The Down Side of Giving = Expectation

I love giving gifts. Why? I value the joy it brings me by creating delight for others. And I’ll be honest, the occasional gift from others feels wonderful. I had such fun as a kid with my twin brother…our gift giving had a merciless nature to it. Perhaps even a touch of torture by way of fueling one another’s anticipation. I’ll explain.

My brother and I would place our gifts for each other under the tree days before Christmas or we’d strategically place them in the open weeks before our shared birthday. Followed by terrible hint dropping – you know the kind to throw each other off the trail? This was followed by endless guessing with giggles and glorious anxiety around all the possibilities of what it could be.

That was only part of the fun.

We also prided ourselves on the ability to “nail it” with just the right gift for each other. And, it was always better when that just right gift was something the receiver had never thought of for themselves, but absolutely loved. The surprise on his face and squeal of delight – the “you thought of me” feeling that I know he felt – was always the part that I loved most. This joy of giving was started by my parents, passed to us and now, I love extending that experience to my kids and husband for their birthdays, Christmas, and the just-becauses.

My struggle around the whole gift giving thing exists between me and my husband. We’ve been married over a decade. His challenge with the whole gift giving process is not new information yet, for some reason, I let his lack of enthusiasm for this convention be hurtful to me. For the most part, he doesn’t participate. Not with me, not with the kids. Why? Early on in our marriage he explained his lack of participation as an issue he had with the expectation of gift giving in his family as a young man. He didn’t like the pressure and the feeling that you have to give a present just because everyone else is doing it, that this one day was the day that required you give a gift in order to prove how much you care. This was, and apparently still is, hard for me to understand. My family experience around gift giving is so different than his – we had so much fun with it.

I try to teach my kids that a holiday like Christmas or a birthday is not only about “getting.” We’ve even evolved the kids’ birthday parties into pure “no gifts please” celebrations with friends, focusing more on doing something together rather than accumulating more things. It’s worked really well, and it feels great. The kids have even said so.

But, that quiet yet noisy friend called expectation tends to visit and play with my head around holidays. It translates into an inaccurate measurement tool to try to understand how much we are valued by another person. About how much my husband values or appreciates me. So, I’m setting myself up for disappointment most of the time. What is that really about?

Part of my struggle with my spouse is around a perceived unwillingness to even try. I interpret some of his behaviors as silent or subtle protests. Almost an “I’ll show you” attitude. Of course that’s not what’s really going on, but if feels that way sometimes. How can I get to the point of accepting that he’s doing the best he can when I allow myself to interpret his behavior as he’s doing the best that he’s willing to do. The latter fills me with resentment and hurt feelings. What a waste of time! And certainly, not entirely fair.

Do I share that I really enjoy the occasional gift? That I can’t understand why he won’t let himself have fun with this activity? Have fun with me? I fight myself on this because it feels like I’ve said it before and when I do that I’m asking for a present – I want the surprise and delight without ordering it up. Asking for a gift feels totally asinine.

It’s like Jennifer Aniston’s line from The Breakup, “I want you to want to do the dishes.” The whole idea of wishing someone would do something without being asked does resonate. At the same time, to Vince Vaughn’s point – why would he want to do something he doesn’t like to do?

Ultimately the issue and the expectation is mine, and for my own happiness I need to let it go. Time to fully embrace the joy of giving and all that it does bring to me, which is a lot. Listen to my own lesson shared with my children – it’s not about getting. I rather focus my energy on gratitude for all of his other gifts and remember to acknowledge all that he means to me.  I do know he loves me and our kids, that he cares deeply – he just doesn’t show it through this conventional way. And it’s okay.

He is doing the best that he can.

What more can I expect?

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