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Friday, January 06, 2017

The Problem with Gifts

Written by  Rev. Kelly Crenshaw

Over my many years of parenting, I have grown to really dislike gift-giving holidays. And, every holiday, I forget how deep my resentment goes until the holiday is upon me. I enjoy shopping for the perfect gifts for each of my kids. I enjoy the thought they put into the gifts they pick for other family members. That part is fun and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. What I don’t like is dealing with the gift-giving reality from well-meaning agencies as well as some of their biological or prior adoptive families.

At one point, I had a house full of little kids. I had a couple of nine year olds, a couple of seven year olds, a five year old, a three year old, a two year old, and a toddler. Most of the kids had been adopted, but there were a few that were still in foster care. That’s not including the teens that were there, too.

Several of the younger kids were still in foster care. And, like many foster-care agencies, the Washington County Department of Social Services had a program where generous community members could buy presents for local foster kids. It’s a great idea. And, theoretically, would be a great way to save money for the foster parents involved. But, this was a problem for my household.

I admit that I was part of that problem. I’m a bit of a control freak about holiday gifts. I like to make sure that everyone has exactly the same number of gifts to open as well as the same monetary value. Over the years of parenting teens, I’d heard too many talk about how kids born into the family got game systems, while kids who were fostered or adopted got a bag of marbles. (Okay, maybe not exactly that, but still very obviously different.) So, it was important to me that everyone felt as equal as possible.

And, that’s the root of the problem. The social workers would show up a day or two before Christmas with a trunkload of presents for a specific child. So generous. But, how could I give ten extra gifts to just a couple of the kids? These were little guys. They wouldn’t be able to understand. It was suggested that I simply divide up the gifts among all the kids, so to be fair. Again, a great idea! But, it was hard splitting up gifts meant for school-aged boys and giving them to preschoolers, too. So, I’d end up going out, at the last minute, to buy extra gifts for the kids who weren’t on DSS’s Christmas gift list, so that it was fair for all.

And then, there was the problem of the bio families. One of my daughters was able to stay in contact with her aunt and uncle. They were nice people and wanted to be part of my daughter’s life, but they had some issues with alcohol. They just didn’t have it in them to be consistent. So, one year, she’d get something at every holiday. The next year, she might get something completely inappropriate for a ten year old for one holiday and then nothing the rest of the year. Sometimes, the aunt would show up on our doorstep. And sometimes, she’d call and make promises and our daughter would see nothing at all.

Our kids would see her get presents from bio family and want to know why their family didn’t send gifts. They would wait anxiously for their gifts to arrive and then, when they didn’t come, struggle to act as if everything was okay. Holidays became anxiety producing times – times when the kids would act out and struggle to understand why there were rejected again and again.

Eventually, the problem got to be so bad that we had to introduce a “no gifts” policy. Even when we adopted two of our grandchildren, we explained to our daughter that if she wanted to buy gifts, she had to buy gifts for all of the children, not just the ones she birthed. And, for those families that wanted to send something, we encouraged them to send a card with a picture enclosed – something their kids would appreciate, but everyone could enjoy.

For the most part, this policy has served our family well. Biological families with little resources do not feel obligated to buy gifts they can’t afford. None of the children are made to feel rejected if gifts don’t come. And, no one feels like anyone is trying to buy their love and attention. It’s been a good thing.

Depending on each family’s dynamics, the no-gift rule may or may not work. We’ve softened our requirements with the addition of baby Cassandra because there are no other little kids in the house to be hurt by the extra presents. You have to decide what works best for you. And then, stick to it. It’s your family. You know best what works best for your children. So, don’t be afraid to enforce the rules and policies in your home. One day, your kids will thank you for it.


Rev. Kelly Crenshaw is the mom of 16 adopted kids, two biological kids, guardian of one baby girl and foster mom of dozens. Some are lesbian, some gay, some straight, and some bisexual. Kelly founded a K-12 day school where kids could have a safe, bully-free environment for learning. She is co-owner of a counselling agency that works with children and their families. Send your parenting questions to her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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