By Dena Landon
My last Christmas with my ex-husband he didn’t buy me a single gift. We’d just finished couples counseling for the second time. Well, not exactly “finished,” he’d declared that we were done after three months and stopped scheduling the babysitter or appointments. Even still, you’d have thought that, four months after I’d told him I’d been thinking the “D” word, a wise man would have given me something. Not so.
Three days before Christmas a heavy feeling had started settling into my gut. The only presents under our tree were those I’d bought for our child and for him. Nothing with “to Dena” on the tag.
“So…are you hiding my present at work?” I asked coyly that evening.
He blinked. “Oh, no. I haven’t got you anything.”
“God, Dena, you’re so picky, you wouldn’t be happy with anything I bought anyway.” My ex could turn anything around and make it my fault – even his thoughtlessness.
“I sent you my amazon wishlist on December 1st,” I pointed out.
“Whatever, I didn’t know you’d updated it. Just buy whatever you want and have it sent with two-day shipping.”
I didn’t want to buy my own Christmas presents. In fact, gifts are one of my love languages. Plus, I was too cheap to pay for rush shipping. I wrapped up a pair of boots that I’d bought myself earlier that month and on Christmas Day that was the only present I had to open. Struggling not to cry.
Buying our own gifts can be extremely fraught for some women. Whether it’s memories of a last, terrible, Christmas with an ex-spouse, the first holiday after a loved one’s passing, or the feelings of guilt about spending money on ourselves, oftentimes it’s easier to just throw ourselves into buying gifts for others rather than think about buying our own.
READ ALSO: 8 Ways Divorce is a Gift
My son has a generous spirit. When I picked him up my first birthday post-divorce the daycare worker wished me “Happy Birthday.” His eyes got wide and, at three-years-old, he got really upset that I hadn’t told him it was my birthday. “You have to get a present!” he told me. “I have to give you one!” He insisted that the bemused daycare worker pull down a cardboard sun that he’d painted earlier that week for the class’s solar system. Then he proudly presented it to me as my birthday present while I tried not to cry. I knew he wouldn’t understand that they were happy tears because his love had touched me so deeply.
If I’m modeling self-love and self-respect for him I also need to show him that I believe in those qualities by living them. Otherwise they’re just empty words. Many of us preach to our children that while gifts are not the meaning for the season they do express our love for them and should be chosen with care. To me, thoughtful gifts that show the giver knows me and what I like mean the world. The dollar amount genuinely doesn’t matter. Which is why meaningless gifts, or none at all, can hurt so much.
The post-divorce journey can be both about forgiveness and finding peace but also about rediscovering ourselves. What we really like when there’s no one to criticize us for buying the light-up cactus that now sits on our nightstand. How we really want to spend our time when not pleasing someone else. It’s going to sound cheesy but why not approach gift-giving the same way? Ask yourself, what would I want a lover or best friend to buy me? What would say, “I see you. I love you,” to me if I found it under the tree?
Buy it for yourself.
Not because of some cheesy self-love slogan designed to get you to spend money on a retailer’s products but because you are truly worthy. View it as part of your journey to learning to value yourself once more. And don’t just buy it – wrap it. Put a tag on it. Open it by yourself with a glass of wine, or when your children open their gifts, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza.
It doesn’t have to be extravagant -though you can always use that extra cash you get from selling your old jewelry to splurge a bit- but I think it should be meaningful. Not another piece of plastic that will break in a month – though maybe a fitness tracker if you’ve been trying to improve your physical health? Perhaps it’s a book, and the gift of uninterrupted time to read it. Worthy has prepared an excellent gift guide that you could use as inspiration. Whatever it is, make sure that it speaks to you of independence, strength, and your own self-worth.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.