way the couple continues to cherish one another.

In a traditional courtship, men give women gifts in return for the pleasure of her company. It is a sign of equality and reciprocity in the relationship when the gift exchange becomes more equal.

When one party gives a disproportionately expensive gift, it is a signal of how much they value the relationship. If the gift is accepted, it implies that the courtship partner is comfortable with the redefinition of the relationship. Giving a gift that is too expensive may call attention to the disparity of commitment and precipitate a crisis or a breakup.

Money as a gift. Money can be a perfect gift, especially if the recipient really needs the money. Money is empowering. It allows the recipient to make choices. A gift certificate can be a lazy gift or the perfect gift depending on the needs and interests of the recipient.

Money can also be a cold gift. It covers a multitude of sins. A gift of money may show that the giver is lazy and taking the easy way out. Giving money is a message that you haven't paid enough attention, are not on the same wave length or don't understand the recipient well enough.

Giving gifts to children or grandchildren. It is tempting to give too much to your children. It happens to almost every family who can come close to affording it. Gifts lose their meaning if they are too many or too expensive. Children can be bored in the midst of plenty. One or two choice well-selected gifts can make a memory or a bond.

Gifts have great power to influence. In choosing gifts, you can steer the child or grandchild toward something you value. Your gifts are your message. Gifts of lessons that develop talents - music, karate, gymnastics - can introduce children or grandchildren to something special. Grandparents can give special gifts to young adults by passing on a family heirloom - something they already have and will want to give away someday anyway.

Grandparents, consult with the parents on the extent of your gift-giving. Don't get hung up on making your gifts so equal that you don't recognize the personality and special needs of each child. Choose a theme and carry it out later. Adding to a collection can be a wonderful thing. However it can become expected and lose its meaning - a lazy gift- if carried on too long.

Gifts of time or attention. The best gifts aren't always material objects. A special gift on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve is a gift of time and attention, a special phone call or a visit. Sometimes it is our presence and concern that is the real gift we bring during the holiday season. This doesn’t come in a package.

Special thanks go to Rachel Carson, social worker and author of, "The Essential Grandparent: A Guide to Making a Difference," and Donna Darden, a sociologist at Tennessee Technology University, Cookesville, TN for their help and insight into this topic.