Extend the Family Tent Pegs To Include Mom and Dad

by admin on December 26, 2011

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.

{ 151 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacey Frith-Smith December 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I know holidays add stress for families, but a parent living in the home of an adult child has no occasion to blow up over a perceived slight such as modest gift giving. One does not expect gifts from anyone, as an adult, and one does not need to acknowledge even a loved parent as one would a child, even an adult child. Having said that, perhaps an attitude adjustment on all sides would be helpful, and a family meeting or two to determine how to proceed. It does not sound as if the daughter is at peace living with her parents as permanent members of her household, and it certainly does not seem that her mother is inclined to view their presence there as something of a gift, in and of itself. Is the LW’s mother in a position to tackle their financial challenges with some means of supplementing their modest income? Are there other family members who might help honor this mother with gifts, as room and board are provided or at least supplemented by the LW? One is inclined to do a lot of “tut, tutting” over this, and hope for better days for this family. LW’s mom might also benefit from a “gift” of time and margin, which are slim when a spouse is ill, (hence the stress).


Katrina December 26, 2011 at 4:53 pm

As a social worker in geriatric care, I want to urge OP to get Mom evaluated for dementia, depression, and other causes of changes in personality. There are several red flags- having to move, infirm spouse, inordinate anger, rudeness, and less tolerance than normal for the unexpected. Also, did the illness cause the financial issues or did Mom’s poor management of money without Dad’s help cause the problem?
I do not think sharing your generosity was necessarily bad, but with cognitive issues, it was probably too “unexpected” and too much to process. Take Mom to a doc ASAP!


travestine December 26, 2011 at 5:31 pm

I agree with Miss Jeanne on this one. Splitting $25 on one gift each between the people who raised you is very cheap, especially when you are indulging your adult children with eight gifts each, even if bought with frugality in mind. The OP’s description of how her parents came to be living with her family made it clear she was judging them on their lack of fiscal management (and we haven’t heard the other side of that story) and she clearly prides herself on her money-saving skills. The “$25 split between two” policy strikes me as an extension of that judgment, especially when it was pointed out that she paid a $50 bill for them “as their gift” one year. Her mother has probably been smarting under the judgment of her daughter’s opinion of parents’ lack of money management for some time – and the bragging about the $50 was the icing on the Christmas cake. I don’t blame the mother for blowing up – it must be humiliating for the parents to depend on their daughter’s benificence at their age. Maybe the OP should spend a bit of time remembering how her parents provided for her and her siblings as she was growing up before she judges them now. /end rant


Goldie December 26, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I’m completely on the OP’s side on this one. I didn’t get that she was “bragging”. The way I saw it, she made someone happy on Christmas, which in turn made her happy, and she wanted to share her happiness with her close family when she came home. That’s when she learned her mother can no longer be treated as close family :(

I honestly cannot believe the OP’s mother. Instead of thanking the OP for making sure she and OP’s father no longer have to worry about having a roof over their heads, utility bills paid for, and putting food on their table… she complains that she got less Christmas gifts than her grandkids? Even if one of the grandkids wasn’t special-needs and the other recently adopted, it’d still be appalling. She has some nerve to call the OP “selfish”. I hope I never talk to my children like that.


Samantha December 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Perhaps I am biased by my own experiences, but I don’t think the OP did anything wrong other than possibly not looking as hard as she could for a robe for her father. My parents routinely spend twice as much on my brother than they do on me (something he makes a point of bragging about) despite the fact that he is still living at home and not paying any expenses while I am out on my own (I am 23 and he is 20). I have never mentioned the fact that I know this to my parents, nor the fact that he brags about his pricey gifts. Instead, I am grateful for everything they give me as it is one more thing I don’t have to stretch my tight budget to buy. I also don’t comment when they give away two and even three times the amount they spend on me in a year to various charities because it is their money to do with as they will. If someone as young and (relatively) socially inexperienced as me can be genuinely happy to get what I do get, I see no reason why an adult shouldn’t or can’t do the same. Maybe OP’s mother could have gently said “you know that could have bought your father that robe” without being overtly rude, but to berate OP and bring her children into it is beyond the pale. As an adut who should (in theory) be able to care for her own needs, to get a gift from her daughter should be enough, especially as the family tradition seems to be small token gifts amongst the adults.


Danielle December 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm

At first glance, it seems like the mother has contracted a serious case of the gimmes, and is completely out of line for blowing up at the daughter for her gifting and generosity.

I think that the presents and the money are a red herring, though, like Lia and icekat. I think the mother is in serious emotional turmoil and she chose an inopportune time and topic to express it in. She’s still out of line, but there’s much more going under the surface. You said, OP, that she equates money with love and always favored your brother. She’s lost her home, financial independence, is isolated and is relying on your generosity. Chances are she feels like a massive drain on you and your budget. It makes a twisted sort of sense that she would feel less so if you gave her and your dad presents, because you’re not giving it out of some sense of familial obligation, but because you love them, ken?

Since the OP never said how much she spent on each child, I’ll assume it’s about 25-50, assuming 8 presents at 4-10 each. If she can work that kind of budget magic for her kids, why not for her parents as well? Of course you shouldn’t compare gifts with others, but when you’re forced (by tradition and not wanting to ruin Christmas) to sit through 24 big presents that obviously a lot of time (if not money) went into and then you get …slippers and a “sorry, it’s not in the budget this year” robe stand-in, and then have to listen to how you went out for lunch (without her) and spent $61, $50 of which was an extravagant tip that would have bought the robe you said you intended to buy. To top it off, you’re engrossed in your charity, giving both time and money towards it, with neither for her.

Again, you’re not wrong for what you’ve done, but you were rather inelegant in the way you handled it, and your mom was out of line taking you to task like she did, but not without reason.
I think that you need to have a sit down chat with your mom and maybe your dad about how things are for them and what you can do. Maybe even therapy, or at least get her evaluated for depression. Maybe you could involve her in the charity work you do, or dedicate time just for the two of you?


Miss Unleaded December 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm

“I am a little surprised by some of the comments I’ve read in response to this story.”

Same. I don’t see that the OP did anything wrong. She seems like a very loving and giving person: providing her parents with a home in their time of need, adopting kids and giving to the needy. I am pretty shocked actually that there are so many who are ready to condemn her for an act of generosity to a stranger.


Merry Mrs December 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm

I don’t think your mother was polite and I do not think OP was rude but I can understand why OP’s mother might be hurt and possibly worried. Take money out of it for a second imagine your mothers says ” Your dad would like you to help him paint the bedroom next Saturday , for his Christmas present” a few days later you answer ” I’m sorry I just don’t have time” * skip ahead to next Saturday* Walk in super excited ” I just had the best day , I feel great!! While I was driving home I noticed this woman painting her house and she looked tired, so I stopped to help her I just spent that last 3 hours painting a strangers home , YA me” How would mom & dad feel , I don’t think “oh so by not enough time , you meant you would rather do anything then help me”.

Going back to OPs situation. While I don’t think OP needs to gift her parents anywhere near the way she does her children adult or not. If each child receives 8 expensive presents and $80 is what OP calls expensive, I know OP spent less then $4 , but do her parents? For 3 kids that is $1,500 -$3,000*depend on whether $80 is at the top , middle or bottom of what OP considers expensive* under the tree. Imagine $2,200 in presents under your tree for 3 people “Here’s your $10 slippers” is a startling visual comparison. IF the value was $300 under the Christmas tree it would be like handing your mom box of tictacs. Even if she does know you are turning $100-200 into $2,000 , she knows her and your father are not worth the time to make even a fraction of the effort. OP’s mother was rude and OP has every right to spend her money as she sees fit but I can understand her mother being hurt.

I can also see after losing her home at this stage in life , some of this might be from worry on mom’s part. Not to OP but in general…………. I would be a little worried about someone who said ” I don’t have the money for small present for my sick father” and then impulsive gave $50 to a stranger. There are people who will give to charity to the point they skip meals or don’t pay their basic expensses.


Angel December 26, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I don’t think the OP did anything wrong either. When she added more information, her parents only spend about $10 or $15 on her anyway, so why should she have to spend more? I am guessing that the parents live with them rent free, at least that’s how it comes across in all the posts. Maybe the OP’s parents resent their adopted children? If so that’s some serious B.S.!

At least now the OP knows that she can never share a nice story about her own generosity with her parents. I too am a little surprised at some of the responses posted here, actually supporting the parents, including the admin’s response! No matter how you slice it, the parents are in the wrong here. I have never heard of grandparents complaining about how much parents spend on their own children’s gifts. It just smacks of some serious entitlement issues. The OP’s parents more than likely would not have a roof over their heads if not for the OP. And they are quibbling over a ROBE and SLIPPERS? Give me a break!


Kira December 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm

I so much disagreed with the admin on this I had to post. The only thing I agree with is it is a little faux par to mention the value of the gift I can see why someone might talk to a family member when feeling good. I would just avoid mentioning the value of said gifts.

I hate the gimmie-ness of this holiday and most other people would have been blasted a gimmie-pig in this situation. Sounds like she spends a lot of money on her parents and cares for them on important things (medical, bills, glasses) over holiday stuff. I love how money equates love here. My parents would decline presents if they saw how giving I was and how supporting I was of them in financial stress. The OP pointed out something I was thinking in just how much were the presents they got in return from the mother were also minimal. I would also think this level of money between the older family members is so no one spends more so people like the parents don’t feel bad that they can only pay for $10 presents. Stupid obligatory gift giving seasons that equates money to love. Mother should just be happy with whatever she is given as she is lucky to be given anything and be in a situation where her daughter can care for her and 3 older adopted children etc.


Otter December 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm

I think you are being generous to your parents by letting them live in your home. Your mother seems to have forgotten that part. However, it was a bit thoughtless to mention your charitable deed to your mother. After all, you did tell her you couldn’t afford a robe for your father at Christmas (and $50 would have bought a nice one – I spent $10 on one for my MIL, after using a coupon). While it is great to be kind to strangers, and your money is for you to dispose, from now on you should keep the details to yourself.


Rap December 26, 2011 at 9:41 pm

I agree with the admin in that there is fault that lies with the OP in that telling her mom how she gifted a stranger with 50 dollars but that buying a gift that went over 15 dollars for your dad was a budget buster. Yes, I can and do understand why the OP’s mom is angry. I understand and respect the budget, and I think the mom in this story was wrong to throw a fit over it – particularly if one of the older kids is special needs – but yes, if you’d made a point that the budget is tight and there’s no flexibility and you then “spend” double what you’ve budgeted BOTH your parents on a stranger and crow over it… yeah, I don’t think “dementia” is entirely why your mom is ticked off that you can’t bend and get your dad something over 15 bucks but you’re delighted to give a stranger fifty.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand the impulse to do what the OP did, and I have done it myself. But I agree with Admin that people who are living in your home as family deserve to be treated as family. In a perfect world, people are mature and understand why person X gets more gifts than person Y… but from my own family experience, where my brother in law is routinely left off the gift list despite his attending family functions (I bring him a gift even though I don’t especially like him just to keep the peace) yes, people who are adults do compare what they get. You’re living with your parents, OP. That does make them different than the people who you send gift cards to. I am not trying to chastise you much, because I think your heart was in the right place, but if you’re budgeting so tight that you can’t get your dad a robe because it goes over your 15 dollar budget but you are gifting strangers with the same amount of money you would gift four people with in your family, yes, I question whether you were wise to talk about it with your mom.


starstruck December 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm

let me be clear. you. did . nothing . wrong. oh and i have many waitress friends who are over worked and very under paid. so kudos to you. if only the world had more people like you.:)


ilex December 26, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Big random tips mean so much when you’re working a service job. They’re extremely rare (especially on an $11 check!), but it’s something that server will always remember. As a former service worker, I think the OP did a wonderful, meaningful thing by leaving such an unexpected tip.

I can kind of see how it rubbed the OP’s mom the wrong way that she said she couldn’t afford the robe, but dropped a $50 tip, but the thing is… gifts are gifts. The recipient has no say in what it is or what it costs. The OP is trying to be fair by sticking to a $25 budget for everyone who isn’t her child. I get that, too. We spend Christmases with my mom and sisters, and it would be very easy for me to spend much more on my mom than my mother-in-law who lives in another state… but I don’t. OP set the family gift budget fairly (IMO), and she should stick to it. The spur-of-the-moment tip has nothing to do with it.


LovleAnjel December 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm

OP – I just read your response, and I wonder if your mother, perhaps deep inside, feels that your adopted children are not “really” part of the family (I’m going to put a bunch of things in quotes because adopted children, of whatever age, are your real children). Perhaps she interprets your gifting largesse as a sort of giving of gifts to poor strangers, more akin to your adopt-a-family work. Thus, your “real” family, them, is consistently treated to less gifting than a bunch of “unrelated” people. Perhaps a frank discussion would be in order.


chocobo December 26, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Were I the op’s mother, I would he proud to have raised a woman with such a generous spirit.


Margaret December 26, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I didn’t think the OP had done anything wrong when I read the original post, and now that I have read her update, I think she is WONDERFUL!!!

My original thought was that perhaps the mother was upset because she counted on OP to get the robe, and then when it didn’t happen, she felt distressed because she wouldn’t be able to get it herself. However, given the information in the update (particularly how the mother spends 5 times as much on her favourite child as she does on the OP and her sister), it seems to me that the mother probably really does feel that she deserves more gifts or that the number of gifts is the measure of how much she is appreciated. I find that sad.


Lorelei December 26, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I really feel for you, OP–by taking your parents in, you are already doing something that is very generous and must be stressful, and your mother’s reaction would feel to me like ingratitude.

Many families have a custom where people give bigger presents to children and smaller ones or none at all to the adults, because adults should be able to understand that Christmas has a meaning beyond how much money was spent on you.

How could it possibly be rude to choose for yourself how much to spend on a gift or on charity? And how could a grandmother possibly want to take presents away from her own grandchildren to have more money spent on herself? (Much less her still young, special needs, or recently adopted grandchildren?!?!)

Good luck dealing with your mother, OP. In your comment, you said that you’d try to give her more presents next year, but I think you have more fundamental problems than that. She favors your brother over you, but she’s living on your dime, she makes fun of how your family celebrates Christmas, but she demands more presents from you, she wants you to give fewer presents to your children, she wants you not to contribute to charity… Is she suffering from early dementia? Or is she just incredibly selfish? Either way, please don’t sacrifice what makes you and your children happy to try to please someone who obviously doesn’t care how any of you feel.


Cat Whisperer December 26, 2011 at 11:27 pm

I think the tempest in this teapot can be summed up as follows:

First, OP’s mom and OP are still sorting out “dominance hierarchy” issues in the household. Human beings are social creatures, and all social creatures hammer out a dominance hierarchy, more commonly known as a “peck order,” where everyone knows their place and who gets to boss who, and this makes things work more smoothly in the group. This evidently has not been sorted out completely.

Second, OP violated a fundamental rule of etiquette: you NEVER discuss the amount of money you give as a gift, or the monetary value of a gift, that you have given to one person, with somebody else. Never. Ever. Not in a million zillion years.

The reason OP’s mom erupted in outrage when OP told her about the $50 gift to the waitress is completely understandable when you consider these two points: by giving the waitress a more expensive gift than she gave to her mom, OP was essentially giving her mom the information that OP rated the waitress higher in the social peck order than she rated her mom. And that’s what lit mom’s fuse and set off the explosion.

We the value of gifts that we give to people tells people how highly we rate them in our view of the peck order. We tend to give the people we value the most in our lives the most valuable gifts, and people who we don’t value very much get smaller gifts, down to token gifts of little or no value.

When someone who thinks we should rate them highly in the peck order observes us giving a BETTER gift to someone who they think should rate lower in the peck order of importance, you’re going to trigger an explosion. It’s that simple.

Personally, I think that mom has a right to be outraged when her daughter gives a comparative stranger a gift that is disproportionate to what her own daughter gives her mom and dad. Yes, OP has a perfect right to give anyone any gift she wants, and to pay however much or however little she wants to for the gift. But when OP has the extreme bad judgement to flaunt the fact that she’s just given a better gift to a stranger than she gave to her own mother, she’s naive to the point of idiocy to think her mother isn’t going to feel insulted by that action.

My prescription for healing this rift: OP needs to acknowledge what really made her mom mad, which isn’t about a hooded bathrobe for dad or how many presents OP gives her kids. It’s that OP gave a comparative stranger a better present than she gave her own parents– and then had the temerity to tell her mom that and expect an “attagirl” for it.

So OP goes to mom and apologizes, very humbly and abjectly, for giving her mom reason to believe that OP felt a comparative stranger deserved a better gift than her own mother did. “Mom, I can see how you would feel insulted that I seemed to value the waitress more than I valued you or dad. It was not my intention to make you feel that way. I am very sorry and I will not make any excuses. It was an impulsive thing and in retrospect I can see that it was not well-thought-out.”

OP then makes restitution: “Mom, because I understand how you feel and I want to make it up to you, could you please come with me and help me to find dad the right kind of hooded robe? Please?” Humbly and without attitude.

….And learn from the experience: do not ever, not EVER, tell one person the value of a gift you have given someone else. That’s not only an etiquette violation, it’s just plain asking for trouble.


Jennifer December 27, 2011 at 12:21 am

I’d also mention – it’s much much easier to get a present for a 20 year old than a 60 year old. I was able to pick out something for my sister easily that she loved – but my dad required a lot of searching, and it wasn’t fantastic. He already has just about everything he needs and wants and tends to get the stuff for himself that he needs. My little sister, on the other hand, is just getting started and doesn’t have life’s necessities. Whenever she says something like, “I wanted to make a chicken but I don’t have a roasting pan.” I can make a note of that.


koolchicken December 27, 2011 at 12:49 am

I’m a little surprised by the Admins comments on this one. Usually I enjoy them as they’re spot on and highlight all the things that went wrong and ways to do things better in the future. In this case I can only agree with the statement about keeping charitable donations to yourself. Although if it were me I would have added it’s okay to tell your children because that’s how they learn about giving, by following their parents example. The rest of it seemed kind of the opposite of the usual advice and it really threw me.

For this situation I would say to the OP good for you, I think it’s great you put so much of yourself into giving to others. But in the future it might be better not to discuss your charitable giving so candidly. As for giving in and buying your parents more next Christmas, I wouldn’t. Stick to your budget, if you can buy more throughout the year with the $25 you usually spend then I say go for it. But don’t go over it, you’re already giving so much to them in other ways. You mention a pea coat for your oldest, seems like a very practical gift- it does not strike me as excess. And if each of your children gets gift similar to this then it’s not outrageous (regardless how many they receive) as a winter coat in a necessary item that would have been purchased anyway.

I will say that knowing all your ailing father wanted this year was a hooded robe, why didn’t you just buy one? It doesn’t seem like an extravagance, if the robe alone cost $25 would you really refuse to spend the money? If he wanted some expensive electronic I could see saying it wasn’t in the budget, but a robe? Could your children really not pitch in? I understand the oldest is disabled, but the other one has gone out into the world, I assume she has a job. Could no one pitch in $5 extra dollars?

And yes, it was really wrong of your mother to freak out on you like that but it seems clear she equates money with love. I’m guessing you knew that already, so your failure to procure a bathrobe might have come across as quite the slap in the face to your parents.


travestine December 27, 2011 at 3:05 am

Something that hasn’t been mentioned in all the chatter about the number and cost of the gifts is that the OP’s mother also mentioned how much TIME the OP spent with the “3-6” families that she spent buying, collecting, photographing and distributing items for as well. The OP also mentoned that her mother knew how much pleasure it gave her “helping others” at Christmas.

It’s great to do good deeds. I like to do them as well (I just rarely tell anyone). BUT – it makes me suspicious when the OP takes responsibility for running the collecting and distribution (because she’s apparently the best shopper), is in charge of deciding who gets what with these families (photographing everything? Is there that much?), hangs around the restaurant to hear how her massive tip is received and then immediately tells her mother about what she’s done when she gets home, thinking she’ll “share in her happiness” (really? an elderly woman who has lost everything, has a sick husband and relies on her daughter’s “generosity” to survive?). I don’t understand why the OP thought giving a waitress 5x what her mother knew she was planning to spend on her gift would fill her with Christmas spirit.

I’m a firm believer that “charity begins in the home”. If the OP’s mother was that upset, it wasn’t over slippers and a broken promise about a hooded robe. It was over a deeper issue and maybe the OP should mend her relationship with her parents before she starts collecting and buying to make strangers’ lives better next Christmas. Perhaps seeing all this bounty meant for others in her daughter’s house, knowing she is there on sufferance and no entitled to the same attention or concern is just a constant irritant to the mother.

I know that sounds harsh, but it comes from experience – I have a relative who avoids family conflict by being “too good” to others to be criticized for their treatment of their own family members. So the family grins and bears it as the family member is praised for their generosity of time and money to causes, knowing that, depending whether the family member thinks you’ve “earned it” according to their criteria, you may end up with your own “slippers” while another gets the “8 presents”.


Mamafish December 27, 2011 at 3:59 am

Firstly, I totally agree on getting mum checked out – I have been in this situation too, it’s not easy but worth doing, if you have concerns.

I really disagree that you did anything wrong. You thought you could share your generosity wih your mother but you were mistaken.

Others have articulated much better than I the possibility of this incident merely being a trigger for some serious underlying emotions. How a mother can favour one child is beyond me, but it does point to your mum’s conception of love.

For anyone who thinks the $50 gift should be spent on family – I agree that charity begins at home. However, I have always added a qualifier – “it’s not charity if it stays at home”. We need to extend the tent legs beyond our “flesh and blood” (I personally believe the world would be a vastly better place with a little more empathy beyond our “own and known”) and I think the OP and her DH get this. Not sure mum does though. :)


Tara December 27, 2011 at 7:38 am

I very much disagree with the admin on this. No one has any right to complain about a GIFT they are given! I don’t care if the OP gives $1000 to a perfect stranger and $5 to family, it’s still a gift! They should be happy to be given anything at all. It’s the OP’s money to spread around as she sees fit, and the mother was incredibly rude and selfish to throw a tantrum like that. Seems like a lot of people see Christmas as a time to expect and DEMAND gifts. OP, I say, stop giving your mother a gift if what you get her doesn’t live up to her standards! At least then she’ll have a good reason to be disappointed.


bilbysa December 27, 2011 at 8:13 am

I agree in every way with admin and Threepenny. In fact, Threepenny said it best; exactly what I was thinking. I can’t imagine promising any loved one, be it parent, child, sibling or spouse, a specific gift, then not getting it due to lack of finances…and THEN giving a complete stranger money which could have bought the promised gift. And even if I had done this, no way would I have then flaunted this fact to the intended recipient (or their spouse) of the ‘unaffordable’ gift. And that most other posters cannot see how wrong this was is just mind-boggling.
Yes, OP is a good and dutiful daughter for taking her parents into her home. But this does not give her an automatic right to treat her parents as less deserving than a random stranger, and certainly not to enhance that sentiment by bragging about it. Badly done, OP.


Harley Granny December 27, 2011 at 8:14 am

I can honestly say I could not disagree with admin more.

I think OP was just tickled that her random act made someone’s day and wanted to share that joy with someone. I once bought breakfast for some cops….it gave me the warm fuzzies and wanted to share that feeling with someone….the person I told mentioned what a great idea that was and passed it along. So if that’s bragging, then I’m guilty.

Now for the mother being a gimmie pig….I just can’t see how she couldn’t be called anything else.
How this gimmie pig raised such a generous giving person is beyond me.
OP..you keep on giving how you see fit..it’s your money.
And this is coming from someone who only recieved a few stocking stuffers and a mug that I know was bought on clearence but got such joy at watching the others opening their gifts that my memories of the day is better than any material present I could have gotten.


MellowedOne December 27, 2011 at 9:03 am

OP, based on your response a couple of things came to my mind.

One, have you considered you may be spreading yourself too thin? You have a lot on your plate. How much time do you and your mom just talk? Socialize, watch a movie, etc. If your mother is free of any cognitive disability, her outbursts could be interpreted as a sign that something is wrong and needs to be talked out. I think the gift incident was just the tiny thing that pushed her over the edge. Maybe what she wants from you is some personal time, and, not having that, the gift becomes the substitute. Cheap gift reinforces what she’s already feeling.

Next, regarding your parents, you said, “I absolutely treat them like members of the household and family though”. “Like”? Living in your household, they ARE both. You make them sound like a couple of friends you’re giving a roof and meal to. And did you notice that you only gave examples of spending money on them as proof of your feeling? TV ads say to show someone you care by buying X item, but that’s the worst advice to follow. Show someone you care by telling them, spending time with them, being a shoulder to cry on when they need it, reassure them when they have doubts. Optionally, if the feeling motivates you, give them a gift or card.

Lastly, if you and your husband seriously think your mother may be in the early forms of dementia (or other illness which mimics it), then go to websites to read up on it so you can become familiar with the early signs–which are often misinterpreted by those that have never had to deal with it. In ADDITION, arrange for a doctor’s appointment with her regular physician. I’ve had to deal with this–my father has a dementia. It is nothing to fool around with.


Rap December 27, 2011 at 9:08 am

Ilex, I think Merry Mrs really explained the issue well. I think it’s lovely that the OP has a generous nature (look, she allowed her parents to move in with her, she has adopted children, she donates gifts to needy families) but I can understand “I can’t do it for you, my *mother and father* but for random strangers, yes I can!” rubbing the parents wrong.

The mom was out of line complaining – I was taught to never complain about gifts, but the OP was out of line claiming a robe for Dad was a budget buster because money is so tight for Christmas, 15 dollars is IT, and then happily explaining to mom how she handed over 50 bucks to a stranger.


L.J. December 27, 2011 at 9:47 am

My grandmother budgeted carefully for gifts, the way the OP does. I admired her for it and try to follow Grandma’s example in my own life.

Post 23 brings up a good point: If a child had a tantrum about gifts nobody would say that the kid should get more gifts next year.


Elizabeth December 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

The “OP’ seems to be seeking kudos for frugality AND for generosity to strangers. Neither sounds as if she gives from the heart … she’s giving for the pat on the back in return. This isn’t wrong, but she’s giving with an expectation (or demand) of a certain behavior in return – the wrong sentiment for giving.


badkitty December 27, 2011 at 10:20 am

Having got the extra info from the OP, I wonder if part of her mother’s cause for complaint is that the children in question are not from her own gene pool. Now that they are grown, she may feel that they don’t rate special or extravagant gifts from her daughter, especially since they were all adopted as older children. This is obviously a very wrong-headed and heartless way of thinking, but it would go a long way toward explaining why she feels that she and her husband should be getting more; it could be that she feels that she and her husband are your only “family” in the room when you open presents.

And by the way, I think the “one gift at a time” tradition is wonderful and mature. My son is 11, and even HE is slowly moving toward wanting us to take our time and see what other people are getting. He still rips into his gifts with abandon, but always wants to make sure that he’s watching when someone opens something he gave them or something he helped choose. I think we’ll always rip into stockings like lions on a gazelle, but within a few years I expect we will have adopted the one-gift-at-a-time approach. It’s civilized, not “ridiculous” and I’m sure your sister knew that as well; she was probably rolling her eyes at your mother’s complaints 😉


Goldie December 27, 2011 at 10:25 am

Had to comment again after seeing all the comments about how OP should treat her parents as she does her close family when it comes to gift-giving. Did anyone see her additional comment where she says that she and her husband do not give each other anything? If OP were to treat her parents same way as she does her immediate family, her parents would receive NOTHING. Sure, the children got $25 each, but given these children’s situation it is only fair. If OP’s mother really thinks she deserves the exact same special treatment as the children who were adopted at a later age and who grew up in disadvantaged families, then I don’t really know what to say to that. And anyway, if she seriously expects some kind of financial payback in return for having raised her children, then why won’t she go yell at the OP’s brother? after all, she’s been investing five times more into him than she has into the OP, so should expect a bigger return on her investment, right? /sarcasm

I am completely in awe of what OP and her husband are doing both for her family (yes, including her parents!!) and the community. Our parents have a way of pushing our buttons, some more than others as this post clearly shows. I wish the OP and her husband patience in dealing with her parents.


BagLady December 27, 2011 at 10:29 am

Yes, OP has the right to spend her money however she wishes. And yes, she has gone above and beyond for her parents by taking them into her home. And if I were her mom, I would be eternally grateful for that.

However, I would also be *crushed* to hear that she gave $50 to a stranger while claiming she couldn’t afford to get her father the *one thing* he asked for … a reasonably priced, practical item at that. I wouldn’t blow up at her — I wouldn’t say anything at all — but I would definitely be hurt.

OP’s mom was rude to blow up, but I think OP erred in telling her about the $50 tip. Random acts of kindness are best done anonymously.


Cat December 27, 2011 at 10:39 am

This was a perfect time to follow the advice given in the New Testament and not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing-ie, don’t tell Mom about the tip.
I have worked in schools where the Christmas exchange has been stopped because of the number of people who complained that what they got was not worth what they gave. I always did what you did-buy things on mark-down during the year and then give a gift that was actually under the twenty dollar maximum, but was actually worth much more. None of those receiving a gift from me ever complained, but it bothered me that people act like that. It reminds me of the wedding folks who expect a gift that equals the individual’s cost of the reception.
Still, your parents, for all that you took them in and are looking after them, should feel valued. If you had fifty dollars for a tip, you had the money for your Dad’s robe and he should be your first priority if you are feeling generous.


Andie December 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

I think the OP is setting a wonderful example in charity and generosity for her children. She shouldn’t feel bad about that. Now that you know mom doesn’t feel so great about it, you don’t have to tell her everything. Ignorance is bliss.

Unless her mental health is deteriorating (the suggestions of dementia other commenters made,) you should try to include her in your efforts to ‘make Christmas’ for the kids. Maybe that will help her remember that as an adult, that’s where your role is.


Xtina December 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

First, it sounds like the OP is a generous and smart person, to be able to do all these things for the various people in her life and keep it organized and funded in all its various capacities.

The gift for the waitress was a very nice thing to do; however, I agree with the eHell Dame that perhaps that was better kept to oneself, especially given that the OP limits her budget so strictly on family—people she knows and loves–to a certain dollar amount that was *far* less than what she gave a complete stranger. The OP’s heart was in the right place but certainly she can understand why this might be hurtful to other family members.

I’m about halfway on this one. The OP’s mother has no business whatsoever trying to dictate how the OP spends her money, and as an adult, should know better than to think that dollar amount or number of gifts is equal to how much you care about someone (or to be that greedy). I find it appalling that she would even go there. On the other hand—it does seem sort of a low blow, even if the amount of money you spent on gifts per person was equal—to go SO much further with the number of gifts for one (close) family member vs. another. It just LOOKS like you’re playing favorites if one person got 8 gifts to open and you only gave your mother a single gift (and she knows it cost $10). I feel crass even coming down on the side of “appearances matter” when it comes to gifts—but the bottom line is that’s what it looks like, and sadly, those things do matter to an extent.

Don’t get me wrong—it is great that the OP able to give her children so many gifts for a little money and her mother SHOULD understand that they are the OP’s kids and she is free to “spoil” them as she chooses, but perhaps the OP could even things up for her parents if she applies the same principles to shopping through the year for them as she does for her children. If the bargains are there to be found, it seems that she could certainly come up with a few other things for her parents. Or maybe even telling her mother, for instance, that the seemingly expensive coat her daughter got was equal to about 1/3 the cost of her slippers and not to assume anything based on appearance!


WildIrishRose December 27, 2011 at 11:02 am

I understand the joy you felt in making that waitress’ day, but I have always felt that all charitable acts should be done anonymously (as far as possible) or they don’t count. And they definitely don’t count if you have to blow your own horn over it. Sorry, OP, I’m with Admin on this issue. Keep your largesse secret; you know what you did, and no one else who doesn’t actually see it needs to know.

As for your mom, I do hope you will have her medically evaluated if you haven’t already. It’s been mentioned here how different her life has recently become, so I’m sure you understand her feelings (and I say that because it sounds like you are a very sensitive and loving person and if you’re interested in adopting a MUCH older child, let me know, ha ha). I keep saying I am going to shop all year for Christmas and I never do. I wish I were as organized and far-sighted as you seem to be!

However, I would caution you to be careful about what my DH and I call “Gift Wars.” His parents are MASTERS at Gift Wars. I refuse to play that game, so if they offer us six gifts to every one we give them, that’s just how the gift ball bounces. I’m not made of money, they know that, but I do try to get just the “right” gifts. Anyway, since your kids are older it’s probably not going to be an issue, but beware that they don’t get too spoiled, or that they feel they must compete with you.


Library Diva December 27, 2011 at 11:20 am

I agree with Cat Whisperer that this isn’t so much about the gift. I don’t think you exactly did anything wrong, but I do think you should apologize to your mother for hurting her feelings. I’m sure this entire transition has been rough for her too. She’s lost her independence, her life savings, and her partner is very sick. She’s in a more bustling environment than what she was used to, and is living with a special-needs boy. The holidays are stressful for everyone. OP does indeed seem to be sorry that she hurt her mother’s feelings, and she should tell her that.


Laura December 27, 2011 at 11:35 am

On a side note, I have to comment that this is the one thing I HATE about Christmas. It’s supposed to be a religious holiday commemorating Christ’s birth, but instead has turned into a “free for all” of greed, and how much money is spent on whom. Drives me crazy!


--Lia December 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

I’m glad Goldie drew my attention back to the brother. There’s the answer. We’ve all been discussing whether the mother was justified or a gimme-pig or whether the daughter should have been either more discreet or more generous, but the creative answer is to go to the brother and say “psst … Mom wants slippers, and Dad wants a robe. This is important. Do it.”


Serenity S. December 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm

I agree with Admin about this. OP you sound like a great and generous person, but I was always taught not to tell others about what acts of charity you perform because it makes it sound like you are bragging about it (even if you are not). And to the posters who are saying Mom should be grateful to live with OP for free, we don’t know that Mom and Dad are not contributing something financially. Perhaps they are receiving social security that they are helping out with. OP didn’t say that they are penniless, she said that they are bad at managing their finances. OP I think your mom was upset about more than just the slippers, she probably feels like a burden on you and saw the one small gift as a sign that you resent her or something. I don’t think you are wrong to have a budget and stick with it, but perhaps you could stretch it out like you do for your children by sale shopping for Mom and Dad next year.


Avisse December 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Mm… I find this rather delicate and complex. We don’t really know your mother’s personality and history, which only you will know and understand, so we can only assume. As one poster mentioned, it could be that your mother felt low in your life’s priorities. Or it could just simply be that she’s materialistic. Or maybe both, haha :P.

But the faux pas on your part was you sharing with your mother the amount you gave away to a stranger. Yes, it does give a warm fuzzy feeling sharing a good deed story with someone, but there wasn’t really a need to get down to details about the amount. And judging the circumstances with your mother, it would’ve definitely make her feel low, whether she shows it or not, since you did say you wanted to try to get your father a robe, but changed your mind later owing to lack of funds, then later go on and give away money to a stranger.

Your mother also handled this badly. Her exploding on you and expecting more gifts does make her look greedy. But again, there could be another side of it. It could be her just wanting more assurances that she matters to you, but she just doesn’t know how to express it properly, thus she ended up throwing a tantrum like a child demanding gifts as assurances for love. Or as Cat Whisperer pointed out, the value of the gift determines how much a person is valued, so your mother felt rather insulted.


Huh December 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I’m a bargain shopper by necessity and found some nice things for my parents (including my hard-to-shop-for mother). I think I spent about roughly the same amount for each of them. BUT I know I spent more of my bargain shopping budget on my kids. They are MY kids. I love my parents dearly, but yes, they are my extended family now- generally when you go out into the world and marry/meet someone and have kids, they are your family and your parents and siblings become your extended family, there’s things in the Bible about it man leaving his parents and cleaving to his wife, etc. So I was more than a little shocked that the Grandma was throwing a fit that the Mom bought her kids more than she bought Grandma. I know my mom bought more for my kids than she did for me (I was there when she bought most of the kids’ stuff) should I throw a fit because she didn’t buy me more? I spent more on my kids than they did on me. Should I throw a fit about that? That’s crazy! Take the waitress equation out, and I’m still shocked about Grandma’s behavior.


Dear! December 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm

Some of the comments are a BIT HARSH, though. I’ll just jump to the gifting issue opposed to the waitress issue.

Firstly- I buy some people more presents than others. Case closed. I usually get everyone else a present each, some larger than others, but I dont agree that just because someone lives in the same house as me that that should dictate my gift buying. If a person is an adult, they should act like one. If a person’s greed exceeds my spending, touch luck. Kindness is something that comes from the heart and not from making gimme pigs happy – no matter how they are related.

My expended family doesn’t appreciate anything and will gossip no matter what you do or get, so I dont take as much care in what I get them (honestly) so I only gift to them if they come over for Christmas as not to leave them out.

In the end, be respectful to your mother, but ignore her. It might sound harsh but sometimes you have to do it for your sanity.


ES December 27, 2011 at 1:55 pm

My perspective is, that it is very sad but OP and her mom have radically different attitudes to money, and to showing love, and this is not likely to change. For OP, love = emotional sharing. She shared her story of the waitress because she expected her mom to get the same good feeling. However, it appears that for her mom, material gifts are an important part of showing love and priorities, while the emotional story was perceived as an insult. There appears to be a lot of tension in the house over money already, as OP commented on their moving in because of “their inability to manage finances effectively”. It’s a hot topic. Maybe OP can be the bigger person and understand her mom’s love language is affected by gifts, and not expect her to “speak” the language of emotional sharing.


Cady December 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm

The only thing the OP did wrong was tell her mom about the tip, since it obviously upset her. Clearly, from her follow-up post, she learned her lesson on that. Beyond that, the mother is being a bit unreasonable to dictate how the OP should give gifts, especially since she’s taken on a burden by allowing her parents to move in with the family. If the mom hasn’t always been this way (outbursts of rage, tongue-clucking through the entire gift unwrapping), I think it would behoove OP to take her to a doctor & check on her mental health.


Dear! December 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

I just read the OP’s other response. Yup- ignore mom.

You sound like a very kind person, and it is great to hear that you have given your three kids a loving home.


Lerah December 27, 2011 at 2:40 pm

The Original Poster seems much more interested in strangers looking at her with awe than with being gracious to her parents.

I am also really disappointed in the people who feel the mother should be greatful for the roof over her head and not expect anything more. Have I wandered into a Dickens novel?

Becoming financially responsible for your parents requires change and finding new ways to relate to each other. My mother was laid off in February of 2010 and hasn’t been able to find work since. I let the lease run out on my apartment and moved back home to cover her mortgage and bills. This required a lot of adjustments on both our parts. It isn’t always easy and sometimes little things can become huge blow ups if they are allowed to fester.

By bragging to your mom about giving $50 to the waitress after you insisted your budget wouldn’t allow you to buy your sick father a robe you basically told her “I care more about what strangers think of me than I care about you or Dad.”

She watches you spend hours preparing gifts for needy families and stack present after present under the tree for your kids, but she and your dad only rate slippers and what ever $15 gift you can find for your father. It’s not just the money it’s the aboslute lack of care you show towards them.

Strangers (needy families, waitresses, etc…) are worth your time, effort, and resources – but your parents are treated like an unwanted burden.

Sure, it is your money to do with as you see fit.
You mother has no right to demand more or better gifts.
Money doesn’t equal love, but time and effort are good indications of what and who you value.

You might want to consider the non-verbal messages you are sending her and your father about their place in your life.

She was wrong to yell at you, but treating your destitute parents as just another burden you are forced to bare as a good person… that’s really cruel. My guess is her anger and shouting had more to do with that than the presents themselves.


Carrie December 27, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I think Rap’s comment at #56 sums it up perfectly. I just can’t imagine giving more (and cash, for that matter) to someone I’ve never met and may never see again and drastically reduce the amount to spend on family. Not extended family, but the people who birthed and raised me.

Mom vented in an over-the-top way, but her concerns are legitimate and should be acknowledged. OP is already doing a lot for her parents, but coming home and gushing about giving a stranger $50 while citing the “tight budget” as not allowing for the purchase of a robe is bound to set Mom off. The stresses are likely piling up for her, and this tidbit just pushed her over the edge. Apologize for inadvertently hurting her feelings, zip your lips when it comes to charity, and try to surprise Dad with the robe at some later date.


babs December 27, 2011 at 4:19 pm

First off OP, I don’t think technically, you did anything wrong… technically. And, your mother, for sure over-reacted, and I suspect it was over something that had been building for some time, that was a lot more than just the slippers. If you shop all during the year, as you know, you can find huge bargains on fairly expensive items. Why did she have to know that her slippers were only $10? Could you have tucked a little bottle of body lotion inside the slippers? Or a cute pair of socks? Or an inexpensive piece of costume jewelry? There are so many inexpensive items that could have gone with the slippers that would have made her feel more special, and that more thought was put into making her happy. Instead… “What do you want that’s in my budget? Slippers? OK, slippers it is. DONE!”

Christmas gifts are more than fulfilling what a person needs… it’s making the people feel that they have a place in your heart, and that’s where your mother has been hurt. I really, really applaud you for what you did for the waitress.. but it doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing.” You could have given the waitress a generous tip, but still set aside to do a bit more for the people in your life who love you and are going to be with you for all the important stuff in your life. It sounds like from your description, your parents are in need as well, and don’t have funds available to treat themselves during the year. It’s great to spread the joy to those who need an extra lift, but many times the ones who are in the most need, financially and emotionally, are right under our own roof.


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