November 2016

Holiday Gift Problem Solved

Author: Gary Kinzel

I have a son and two daughters, a son-in-law and daughter-in-law, all between ages 28 and 40, and my wife still goes nuts every Christmas trying to figure out what to get them. What do we put in their stockings? Which one is on a gluten-free diet and can’t have those cookies, and who hates that designer but loves this one? Maybe she’s just trying to deny we’re getting older by treating “the kids” like they’re still 10 years old. I, on the other hand, am trying to deny continuing this mandatory holiday gifting tradition to adult children due to my recently attained fixed income status. I’m like Scrooge, but it’s a practical decision.

My adult kids already buy everything they need for themselves, whenever they need it. When asked for holiday gift ideas, they say, “Don’t get me anything, Dad.” They seem to understand and embrace their parents’ new economy, and I am pleased with this response from my children. They’re all doing okay. They have succeeded on their own efforts, are self-sustaining, and I’m proud of them for their accomplishments.

However, I realize there is a big difference between being a dad at holiday times versus being a mom. Moms make holidays happen. They inject most of the fun, the traditions and the memories into the family scrapbook of the mind. Dads mostly become moms’ staffers, cheerily doing any holiday chores assigned by the CHO (chief holiday officer). Moms make the holidays joyous for all and break their backs doing it every year. The only reward sought is the beaming smiles on the kids’ faces. But as children become adults, it’s a real challenge to get them to react like they did as kids.

My wife, undaunted, continues to treat this time of year as she always has. She goes nuts searching for the gift that will make a 40-year-old act like an ecstatic 10-year-old. “I just can’t think of anything for the kids,” I hear from her plaintively. Invariably, she’ll end up with some bizarre new-tech gift she knows they don’t have (nor probably want), or more clothes they don’t like or that don’t fit and must be returned. This kills her. If she doesn’t get the wow smile from the kids, her holiday is ruined. “I did a crummy job on Christmas this year,” she says, as we try to convince her otherwise. But it doesn’t placate.

I understand what my bride is feeling. She wants to make each holiday as good as the old ones when the kids were little. It was easy back then. A new Gameboy, sports equipment, a My Little Pony play set…even a puppy or kitten would set off absolute ecstasy that would last for weeks and brought us parents great joy. All of that stuff was affordable too.

Now, it’s not so easy. So what’s a mom to do who’s trying to recreate the magic of holidays past, each and every December for her adult children? Throw more money at it, of course.

Recent attempts to achieve the wow factor for our kids went into the incredibly expensive and/or rare gifts route. Purses by some company whose name I can’t pronounce that cost $1,800. Eighteen hundred dollars! And it comes empty—no money in it. Designer shoes that cost hundreds of dollars—on sale! Shoes, mind you, that can only be worn at certain times with certain things and certainly not when it rains or the humidity is above 70 percent. Custom-made gun cases. Casual jewelry and sports watches with names like David Yurman and Tag Heuer. The finest brands in clothing, supplied in quantity, too: not one sweater but four sweaters, six dress shirts, $400 belts, $300 jeans, laptops, new phones, handheld anythings….

The result? Well, the wow factor certainly was up a bit, but so was the embarrassment factor. Many times our adult kids would open their gifts and say, “Wow. But Mom, you shouldn’t have.” They were embarrassed about the amount of money spent on their gifts. My wife would see that and then feel bad once again, ending what’s supposed to be the happiest day with yet another sad sigh.

A few holidays back, my wife got into a discussion of this topic with one of her best friends, Barbara. They both agreed that recreating holiday excitement for adult children was close to impossible. They rehashed recent disappointing holidays and came to the conclusion that they both had spent a lot of time and money executing these useless, failed attempts.

During the discussion, Barbara made a life-altering comment. She asked my wife, “How many toys or gifts do you really remember from Christmases past? I mean, any of them?”

They both thought about it and agreed they truly remembered very few. And then Barbara came up with the coups de grace: “You know, I always remember the family trips we took, though,” which caused both of them to go on and on regaling each other with family vacation anecdotes and fond memories of places the whole family visited together. “It’s funny how you always remember the family vacation trips isn’t it?”

Barbara said. BINGO! They had a simultaneous epiphany.

So, for the past few years, we’ve given a family trip to the adult kids for Christmas. We supply the accommodations and plan activities. The kids get themselves to and from the venue and share in grocery and beverage expenses. We’ve been to Key West, Cabo San Lucas, New York City, and Big Sky, Montana. The kids love it, and my wife loves planning it. She looks forward to seeing the kids again after the holiday in some interesting vacation spot. She simply tells them in advance “hold these dates” and pops the location on them at holiday time.

Around the tree, the memories of past trips return and the smiles come up. The WOW factor is back, and you know what? Nobody forgets those family trip gifts. My wife is happy again. Me too. 

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