When our kids were small and living under our roof, gift giving on birthdays or for holidays was relatively simple: If we could afford it, we gave them the toy or toys of their dreams. Once they enter the independence of adulthood, do we still go all out with our gift giving? And should we expect them to shower on us an upgrade on their previous sweet, sentimental gift-giving?
That's a question that was posed to Carolyn Hax vis a vis Christmas gift-giving. A reader who had "always done it up for xmas, with nice gifts and some needed things, like underwear," wanted to know if it was time to stop since her 21-year-old daughter "does not put a lot of thought into gifts. My husband and I got a gift certificate to a hardware store last Christmas. That was it." The reader wonders how to balance the scales. "At some point should we give as we get?"
What does Hax have to say? She doesn't have "any problem with the idea that kids stay kids vs. graduate to equals. It really depends on the individuals, the specific families and the needs or standing of each member."
Personally, when kids are 20-somethings and struggling to find their footing in their careers and building lives that don't have their parents at the core, the last thing I would want them to do--especially if they are financially independent--is to spend their food money on store-bought gifts for their parents.
There is another way, and Hax had a better idea. It had nothing to do with expecting our kids to buy us lavish gifts or for us to continue raining toys down on them: "A parent with some savings can give out Christmas checks to grown children without infantilizing them." (I second the motion: cash is the gift that always fits, is never the wrong color and is always useful.] "At the same time," Hax points out, "children can give back to their parents the kinds of things that younger people tend to have in abundance, like energy and, literally, heavy lifting. As long as you all look out for each other, how you work out the details is up to you."
That's a balance to hold in mind as the holiday season gins up its gift-giving momentum ever earlier. (For more on the annoyance of that, check our Nancy Wolf's blog post on Witty Worried and Wolf.