mother’s day gifts

Photo by George Dolgikh from Pexels

Article written by Chih-Ling Liu, Lancaster University, and Robert Kozinets, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Here, Mom, I’ve bought you something!

After your daughter spends the weekend visiting, a surprise gift seems like a kind gesture – until you open it and find a vacuum cleaner. What does this say about her visit and what she thinks of your house? Should you receive it with gratitude, hand it back in a huff, or start planning a revenge gift?

We give gifts for all kinds of reasons: to show someone we love them, are proud of them, or appreciate them. As the above situation shows, we also give gifts to give a hint, to flatter (or offend) someone, or to assert influence.

Exchanging gifts is a way to express personal desires, social norms, and kinship, especially in relationships. And mothers and their adult daughters have some of the most complex relationships.

In a paper published in January 2024, we interviewed 27 mothers and their adult daughters to explore the politics involved in gift-giving and receiving. We found that gifts are a way for mothers and daughters to communicate several things. Gifts can provide advice (even unwelcome) without the giver having to say it, help strengthen the relationship, and (not so) subtly suggest that the other person change.

Gifts can also help mothers and daughters learn about each other’s boundaries and about themselves. Receiving an unwanted gift can be a crucial moment when a mother realizes the differences between herself and her daughter or a daughter sees herself for the first time as independent from the relationship.

Strengthening the relationship

As we learned from the mothers and daughters in our study, exchanging mundane gifts is a way to confirm a lasting bond, especially if the relationship is going through a rough period. One 32-year-old woman who was in a toxic romantic relationship told us that her mother would buy her small gifts of flowers, books, or chocolates, or she would come to see her.

She described this frequent flow of small, but thoughtful gifts as “strategic”, saying that her mother “took a step back, [but] she didn’t want to lose her connection with me”.

For the mother, these gifts served as a means of preserving the mother-daughter connection despite the presence of the daughter’s difficult boyfriend. Her mother explained:

We tried to not judge and stand by her because that’s what she wanted. I’d take her to the concert every now and then. He would try to sabotage it by having a fight with her.

Generosity and gift-giving can be a way to show love and approval and strengthen the mother-daughter bond. But they can also come with strings attached or a sense of duty to reciprocate.

A 37-year-old woman who needed a second car to fulfill childcare commitments told us that after her mother gave her some money, she would visit her parents and cook for them as a way of “saying thank you.”

Nudging the other to change

Some mothers and daughters use gifts to gently nudge each other into making better decisions. One 58-year-old mother who is a hoarder found it amusing that her daughters gave her gifts of experiences – massages and spa days – instead of tangible items.

One of her daughters responded: “It’s embarrassing to invite friends around” because they see a cluttered house. The daughter used these experiential gifts to try to “cure” her mother of hoarding and save herself from feeling embarrassed.

Mother's Day gift
It’s the thought that counts, right? (Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA from Pexels)

Sometimes, the demand for change is less subtle. A retired woman we interviewed described receiving expensive holidays and weekends away from her eldest daughter, Aurora, despite being a reluctant traveler.

I have always been nervous about new places. I’ll never feel confident. Aurora tries hard instilling confidence in me. She just doesn’t give up … I did ask her not to organise any more holidays [like this], it’s rubbish. And she said, “No, you’re rubbish” and I said, “Yes, we are.” Oh, I am useless. I felt safer when Aurora was around.

Eventually, Aurora took her mother and father on a trip with her rather than giving it as a gift. This pleased her mother, who said she was “ecstatic” to be taken care of by her daughter on holiday, saying: “I didn’t have fears because we [my husband and I] were going with Aurora and her husband. We were being treated like children.”

When you give or receive a gift this Mother’s Day, think about what you’re really saying. You might be trying to shore up a rocky relationship, asking for help, or suggesting the other person make a change in their life. Or you might simply be saying: I love you.

Chih-Ling Liu is a senior lecturer in Marketing at Lancaster University, and Robert Kozinets is a professor of Journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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