Monday, December 12, 2011

You Call That a Gift?

You know that thing you plan to wrap and give to your child this holiday season? What do you call that thing? Before you call it a gift, remember:
  • It's not a gift if you require a certain type or amount of appreciation in return. 
  • It's not a gift if you reserve or exercise the right to take it away at any moment, for any reason.
  • It's not a gift if you force your child to use it (or not use it) in a certain way.
  • It's not a gift if you use it as a tool to manipulate your child.
  • It's not a gift if you make your child feel guilty for using it too much or not using it enough.
If that thing you are giving is not a gift, please don't call it a gift. Find another word for the thing you are giving. Don't even wrap it. If you do insist on wrapping this non-gift, at least make sure your child knows the deal. Slap a warning label on that pretty wrapping paper:

This item is on loan to you under certain conditions.
It can and will be taken away from you at the will of your parents, for any reason, including but not limited to: your room is too messy, your grades are too low, you were grumpy one day, you made a mistake.

And don't forget to also label those things your child gets from "Santa" or anyone else, if you plan to use them in the same way. Those are not gifts either.

If you give your child something as a gift, remember that you are surrendering possession of that thing. You are permanently transferring ownership of that thing. It no longer belongs to you. It belongs to your child. If someone else gives your child something as a gift, remember that thing never belonged to you in the first place. Let your child own her own things.

A gift is something given freely and without strings attached. It's something you give because you want to give it. A giver of a gift does not expect anything in return. The giving of a gift is a happy transaction. If your gift is not like this, then it is not a gift at all. It is something else entirely.


The issue here is much larger than the meaning of the word "gift". See a follow-up post here: Do Your Children Own Anything?

There's a new post on Parent-Free By Choice today, Not Well Adjusted: The Day It Ended. The author explains that she is no longer speaking to her mother because she "couldn't take her constant judging, harassing, and demands anymore."


  1. Great! I was actually thinking of something similar today, when people get cross because the kid 'trashes' the 'gift'. Like paint it or poor food on it or take it in the tub... I'll be sharing this!

  2. Such an important thing to remember- if something truly belongs to you, you have the right to do with it as you wish as long as your use of it does not harm another (and there are so many options other than confiscating said item in that case!). Just because it's common to assume a child's possessions actually belong to the parent (which implies that the child belongs to the parent-yuck) does not mean that it's right.

  3. I would almost have totally agreed with that iphone contract (the existence of it, not necessarily the specifics) if she'd just at the beginning specified that the iphone was on loan from her to her kid rather than "congrats here's your own new iphone but by the way it's still mine".

  4. This is such a cool post. My parents (like most parents, I bet) would give me gifts and then take them away because I did something bad, or they'd say I could only use them for certain things or couldn't give them away to anyone else or could only keep it if I used it enough to show I was enjoying. Then I started giving my brother the same kind of gifts; I gave him my old magazines and then I wanted to read them and I said, "You have to let me read them! I gave them to you!" My parents said that if I gave him gifts, they had to be real gifts, but I didn't get it... I was bigger and more mature than him; I thought I could act like a parent. Once I blurted that I was looking forward to turning eighteen and not having to follow my parents' rules and my mom said I'd still have to follow their rules; if I didn't they could kick me out of the house and take all my stuff, because anything I get until I turn eighteen is technically theirs.
    You know, you're a really cool parent. I love your blog. It's sort of nice to know that some parents agree with me on parenting tactics because I always got "You only think that way because you're a kid."