How to give great gifts: Part One

My indulgent husband and I differ very, very strongly on one solid, rather important relational point. He believes that surprises are a good thing. I, personally, hate surprises.

This difference has only recently come to light in our relationship, and, as with most of the other points of conflict that have arisen in our 22 year-long marriage, it has come to the forefront because of our scalawags.

Neither of us are wrong, of course. He is right in a very practical way: what they do not know about they cannot ask four thousand times in three hours Are we there yet? about. I am right in a more contentment focused way: anticipating something is a way to enjoy an experience in advance, making the pleasure of the experience last longer by displacing its starting point.

Case in point

My indulgent husband is a teacher, so theoretically neither of us is actually “working” during school vacations. Technically, however, we both have mountains of work to do. He has papers to grade, I have chapters to write. There is never not work to do.

When we are very organized, we work out a “work plan”, so that each of us gets one half of a day to work on as many days as possible during vacation. What a “working” parent does during his/her work time is his/her choice. The job of the non-working parent is to get the children out of the house.

Me, I am a planner. It is pure joy for me, for days in advance, to be able to plan out what work I want to do when. I love what I do, so to be able to plan for it is also a great pleasure. I view those hours that I have to myself to work as gifts. Because I am a creative, with inevitable ebbs and flows, the fact of knowing that I will have time to work can shift the tide towards flow.

Well. It happened that we were not particularly organized over a long weekend earlier this year. I had assumed that we would share the duties. (And you know what assume means, right?) I had tons of work to do, I was in flow and I couldn’t wait to get started.

But I noticed that my indulgent husband hadn’t mentioned anything about a work plan for that long weekend. Because I am a people pleaser and have no idea how to advocate for what I really want, instead of actually talking about it, we ended up all getting ready to go to a park.

I’ll be honest, I was crabby about it. I wanted to stay home and work. I probably wasn’t being enthusiastic about our preparations. But I did it. I was ready. We all went downstairs, got in the car. Everybody had their seatbelts on.

And then, my indulgent husband said, “Haha, just kidding! You’re staying home to work.”

So, confession time: I am an ungrateful person. I am a terrible communicator. I am self-centered and miserable to live with.

Instead of being happy and thankful to have time to work I became so irrationally angry.

I was angry because I felt robbed of the opportunity to anticipate. I was angry because I hate surprises. I hate jokes. I do not understand them, I do not appreciate them. They always leave me feeling disrespected and confused.

This was no exception. My communication skills and self-centeredness are part of the problem: no one is a mind reader, not even after 22 years of marriage. But the other side is, in spite of the fact that I got to stay home and work, I was left feeling more unloved and more angry than I would have had I gone to the park. This was not my indulgent husband’s intention. But it was the result.

The moral of the story is this: A kind gesture can backfire if it does not align with the needs and desires of the receiver.

The Love Language of Gifts

Where this antagonism is most stark, not surprisingly, is when it comes to gifts. As you may remember, Giving and Receiving Gifts is one of the 5 Love Languages Dr. Gary Chapman identifies. Seeing as how I am not a naturally loving and caring person, I have taken Dr. Chapman’s notion of Love Languages as a textbook for, however awkwardly, learning to express love to my little family.

There are certain times of year that are more propitious to this kind of conversation about gifts and surprises, and I would very much like to encourage you, as you get ramped up for the holiday season, and as you start making your Christmas lists, to ask yourself a few simple questions about the people you love before you dive in and start buying them gifts.

For the next few days, we are going to become students of the people we love, identifying something I like to call a “gift-receiving template,” that is, what the gift-receiver’s expectations are in general about gifts. Are they sentimental at heart? Do they prefer practical or fanciful? Are they quantity-focused? Do they prefer something tangible or an experience? Are they surprise or anticipation motivated? Do they hate gifts? (I have one of these in my life and let me tell you. It’s tricky.) Do they prefer to pick out their own gift and let you buy it for them, or would they prefer cash to buy it themselves? Are they in-kind givers? Are they competitive, bidding wars gift-givers? (Ooooff. I have one of these, too. Also very tricky.)

By getting started early this year in thinking about the people we love, we can increase our sense of contentment about a process which, quite honestly, can be dreadful if we try to sneak over to Target on December 23 to finish up our Christmas shopping.

Here is your homework for today: Make a list of the people to whom you feel obligated to offer a gift at the holidays. Especially those people you usually forget until the last minute: Your concierge? Your assistant? Your mail carrier? Make that list today.

Are you with me? Rendez-vous tomorrow to get started.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

4 thoughts on “How to give great gifts: Part One

    1. That can be true! I am learning that opening up lines of communication about this sensitive topic can lead to more satisfaction in both the giving and the receiving…there will be tons more to come on this subject!


      1. Thank you Lilly. My children are in their late 30 something. As kids it was easy. The bikes were hidden and looked forward to. Treat outings to Disney land were saved for and looked forward to but now it is not the same.

        Liked by 1 person

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