Dysfunctional Family Christmas and Giving the Wrong Gift




dysfunctional family christmas
the wrong gift

The Ghost of Dysfunctional Christmas Past ~ Part 2

How come I could NEVER find the right gift for my Mother? I never seemed to be able to make her happy. My Christmas gifts  as well as any other gifts I found for her never had the desired effect one wants when giving a gift to someone.

There was always this disappointment she showed when she opened a gift from me. Her face would fall. She would look uncomfortable. She wouldn’t say much about whatever I had chosen for her. I agonized over what I would get her, and then I worried about it until the day I gave it to her. I dreaded her reaction. I guess I was hoping that her face would light up. I was hoping for approval.

I got so that I HATED thinking about what she might like for a gift and what I should get her. There was so much anxiety around gift giving that I couldn’t actually concentrate on the celebration itself. There was so much “obligation” around all these events that I didn’t understand back then.

My mother never made it easy for me by pointing out or mentioning a specific gift she wanted. It was as if my “guessing what the right gift would be to get for her” was part of what would make her happy. It was a though if she “told” me what she wanted, that would ruin it. In order for the gift to be “special”, I had to come up with the idea on my own, or be a mind reader.

My mother collects Royal Doulton Figurines. Not the cheap kind either. The ones she likes cost upwards of $250.00 each. One year I decided to get her one. It was a lot of money but I really wanted to make her happy.

It worked. She loved it. FINALLY I had done something right after YEARS of giving her a disappointing gift and feeling like I had let my mom down. Her face lit up! She approved! It was an exhilarating feeling of success for me!

There was only one other time I recall where my mother was pleased with me choice of gift for her. It was when I sent her a huge amount of roses to correspond with the number of years she had reached on her birthday. (I can’t remember which birthday, but I know it was over 60)  

When I began my journey out of the foggy darkness, I realized that my Mother sees gifts as a reflection of “love” or a measurement of love.  Gifts “prove” her value. If the giver spends a lot then the giver recognizes her value. Gifts define her. It isn’t the thought that counts in her mind. In addition to that, it’s not only about money and the monetary value of the gift but how well the giver has “guessed” what would please her.  When the relationship is dysfunctional however, it is really hard to guess the right gift.

It seems as though according to her belief system, the gift actually “proves” her worth. The gift proves the givers love and understanding of her.

There is another side of this picture. My mother didn’t give gifts to me in the same way she wanted to receive them for herself. Once again this is an example of how controlling and manipulative people live by two different sets of rules.  The rules that apply to her, and the rules that apply to others.  I always say that narcissistic, controlling and manipulative people don’t ‘love’ by the same rules that they demand love. If my gifts to her defined my love for her and her worth in my eyes then I thought it would stand to reason that the same was true for her when she gave a gift to me. 

When it came to me and the gifts that my mother would choose for me, the gifts always seemed practical or convenient.  She hated those kinds of gifts for herself, but she bought them for me. It seems odd to me that she would buy me gifts that would have disappointed her; gifts that would have “defined her” as less than worthy of a major splurge gift.

In the fog of dysfunctional mother daughter relationship, I could not sort this out.

If my gifts to my mother defined or proved my love for her and made a statement TO her about HER worth in my eyes then it would stand to reason that the same was true for her when she gave a gift to me.

Today I realize that her gifts to me were in fact another way of keeping me defined as less valuable than she was.  Upon closer examination, if my gifts defined my love for her and her worth in my eyes, than judging by the gifts she chose for me, it would stand to reason the same belief actually WAS true for her.  In truth, she was giving me gifts according to her own belief system. She believed that I was not worthy of thought and consideration in the way that I had to prove she was worthy of thought and consideration.

Her double standard (in her view) wasn’t odd at all. It was actually a truth leak about the way she regarded me as “less” than herself.

And in some dysfunctional families, this devaluing belief system is reflected differently for each child! In other words, one child gets the best and most expensive gift imaginable while the other child gets socks.

I don’t miss any of that stuff anymore. I don’t miss the anxiety of choosing a gift for her; I don’t miss bracing myself for the reaction from her; I don’t miss her disappointment or her false definition of love that wrapped around the whole Mothers day, birthday, and Christmas gift giving thing.

It took me years to get over my fear of giving the wrong gift. It took me years to get over my fear of opening gifts too.  I was so afraid that I would react the way that my mother did, I was more focused on my reaction to a gift than I was ON the gift itself! Once I found the truth at the roots of those fears, each passing year has become easier. I don’t buy gifts OR give gifts out of obligation anymore. I don’t believe gifts are a measurement of love. And since my definition of love has been redefined and I know what LOVE is and what LOVE is not, I don’t live under those two different sets of rules anymore either.

I welcome your comments. Please feel free to share.

Happy Holidays everyone; Bright blessings, hugs and squishes to all;

Darlene Ouimet

Related Posts ~Part one to this post ~ Dysfunctional Family Christmas and Being Alone

 The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing


119 response to "Dysfunctional Family Christmas and Giving the Wrong Gift"

  1. By: Cathy Posted: 25th December

    Thank you for this website. Knowing I’m not the only one helps. Merry Christmas.

  2. By: FinallyFree Posted: 17th December

    Gift giving and receiving as a child was always a mixture of dread, disappointment and joy. There was always the dread of my parents or relatives not liking the gift, and even into my young adulthood, I dreaded giving gifts to them because I had very little money and what I could afford did not and would not please the richer relatives. Also, the gifts I would receive from my parents were pretty thoughtless…so it is very interesting to learn from this article that they (mom) was choosing gifts to ensure that I would remain devalued. My dad was also really weird about gifts too when I was younger….bought me a pair of boys tennis shoes that didnt fit and told me I couldnt have new ones until those wore out..and a boys bike in the brightest color of yellow that I had to use as transportation or walk. I can laugh now, but back then it was so embarrassing and confusing too. I changed all of that for my own family after our daughter was born and she thankfully has not experienced anything like what I did. In fact, when someone has given her the odd, thoughtless gift, she doesnt even think about it.

  3. By: Colleen Posted: 7th February

    It helps so much to read these replys and realize I am not shelfish nor am I crazy for hurting over gifts, or the lack there of. It is amazing how such a small thing can end up being a source of shame. Whem my mother is angry with me, she cuts me off from cards and gifts. If by some chance she is “speaking to me” she may send a card. One year for my birthday she gave me a jar of homemade pickles!

    For me, it’s not the overt, it’s the covert abuse that is happening. Being devalued. And in front of family, and they all watch for my reaction. If I respond with “What the heck” then there is more proof that I am such a bad person. If I smile and accept, then I am laughed at for being such a goof, but in the back of their minds they are thinking “thank God she is the black sheep and not me!”

    It is great to be able to share situations with others knowing they understand and do not view stories as “poor me” but realize how we were brainwashed into thinking we did not posess any value what so ever.

  4. By: Eira Posted: 31st December

    Wow, gift giving and my mother. Horrible experience. My siblings and I tried hard to give my mom presents she would like. She mostly rejected them. When we were little, we lived in a very small town with just a variety store, a drug store, and a hardware store. We usually ended up with some kind of bowl or kitchen gadget. We would pool our few dollars together and buy her a gift that she would be very unenthusiastic about and show her disappointment. She would explain that she didn’t like kitchen gifts because they were just to be used on others and weren’t really gifts for HER.

    I think what she was really disappointed in was that my dad didn’t buy her gifts and she projected that to her children who pooled together their dollars and quarters to buy a present for their mom. (We could have bought candy for ourselves).

    If I went on a school trip, even a day trip, I’d try to bring mom something back. Once it was a tiny basket from the museum shop for a quarter.

    As a grown woman, I tried to put more and more thought into my gifts for her and spent more money on her gift than for anyone else. She was usually displeased with them, and at about the six-month mark she invariably give the gifts back to me. Once she told my other sister and I that only the “golden child” sister who she believed that similar taste ever picked out decent gifts for her. That upset my sister greatly, and she became the most financially prosperous (through her successful husband) and she upped the ante, buying more and more elaborate and expensive gifts in order to please Mom. Eventually, she was able to buy her way into the golden child role and became my primary bully! Then the childhood-bully sister became nicer to me, but I still don’t trust her and never will!

    I’ll tell you when the six-month return to me stopped. I started buying her gifts, but I only bought things that were things I loved, that were my taste, and I told her so. I told her she had the habit of returning to me almost everything I have ever given her, so that I am in the future only buying her things that are my own taste so I will be very happy to get them back.

    I have not had any of these gifts returned since and it has been about four years now. Ironic, huh?

  5. By: DXS Posted: 31st December

    My mother never made it easy for me by pointing out or mentioning a specific gift she wanted. It was as if my “guessing what the right gift would be to get for her” was part of what would make her happy. It was a though if she “told” me what she wanted, that would ruin it. In order for the gift to be “special”, I had to come up with the idea on my own, or be a mind reader.

    My mom does this, too. “You should KNOW what I want.” Not to mention, she is HORRIBLE at picking out gifts for my siblings and me. She gives presents for what she wants you to be! She once gave a brother in law clothing that my DAD would wear. My sister couldn’t believe it!

    Oh, then my mom goes into the “it doesn’t matter what it cost” crap, but if your gift isn’t a certain $$ level, she is disappointed, but of course she hides tries very hard to hide it. Or, the “you can make gifts….” but then when we do that, she also is disappointed. My mom never says what she means nor does she mean what she says. Need a universal decoder book to talk to her.

  6. By: Sally Jane Posted: 31st December

    I, too, have been a victim of the “gift” giving/receiving scenario. My Ex used to announce on Christmas Eve day that he’d better go shopping for me, laughing as he said it as if I would find humor in his thoughtlessness. It hurt. I planned and put much thought into gifts for him and I found his lack of planning for me heartbreaking. One year I received a vegetable steamer and a man’s jacket for Christmas. Yes, I was disappointed, but never showed it. Last minute shopping would never be good enough when it came to his needs. He would remind me weeks in advance that his birthday was coming up and did I shop for him, etc. Disgusting.

    Over the years I learned not to expect from him and not to stress over the “perfect” gift for him from me, because he did not put that effort in for me and he would toss aside anything I gave him. If it wasn’t expensive or exactly what he wanted, he was sullen. For his birthday one year I asked him specifically what he wanted, he told me new golf clubs ($800!), expensive, yes, but we went on line and I purchased them. Four months later he purchased another set. To this day I don’t know what was wrong with the one he chose online, but he always wanted bigger and better. Again, not good enough…

    I lowered my expectations for gifts both to and from. Although this helped me deal with the ex-narcassist over special occasions while we were married, it made me sad that the joy of giving to him was never to be had, valued or truly received in the spirit in which it was given.

    Giving and receiving anything given in love should not hurt.

  7. By: Molly Posted: 31st December

    Thank you again Darlene:
    Holidays are still so hard. It seems the ilder I get the harder they are.
    My sister sounds a lot like your mother, but then on the other hand they are exactly the same. It’s exhausting buying those two a gift. So this was the first year I didn’t buy for my sister and the 2nd year I didn’t buy for my mother. People say you give gifts because you want to not because you want them to love you. Every gift I ever gave wasn’t good enough. This year I did things a little different, I bought for those I wanted to and the were grateful. And a plus was getting gifts from my future sister in law and my mother in law. Yes I got socks and loved them!!
    Two weeks ago my sister said, “what did you get mommy”. I said “nothing, we haven’t really spoken”. She said, oh well she’s your mother you should get her something”. I said thanks for sharing. I beat myself up for a few days and then moved on continuing not to buy her a gift. She can’t call on Christmas. U don’t get a gift. That simple.
    It does feel good in the end. Expectations are brutal in these relationships. I don’t expect gifts and I don’t expect phone calls anymore. Peace and love, the holidays are almost over!!
    Happy New Year!!

  8. By: Wendy am Posted: 18th December

    Hi Anna,
    I know exactly what mean. My mother one year gave me a toilet roll cover.It was a cheap net doll that sat on the toilet roll. My husband took it to her bathroom and left it for them. My princess sister was given beautiful bed linen. Our presents were opened all at the same time and I was the laugh of the day. Apologises for repeating I have said this before some months ago.Take care enjoy your Christmas. Wendy am.xx

  9. By: Anna Posted: 12th December

    Yup, I definitely don’t miss the pressure of having to choose a gift for my mother knowing full well that no matter what I picked and how much thought I had put into trying to find the perfect gift for her, it would never be nice enough or expensive enough (because she did associate its monetary value with how much I cared for her), and she made no effort whatsoever to hide her disappointment, always making me feel cheap and stupid that I should think such a gift would make her happy. But in return, I’ll never forget that Christmas when I received four dish towels!!

  10. By: Allou Posted: 30th December

    My family was fairly poor I was a child, so the gifts both to us children and from us to our parents were generally “token gifts” pen and pencil sets etc. Many years ago I moved to another country and here I have had to deal with my mother-in-laws views that her two daughters children should have bigger, much more expensive gifts than her sons children. We are talking about differences like a paid holiday, a new fancy bicycle versus her sons (my) children receiving a small book or similar. When finally confronted with this (by her son/my husband) the answer was “your children have 2 parents who provide for them and your sisters have not been as able to provide many extras for their children.” This was to some extent true, because – since I had grown up pretty poor – I and my husband made it a priority to work hard, buy and pay off our home etc whereas my sister-in-laws used their incomes differently and did not earn the same income as we did. If my mother-in-law had explained this many years before it would have been more acceptable and perhaps enabled my children and their cousins to have a better relationship. Now they are adults there is still same resentment concerning why their grandmother gave so much to some grandchildren and very little to others. Their grandfather was much more aware of the harm done by this, but after he died she really treated the children differently, until someone spoke up and told her it was a very bad idea. So I think one thing to remember is to speak up when you think something is unfair – and the sooner the better!

      • By: Shirley Posted: 27th December

        After I confronted my dad’s wife with her trying to separate me from my dad she disowned my daughters and I. My dad and I would meet once/month at Timmy’s for coffee so we could still have contact. The last coffee we met for I had my 14 & 12 year old daughter’s with me, the entire time he talked about my stepbrother’s step kids which I found strange because my dad’s wife never had much to do with him it wasn’t her golden boy who lives in Kelowna. My daughters expressed on the way home they were disappointed he only said nice things about people that they don’t really know and didn’t ask them about school, soccer or anything I told them I was hoping he was just nervous and just making conversation. My dad found out shortly after this incident that I was doing counseling at sexual assault centre he asked me who had done this. I told him it was his sister’s middle son. He then accused of lying and being a bad mom for attending the same family functions my abuser was also at.

        I went no contact for 2 years. I was very close to my dad before my mom passed away in 1990 and missed him greatly so in June I dropped off a Fathers Day card. He called and left a message asking to go for lunch. My oldest daughter was in the hospital, so I didn’t immediately return his call. He asked why I didn’t call sooner I explained she was in the hospital for PTSD. He then asked if she was faking it. I told him absolutely not she’s had a lot to deal with she’s been in 2 bad car accidents the last one was only a year ago and the trauma from all of the family fall out when I disclosed childhood abuse. He then told me he no longer wants to go for lunch his wife is sick and she’s his only priority. I told him I understood that as my daughter’s are my priority and coffee could wait until we both had time.

        I no longer expect anything other then a superficial relationship, but wonder where the relationship with the dad I knew growing up went.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 30th December

      Hi Allou
      Welcome to emerging from broken
      There should never be expectation or obligation around giving gifts ~ That is not love. And speaking up is a great idea!
      Thanks for sharing,
      Hugs, Darlene

  11. By: Kimberly Posted: 24th November

    Thank you Darlene:) Hugs!

  12. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 24th November

    that is awful! Something that really helped me with this stuff is to see how it wasn’t MY mistake it was her horrific reactions that defined me.
    Hugs, Darlene

  13. By: Kimberly Posted: 23rd November

    My mother used to throw my sisters gifts over the hill in the woods and say how cheap it was, she never knew she did that, I suppose she did that to mine as well, she never liked anything we gave her, one year I bought her diamond earrings and she cried and said well my husband should of bought them for me, not you.

  14. By: Kimberly Posted: 23rd November

    I think crying is good! Just a general statement here! I believe it can help and heal you very much! Cry and be angry and dont give gifts if you dont feel it is appreciated! I used to do that, and I got no thank you cards from anyone, I mean no one, I would put so much effort and time into that as well, as we used to live far from our birth home, I feel that the day I stopped being their dog to kick, I gained a self respect and a new life, a better one!~ hugs to all!

  15. By: Kimberly Posted: 23rd November

    Robin in post 16…that is actually quite healthy and yet we are told we are bad if we hate, I personally believe that we are taught alot ot things in life that are just way off…that we have to forgive and do this or that or give this for xmad or blah blah blah…

    no! all you have to do is die and pay taxes!
    I am so done with the being the one who always forgave and loved and did this and that, and got KICKED in the ass for it every single time, and most people think I should just take it, well no, sorry, I dont believe that, I feel rigteous anger had a good place in our lives, it is called emotioinal throw up and it is something we should DO!

  16. By: Mimi Posted: 1st August

    I had similar experiences and I hated Christmas too. I didn’t know why either.

    Last year I set a new tradition of skipping my mom’s dysfunctional gathering, and put MY OWN family gathering in it’s timeslot. I did NOT miss a single thing about going to my mother’s. My husband and I hosted a nice gathering with my grown stepkids. I got to cook for all of them, enjoy their company, and make new memories. It was stress free, and fantastic!! I will never go to my mother’s gathering again. Hers is in no way a celebration of the birth of Jesus, although she pretends it is on some tiny level.

    I can tell you that when Christmas was over last year, I already felt a relief for this year. I already started looking forward to Christmas, rather than dreading it. That was huge!! It helped me realize why I hated it. My passion has returned after 20 some years of having lost it. The freedom to enjoy was AWESOME!!
    Hugs to you,

  17. By: Stacy Posted: 31st July

    Thanks for sharing this story. I used to buy gifts for every member of my family at Christmas. I would make a list and tried to spend the same on each person. I took so much time wrapping and was so excited about giving. It seemed that I usually spent the most on my mother (except for my only child) because I felt that she deserved it. I really did try to please her but rarely did. It seemed that a gift from the 99 cent store given to her by my brother was glorified. I finally stopped buying gifts and kept my money. Each Christmas I would spend hundreds and came home with about 40 dollars of gifts I did not even like and that were totally unthoughtful. When I decided to stop giving, I was now a bitch and something must of been wrong with me at this point is how I was perceived. I hate Christmas….it was always a sad day for me with a mother who always made me feel bad all the way around. When I think about how Christmas is suppose to be a happy family event and I am crying right now…..help.

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