By Jordan Elizabeth. Buying presents for anyone on your list is stressful, but buying gifts for your sig-other’s parents takes the cake (or...the Xanax depending on how you handle seasonal stress). There’s extra pressure to get something so amazing they didn’t even KNOW they wanted it - NEEDED it, even - and now they know that you really care and are better than all the other girls he dated, even if they were prettier than you, had an MBA, and never once sharted in her life. (Sometimes you have the flu and can’t control everything!)
First things first, don’t feel the need to spend a lot. Unless you’re super rich and they know it, then you’re gonna have to spend a little money or you’ll look cheap and like you already hate them. But for those of us who aren’t in “finance,” “real estate,” or have other vague job titles that mean you afford a Lexus sedan with one of those stupid bows on it, don’t over spend! A lot of people (especially around Christmas, when every store is telling you to buy everything because it’s 40% off and the season of GIVING!) mistake spending a lot of money for caring. Maybe it’s because I’m about to turn 30, but I would much rather get a gift that was small but a lot of thought clearly went into it, than something big that was pure flash. (Unless you were thinking of getting me a Ninja Blender this year, then yes! Overspend! I love you!)
Second, don’t be afraid to ask your guy for help. He probably knows his parents better than you do, because, you know, they raised him and wiped his behind for 5 years. That being said, don’t be afraid to completely disregard everything he says, because, you know, he’s probably more clueless than you are when it comes to gift giving. (I mean, come on, last year he got my mother a Roomba.) If you need a starting point, ask him what his parents are into. Does Dad like to drink a little Johnnie Walker at night to make the pain go away? Get him some special scotch ice cube trays so he can keep that booze chilled without diluting Daddy’s medicine. Does Mom like making lists? Of course she does, all Moms are a little OCD and all women like paper, for some reason. Get her a cute Moleskin notebook and a nice pen that fits inside. Do they send a lot of cards because they like to send a thank you note to people for sending a thank you note? Get them personalized stationery or a stamp with their names on it. It’s all easy stuff, but things they will use and appreciate! Everyone loves something made with their name on it, because we’re all a little narcissistic sometimes. Plus, who doesn’t love a rubber stamp!?
My fiance’s mom is always super stressed and running all over the place, but one thing she loves is sitting down for her morning coffee. It’s her time to relax and reflect while listening to her favorite Televangelist quote Psalms, then she can get up and lose her mind because the printer won’t work - but at least she had her coffee. So last year I got her a few different bags of ground coffee and some nice biscotti. Not a terribly exciting gift, but it’s something I knew she’d use and enjoy. And then every morning when she drank her coffee, I’m sure she reflected on what an amazing, beautiful, thoughtful - did I say amazingly beautiful? - gal her son found.
Next, don’t impulse buy. Years ago, I panicked hard, and ended up buying half of the GAP for a boyfriend’s mother. It wasn’t until I was sitting there on Christmas with a comically large armful of gifts that I realized I had no idea what her taste in clothes was and that cute Moto Jacket probably wouldn’t go with her oversized, chunky knit, embroidered “teacher sweaters.” (You know the ones - they’re like ugly Christmas sweaters, but for every day. Because some people like to have ugly sweater parties all year long!) Take some time to think about what they want, and what kind of things they like (I should have kept the Moto Jacket for me!). And part two of that is: Christmas is not the time to try and give your mother-in-law a passive-aggressive makeover by getting her more “chic” sweaters and sturdier bras that don’t make the girls hang so low. If the lady likes a Teacher Sweater, just get her some turtlenecks to layer underneath and maybe a practical clog. Have a style intervention later. Christmas is about her. And baby Jesus, obviously. And whoever Hanukkah is about.
Lastly, a note about gift cards: I believe they are sort of a cop-out gift because it doesn’t take much thought and they’re not fun to open. (And it just makes it worse when people wrap a gift card in a box so it looks like a present. Don’t Trojan Horse me!) However, my Dad buys so much music on iTunes, he actually does like getting iTunes gift cards - in fact, he hoards them like a junkie scoring some free heroin. If that’s the case with your guy’s parents, I suggest doing a gift card, then another actual gift so you don’t look like you were at Walgreens buying tampons, then were like “Oh, I could get my holiday shopping done here. Two birds!”
If you put some thought into their gifts and don’t put pressure on yourself to go total “Oprah’s Favorite Things”...you’ll be a good little elf this year. Just don’t expect great gifts in return. $50 says they’ll buy you a scarf and matching gloves.