SmackDown: Should Parents Give Gifts to Adult Children?

Filed under: Holidays, Empty Nest, Opinions, Relationships


Mother and daughter battle it out. Is their presence present enough? Illustration by Dori Hartley

Unwrapping Never Gets Old ... Even As I Do

by Amanda Feinberg

I love receiving gifts. Who doesn't?

But when it comes to opening a gift from one's parents, well, that's just the crème de la crème of gift-getting. They just give better, don't they?

As a young woman in my 20s, I have come to rely on my parents for much more than just annual birthday gifts or wrapped boxes on holiday mornings. But I really can't think of anything more exciting than receiving a gift from the two people who love me the most -- my mom and dad.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is from Chanukah, circa 1995. Gwen Stefani's band, No Doubt, had just released its breakthrough CD, "Tragic Kingdom," and I will never forget seeing the thin, square outline of a compact disc beneath the blue and silver wrapping paper lying on our kitchen table.

Upon unwrapping, I instantly squealed. It was the CD I had hoped for! My mother knew exactly what I wanted and that, in and of itself, was the most valuable gift I could have received that year.

Unfortunately, as my age has increased, the number of gifts I've received since my teenage years has dwindled. As a young adult in my 20s, earning a relatively small income, I look forward to any opportunity for my parents to treat me to that special item I cannot afford myself. A digital camera? A new pair of shoes? Maybe an iPod? What about that bracelet I've been eying online? Remember, Mom, the one I e-mailed to you twice (or three times or four)?

Gifts are in the eye of the beholder. Big, small, "good" or "bad," there is no way to measure what makes a gift exciting. But receiving a gift means my preferences have been monitored, and my desires recognized. The act of unwrapping any gift makes a child feel special, whether that person is 5, 25 or 55.

Sure, I have my set of online wish lists (bless you, Amazon), but a gift is much more than the object alone. It's the thought behind that gift that makes the item really count. The approval and attention parents bestow upon their children means a great deal, and gifts are a way of expressing the excitement and gratefulness a parent feels for a child on birthdays, holidays and other important events.

Just because I've reached some semblance of adulthood doesn't mean gift giving has to go out the window. By the way, my birthday is June 22. Presents happily accepted.

Adult Children: Grow Up and Gift Out!

by Nina Herzog

As parents, we really never stop giving to our children. Especially true in today's expensive world, we tend to keep giving well into adulthood.

Whether it's advice, moral support or, when possible, financial assistance, we seem to be an ongoing crutch for our slower-to-grow-up children. So, when do we draw the line on buying gifts for birthdays and holidays? I suggest the age of 25.

Teaching our adult children the value of hard work and financial gain is paramount, and the annual influx of gifts on special occasions tends to fiddle with those important life lessons.

When my daughter graduated from college I felt a sigh of utter relief. The last tuition bill was paid, the last back to school wardrobe had been purchased and the last set of over-priced text books had been paid off. But was the financial aid really over?


Today, we live in a society based on consumption and excess. Instant gratification is the way of the world. What middle-schooler doesn't have a cell phone, iPod and Wii these days?

Every child wants the latest jeans, the hottest sneakers and the newest gadgets. It's our instinct as parents to want to make our children happy -- that satisfaction is priceless. But at what cost? And when is it just enough, already?

By not teaching our children the true value of hard work, we do them a great disservice. And teaching financial independence through a lack of gifts or indulgent purchases is the way to start educating them.

Children today tend to stay in school longer (hello, graduate school), marry later in life as a result of career goals and return home after college due to lack of work or budget restrictions.

These transitions in life, or lack thereof, prolong childhood and delay the entrance into adulthood.

My official transition into adulthood occurred at age 20. At that point I was no longer offered financial assistance from my parents, and was certainly not pampered with gifts for birthdays and holidays.

It's like that T-shirt that reads "My parents went to (insert place here) and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." Children today feel a sense of entitlement and expectation. Gifts that demonstrate love and admiration for our children do not have to come in silver paper tied with a bow. No matter how old they are, they will always be "our babies," but at some point the relationship needs to become more equal, and, eventually, the whole parent-child thing begins to resemble a beautiful variation on friendship.

We can begin this process by halting childhood acts of giving and showing our love in other ways, with an occasional special treat on the side.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.