I am a bargain hunter. I clip coupons, and buy holiday gifts year round. Because of this, I am usually able to give my three children a very good Christmas, in spite of the fact that we are a one-income family. (This year I bought my 20 year old daughter an $80 wool pea coat for $3.84 in May, which will be under the tree for her this year.) I also chair a holiday fund drive, which sponsors 3-6 deserving families, buying them everything from food, clothing, toys and household goods such as bedding and kitchen appliances, if needed. I don’t put much of my own money into this, but all of the gifts are collected at my home, where I photograph them and divide them up and prepare them to be delivered. I am a coordinator, more than a benefactor, though I do always spend something toward this endeavor.
My etiquette issue involves my mother. She, with my father, moved in with my family about 2 years ago due to my dad’s declining health and their inability to manage their finances effectively in the wake of the health issues. It has been a tumultuous time, with everyone having difficulties adjusting. However, it is working out okay, for the most part.
Today I took my youngest daughter out to lunch, and decided on the spur of the moment to leave the waitress a $50 tip, even though our bill only totaled $11. She looked tired, but was cheerful and pleasant, and I had been wanting to do something like this for quite a while. It made my day, that’s for sure! On the way out of the restaurant, she ran up to me and said “Thank you so very much!” I responded with a “Merry Christmas!” and went over to corral my daughter, who was playing one of those crane games that some restaurants have. Anyway, while I waited for my daughter, I could hear the waitress in the background, gushing to a fellow employee about how I told her ‘Merry Christmas’ and I could hear how excited and happy she was. This further multiplied my good feelings about what had just transpired.
When I arrived home, I was beaming. I shared my good deed with my mother, who BLEW UP AT ME. She started shouting about how selfish I was, and how I never even spend that much on her or my father for Christmas, and how they are always at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to presents. She then berated me further, saying that she couldn’t stand the fact that I bought my oldest daughter (the 20 year old) 8 different super-expensive gifts, and that no one person should ever have that many things under the tree, yet EACH of my children have at least that many. Following that, she was saying how sad that I spent all my time hosting the poor families for Christmas, but yet gave so little to herself and my father.
I was flabbergasted. As I’ve said, everything I buy for my kids is on sale or purchased with a coupon. She absolutely knows this. She also knows how much happiness I have in my heart, helping out others on Christmas. What she said sucked all the joy out of everything.
For ALL of my extended family, I usually budget $25 per couple as a gift. My brother and his wife receive a gift card to Olive Garden, my other brother and his girlfriend get the same $25 gift card, only to Applebees. My husband’s parents receive a $25 card to Red Lobster. I gift this consistently, because this is what they ask for. My parents don’t like gift cards, so as a rule, I split the $25 I would have spent on a card, between them. Last year for Christmas, my mother had asked for slippers, and I purchased her a nice pair of $10 slippers, and my father received something separately, which costs around $15. The year prior to that, I actually spent more, as my parents were still living on their own and had been hit with an unexpected bill that they couldn’t pay, so I gifted them the $50 so they could pay it in full.
I brought all of these facts up to my mom while she was shouting at me, and she said that it hurt her terribly that I had ONLY bought her slippers, and nothing else, and that if I loved her I would have bought her the slippers and a second gift as well. “$10 is too cheap.” She also was angry that earlier this year I had told her I would try to buy my father a full-length hooded robe for the holidays, and a few weeks ago I had to tell her that it was more than I could spend, but that I would get him something else. She was really upset that I had given the waitress $50, when that $50 could have purchased the robe. Now, this is true. When she pointed that out, I did feel bad, but I had already purchased my father a different gift, more in line with what I would normally spend.
I really don’t think I was wrong to give the waitress this holiday gift though, or that am I wrong to spend time coordinating my fund drive. I also feel that it is a blessing to be able to gift my children nice presents on Christmas, even if they are older, (22, 20, 13), if I can make it happen. Never did I feel that what I give my parents as “less than” but apparently my generosity to others has upset my mother.
What else can I do here? I feel awful, and a few minutes ago I was on top of the world.
The first thing you should have realized by now is that arriving home and announcing your monetary gift to the waitress was a mistake. It’s somewhat crass to brag to others of one’s own generosity and how much money was given. It is unrealistic to expect others to vicariously have the same level of good will and warm fuzzies as you do via a secondhand experience they hear about. The enjoyment one gets from giving to others should be savored alone.
As for gifts for Mom and Dad, now that they are living in your home, they are your family and should be treated just as you would with the other adults in the home,especially in light of the fact that two of your children are aged 20 and 22. We are not talking about minor-aged children that one indulges for the holidays. I can see how another adult living in the home may feel slighted with one inexpensive gift when other adults living in the home receive quite a bounty, even if that bounty was purchased at discount. Some people measure the fullness of your love cup towards them by the number of gifts that is given to them. Gifts send messages whether we realize or like it and Mom may be interpreting your gift giving as a message that she and Dad really aren’t part of your family but merely guests that happen to live with you year round.
You apparently spend considerable time shopping for bargains for your adult aged children yet despite assuring your Mom early in the year that you would find your Dad a hooded robe for Christmas, you did not succeed in doing so. I don’t know if that is because you did not invest the same effort into finding a bargain as you have for finding your children’s gifts or you tried and could not find anything suitably on sale. If your Mom is aware of how you shop for your children’s Christmas presents, she may be perceiving your gift of a sole pair of slippers and the news that Dad isn’t getting a robe as promised as you simply not putting the same effort into shopping for her and Dad. But having given Mom your word that you would find a robe, I believe that spending money to acquire what you promised takes precedent over giving to a stranger.
In summary, keep quiet about your giving and extend your family tent pegs to include Mom and Dad into the circle with all the same benefits of family living together.