Life

Giving To The Ungrateful

I absolutely love Christmas and the entire holiday season in general. I love celebrating my family, my husband, and my friends. I am very much a gift-giving person, it is simply my personality. The question is, how do we give to the ungrateful? That is something that is on my mind right now.

My husband and I have this tendency to buy gifts throughout the year, and then stash them away in a closet until Christmas time rolls around. It is one of those things where we find a perfect gift for someone and automatically pick it up. You know when you see an item and it just screams someone’s name? Well, if we waited until Christmas, it would not be there. Which is why we buy them when we see them. The problem with this is that we forget what is there and then buy more around Christmas, until we have a good ten presents per person, and we’ve blown a substantial amount of money overall. Just throughout the year instead of just in December. Does anyone else do this? Because the last couple of years, we’ve been really bad with this.

Many times I will add to these items by making things too, sewing or crocheting blankets, pillows, and so much more. This is not cohesive to the whole ‘less is more’ idea. But I also absolutely love making things for my friends and family. When I make something for someone, whoever it may be, I feel like I am giving a piece of myself away each time I do it. My projects are very personal to me because they bring me such joy to create.

Every year, we pack up the car and cart our million gifts to our family in neighboring towns to see them during the holidays. We always travel to see family. This isn’t normally an issue for me, but when it ends up being that the people we are traveling to see turn out to be ungrateful, I start to have an issue with it.

I’ve celebrated many holidays with both family and friends. The problem for me is that when I have such a giving spirit, and it isn’t welcomed or appreciated, it really affects me. It turns an amazing holiday into a ‘bah humbug’ kind of trip. The other problem is that it really sours me on ever giving them a gift again. I never want to put that kind of time and effort into that specific person because it clearly wasn’t appreciated. Why waste my time doing it again? I despise the fact that their behavior turns my mindset to such a negative place after that.

Now, I know good and well that I am not going to get back the large amounts of money I spent on gifts in returned gifts to me. That isn’t a problem for me. It isn’t a competition to see if I can spend more money on someone or give more gifts. I look at it from the “it’s better to give than to receive” perspective. I simply love giving. But what happens when the person I am giving to doesn’t appreciate my efforts? That can be a challenge, especially for me.

I can honestly say that I have never had someone get mad at the fact I am giving them gifts, yet it happened very recently. My husband and I hand picked each and every gift we gave, thinking of different items that we felt would be an addition to their lives, or something they had specifically asked for. One person opening them got to the last one, which was a blanket and pillow set I had made them. Their comment was, “this is too many gifts and the next one is being donated to charity.” This was said without even opening it or knowing what was inside. I can honestly say that hearing this was like having my heart ripped out and stomped on. A life-threatening physical injury would have hurt less. It was that bad. My husband remarked, I think they were joking when they said that. Some joke when it causes my heart to be ripped in half and violent tears on the way home. Yeah, really funny. Not exactly a joke when I’m not laughing.

So the real question is, how do we deal with these nasty kind of people who seem to ruin our holidays? I am sure that everyone has encountered a scrooge or two in our lifetimes. I was chatting with my favorite person on this planet about this recently, because he grounds me in many ways and puts things in a different perspective. His first response was, screw them and forget about it. Which made me laugh because after my crying spell, that was basically my thought too. Screw them. But I don’t want to be that person either. It’s a natural and reasonable response to something like that. I just don’t like feeling that negative toward people I should care about. I always give gifts in good spirit, but I kind of expect that they are received in that same spirit.

This really made me think about my own behavior, and the need to really set examples when I am accepting gifts. Have I ever destroyed someone’s holiday by receiving their gifts with an ugly heart and a nasty attitude? I am sure that at some point in my life, even without meaning to I have. I have now made a commitment to really be present in the moment of accepting a gift from someone and thinking about their feelings as I am opening it. I would like to think I haven’t destroyed someone else emotionally by being disrespectful about their gifts in many years. Now that I have been on the receiving end of that, I have made a commitment to never do that to anyone for the rest of my life. Because I never want to hurt someone that badly, the way I was hurt.

I can’t change someone else’s bad behavior, and I really shouldn’t ever feel the need to. However, what I can do is make absolutely certain that I never make someone else feel as badly as I was made to feel during a Christmas holiday. That is the one thing I can do to counteract another bad behavior. Two wrongs do not make a right. I have to focus on my behavior and really pay attention to how I make others feel and make sure I never do something like that. I like to call this a life-lesson. You know the whole “treat others how you want to be treated” concept? I’d like to pound that into a few heads with a two by four, but that is slightly frowned upon. All I can do instead is make sure I remember that phrase myself and always put it into practice.

I am still a bit angry and agreeing with my bestie on the “screw them and forget about it” idea, but I can’t allow that to consume me. I will still give gifts in a good spirit, although the number may change, and I will never put the effort into making something for these people again because I can save that for people who actually appreciate my efforts. I never want to give in a bad spirit either. That isn’t me. In time, this ugly feeling of screw them will pass, and I will be able to continue to give gifts in good spirits next year. As I said, two wrongs do not make a right, so I can’t allow that feeling to stay with me.

I want to make people feel good during the holidays, and that is why I give with such a generous spirit. I don’t want to ruin someone else’s holiday, and I encourage everyone to think about their own behavior and make sure you aren’t doing this either, because it is exceptionally hurtful. Make a commitment to yourself to be better than that, just like I did. As I said, I can’t change another person’s behavior, but I can certainly be more aware of mine, and I would love the opportunity to tell the people who hurt me to do the same. Maybe I’ll get that opportunity, maybe I won’t. I have no idea. But I would love to see all of us thinking about our behavior toward others, especially our family and friends and during the holidays.

3 Comments

  • JR

    I was googling “giving gifts without expecting thanks” and turned up a lot of posts like yours – not quite what I was hoping to find. People with gift-giving personalities, as you described it and as I too consider myself, need to decide why we are giving those gifts. Is it to simply to make someone happy? Somewhat. Is it because that’s how we show love? Yes. But is it also because deep down we enjoy shopping and crafting and tying little bows? Bingo. We are getting something out of it, or else we would only do it out of obligation, and probably thus minimally. So, #1) don’t pretend giving a gift is a selfless act and you are some kind of perfect angel that can judge others based on how they receive that act. #2) If you do witness a less than thrilled reaction, you’ve misinterpreted that recipient’s needs or desires. You gave them something that made you happy without truly considering them at all. You don’t know their life – they could have a personal struggle with clutter, hoarding, weight (if you’ve given food items), insecurity, etc. Your gift may actually be hurting them in some way. Did you ever consider that?? It’s kind of like being that aunt who lays too many wet kisses or cheek pinches on a kid, forcing them to powerlessly squirm away. You might take note of that reaction and adjust what you do for that person in the future, if you really care and love them. #3) If you gave a gift to make someone happy, and they failed to thank you correctly or in a way that lived up to your standards, do you then want them to be unhappy? Do you want them to feel guilty and unworthy? I’m fairly sure that most people would say ” NO thank you!” to that kind of transactional, strings-attached gift. Bottom line, give because you like to, it makes you happy, and you hope it will make others happy as well. That is the only true spirit of giving.

    • The Prepping Wife

      You bring up some great points, JR! Thank you so much for sharing a different perspective. It is a great reminder for me to really think about the gifts I am giving in the future. I appreciate such a thoughtful and detailed comment.

  • Missy

    Dear Prepping Wife: are you my mother?

    Your article gave me such a clarifying “aha!” moment that I had to say Thank You! You can tell by the following novel, that this really struck a chord with me.

    I am very fortunate to share my life with people, that sound similar to you, such as my mom, and actually a number of people in our family. They seem to have the same overflowing heart and well-planned strategy as you.

    I am so, so very sorry to hear about your soul-crushing experience when you gave a handmade, unwrapped gift to that person. That was really an uncalled for response, and I am sorry that had to happen to you.

    I am profoundly fortunate to be on the receiving end of many, many, MANY gifts, and I hope my perspective offers you hope and help in some way.

    You see, both my partner and I are the firstborn children on either side. Together we had the first child, grandchild, great grandchild (and nephew, great nephew, great great nephew, etc), and we both grew up our whole lives in the same town, where our extended families both still live. We come from middle class and upper middle class families, who are relatively traditional and quite celebratory.

    My nuclear family: there are six of us, myself, my partner, and four kids, live in a four room, 1344 square foot house with one true closet, lofted ceilings and nearly no attic, and a very wet and scary basement. We both have better than average careers, and could afford much “more”, but we have been doing the homestead-y thing and it’s really our groove. What we have already is too much. We are weird; our family and friends live differently than us and I am sure cannot fathom how we live like we live, or why. We just have a different philosophy and veered a different way. We are funky.

    I’m not sure if our chosen lifestyle is related to three issues of mine, but here they are:

    First, stress and maybe a sensory disorder. I am super sensitive to my visual surroundings. Maybe it’s a personality flaw, maybe it’s because I grew up in a super nice mcmansion that was insanely cluttered and too, too much (to be fair, this is my opinion), maybe it’s a symptom of perfectionism, anxiety, fear, I don’t know, but I like how I am and I’m quite comfortable and not going to change as there is no reason to, in this facet of my personality. I am NOT a minimalist. I love my little doo dads….the ones I choose! However, I get wicked stressed out, grump, freaked out, desperate, hopeless about visual clutter, especially that which was not mindfully chosen (eek, and I mean by me!). You should see my office. Every. Single. Thing. Is. Beautiful. From the antique persian rug to the ornate console to the texture of my business cards to the perfectly chosen paint finish on my walls. It’s my baby, my creation, my wonderland. Ever see The Hobbit? I live in my elven kingdom.

    I am also a very, very (overly?) concientious person who has always studied and practiced emotional intelligence, and making people around me feel good. You may see where this is going, and understand your pleasure and conflict is related to my pleasure and conflict in this way. I have also experience life in a way that had made me KNOW I am rich, incredibly rich, extremely sufficient and taken care of and comfortable, as I will explain later. I have a gratitude journal I’ve kept for 9 years, and not a day goes by where I do not deeply reflect on how lucky I am, in many ways. I do live in fear of tragedy, a death, a gravely sick child, etc. While a live a small and humble life, I recognize a global sense of extreme well-being.

    I also have a horrible “secret” – I get super icked out by certain fabrics and textures. Like, I can’t breathe when I see them, and no way can I touch them without internally freaking out and quickly walking to the nearest hand washing station (I’m looking at you, Minky!) I am not being a brat, as this is something I’ve had since I was at least 4 or 5. It’s like a phobia, and I am careful never to reveal it or be rude in any way ever, because of it. I graciously accept the Minky socks, touching only the plastic hanger, adore them verbally, and then dispose of them gently in the nearest gift bag, while trying to catch my breath and plan a physical escape from being near the gift bag. Ongoing issue, year after year, holiday after holiday. You can imagine, this can be very unpleasant for me. I’m like secretly special needs or cuocuo. Yes, I have an Amazon wish list, and yes, when asked, I make raving remarks about my favorite fabrics, and the merits of whatever, hoping to drop hints about the things I would actually love to perhaps have in my life.

    Which leads me to the beautiful, generous outpouring of love…and stuff…we have received not just growing up, but now ten times moreso in the past 7 years since our first baby was born.

    Issue two: the house. It’s small and quirky, compared to what we both grew up in and what many people in our income bracket own. We have embarked on a years and years long lifestyle that follows some beliefs that really resonate with our hopes for our kids and for the world. I had goats way before they were cool. That said, six (hyper)active people, four rooms, one real closet, 1344 sq ft., teensy attic, no usable basement. And we plan to be here for a while.

    We love our families and always want to show them appreciation and respect, but they are more established than us, and not super in tune with our hippie lifestyle and geeky interests, and sometimes I feel after each holiday (and we have many, because remember, all the birthdays) the house is like a dam fit to burst! We also have some internal conflict and a troubled soul regardinh some “insider” knowledge about the waste and recycling problems (lobbyists, lies, politics, fraud) our world is facing, and we are so torn over certain material things and how to feel about them.

    My house. I knew I did NOT want to EVER live in a mcmansion. (A true mansion, somewhere with great weather and a nice riding stable, I would take!) I do not want to pay for, insure, heat or clean a large house. As my life choices are born of research, I have refered to many publications such as the Quality of Life Survey, “The Relationship Between Size of Living Space and Subjective Well-Being”, and other housing authority/realty metrics regarding how much space / square footage per person is needed both minimally, and optimally in choosing a home for my family. I am over double the minimum, and in a very favorable zone (believe it or not!).

    Third: socioeconomic issues. I came from a good amount, and yet now that I am an adult, I am less (or look like less, feel like less). Growing up, I went to a very good public school in Connecticut, in a higher-earning beach community. Still, I never, ever, ever bragged or let on about certain things in my life. Namely, Christmas. My parents have a ton of rooms. There are rooms I know for a fact they have not entered for 9 months, maybe more. Christmas was embarrassing. So, so embarrassing for me. You could not step, you could not get within 12 feet of the tree decorated in every sentimental ornament ever, for fear of stepping on gifts. Piles. Like, “you may have a problem” piles. It is so hard for me to write this, and I really have never told anyone this. How can someone with so MUCH, so much love, goodness, stuff, gifts, fun, feel anything but not elated? It’s not that I wasn’t excited and happy, but I never wanted the photos to get out. Even peers that I believe were wealthier than my family, did not get nearly as much. Not even close. It just wasn’t their family’s culture or philosophy. My horse had the most expensive shoes in the barn. It was embarrassing to think my riding friends might see the bill the farrier left on my stall door for my parents before I got there to tear it down. Even among horse girls, I dreaded my friends thinking, “hmmff, well THAT’S how it is in her family!” Granted, this is middle class stuff. Upper middle, but maybe the bottom of upper middle. Public school! Anyhow, I didn’t want to be ostracized, or different, or give people fodder to attack me – “well, you’re just a brat that gets evvvverything, huh!” would be one fear of mine, or think I thought I must be better in some way (which is so laughable, because you are born into what you are born into, being “better or worse”, if there can be such a thing, has nothing to do with anything a child could affect!), or try to use me (had that happen, I couldn’t hide the gigantic pool from a neighborhood girl)…but most of all, worst of all, I didn’t want others to Think They Were Less. To avoid me. To not give me a chance to be their friend because they thought I wouldn’t want to be their friend.

    It’s not like we were taking extensive world tours, and even the horse thing could have been hidden if I was not totally horse crazy as a girl. It wasn’t the experiences. The problem was the stuff, the visibility of it, and how it was always more. It made me feel weird in a bad way, and now that I chose to live, I think some would say more simply, it makes me still feel weird, maybe because visually I have a lot less, and I think that messes with my head in my darkest moments, into sometimes thinking I must have turned into a loser, or why am I different, am I doing the right thing, and feeling really insecure when family and friends come to my house, from their perspective, what do they think. “Oh no, she must have fallen on hard times! Goodness we must bring more gifts! Many more!”

    Again, I am so sorry about your lousy experience. I was raised to ALWAYS meet each and every gift slowly, with both hands, gratefully, thoughtfully, with a huge thank you, eye contact, mention a specific thing you love about the gift, write it down and follow up with a handwritten PERSONAL, SPECIFIC thank you note. And the decent, expensivey-kind, not the cheap and flimsy kind. Acceptance and thanks, always, no matter what. No digs, no underhanded comments, omg that is so insanely rude (see my PS – I was in your shoes with a monetary donation yesterday!)

    That said, My insight to you is: know in your heart that YOU held up to your end of the bargain for yourself – you did what you felt in your heart was the best thing to do, with love, kindness, and generosity and joy.

    Easier said that done, of course, but you can’t take other people’s rudeness, rejection, unpleasantness, etc personally. Hard to do, but in hindsight, good to remember when you reflect on it.

    You never know what the other person is going through, or what life experiences caused them to be the way they are, and not be like you and not act like you think they should.

    I say this, because in a much, hopefully more positive and friendly way, I know what it is like to be that other person. My mom thinks she is giving her heart and soul when she buys stuff for the kids. All the time. She comes here at least once a week and NEVER empty handed. Like, bags of stuff. She is coming tomorrow. I would bet my farm she will bring stuff to leave here. To me, it’s crazy! For her, she loves shopping for the kids and imagining who will love what, and so on. That’s great, but I have 1 year old twins and finding babyproof space for every Frozen Lego set ever made right after we got the all 8 of the pokemon Eevee Evolution Construx is super challenging, not to mention how on earth I will find time to cut the tags off the pile of clothes for 4 kids sitting on the new chair that (great) gram brought over three weeks ago. Really. This is actually my life at this minute. And that is only one person, aside from the Gram chair part. We have at least seven family members, curiously all female, who go ALL OUT with gifts and goodies, always! And the kids love it, but it really plagues us when we wonder… Did we, the parents get them a big enough gift? When can it be, or should it ever be, our time to shine? Does this have something to do with why I bought a four year old a pony? Do I have conflicting issues…bigger stuff, wait, no stuff, wait, I dont know what I want!?!?

    I routinely impress upon my kids how truly rich we are compare to many people globally, to have our health and our family, and all our needs met. I tell them of experiences in India and witnessing true child poverty. I have them watch youtube etiquette videos and we play a manners game; I really do my best to teach them to be wholly good people. We even moved two towns away to a much farm-ier, down to earth town. And yet I wonder if the intense extended-fam culture of receiving has something to do with a grotesque question my daughter asked after I stopped at the market for milk: “what did you get me?” “Uh, milk.” “No, I mean something FUUUUN.” Eeek. Had a big talk, actually several, about why that is not ok.

    To my giving family, I have tried many, many times hinting and dropping clues that we might be running out of space (ok we ran out of space loooong ago), and sometimes it works, like my mom funded some riding lessons for the both older kids…for One of their birthdays….and additionally brought in about 20 presents! I can’t ask my mom, who is the “worst” culprit, or sweet (great) gram, or the kids super proper great aunt, to not do what they do, I just can’t. Actually, I tried twice, saying no gifts, your presence is presents enough, but if you must, here is our favorite charity… Charity got some donations….but we still got and got and got stuff. They didn’t listen! Oh phooey, they’d say. You don’t want the kids to have anything? So, I just prompt my kids immediately before the arrival of my culprits, especially on gift-giving holidays (wait, all of them are gift giving, right? Halloween is INSANE here. Candy is an afterthought) what to say and do, and I too, smile, act graciosly, am a good role model…and then, after everyone leaves….things happen, things from which I will spare your kind heart.

    So I ask you: in your opinion, what do I do? I’m hit with wonderful, thoughtful, gifts on all sides, all the time. Our kids are STILL the only children o either side of the family. I CANNOT WAIT until my sister gets pregnant, and at least some heat will be off me, I hope! What should I do with all the stuff? What is the right thing to say, if anything, or do, coming from you as a big giver (who also happens to be an unrelated, thirty party that may offer the objective perspective my family cannot)? I would love to hear your insights.

    P.S., I found your article because I was really troubled over something that happened yesterday. A relatively new acquaintance of mine asked for help via gofundme for a very ill family member. I donated much more than I normally would, due to certain ties to the relationship, and the following day the person was directly super, super ungrateful, rude and hurtful, and I wanted to know why ever someone would be that way, and if I was the only one who had encountered such a confounding scenario, and what others did to feel better. I feel sad, duped, like a fool, rejected, annoyed, and super confused. Elsewhere, I did find the answers to that question, but I am also so very glad I found your blog because it got me thinking deeply from a different perspective and answered other questions of mine about my family!

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