Adoption gift-giving 101


Ronda Payne
Focus on Adoption magazine

Not all gifts are equal. Here’s what you need to know about choosing a gift and where to find it.

For some, gift buying ranks right up there with a toothache. Questions like what to get, how much to spend, and whether it’s returnable, all swirl in your brain as the clock ticks on, unconcerned with your predicament. Add the circle of adoption to the gift-giving mix, and you’ve got a full-blown root canal! Not only is there uncertainty about what to get, but the fear of offending someone, of not being prepared, or of appearing disrespectful are added concerns.

I was heartbroken when my birth parents didn’t give me a birthday card or gift for my 24th birthday. It was, after all, the first birthday I’d had since we reunited. I didn’t know that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and didn’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas, but I figured it out soon after.

Sometime between my October birthday and December, they called to say they wanted to “deposit some money in my account.” Fiercely independent, I wasn’t comfortable accepting money from them so early into the relationship and said so. The money was deposited, but the situation was never repeated. It was an awkward time, and one I still struggle to understand.

At the start of the relationship, cards are appropriate, but it may be too soon for gifts. The same may be true if you are conscious that the other person can’t reciprocate due to financial reasons and would be uncomfortable receiving a gift without something to give in return. Also keep in mind that some people simply aren’t gift givers. In these cases, no matter what the occasion, a card and possibly an updated photo are perfectly acceptable.

Adoptive mom Jennifer explains how her adoptive son picked out roses to give to his birthmom when they first met. As the relationship advanced, more unique and meaningful jewelry pieces like small hearts and lockets were exchanged. “We have exchanged some meaningful things with her from the whole family, but it grew over time,” Jennifer says.

For Lorie, an adoptive mom, it was a case of knowing how to follow cues during the progression of the relationship with her child’s birthmom. “In the beginning, we provided a card with an update of how our baby was doing,” said Lorie of her gifting habits. “As time progressed, we started giving more photo gifts, like mouse pads and mugs and things, but the relationship tapered off and now we don’t even exchange cards.” When she saw her child’s birthmom pulling away, Lorie eased off her gift buying and slowed the holiday practices.

Everyone has expectations of giving the perfect gift, but we have to realize that every gift won’t be perfect. Rather than spending time running around town searching, take a pause to prepare – the time you spend planning will be far more efficient than looking for a parking spot at the mall. Here are some tips to help you navigate the tricky waters of gift giving.

What?To / from
Photo giftsGreat for any age (adoptee to birth parents)
Adoption-specific jewelryThose with solid, established relationships
Adoption-themed cards and giftsEveryone in the adoption circle
Adoption DVDsBirth parents to other adoptees and vice cersa
Subscription to adoption magazineEveryone in the adoption circle
BooksEveryone in the adoption circle
Homemade cards and giftsFrom young adoptees to birth parents and adoptive parents

Gift giving

1. Don’t force a tradition of gift giving. Take your time in the beginning and, as with any relationship, time will guide you in determining what works best for everyone. The best piece of gift-giving advice is to give from your heart while following the cues of the relationship.

2. Consider who you will and won’t give gifts and cards to, and take a moment to determine what is appropriate for the relationship you have with each person. This can be difficult, especially when we don’t know someone well. How do they celebrate different holidays? Do they even celebrate at all? What is an appropriate amount to spend on someone we care about, but know minimally?

3. Depending on your ethnicity and upbringing, there are a variety of holidays and events you may want to observe in addition to Christmas. Be open to new traditions. Even if Chinese New Year has nothing to do with the ethnic origins of anyone in your family, visiting an event can be a fun and educational outing.

4. New Year’s and Valentine’s may seem like strange dates to celebrate in the adoption circle, but keep in mind that younger children love holidays – any holidays. Plus, for those who aren’t comfortable celebrating the big events together, like Christmas, a smaller occasion like New Year’s might be a nice new tradition.

5. Remember that no gift can adequately convey what you have in your heart: you can’t buy into the relationship – regardless of who it is with. Don’t try to pack all of your feelings into a gift. Respect one another, talk about it beforehand, and if possible, and give from the heart without overdoing it. Expect mixed feelings from everyone. A heartfelt gift or card can elicit many different emotions. If you get it wrong one year, don’t beat yourself up, there’s always next year to get it right.