How do you say “let’s not exchange this year?”

A little while ago, Lynn & I discussed not exchanging gifts for Christmas amongst the adults.  She and I are capable of buying anything we need and want, and we just can’t swallow buying gifts for a compulsive hoarder anymore.  There are budgets to consider, and we thought this might be best for everyone.  But then Mom learned of this, and thus began the guilt.

The Gifts

I know I’ve written a lot about gifts on notjustclutter.com already, but this is an ongoing issue in my family.  Mom firmly believes that Christmas and other family traditions are deeply routed in gift giving and receiving.  I would rather our traditions be experiential, and memory-forming.  For instance, I love that we sit as a family and decorate gingerbread men and houses on Boxing Day.  We chat, we share, we praise each others creativity despite clumsy icing bags, and it’s good fun for the kids.  I remember that more than what I unwrapped, or even what I gave to others.  I don’t want to see the art of gift giving turn into obligation.  I don’t want to see anyone feel left out around the tree on Christmas morning, either, while the kids tear into their brightly wrapped boxes.

The truth is that if Mom wasn’t a compulsive hoarder, I would want to guy her gifts.  I like to put thought into presents and she has so many interests, I usually had a good time looking for something to suit her.  But she is a hoarder, and has so much stuff that anything I give gets lost in the mountain.  Like a large canvas family portrait I gave her a few years ago…did that actually make it up on the wall?  Don’t think so.  How about the new computer desk chair she asked for and Lynn gave her?  It’s still at Lynn’s, in the box, 3 years later.  And that Kobo we bought her for Mother’s Day 2 years ago?  She tells us she’s still working her way through the books we loaded on it for her, and sometimes she still just loves a paperback.  But she’d admitted to another friend that she lost it, and now I know my own Mother lies to me.

The Guilt

After Lynn told her what she and I had decided about exchanging, Mom called ME to vent.  She’s unhappy we want to just give up that tradition, and she’s mad she wasn’t included in the decision making.  She wasn’t included mainly because when we DO try to discuss it with her, she shuts down and gets defensive…like she is now.  I’m a peace maker, and always end up trying to please everyone.  I empathize with both Lynn and Mom, but I’m the one who tries the hardest to compromise.  I hate seeing Mom upset, even when I can logically tell this is a guilt trip.  I try suggesting we draw names so we’re just buying for one adult and still respecting budgets, etc.  She didn’t like that idea either.  Essentially, she claimed:

“You and Lynn have already decided on this, so fine, have it your way.  But just know that it won’t feel like Christmas to me.”

Well, that’s great, Mom.  Thanks for announcing so far in advance that you plan on being a lead balloon during our family togetherness time.  You stomp your foot and cross your arms with a pout, and the rest of us will decorate gingerbread men.

Is there a solution?

If there is a way to better deal with gifts and guilt with hoarders, I’d love to hear it.  I’m at my wits end.  I want to be glad I have my loved ones around me, and we’re all healthy and happy.  That’s what I really want for Christmas.  Forget the stuff.  Forget the wrapping, ribbons, and bows.  Forget the generic greeting cards, and the over-packaged plastic toys, batteries not included.  I’m asking Santa for family unity.


It started off well enough.

My husband and youngest daughter just celebrated birthdays. Hers comes the day after his. So we planned just a small celebration by inviting my Sister and Mom to our home. They stayed over for a night, and we shared cupcakes and hugs.

New cabinets will solve everything!

I told Mom we were planning a kitchen renovation, with all new cabinetry. I told her we were donating the old oak cabinets to Habitat for Humanity. Her eyes brightened up and she exclaimed “I could use them when I spruce up the apartment at the house for when I sell!”

Really?

Mom’s house is an odd type of building. It’s large, but built in a big box shape. The second floor is essentially a bungalow, but not on the ground level. The first floor has an apartment and a huge garage where Dad ran his businesses. We used to rent the apartment out, but at some point, Dad took over the apartment with his concrete stuff. It’s packed with fiberglass molds, chemicals, concrete dust, and goodness knows what else. It’s dumpy and totally unsuitable for living in now. But Mom thinks she’ll be able to “spruce” it up. She’s totally blind to the fact that this house, even if it wasn’t ruined, is just too bizarre of a construction to be at all desirable in today’s real estate market. Putting in oak cabinets isn’t going to even make a dent. Somehow, I was able to change the subject before I had to tell her there was no point in even considering this as an option.

A conversation gone awry.

Lynn knows I feel like I never have a chance to have a good conversation with Mom anymore. I’ve always seemed to have a closer relationship with our Mom, and while Lynn has a very frank and to-the-point approach, Mom seemed to prefer my softer style of speech. I guess I just always try to be diplomatic and sympathetic. It’s a good quality, usually, but after years of dancing around the issue, I think I’m going to have to be a little bolder in my discussions with Mom.

So anyway, I brought up the issue of the phone after lunch. I approached it lightly.

“So, how’s the phone issue coming? Have you been able to work at getting under the desk?

“I have, but the boxes of paper are very heavy so I’ve been going through them one by one,” she said. “Good thing, too. I’ve found a few of your fathers papers. I’d hate to get rid of anything important.”

I can’t imagine how long this process is taking, especially since her energy levels would only allow her to tackle this job for maybe 20 minutes at a time. I asked “could you do a quicker sort just to get in to the phone jack to fix that problem, and THEN go through the papers as you put them back?”

And there is was. The watery little smile Lynn had told me she sees whenever she tries to talk to Mom about it. She’s right…it IS annoying. Mom’s eyes are glazing over and I can tell I’m losing her.

“Rae, I am doing my best. Don’t bug me about it like everyone else. Tell you the truth, I don’t even miss having a phone anymore.”

Ouch.

“That’s cold, Mom. You’re telling me you don’t even miss talking to me?” I plea.

“Well, YOU might call, but your sister never does!” Mom looked at Lynn accusingly. That’s when Lynn got up from the table and left the room.

“This isn’t about Lynn! It’s about me, and how much I love you and miss you! You’ve been months without a phone and you don’t seem to care how it’s affecting any one else!” I’m starting to get desperate to make an impression.

It wasn’t enough. Mom declares the conversation over, leaves the table in a stony silence, and I’m left to brood.

Some birthday celebration.