Going Hungry To Keep The Gimme Pigs At Bay

by admin on July 17, 2012

My partner and I recently moved to Sydney from Melbourne so my partner could attend a very specific college. We are currently living paycheck to paycheck as I am the only one working, as it is sometimes we get to the end of the week and have no food. Recently my partner’s niece had her 9th birthday and we sent our very last $30 in a card to her, which means for 2 nights we just ate bland plain rice for dinner as it was all we had.

Previously to this my partner had told me that when we were still living in Melbourne he had given his nephew $30 for his birthday and if he wasn’t the send the same amount to his niece she would get upset and throw a tantrum of epic proportions. Then when she got her card with the money in it, we didn’t know. My partner had to ask his sister if his niece had even received the card.

Growing up my family never had a lot of money so if someone made a gesture of even sending a card then as soon as we received them we would call the person, thank them and then send a thank you card after our birthday which would usually be a beautiful hand made card. I was shocked that his sister wouldn’t even ask her to call us and say thank you at the very least. I was also appalled when he told me that “no one ever does that in my family.” I thought was we did was very generous considering our financial circumstances but if our gift was that unappreciated that it didn’t even warrant a phone call at the very least then I have to say, next year I might not be feeling as generous.

My partner said that she is only 9 and it was a bit unfair to expect so much from her, however I remember at 9 my mum would have taken all my presents for the next year and sent them back, or donated them to a charity and then told me send thank you cards. He has said I am being unreasonable, but I don’t believe I am. If she can’t take the time to even make a simple phone call to say thank you, then why should I have to go without food so she can have a small gift?   0714-12

Generosity is a good thing but not if you have to starve in order to stave off histrionics from a deprived nine year old.   Because that is what you and your partner did.   The gift doesn’t appear to have been given as a gesture of affection but rather as an obligation to equalize the monetary gift amount between the two siblings lest the one receiving lesser throws the greater fit.

I would suggest decreasing the gift amount to both children next year to maybe $10.00 or even none at all.  You are not helping them develop good character qualities be feeding their greedy, unappreciative attitudes.   Instead, have your partner arrange a special yearly outing with them, like hiking or camping.   Give them an experience instead of a card.

And btw, plan a yearly budget that factors in birthday gift costs as compared to your living expenses and then stick to your budget.   No one should have to miss meals just so a young lady doesn’t have a nuclear meltdown.

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikki_Bee July 17, 2012 at 4:41 am

I don’t think you are being at all unreasonable, As soon as I could write my mum had me writing thank you notes for presents. Don’t starve yourself to appease a child, why does the niece even know the monetary value of all her brother’s gifts to be able to compare anyway?
I would be inclined to miss out the gift giving next year, or make a donation to charity for each child instead. If they can’t show the proper appreciation for their gifts, then maybe your money would be better spent on a charitable donation which would likely be more appreciated. It might teach the kids to think of other people as well.

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lkb July 17, 2012 at 5:05 am

How old is the nephew and did he send the thank-you note? Did the OP ever meet the niece and is the niece really prone to tantrums or is the OP’s partner referring to generic nine-year-olds (or basing his comment on a tantrum she threw when she was much younger (say, four)?) How often does the OP and partner see the niece and nephew ($30 seems a bit much for a 9-year-old.)

The niece and nephew should have sent thank you notes though it may be just how the partner’s extended family does things.

It does seem a bit much to go hungry to

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lkb July 17, 2012 at 5:15 am

(oops! clicked “Submit” finishing the sentence)

send a niece’s birthday gift.

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Kate July 17, 2012 at 5:25 am

My fiance and I are in a similar situation right now as I finish my university studies – often living paycheck to paycheck. If you can’t afford a gift, don’t put yourselves out of a meal to buy one. I would suggest writing a really nice card (hand made to save money) with an IOU in there – like, IOU one picnic in the park, or IOU one trip to the ice skating rink etc. Set a date for this to be redeemed (and make sure you can afford it).

If the recipient does not appreciate the personal touches involved in these sorts of gifts, perhaps they could stand to go without any gift at all next year.

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--Lia July 17, 2012 at 5:51 am

One way to look at it: You and your partner are a couple who make decisions together about how you’ll spend money. Naturally you’ll disagree some times, but you talk it out and decide together. Some times you get what you want, and in the case of the cash birthday gifts to children who don’t thank you, some times he gets what he wants.

The other way to look at it: You’re earning the money. He’s spending it. You didn’t want to fund expensive gifts for children in his family, but somehow he convinced you. I don’t know what tactics he used, but the only argument that would have made any sense to me is the one where he says he cares so much about this gift that he got a job to pay for it and to contribute to the expense of putting food on the table.

He’s right that it’s a lot to expect a 9 year old magically to know that thanks are expected. Teaching her is her parents’ job. Since they’re not doing their job to educate their children, you and he may do the polite thing and step in to help educate her (and her nephew). When the next gift giving occasion comes along, you send a nice congratulatory card with no cash inside. If you hear a whisper of complaint, you explain that when you heard no thanks last time, you had no idea that they liked to receive gifts and concluded that you should not send more in the future.

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Lychii July 17, 2012 at 6:22 am

I think OP is being entirely unreasonable. Her partner explained that in their family no one does thank you notes/calls. If that’s the way that family works, then that’s the way it works.

You can’t hold a small child up to a standard she has never heard about, and label her “ungrateful” when she doesn’t do what she wasn’t taught to do!

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Andi July 17, 2012 at 6:25 am

I don’t think 9 is too young to expect a thank you card, and definately not too you g for a “thank you call”. My 7 year old wrote his own “thank yous” this year – previous years I’d written them and he signed them. But – there in lies the issue – at that age it does need to be parent prompted, so IMO the real issue is with this child’s parents not instiing a sense of gratitude in thier children. I’d cut back on the amount until some gratitude is shown.

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Ellie July 17, 2012 at 6:42 am

Some of my grandchildren thank me for gifts and have done so since they were old enough to perform the task (before that, their mothers did it for them). Others of my grandchildren don’t. Guess which group continues to receive gifts and which does not? Out of the second group, a granddaughter was getting married. Because I was unable to attend the wedding (in another state), I purchased the favors (Godiva). I was not thanked for that either. I have only myself to blame, since she never thanked me for anything before. I will not make the same mistake with any of her siblings.

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bloo July 17, 2012 at 6:43 am

I agree with the Admin, but OP, side note: It may be a good idea to take note of your differences in family culture as regards giving of gifts and thank you’s. This wouldn’t be a dealbreaker but definitely something you’d want to communicate about as it will affect how you raise your future children.

Here’s to missing no more meals (especially for a bratty niece)! :)

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jena rogers July 17, 2012 at 6:44 am

If she can write and put a stamp on an envelope, she can send a thank you note. Ridiculous.

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Ripple July 17, 2012 at 6:44 am

I remember writing thank you notes when I was younger than 9 as well. Automatically, even if we received the gift directly from the giver and not through the mail. And I remember my niece was about 4 when she got a Christmas gift from the family across the street. She was upset because they misspelled her name. Her mother told her to write a thank you note, and I added that that way she would sign her name correctly and then the family would know how to spell it. She liked that idea, so got right to work.

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Katy July 17, 2012 at 7:15 am

I don’t think she’s too young for a thank you card. Maybe writing one herself, but ever since my first daughter was little, I’ve been writing out thank you cards for her. Recently she’s learned to write her name, so I’ll write the card, and she’ll sign her name to it. Usually I’ll let her dictate the card, though I will edit it if she says something insensitive or goes off on a tangent, like four year olds do. She came up with the idea to draw a picture on each one, and she’ll draw herself with the giver, or playing with the toy or wearing the outfit, people seem to love that.
I’ve been poor enough that, between one nephew’s birthday and the other’s, I’d have no money for a gift. But I did find ways to give them a gift without spending money. I’d take them to the free night at the baseball game, or a free museum, or just to the park for a while. You are under no obligation to gift-match, and also under no obligation to explain your circumstances.
I get annoyed when I don’t get thank you notes for things, more from adults than from children, especially when something is sent through the mail and I don’t know if they have really received the gift or not. It is something that is remembered, and I have followed up a wedding gift with a nice card for a baby shower due to chronic no-thank-you-note-itis (though, in full disclosure, it was a gimmie pig who I had gotten several gifts for in the course of a year, graduation, bridal shower, housewarming, wedding, without a single thank you).

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Wolfgirl July 17, 2012 at 7:21 am

Hmm…I fully agree the niece is bratty and ungrateful not to send a thank you card, although the blame sits with her parents I think, as what child would spontaneously know to send a thank you note if they’ve never been taught it’s required?

However…the issue is that a gift went unacknowledged – I can’t really see how the financial circumstances of the OP are relevant? Does the niece know you stinted yourselves of food to give her your last $30? Seems unlikely, and I hope you didn’t tell her this! Of course, such an unacknowledged gift is naturally going to hurt more and cause more outrage if you cannot/can barely afford it than if you are Bill Gates. But the fact is, that is a choice you made (and I would suggest not an especially sensible one although that is not my business of course).The somewhat Dickensian consequences of this gift are in no way the fault of your 9 year old niece! :) She would be just as obliged to send a thank you note to a relative who’s outrageously rich, surely?

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Raymee July 17, 2012 at 7:22 am

How is a child supposed to know to write a thank-you note if they have never been taught? And if it is not common practice in her family, then her siblings would think she was odd to randomly start.
I was not taught that it is a priority. And if a thank-you card was ever sent in my family, it was sent 6 months later.
It was only when I was 20 and starting looking at etiquette blogs (and found this one) that I realised how incredibly rude I must have seemed to my very generous relatives. I was NEVER told to write one, and as a child would not have had money even for a stamp.
I would suggest finding a way of letting her know that you really appreciate thank-you notes, rather than punishing her without explanation IMHO.

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Bint July 17, 2012 at 7:28 am

$30 to a nine year old when you can’t afford it is way too lavish, and regardless of family custom (ie bad manners) in not thanking, who doesn’t tell someone that the money arrived? And saying, “No does that in their family”…really? That’s just fine then, is it? They’re rude and ungrateful and the OP should just get over it? It seems way better to me to have the OP and her partner show that they do expect thanks, and teach the girl the manners that will do her far more good in the wider world as she grows up. Not thanking people will do her no favours. Better she’s given a better example if her parents won’t provide one.

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sv July 17, 2012 at 8:00 am

Blame the parents, not the child – that type of etiquette needs to be taught. It may seems like second nature to those of us who live our lives with “manners” but for a large part of the population it just isn’t even thought about. A child would have no idea it was expected if the adults in her life did not set an example.
My children write thank you notes to friends for birthday gifts and for immediate family, either call or say an in-person thank you that is genuinely meant and sincere. It is interesting to point out that in 11 years, with 3 children, my kids have never received a single thank you note for a gift that has been given. Not one.
OP, if you cannot afford a gift I wold simply start a tradition of no gifts at all. A beautiful handmade card with the promise of time spent together at a later date will teach the children more about gift giving than $30 ever could. I understand why your partner wanted to give his neice the same thing he gave his nephew, but now it is a new year and you are starting with a fresh slate :)

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Jay July 17, 2012 at 8:15 am

My kids at age 4 were signing their names to thank you cards I wrote, and by age 6 were writing their own. How is 9 too young for anything?

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Cami July 17, 2012 at 8:19 am

I think one issue here is that the OP is the one who is working and therefore paid for this gift. She also starved for it for two days. If she doens’t want to do that again in light of the fact that not only was there no thank you, there was not even an acknowledgement of its receipt, then she doesn’t have to. If her partner wants to give money so badly to a brat, then he can get a part-time job t and/or choose to starve himself for four days to pay for it. In other words, if it’s so important to him, then he should be the one to make sacrifices to do so. I wonder if he were the one working or starving, if he’d be so stubborn on the issue.

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twik July 17, 2012 at 8:41 am

I am much less concerned about the thank you than the fact that the LW’s partner demanded she starve herself so he could send an “appropriate” gift to a member of his family, using money *she* had earned. This is simply not acceptable in a relationship.

I suspect that if the relationship continues, so will this pattern – “but honey, we HAVE to empty our bank account. Cousin Betty is getting married, and my family will have a fit if I don’t give her something that matches what the other cousins are doing. You’ll just have to go to your boss and ask for extra hours. Or, wait, I’ve got an even better idea! You can get a second job! What do you mean, it’ll be your third job? Oh, right, I forgot, you had to get a second one last year, to pay for the money we spent buying Mom and Dad an anniverary cruise….”

It sounds to me like his family has a pattern of being takers. And that applies to him as well. If he wants to play Mr. Bountiful to his nieces and nephews, let him eat the boiled rice for a week, and the LW should eat normally.

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gramma dishes July 17, 2012 at 8:55 am

Just guessing ~~ I suspect that neither your partner’s niece nor the nephew send birthday gifts to you. I’m also guessing that they don’t send them to your partner and they’re HIS niece and nephew, not yours.

–Lia commented: “You’re earning the money. He’s spending it.” That’s a very good point. If he wants to give money away, it should be money that he has earned himself.

As so many others have pointed out this is less a failure on the part of the child than of the parents. Children don’t instinctively know these things. Someone has to teach them.

But clearly right now you can’t afford this generosity! I wouldn’t try to ‘fix’ what happened this year. It’s done. But next year I’d insist that you and your partner send a card and that’s it. (Or celebrate their birthdays by providing a ‘special day’ for each of the children as others have suggested.)

If either the children or the parents have the nerve to confront him/you, your partner should just be honest. He can just remind them that you sent gifts last year and they did not seem to be appreciated (or even acknowledged) and that you simply can’t afford to be so generous right now as you’re both on a very tight budget.

He might also mention that ‘tradition’ concerning the acknowledgement of and thanks for gifts might be quite different in other families. They should be clued in that what is accepted as okay in their own family might very well not be in another.

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Andie July 17, 2012 at 8:56 am

I agree with Lia and Raymee. I was also never taught to write thank you notes by my parents (I’m sure that if I brought it up today, I’d receive a puzzled stare from both parents.) It wasn’t until I was in my twenties and out of the house that I learned that people really do send notes and it wasn’t just an interesting writing exercise that I had to do in school.

Next year don’t send money. Even a ten-year-old can grasp that Uncle’s budget is tight and anyway, you can’t go through life expecting presents. And as for the thank you notes, if you see the kid on a regular basis you can tell them that most people expect to be thanked for gifts. You don’t have to be mean about it, just FYI.

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Jones July 17, 2012 at 9:01 am

My family doesn’t do thank you notes for cards. Next time we see the family member in person we might say “Oh, thanks for the birthday wishes, you bought me lunch” or some such. I wouldn’t have known where to get a stamp when I was young, and certainly could not have driven myself to the post office for it. I never thought of any of my extended family as rude until I came here and found out others send thank yous for money/cards. I took an informal poll in my office and got a bunch of funny looks; “A thank you card for a card? Seriously?” Nope, none of them do it or expect it either.

If that’s how the 9-year-old’s family is, where was she supposed to learn about thank you notes anyway? I was raised thinking they were only for very formal events. Even then, I’ve only gotten two wedding thank you notes, one shower thank you, and one graduation thank you in the last two years; considering all the events I’ve gifted/attended, I daresay most of my friends were raised the same as this 9 year old and me. They use and appreciate the gifts, I’ve seen pictures and in person the items used; but a note amongst friends seems so formal. I’ve taken to using email thanks, as it’s not as formal as a card (besides, I don’t have all my family’s physical addresses, and their emails never change).

Just laying it out there so you can see where the child/partner’s family is coming from. It seems to be getting more and more common these days, to speak a thank you at some later date rather than write a card…for a card.

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SJ July 17, 2012 at 9:01 am

Yes, yes, yes, she should say thank you. However, the gift was a lot bigger in your eyes since it was your last money meant you had a huge sacrifice. Don’t go hungry for gifts. Gifts aren’t obligations like bills and food.

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Hemi July 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

I have to agree with some of the other commenters- $30 does seem a bit much for a 9 yr old.

As for the thank you note- did the nephew send a note or call to say thank you? I think at the *least* a call would be in order. Your partner said his family does not send thank you notes. Maybe you could set an example with TY notes for any presents, cards, etc. they send you?

I also agree that I would not go hungry to send an equal montery amount to siblings. Things are not always equal. While it is sometimes hard for children to accept, it is an important lesson to learn.

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ALM July 17, 2012 at 9:29 am

Honestly, the OP and her significant other need to get over their martyr complex. Giving up food for a nine year old’s birthday? Are you out of your minds or just desperate for validation?

Send a card. Send a token gift from the dollar store. Or call her on the phone and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. Nine year olds are not difficult to please and if she’s is going to throw a tantrum, that’s her parent’s problem, not yours.

And seriously, rework your budget. You can skip a nine year olds birthday money but unexpected expenses are not going to be solved by an unecessary ‘rice diet’.

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Jenny July 17, 2012 at 9:30 am

I do think it’s a bit nuts to expect the one making the money to starve so her partner can fulfill the “expectations” of his niece. His niece needs to learn that when people aren’t well off, they can’t give you things. It would be utterly ridiculous to expect someone to continue the same level of generosity anyway, but especially when financial situations have changed.

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Pam July 17, 2012 at 9:31 am

I think the saddest thing is that you felt obligated to send a gift when you had no food.

I heard once that the way to teach gratitude is by having (giving) less, not more. The example was a father who would take whatever treat he’d gotten at work and bring it home. Then he’d cut it into tiny pieces and share it with his family. They were all really thankful for that bite of cake – amazing but true!

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winterpast July 17, 2012 at 9:48 am

Sometimes we do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of the other person’s reaction.

So I’m the one that goes against the tide here. If you have true affection for someone, and want the best for them, and genuinely want to send a gift–you do it–regardless of the thanks you get or not. To NOT give a grandchild a gift or withhold something from a member of your family just because you don’t get a thank you gift is harsh and makes for bitter relationships which are hard enough to deal with today when REAL issues come up.

Ok, that said, $30 to a kid, especially when you live paycheck to paycheck is ridiculous. Especially when it’s a niece or nephew, and not a son/daughter/grandchild.

If you feel it’s necessary, I’d tell the mom/dad what’s up with your financial situation so they are in the loop on things, and then just send a card with coupons, or something homemade–or even just a phone call. I received a card once saying that the sender had no money, but I loved the letter she sent and kept that and cherished long after the actual material gifts had passed from my memory.

I’m with Raymee–don’t expect a lot from the 9 year old herself–it’s her parents that are at fault. If you want the parents to change, you’ll have to change THEM, and if you don’t want to, then don’t expect the child to fall in line too.

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woohoo July 17, 2012 at 9:52 am

I’m with Raymee here!

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Janice July 17, 2012 at 9:53 am

I have to agree with the PPs who wrote that kids who are not taught to write thank you cards shouldn’t be labeled “ungrateful” since they do not have any clue they are failing at showing their gratitude to the giver. The 9 year old could very well have said “cool”, “that’s awesome” or “wow, thanks!” to her parent who gave her the card and not know any better.

I personally have quit sending any gifts to my hubby’s side of the family because they do not acknowledge receipt of the gift in any way. Even if you are in the same room, you are unlikely to receive so much as a cursory “thank you” before they dive in to the next gift. At one point, one niece commented that we hadn’t sent any gifts for her kids and was upset when I told her we quit sending to kids who do not express thanks for gifts. She was quite upset since she said she had thanked for the gifts but that was only after I sent an email asking if the gifts had arrived.

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nomnom July 17, 2012 at 10:07 am

Hi OP, I think you have a partner problem, more than a little girl problem. Who has their priorities so skewed up that they would take food from their and their partners mouth and spend it on frivolous things to keep up appearances? Not to mention that he is not the earning partner, but you are.

I hope you have a long, frank chat with him on spending and future handling of this like this. I would give you the clarity to move forward either with your relationship or without it.

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Kovitlac July 17, 2012 at 10:49 am

$30 for a 9 year old? Lucky kid. My grandma likes to give me birthday money depending on how old I am (this is very generous of her and I am not complaining. I like the idea). This year I received $24 from her. I guess it’s just that, to me, $30 sounds like a lot to give a 9 year old, especially when there’s really no affection in the gesture. I understand that you are truly generous people, but I agree with the admin – cut back on the amount of money. It’s not worth going hungry over.

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Green123 July 17, 2012 at 10:56 am

I wouldn’t go without food for my Mom’s birthday, let alone some faux-entitiled young cousin of my partner. The OP should develop a polite spine in this area of her relationship, and maybe start some new family traditions like ‘people who don’t send us thank you notes don’t get a gift next time.’

Oh, and OP, consider a separate bank account. The days when couples (married or otherwise) shared everything are long gone…

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Angeldrac July 17, 2012 at 10:57 am

This child is being referred to by all sorts of nasty names (brat etc) – can I just point out that she’s only NINE YEARS OLD, and is hardly going to sit down and write a thank you note on her own unless it is her PARENTS that encourage her to do so. As for the “she’ll trow a tantrum is we don’t send her $30 as well” – again, more to do with the parenting (and possibly an unfair assumption on the partner’s part?).

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Abby July 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

My cousin is one of the sweetest kids I have ever met. She is 17, bubbly, happy and extremely eager to please. She has also, never in her 17 years, sent a thank you card. If you give something to her in person she will profusely thank you and tell you how much she loves it (even if it’s something totally minor) but does not send thank you cards. She is not ungrateful, or rude, it’s just that sending a thank you card is something she has never heard of. Her parents never taught that to her. If she happens to need to call you regarding something else she will mention it on the phone, but otherwise, it’s a foreign concept to her. I don’t hold that against her, and I’m sure as she gets older and learns more, she’ll be mortified that this concept escaped her and she will start sending them.

While I don’t agree that boyfriend should have insisted his girlfriend go without food for two days to buy a gift, I do sort of see his concern. I am guessing he sent $30 earlier in the year when money was not as tight, and honestly worried it would hurt his niece’s feelings to receive less than her brother. In this case, it might have been best to send a card with no money but with a note they’d like to take her out to eat or shopping at some later date (when hopefully they were a little more flush). If Niece wanted to throw a fit about not getting cash on the spot, well, that tells you everything you need to know.

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whatever July 17, 2012 at 11:43 am

My mom comes from a culture where there is a very elaborate etiquette around giving gifts and showing gratitude for them, but thank-you cards aren’t even a concept. You really can’t argue that their culture is ruder than American culture when it comes to gift, just different.

My mom treats the American custom of writing thank-you cards like she treats most arbitrary cultural conventions in outside of her native culture: with puzzlement and resignation. She’ll write them herself when she knows that’s expected by the culture of the giver, but she always feels slightly rude and out of place when doing so, and she never asked me to do them. When I was young, I’m sure a lot of people went unthanked. I’m glad that none of those people complained to me about that, because when I was a child I would just have been distressed and confused.

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Lolina July 17, 2012 at 11:50 am

Let me get this straight….YOU relocated so your partner could attend “the college he wants”….YOU are the only one working to support the both of you…YOU are sending the money YOU earn to appease HIS spoiled neice. Am I the only one that thinks this is one-sided (on your partners side)?
This is sounding more and more like the spouse that stands beside their partner while they go to med school, law school, or whatever and then when they land their dream job, the supporting spouse is out in the cold…..and you don’t even have the protection of being married to at least get some support out of it.
This is JMO, but I would seriously rethink this situation

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nk July 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm

In my opinion, a nine-year-old does not need $30 as a present, especially if the people sending it can’t really afford it. Since the OP is the one making the money, it seems that she should have more of a say regarding what it goes to instead of her partner dictating that they go hungry for a few days so he can lavish gifts on his family with money that isn’t even his.

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whatever July 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm

A question- when are children in your culture expected to write and sign thank you notes on their own? How do you balance the fact that small children have very ugly handwriting? Even at age 10 or so, it would have taken my mom and I an hour or two to have me write a thank-you-length note, since I would have to practice writing it again and again until the letters were small, smooth, and even. (Also, I am left-handed, so smudging is a big danger with the shiny paper used in cards, and then you have to start the note over again.)

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Spuck July 17, 2012 at 12:16 pm

The OP’s anger at her niece is displaced. If anything the OP should be mad at the her partner for insisting on sending the money, and maybe a little mad at the sister who possibly guilted her brother into sending the money int he first place. I would take this as a lesson learned situation. Next time she just has to stand her ground with her boyfriend and not send money or just a card. If the sister or other relatives call and complain about any children throwing a temper tantrum all you have to respond is with silence or “I’m sorry your child is having/had a temper tantrum.”

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Cat Whisperer July 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. (Subtitle: how to use a gift to beat someone into submission; or, how the giver gives himself/herself the gift of sainthood complete with martyrdom.)

I have relatives who are experts at giving the gift of guilt. You accept anything from them at your own peril, because accompanying whatever the gift is, you get The Guilt. A lifetime of “see what I have done for you…”

These relatives never give you a simple gift. If you open a card and find $20, for the rest of eternity that’s The Twenty Dollars They Starved Themselves For Three Days To Send You. And the resentment they feel, and direct at you, builds and grows with compound interest. Until The Gift assumes gigantic, enormous proportions representative of The Sacrifice the giver made in giving it to you.

What’s really clever about this is the use of The Gift by the giver to make the recipient, and everyone else within hearing range, to feel guilty about the giver’s circumstances. Without The Gift, we might not be aware of what the giver’s circumstances are, and might not properly appreciate the nobility of the giver in making the sacrifices that allowed them to give The Gift. And so what started out as a gift becomes an invitation to the giver’s pity party, which is a really clever repurposing of a gift, when you stop and think about it.

OP, I don’t know about your niece and nephew or their parents, but I would rather not be given a gift at all than be given a gift that has two days’ worth of eating nothing but rice attached to it. “See how I have suffered and sacrificed to be able to give you this gift…” has a way of sucking the joy out of whatever you’re giving. And isn’t joy supposed to be the point of a gift?

You and your husband have made a decision to endure straitened circumstances to get an education that will, hopefully, pay big-time dividends later on. That’s a commendable decision to make. But it’s YOUR decision, and the bottom line on these kinds of decisions is that nobody else ever wants to have their nose rubbed in your nobility and self-sacrifice. That’s an absolute truth: the only thing that drawing attention to your sacrifice does is it makes people uncomfortable. (And if they have forethought, it makes them brace themselves for the sequel: when you reap the rewards of your sacrifice, are you going to rub their noses in that, too?)

The bottom line about gifts is that they’re supposed to be given with joy to bring joy. And all of etiquette is very clear that giving a gift is never, ever, an obligation– much less that giving a gift with a specific dollar value is ever an obligation. If you bought into that fiction, don’t blame etiquette for that.

If your relatives are reasonable people, they would rather you not give a gift than have you suffer privation in order to give something. Reasonable people don’t enjoy knowing that someone had to suffer to give them a gift. (And reasonable people who give gifts know that.) And if your relatives are not reasonable people, then why on earth are you letting their expectations put you in a bind?

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Kirsten July 17, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I can understand why people think the family were rude not to teach their children to say thank-you for gifts, but I’m perturbed by the criticisms of the OP’s relationship with her partner. Why are people assuming he forced her to move and forces her to work and forces her to spend money on things for his family? It’s more likely that they decided TOGETHER to move so that he could go to the college he wanted to go to, and that they decided TOGETHER that she would support them financially while he studies, and that they treat the money she earns as household income rather than her money, and when he finishes college, he will be earning too and that money will also be household income. For all we know, he’s already worked to support her through college. Criticise the family’s lack of thank yous by all means, but there are no grounds to criticise the OP’s relationship.

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gramma dishes July 17, 2012 at 12:34 pm

whatever ~~ When I taught second grade (so seven and eight year olds) almost all of them had very legible and some even very pretty and personally stylized handwriting that was very easy to read.

Their spelling wasn’t always perfect — and was even sometimes downright humorous — but when children write thank you notes they aren’t expected to be flawless and smudge free. In fact, it is their imperfections that give them their charm.

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Chris July 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm

My opinions:
1) The gift recipient is 9 years old. At that age it isn’t necessarily unexpected of her to be upset that her brother received more than she did, assuming she even remembers what he was gifted with. Children are still learning about how the world works. They will see their sibling getting more as an indication that they are better, more worthy, and loved more. This, of course, isn’t true but at that age it feels very much real to them. IF she actually does throw the threatened tantrum, the failure here is on behalf of her parents. Not the OP, not the OP’s partner. They need to educate her to be grateful for what she has received and to understand that brother getting more doesn’t mean she is loved less.

2) Under no circumstance should you forgo groceries in favor of gifting to someone. I haven’t sent birthday or holiday gifts to my sisters, parents, or nieces in several years. My low wage doesn’t allow for it. However, I do place a phone call to each of them on their birthday, to show I still care.

3) In the event that the amount can be afforded, as it could NOT here, I don’t see the $30 gift as being excessive. Generous, yes. Children’s toys and clothing are increasing in price making it so that $30 isn’t a stretch if you’d like them to be able to purchase something of quality.

4) I think the general opinion on the non-working partner is unnecessarily critical. We don’t know all the details about him or the situation in which the OP and he live. We don’t know if the partner sacrificed in Melbourne for the OP’s benefit. Assumptions need to stop.

5) This will probably be wildly unpopular but: I’m a 26 year old male. I was not raised to right out thank you notes for gifts I received. I was, however, taught to be grateful for them. Growing up this way, as an adult now I value a verbal thank you more than a written one. I would much, much rather you call me and tell me how much you appreciate a gift I sent you. But, despite all this, I NEVER expect to receive a thank you in any form. I gave the gift not because it was demanded by social convention, or some other obligation, but because I wanted to give something to that person. A gift is exactly that: a gift. Expecting, and being indignant upon not receiving, a thank you changes it from giving a gift, to engaging in an exchange of goods and services. You are expecting to be “paid” in the form of that thank you. And that is as rude of you as you are assuming the “ungrateful” party is being.

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June July 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm

@whatever–I am also left-handed. If the child is writing a card and it’s smudged, it’s endearing. If an adult is writing a card and it’s smudged, they forgot to hold their hand off the paper! Point being, lefties learn tricks to deal with awkwardness in this right-handed world.

Since the $30 is done: I lean toward calling the 9-year-old to make sure she received the gift. You could ask what she plans to do with it, and maybe mention that you’d like to hear about it in a letter. You could tell her it really makes you feel happy when you receive a card in the mail thanking you for the present.

My fiance’s family doesn’t even send birthday cards. They’re very electronically motivated. So, we tend to send our thanks via email. Different methods for different families, I suppose.

But, if you’re still hoping to convert him, remind him that it’s good form to send thank you letters to potential employers after job interviews. You know, so he can get a job after college.

About the rice: I have lived paycheck to paycheck. I understand how stressful it can be. However, I was just in the grocery store and purchased a can of green beans for 65 cents. If you were down to just plain white rice (no margarine?!) because of this gift, you really need to re-evaluate your budget. Maybe it was a last minute decision, maybe you could have given her a belated gift.

I definitely agree with the idea of having a special day with the kiddos instead of sending them money. much more memorable.

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Angel July 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Hey here’s a tip OP. If you literally have to go WITHOUT FOOD so you can send someone in his family a birthday gift (someone who you don’t even seem to like, at least that’s how it appears in your post), STOP SENDING GIFTS! It’s as simple as that! It doesn’t matter if they are kids or not. My standard small gift for kids is a $5 or $10 gift card for ice cream. It almost always gets used. Quite a few posters have mentioned, give her a break, she’s only 9. Oh really???? A 9 year old who has a hissy fit when she doesn’t get a monetary gift? If she understands that money buys things, she is quite old enough at least to pick up the phone and thank her relatives. I can understand maybe not getting the kid to sit down to write a thank you note and mail it, but in this day and age, with cell phones, email, texting (and you cannot tell me a 9 year old cannot use a phone or email–my 6 year old can use the phone for pity’s sake) there is no excuse not to make contact. None whatsoever.

If the parents have not taught her proper manners, that’s not your problem, OP. Stop sending her stuff if you have a need to be thanked. you will not get it from her.

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Miss Raven July 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Obviously a good bit of blame here rests on the parents of the niece, and OP’s partner’s family in general. No one sends thank you’s? Good God, whyever not??

I agree that the niece, at her age, gets a bit of a pass in terms of blame. The blame rests on the parents for not teaching her manners or taking initiative.

However, a healthy dose of blame rests on OP’s partner as well. OP’s partner is the one who INSISTED on spending their last $30 because his niece and nephew are gimme pigs, knowing that likely the gift wouldn’t be acknowledged. If that’s what he wants to do, fine. But I would suggest that he find his own way to finance it, rather than insisting the burden upon his partner, who is financially supporting both of them quite generously.

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Gloria Shiner July 17, 2012 at 4:18 pm

I’m happy to receive a Face Book thank you from my nephews (all early 20′s). They will also thank me in person if they see me. My SIL’s family does not do thank you notes, but they all make a point of saying thank you in person for any gifts they receive.

On the other hand, none of my older nieces (early 30′s) ever, EVER write a thank you note, say thank you via Face Book or email (or text). After having a wedding shower present, wedding present, baby shower present and baby present unacknowledged (not to mention several year’s worth of Christmas presents), the older nieces are receiving no more gifts of any kind from my husband or me.

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Spuck July 17, 2012 at 5:01 pm

In response to Cat Whisper. It was not the OP who started the guilt train. It was the sister (or another relative) who nagged the brother who then nagged the original poster who relented into giving the gift to the niece. The fact is she has the right to be mad about this situation. Is there anything she can say to the partner and the partner’s sister? No would have been best the first time around, but now that time has passed. What should happen is that her partner does need a discussion about getting his priorities straight. And if a similar situation happen again. Normally I don’t go for JADE, but if the original guiltier is going to nag I am all for saying something along the lines of “Would you rather we starve?”

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Quen Medic July 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm

In my family, we don’t tend to writ thank you letters, as we are usually given gifts face-to-face, so we can thank them there and then. So I can understand why your partner’s family not doing such – It’s not too uncommon.

However, a nine year old child crying over the amount of money she gets is deplorable. 1. Children don’t understand (usually) the value of money, and she should be told this is a bit much. 2. She seems very entitled to think she can tell people how much to spend on her, even if she wants to match her other sibling, as children have silly rivalries. 3. You put yourself out of a meal. She is 9. She doesn’t need that money. She’s likely to spend it on toys or sweets, where you and your partner need to spend it on bills and food.

She needs to be told people can run out of money, and can not afford to cater to her. It needs to be dealt with early, or she might grow into a spoiled brat who blames her parents for not getting her the most expensive phone on the market.

As others have said, this likely can be put to the parents for blame, but nothing about them was mentioned, so I will not bring them up.

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