Say it with Greeting Cards – Treading Carefully with Words
Welcome back to my Realms of Relationships Column. In last month’s article, I hinted that my next post would be on the topic of ‘No Contact’, but I’ve rescheduled that one for later as I was inspired while visiting a forum about a topic that’s a bit more seasonally related – buying greeting cards for difficult people..
The inspiration for this post stemmed from an interesting conversation I struck up in comments after reading the article. Someone was sharing about anxiety issues she had when having to buy a greeting card for her narcissistic mother. Her comment struck a note of familiarity. I got involved in the conversation with comment and was then posed an interesting question – asking me if I’d ever encountered issues when having to buy a birthday card for my mother. The writer was taking a survey of those that encountered same difficulties as she did. And did I ever!
The incident sparked some memories about my issues, the difficulties I encountered when purchasing greeting cards for my mother, and many of you here already know my issues about growing up with a narcissistic mother, you can imagine the difficulties I had choosing the appropriate card for her for any occasion. It was a sensitive task. But hopefully, many of you here didn’t have to deal with such an experience, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have people on your card list that you too may find it an uncomfortable task when having to choose the right card for. We want to evoke our good wishes for them, but also don’t wish to convey anything overly mushy.
Such a poignant question took me back to those years of standing in front of the card section, reading card after card, looking for just the right words—words that could evoke a cheery greeting without the mushy sentiment, yet, not sounding as though there was no sentiment. Tricky one this is.
I spent much of my life trying to dodge my mother, and at the same time tried desperately not to hurt her feelings, so choosing greetings cards for her for any occasion became an uncomfortable time for me. This was a task that churned away at my insides as my empathic side always seemed to feel sorry for her despite my desire to stay away from her. And so, for the purpose of this post, I’ll use my mother as an example of what to look for in a card. Feel free to insert the name of anyone in your life you struggle with buying a card for, with my examples.
Looking for a positive message to honor the occasion without flouting the tender words is a sensitive operation. I won’t lie, even in a greeting card. The worst anxiety of card shopping for my mother came when choosing Mother’s Day cards. You may wonder why I bothered at all, considering the anxiety it gave me choosing a card while trying to envision how it would be received by my mother. But I’d given her cards since I was a small child, and she came to expect them. I felt if I didn’t continue, I’d be worse off by both, making my mother feel bad and excluded, and I’d also be harshly reprimanded for being so inconsiderate. Mother desperately wanted to be adored, and I never wanted to hurt her, but I also would not indulge her with the flowery prose and ‘love’ words she’d expected, so I had to choose my words carefully.
The anxiety began building weeks before an occasion. What card could I buy her that would make her happy and keep me out of the doghouse?
Picking out the ‘perfect’ greeting card, because she expected it, was essential, but finding one that conveyed a warm message with no mushy sentiments became a delicate mission. If there isn’t acknowledgement of love for mother in a card, sarcasm would ensue. It became a life-long struggle to appease to avoid conflict.
Choosing a greeting card as the child of narcissist can create great anxiety, especially for those like me who found it uncomfortable talking about feelings until I was well into my twenties.
There had to be a delicate balance between pleasing the narc parent to maintain sanity and not getting caught in the guilty web. An unnurtured relationship between mothers and daughters leaves a void of unfulfilment for the child. And so naturally, if I never felt the confidence to share my thoughts, dreams, fears, or aspirations with my mother, surely, I wasn’t about to express them in a greeting card.
Now imagine you aren’t comfortable discussing feelings with certain family members, and how uncomfortable it can be to have to buy a greeting card for them. So, here are some tips I use to help ease the process:
- Work around the words. How many Mother’s Day cards are filled with ‘Thanks for being a great Mom’, ‘I love you Mom’, ‘A mother’s love is …’, you get the picture. A trip to the card store had me feeling anxious and had me spending too much time reading all the cards in search for appropriate words – Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Birthday Mother, Wishing you a beautiful day Mother – those were the type of cards I searched for, a warm greeting, acknowledgment of title (Mom) – short and sweet.
- Thankfully, there are oodles of choices for greeting cards. If you don’t wish to reveal too much about what or how you’re feeling about someone you feel obligated to send a card to, first figure out how you wish to approach the hunt. Stay away from the heavy-duty sentimental cards. Think about giving a humorous card that will take the sentiment in a different direction to diffuse the ‘feeling’ cards and take the edge off the discomfort.
- Find a card that acknowledges the person but doesn’t embellish on the sentimentality, eg: ‘Happy Birthday wishes to brighten your day Mother’ is a safer generic choice than ‘Happy Birthday to a loving mother’, you get the drift. This way you can convey good cheer without the mush.
- If you’re crafty and/or artistic, you may opt to make your own cards. The sentiment is that you created it especially for that person, and you can choose your own words.
I’m sure everyone has someone in their lives they’ve felt a bit awkward about giving a greeting card to. There is no need to hurt someone’s feelings just because we may not be feeling the love. And there is no need to give a card that implies sentiments we don’t feel, because that just makes us feel awkward around that person. We must figure out what we want to convey in the message and choose the vessel and appropriate theme we wish to deliver the message in, and keep the sentiment light, but real. If humor makes us feel more comfortable, then go for the funny.
Also, if it’s a close family member you’re trying to dodge using endearing words for, do remember to still include a proper salutation in the card. For example: if it’s a Birthday card and you don’t wish to appear as stone cold with a generic card – ‘Birthday wishes’, make sure it’s still a card addressed to ‘Happy Birthday Mother’, ‘For your birthday Mother’, ‘Just for you Mother’, then read the inside words carefully to make sure the message is in line with your sincere wishes without including words that don’t apply to your sentiments or ones that magnify your feelings. Now you can feel good about presenting a card to a relative without the worry of slighting them and still acknowledging them without the fluffy prose.
Have any of you encountered the uncomfortable task of having to buy a card for a loved one that gave you trouble searching for the appropriate words?
My thanks to Debby for sharing what can be a tricky situation to be in when it should be a joyous occasion buying a card for someone close. I know that she would love your feedback…
Debby Gies is a Canadian nonfiction/memoir author who writes under the pen name of D.G. Kaye. She was born, raised, and resides in Toronto, Canada. Kaye writes about her life experiences, matters of the heart and women’s issues.
D.G. writes to inspire others. Her writing encompasses stories taken from events she encountered in her own life, and she shares the lessons taken from them. Her sunny outlook on life developed from learning to overcome challenges in her life, and finding the upside from those situations, while practicing gratitude for all the positives.
When Kaye isn’t writing intimate memoirs, she brings her natural sense of humor into her other works. She loves to laugh and self- medicate with a daily dose of humor.
I love to tell stories that have lessons in them, and hope to empower others by sharing my own experiences. I write raw and honest about my own experiences, hoping through my writing, that others can relate and find that there is always a choice to move from a negative space, and look for the positive.
“Live Laugh Love . . . And Don’t Forget to Breathe!”
“For every kindness, there should be kindness in return. Wouldn’t that just make the world right?”
When I’m not writing, I’m reading or quite possibly looking after some mundane thing in life. It’s also possible I may be on a secret getaway trip, as that is my passion—traveling.
Books by D.G. Kaye
One of the recent reviews for Conflicted Hearts
Conflicted Hearts is a compilation of personal essays from D.G. Kaye’s emotional experiences of growing up with her unloving and narcissistic mother. The author struggles with her obligation as a daughter, but also her responsibility to care for herself regarding her own healthy well-being. In each chapter as she opens yet another window giving us a glimpse into her extremely trying times, the emotions become palpable. Because I am a mother of two adult children whom I love to the moon and back, I often felt tears forming and my heart being tugged at in different directions. How a mother can abandon her own children is something I find difficult to understand. The author writes with emotion, vulnerability, and humor. She is not afraid to admit mistakes, but she will also gladly glow in triumph – moments when I felt like clapping, thrilled with the outcome and thrilled for her!
Unfortunately, she lost her childhood because of her mother’s constant absence in the household. Her mother would rather be out partying, seeking the attention of men by using her luminescent beauty, and by doting on her passion for gambling. With the author being the oldest of her siblings, she naturally slid into the role of “mother” which in turn, shaped her decision of possibly not wanting to have children in the future. Her parent’s relationship ran extremely hot and cold, but mostly hot when her mother kicked her father out repeatedly. She adored her father, so each time he left, fear crept into her very soul that she’d never see him again.
The author writes with honesty and when she finds herself acknowledging enlightening realizations, she revels in her own personal growth. I read Conflicted Hearts not only as a memoir, but also as a compelling self-help book. And a difficult decision lies in waiting with each turn of the page exemplifying the author’s incredible courage and strength. I am sure her struggles are felt by others so that her personal growth benefits those who live each day in similar circumstances.
This is the first book of D.G. Kaye’s that I’ve read and because her writing is natural, conversational, and engaging, I am excited to read more from her. This book definitely falls into the “can’t put down” category. If you enjoy reading memoirs and self-help books, I highly recommend Conflicted Hearts. You’ll find yourself on an emotional and inspirational wild ride that will both touch and tug at your heart. An excellent read!
Thank you for joining us today and Debby would love to hear from you.. thanks Sally.