The Secret of Good Gift Giving


As we prepare for Christmas, Fathers for Good asked Catholic family therapist Daniel Grimm, who claims never to have given his wife a bad gift, to explain the psychological and spiritual secrets behind good gift-giving.

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by Daniel Grimm

Fathers for Good: What should we be thinking about when we consider what gifts to give?

Grimm: Psychologically, we want our gifts to say “I love you, I think about you, what a special and unique person you are. I notice things about you, I believe in you, I want you to thrive and be happy.”

So, take the time to pray and think about your wife and children, their interests, challenges, special events and memories. Also, think about good things you especially love that you want them to enjoy, achieve or experience with you. Then think what gift, in addition to being enjoyable in itself, will express some aspect of that symbolically.

FFG: Are there gifts that are especially appropriate for children at certain ages?

Grimm: I feel strongly that children at all stages should be encouraged to do things with their parents. Positive parent contact is the most important element for a child’s psychological health. Right now we are facing an epidemic of parent-time deprivation.

Far more important than the exactly right toy is that you envision ways to use the toys you give so that they make for affirmation and bonding. This is particularly important for boys, who ordinarily have fewer opportunities to interact with their fathers.

A tool, or ball, or game, that a boy can use with his dad, and get dad’s admiration and encouragement, will be his favorite because what he really wants is that kind of relationship with his dad.

Simple and inexpensive tools like wood-carving knives and chisels, cooking implements, art supplies, etc., can all be the raw material for hours of affirming experiences that build a child's confidence, emotional security, healthy gender identification and intellectual and moral development.

Perhaps most important is books to read aloud to children of all ages, even when they can read for themselves. Our family especially loves the stories of George McDonald and the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody, as well as the humorous novels of P.G. Wodehouse.

And of course, reading aloud from Scripture should be a part of every Catholic home, especially at holidays.

FFG: Is there anything we should be careful to avoid?

Grimm: First, spending too much. America already has terminal thing-itis, and it’s only getting worse.

Happiness comes from giving and receiving love, not from stuff. If you or your kids are measuring love by how much you spend or get, you need to do some serious thinking about what’s important. Maybe focusing on the needs of the poor would be a good idea during Advent.

Second, while it’s good to acquaint yourself with your children’s tastes, be careful of buying into harmful trends in entertainment. A lot of what is called entertainment today is psychologically harmful -- overstimulating the reactive animal parts of the brain and making it more difficult for kids to think abstractly or relate normally and sensitively to others -- and promoting an emotional retreat into fantasy.

So much today is inappropriately sexual, and predisposes for or even cultivates addiction to pornography and impurity. I’m thinking of computer games, movies, and music.

As a Catholic father, your giving has to be consistent with your child’s heavenly calling.  You don’t need to pander to popular tastes. Loving your children means helping them love good things.

FFG: How does a man’s gift avoid the doghouse with his wife?

Grimm: For your wife, be careful about gifts that contain an implied criticism, such as exercise equipment, gym memberships, diet books or cleaning supplies. And think twice about gifts of sexy lingerie, books, etc.

Make sure any such gifts are truly respectful and express the way your wife sees herself, not a fantasy that you would like to see or expectations from our sex-insane culture.  Always ask yourself when considering any gift, “Who is going to enjoy this?”

Diamonds are always a winner.

Women do like jewelry. If you’ve never given her something lasting that she can wear that shows how much she is prized by her man, you should do so at some time. However, our economy may limit your ability to do so this Christmas. Going into debt and upsetting the household budget is no gift. 

But see if you can fund that special gift by giving up something you want, or by earning or saving money through some extra effort. The gift need not be huge or hugely expensive. But if she knows you made a real sacrifice to get it, it will mean much more to her.

Another way to be a hero is to complete those household projects you’ve been putting off. A woman feels more closely associated with her home than a man usually does.  Showing you care about making her home the way she wants it is a great way to express your love. 

Here is the Ultimate Hero Challenge:  Do you have a habit or way of doing something that bugs your wife? Late night T.V., too much Internet, smoking or non-social drinking?  Driving too fast is my thing. Think about changing, even just sometimes if all the time seems like too much to hope for.

A lot of wives give up about seeing changes in their husbands, even when it would mean a lot to them. If there’s something about you that your wife would be happy to see change, ask God for the strength that will enable you to give her a gift that will bear lasting fruits both in your relationship to her and in your walk with God.

Daniel Grimm practices marriage and family therapy under Dr. Ross Porter at Stillpoint Family Resources in Woodland Hills, California. He and wife Rose have been married for 32 years, with seven children and six grandchildren.