Teenage Scrooges

If your teenagers don’t remember your birthday, do they still love you? One mom asks why she has to cajole and pus her teens to buy presents on birthdays and Christmas.

Q: I have three teenagers. For the 17- and 16-year-old, thinking of their family members on special occasions like birthdays or Christmas is clearly not a priority for them. All throughout their lives, I would remind them about birthdays and preparing presents (whether made or bought), would give them rides to go shopping, etc. I expected that as they grew older, they would gradually take initiative themselves; but it is clear that if I don’t say anything, they won’t bother themselves (and will not get anyone anything). Yet, when it comes to their birthdays, or what they’re getting for Christmas, of course, that matters very much to them! I don’t think this is right, and was wondering what, if anything, I should do about this.

A: On the surface (and with the limited info in this question), it appears that your two older teens are not interested in their family members. But what if that’s really not the case?

I suspect that your love language is gifts (read Gary Chapman’s excellent The Five Love Languages for clarification. He’s also written ones for children and teens that are good reads as well). That means, you mark your worth to someone with what they give you on special occasions. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be so upset about your teens not “caring” about your birthday or Christmas.

But what if they do care but they don’t think about gift-giving as the ultimate expression of that love? What if they feel they are showing you they care by doing their chores without being asked?

What I’m really saying is that you could be taking offense…where none was meant. Have you actually sat down with them to say how much this bothers you? Instead of nagging them, have you simply stated your expectations clearly and without the mom-guilt or recriminations? So many times, we are not clear with what we expect in relation to our kids and that can get everyone all tangled up with hurt feelings and resentment.

The bottom line is that you can’t get someone else to care about something as passionately as you do. But you can state your expectations clearly, but with the caveat that you should be careful not to stifle their creativity. Would a Hallmark card be sufficient? Would a coupon for a chore you hate doing work? Would an offer for coffee or ice cream warm your heart?

I’ll end with this: When I was a teenager, shopping for my mom tied me up in knots. She never “wanted” anything, and always seemed to have “everything.” She’s still very hard to buy for but I’ve found as we’ve both grown older, the gift of my undivided attention is more precious with each passing year, so I make more time for that, rather than buying presents.


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