I posted a thread on a messageboard about this, and have had a few interesting thoughts.

Firstly, I should clarify a couple of things. This post... is kind of about my in-laws. I didn't want to say as much in so many words, but it may be best if I do. It isn't true that every gift I receive is a burden. One of my sisters has a particularly high hit rate, some friends seem to have a knack for thinking of the right thing, and as a group, internet friends have been particularly talented - testament, probably, to the introspective and considerate nature of this community. So this is pretty much all about my in-laws, and the cultural clash between my views on gift-giving and theirs.

Yes, I have tried telling people that a gift isn't necessary at all. To some people, it is. My in-laws are part of this group of people, to the point where we actually receive wedding anniversary presents from some of them, for our wedding anniversary. It is touching to know they celebrate each successful year of our marriage, but I am hard pressed getting wedding anniversary presents for my own husband for our own anniversary, let alone someone else's. I have no hope of convincing them that a Christmas gift isn't necessary. This is me trying to work within their framework.

The other thing I should clarify is that I only give out a "want list" when asked directly. Good grief, I do not mail an unsolicited Christmas registry to all my relatives and expect them to stick closely by it and have everything delivered in golden giftwrap at my appointed hour. No no. Perish the thought. But I usually get asked what I would like for Christmas this year, and in such cases I will sit down and hash out a bit of a list, which usually reads: 1. Charitable donation; 2. Um... food? I think part of what has been getting me is that people will ask me what I want in order to completely ignore what I say in response. It's not as if these gifts are coming out of the blue, or even as expected, but without consultation. "Oh here's an idea," I think as I try to displace the guilt of not using yet another kindly-offered but ultimately unwanted present by turning all curmudgeonly for a moment, with a few Bah Humbugs thrown in for kicks. "Why not give me the gift of being listened to?"

Then again, I recall being guilty of the same thing once or twice. It goes like this: you decide to buy a gift for someone, but you're not sure what you should get. "Why not ask them?" you wonder to yourself. You can't think of a reason, so you do. And when you have received your answer, the first thing you belatedly realise is that you can't get them any of those things now, because that would show a distinct lack of imagination and thoughtfulness.

In other words, it's the thought that counts after all.

Here's my new proposition: I refuse to give out want lists, under any circumstances. I should talk instead about my goals for the coming year. When someone asks for my want list, I should tell them I have several resolutions for 2012, and maybe they could get me something to help me out with those. One of them could be to end 2012 with less stuff than I started with. And then... there could be others. (I will work on this.)

Any thoughts (or list ideas/resolution ideas) are appreciated.

So I guess Kung Fu Parenting isn't as funny to other people as we think it is in this house. That's ok. Let's move on! I need your advice, because as the shops have already started to remind us, Christmas is happening again this year, with all the excesses the season heralds. But this isn't specifically about Christmas - so don't stop reading yet if you don't celebrate - it's just Christmas has triggered it, as it tends to be the biggest gift-giving occasion in our household. This, however, is about gift-giving in general. Here's my problem.

We move often. We live in small houses. We have most things we need and want, under the circumstances, and if anything else comes up, we do - like most people - tend to buy it ourselves if the next gift-giving occasion is still a long way away. Or at least that's true of things within the usual gift-giving price range. Still and yet, people keep buying stuff for us.

What happens to these things? The pattern has become clearer as the years go by. With rare exceptions, gifts given to us by our relatives tend to languish in forgotten cupboards until they break, perish, or are given away in the next move. I have started trying to shorten that cycle in order to prevent the breaking and perishing outcomes, but even so it tends to be a waste of time and money. The op shops are lucky to make half the original retail prices if I give it to them, and tracking down someone who values the item sufficiently is time-consuming and sometimes impossible. And what about the efforts of the gift-giver in obtaining the item? I can only hope they enjoyed it, but I rather doubt that can be absolutely the case. Christmas shopping tends to wear on even the most dedicated shopaholic, and the average person ends up finding it a chore. Besides which, it makes me feel bad when I don't use somebody's gift myself, as they intended.

I have tried suggesting a Secret Santa arrangement, where we draw names at random and only give and receive one item per social group, but it doesn't seem to wash with the in-laws. (My family are actually not so much the problem. We grew up with the rule that, come Christmas, all the gifts go to the youngest generation of your household. In other words, only people without children - a lot of whom are children - get presents. Although I guess there are also the gifts from children to their parents. At any rate, I am fine to continue this.)

For about five years running, I have been suggesting charity gifts, such as the ones in the Oxfam gift catalogue. Do you know how many takers I've had on that? None. Zero. People are not comfortable with donating to Oxfam in lieu of buying me a present, or let us say - because I certainly see it the latter way, and not the former - as a present. I don't know how to make them comfortable with this idea. I want to know. One year we even bought exclusively from charity gift catalogues, thinking that we would afterwards reap what we had sown, but to no avail.

I now have a low-clutter "want list" which seems to work... sort of okay I guess... as long as you don't honestly expect people to follow your want list very often. And living overseas does help. The postage, you see. But I'd really like to have at least one more crack at getting people to gift me some sort of charity thing. There just has to be a way to make it palatable to them. This is where you come in.

Do you buy charity gifts? If not, why not? You won't be judged (you can always go anonymous) - my instinct leads me away from them as well, and I'm just trying to figure out why so I can overcome that instinct.

What would make you buy a charity gift for someone, instead of a material item? What could they say or do to make you feel that it really was fine? Would you feel better about it if it was only 50% of the present and the other 50% was a small item, a token object to make it feel like you'd wrapped something up, same as always? Would you feel better if the person asked you for a specific charity item, and not just "some sort of charity gift or other"? Would you feel better if the person asked people to pool together for a large charity gift - a bicycle ambulance, for example, rather than a chicken?

Any thoughts, please share them.

When we started our battle with infertility, I tried to be strong like a stone. I nearly cracked. Over time, I learnt to be strong like bamboo - bowing over in the face of the storm, but never breaking; perhaps even growing to stand taller than ever when the fine weather returned.

So it's not the first time I've cashed in on all those hours I spent watching martial arts cinema. And people tried to tell me I was wasting my time.

This is a parenting philosophy I developed myself, based on my recent reading*, so take it as you will, but it seems to work so well that I thought I'd put it out there for other parents who have seen Chan Long through more than one Police Story. I call it "Kung Fu Parenting". The central thesis of Kung Fu Parenting is that the key to resolving your parenting problems lies in the answer to one simple question: if this scene was part of a Kung Fu movie, who would be playing which role?

There are, from what I can see, three basic choices: the Young Student, The Evil Tough Guy, or the Old Master**. The idea is to make sure that you, the parent, always play the Old Master, and you don't have to be overly familiar with the formula to see why. As the film starts, the Young Student is prancing around making a lot of noise, high on his inflated sense self-importance. Although he might win a few rounds here and there, he is prone to getting smacked up throughout the film, either by a group of evil tough guys, or an Old Master. The Evil Tough Guys are more likely than the Young Student to win out in the early part of the film, but in the end they really have it coming to them and anyway, who wants to be evil? The only character who kicks arse for the entire film is the Old Master - and he barely lifts a finger to do so. He is, like, way cool. I mean, yes, occasionally he dies in the final showdown, but even then he still "wins" in all the non-getting-to-live-on senses of the word. Which totally counts.

To be the Old Master, you must first act like the Old Master. The body language of this character tends to be passive and low-energy. Drop your shoulders. Bend a little, as if you must hobble with the aid of a bamboo cane. Make your face impassive; inscrutable. Your expression should be ever so slightly weary, as if you have seen it all before and long ago figured out the answers, and are vaguely saddened by the knowledge that those around you have yet to achieve the same. Squint near-sightedly if you must. Resist the urge to command, and instead give some sort of vague advice. Then walk away as if you don't care whether anyone follows. No really. I swear.

Around our house, we have taken to reminding each other to "be the Master". When we hear ourselves say, "You do this thing right now young man!" - a classic Young Student or Evil Tough Guy line - it tells us to breathe out and try a different tack: "You can do that, or you can do this. But think hard and make a good decision, because otherwise you might not like my response." There's more to it, I guess, but it tends to be nuance. The Old Master isn't always an easy role with an obvious script, and reminding one's self to play it may seem like the first of an overwhelming number of steps, especially if you're winging it on a half-remembered version of Carl Douglas' hit song. But if you can claim multiple viewings of Karate Kid, you are probably good to go.

I was going to say something else, on a completely different topic, but it absolutely eludes me.

*Specifically the Love and Logic series, separately recommended by both Serenity and Melissa. I personally think Practical Parenting Tips for Birth-Six Years is by far the better book of the two I've read so far (the other being Teaching Responsibility). You don't have to know anything about Kung Fu to appreciate it.

**I am discounting the comic relief, the love interest or the innocent bystander, because these roles aren't directly involved in the power struggle at the centre of the plot. And as we all know, there is often a power struggle at the centre of the parental plot, especially when you are about to lose said plot.***

***I must also admit to over-simplifying an entire cinematic culture in a way that is very nearly criminal. I probably deserve a good flying kick for that one.

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