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The Christmas Gift of Travel

I am submitting this story to E-hell as it’s one that I think will solicit an interesting mix of responses! Just before Christmas, my husband received the following note in his Christmas card from his Grandma. Now, Grandma is in her 80s, and has (as the letter says) 13 grandchildren, who range from older teens at University to married-with-kids in their late 30s. Grandma lives in the far south of the UK and her grandchildren and their families live in various parts of the UK from very nearby (in the same village) to a few hundred miles away. My husband and I fall into the latter category, but we still see his family a few times per year as time allows – usually at birthdays, Christmas, wedding and christenings, as well as the occasional family Sunday lunch etc. I know some of the grandchildren see her much more often, and some, who are away at University etc., see her less frequently.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the letter and its contents, and my husband and my siblings-in-law and cousins-in-law have somewhat varying views about it from, “ahh, how kind and generous”,  to, “OMG! Gifts with Conditions are not Gifts at all!” I fall into a third category, of wondering why Grandma feels she has to ‘bribe’ her family into spending time with her (and, if I’m honest, worrying what kinds of unsuitable and overly-tiring activities some of the family will have Grandma doing, despite her being reasonably energetic for her age!)

So I thought it would be really interesting to see what some of the Ehellions thought of this one!

“Grandma’s Christmas Present for You!

This year, I wanted to do something really special with each of my 13 grandchildren (including partners and great-grandchildren if any yet) so here’s an idea that I hope we will all enjoy:

I have set aside £500 for each grandchild. But there’s a condition. To receive this I would like to spend some quality time with you! Quality time will be at least two days (and perhaps a night somewhere of your choice) for us to enjoy being together, sometime during the next year. Where we go or what we do (provided you don’t rush me about too much) will be organised by you but at my expense (up to the value of £500). Be as innovative as you like, but it must be a special time for us to share, creating happy memories and some photographs too.

Shall we go to a spa for the weekend to enjoy leisure facilities? What about a trip to the theatre or to have a mini holiday together? Even having a makeover and a photo shoot could be fun. Would you like to cook for me and invite me to stay with you in your own home for the weekend? How about escorting me to a special event somewhere? Relaxing in one another’s company with time to chat will be equally enjoyable. ‘Aunty Jane’ has lots of ideas if you want to discuss options with her.

The date will be of your choosing (subject to my availability) anytime between now and Christmas 2013. The quicker you are with your preferred date, the best choice you will have. It would be good to spread these quality time experiences throughout the year, if possible.

You don’t have to let me know in advance what you are proposing to arrange for us, although I will assume I don’t need any special equipment. Please don’t expect me to do kite-surfing, rock-climbing or bungee-jumping, but I’ll be quite happy watching you if that what you’d like to do during our time together.

If we don’t manage to spend all of the £500 during our weekend, I will let you have the difference in cash soon after. Also if you need cash upfront to make bookings etc. please liaise with ‘Aunty Jane’ so the experience you are planning will stay a secret from me until the day.

Look forward to hearing from you soon!”  1220-12

The small problem I see with this letter is that Grandma phrased it as a monetary gift with “conditions”.   What she is really giving is a shared experience, chosen at the discretion of the recipient, in which she pays all expenses up to £500.

She may be bribing her grandkids to spend time with her but all of us have mixed motives even in the most seemingly altruistic of actions.   I wouldn’t overly analyze her letter, the offer or her motives and simply take it at face value.    If you are feeling bribed, you can decline to accept the gift.

Grandma is also being as fair as she can by not singling out specific grandkids as being more  distant or closer than others and making a well thought out effort to keep the financial aspect of it very fair to everyone.  You could rejoice that this is a relatively drama-free offer.   Worrying about excursions that could tire Grandma are counterproductive since I assume Grandma knows her limits and Aunt Jane is there to provide better suggestions should one be deemed too wild and crazy for her mother.

My deceased father simply sent a check every Christmas whereas your husband’s grandmother is making an effort to get involved in her grandkids’ interests and lives and enjoy some new adventure with them.   If I were you, I’d think of some creative weekend trip that you all would enjoy…maybe to a special festival, or an unusual museum or aquarium, eat dinner at a nice pub and enjoy a night at a bed and breakfast inn.   And then send Grandma a thank you for the lovely gift of time.

{ 101 comments… add one }
  • Din January 3, 2013, 1:36 pm

    I think I’m in the third category as well. It’s the phrasing that feels off – it’s just so specific. 500 pounds, two days, etc etc. It’s just…kind of weird. Rather than just saying she’s set aside money so that each of her grandchildren can come visit her for a weekend or what have you, and she’d really like to see everyone by such and such a time. It’s in the phrasing. It feels somewhat forced or coercive, and I’d wonder what’s going on in the family that the grandmother sent out such a letter.

  • Goldie January 3, 2013, 1:50 pm

    I kind of like the idea, but two whole days of intense 1:1 interaction is a LOT! Grandma and the gift’s recipient will wear each other out before Day 1 is over.

  • LonelyHound January 3, 2013, 2:17 pm

    I do like this idea in that she is still gifting the grandchildren with the remaining money saved, no one grandchild is singled out or left out and no one is getting more than the others. Since the expenses are on her that allows her college age grandbabies to also plan something they might want to share with her without costing them too much out of pocket. As to the people thinking the time limit is weird, I can see it. She wants to be sure they have time together. This would prevent them from coming down, walking her to a hot dog vendor and then back to her house just to get the money. Also, if I wanted to do something with my Gramma in my city I would not want her to travel twice in one day. That is exhausting so the 2 day limit allows her to rest and it is only one night!

    This might be a lonely person trying to seek company of her family, but as OP says she has family in the same village that she could easily see with or without an invitation. I think this might be a way for her to keep in touch and current with all of the grandkids, and a very big signal to them that she enjoys being part of their lives. Instead of complaining no one is seeing her she is taking a proactive approach. I like it!

  • Katia January 3, 2013, 2:24 pm

    Honestly, I think it sounds like a woman (or any person really) who has just came to the realization that their life may be ending soon, and that they would love to spend time with family and to experience new things. This is probably the best incentive she could think of. I know lots of people who just say “sorry, we’re busy grandma, maybe next time” whenever they’d get invited somewhere. She’s taking charge of her life, even at this late stage, and wants to experience precious times with her large family. If you don’t want to accept the $500, then don’t. Or you could always tell the grandma to spend it on a spa day with her friends or something.

  • abf January 3, 2013, 2:38 pm

    Interesting. Would like to know a little more background on this family. What is it like to be around Grandma? Is she enjoyable? If so, then I say embrace it and make the most of it. Make it memorable for her and you both. I would even venture to say take lots of photos and make a scapbook or one of those photo books you can do now. Then give her the scrapebook/photobook as a gift for the next gift giving event (birthday, mother’s day, Christmas.)
    If it works out it wasn’t an enjoyable venture, then next time you can decline.

  • Natalie January 3, 2013, 2:57 pm

    The phrasing and the offer to give each grandchild the difference in cash is a little odd, but the idea makes a lot of sense to me. Travel costs time and money and younger adults and adults with young children are less likely to have much of either to spare. If Grandma is flush and follows the “can’t take it with you” philosophy, why not pay for an event/excursion/visit to/trip with each grandchild?

  • Tracy January 3, 2013, 3:34 pm

    This would be lovely if Grandma is a good person who’s fun to travel with, but what if she’s not? What if she’s a nightmare? If you decide not to share an experience with Grandma, it looks like you don’t get a gift at all. Therefore I’m calling this a gift with strings attached. They could be lovely strings, but they are strings all the same.

  • sv January 3, 2013, 4:48 pm

    @Carol – perfectly said. It’s kind of hard to state that you want to spend time with your grandchildren and you don’t want money to be an obstacle. I think she phrased it as best as she probably could. It is a wonderful thought and gesture ( and an expensive one….13 grandchildren? ) and I would simply accept it in the manner that it was meant.

  • Kate January 3, 2013, 4:49 pm

    I think it’s a nice idea, poorly phrased. If a grandchild didn’t want to spend time with Grandma for whatever reason, they could always decline – it’s not like they were expecting the money in the first place.
    It would depend on the grandchildren’s relationship with Grandma how they view this offer and whether they choose to accept. One of my grandmothers is the sort of person I would make time to see regardless of the situation, and I certainly don’t need money to visit her. The other grandmother is such a nasty person that I would probably need a cash bribe to volunteer to spend time with her.

  • Library Diva January 3, 2013, 4:57 pm

    Reading through these comments, I”m reminded of a great novel by Stewart O’Nan titled “Emily, Alone.” It’s a sequel to one he wrote several years earlier and is written from the perspective of a widow in her 80s, who is a well-off, upper-middle-class woman. It’s just a slice of life, various things happen to her throughout the novel similar to the sorts of things that might happen to anyone in any given 6-month time frame.

    But one part that stood out to me was that one of her few great regrets was that she wouldn’t get to know who her grandchildren really were. She had three or four, all university-aged, and in the novel, she poignantly recalled being that age and writing to an elderly aunt, with a faint bit of distance and embarrassment, as if the aunt would actually show up at her sorority house. But now, she wished she could do that for her grandchildren. She wanted to meet their boyfriends and girlfriends, wasn’t even put off by the fact that one of her grandchildren was lesbian, just wanted to meet her girlfriend and see the student apartment they shared for herself.

    I thought of that in the way this letter was phrased. This is a way for her to have what the Emily character wanted. Through the time spent together and the activity chosen, OP’s grandma-in-law will find out who her grandchildren really are. I hope she doesn’t find out that any of them are people who are more interested in money than anything else, even family time.

  • Spuck January 3, 2013, 5:49 pm

    I like the gesture, but my inner pessimist just keeps telling me something could go wrong. I would appreciate this done a little more privately and on a one for one basis, for no other reason than I wouldn’t want to be the one labeled the bad seed because I could’t visit grandma that year. There are thirteen grandchildren across various ages and geographies, the possibility isn’t remote.

  • Another Alice January 3, 2013, 6:40 pm

    I actually agree with others who say that the oddness of it is in the specificity – in that it’s too vague in some respects, leaving too much planning on the part of the recipient, and much TOO specific in terms of the extensive mentioning of cost. First off, I’m not sure how a man or woman with young children would be able to take an entire weekend out to spend time with their grandmother. In addition, the OP mentioned the distances some people have to travel to visit; if they’re trying to make it to family gatherings as much as possible, it would be another trip to plan – with a lot of difficulty in some cases. All in all, I’d just say the intention is nice, but I’m not surprised there are members of the family either put off by it or at least confused.

    The fact that it is all up to the recipient to plan is what bothers me. I wouldn’t trust an older teen/young 20s individual to be able to plan an appropriate weekend. I’m afraid this makes me sound ungrateful, but thinking of getting this from one of my elderly relatives and having to plan it out in addition to the dozens of holidays/birthdays/etc. that I already go home to see family for, makes me a bit anxious. 😉 I would bet that many of the OPs relatives are in a similar position; distance and our own lives are not an excuse for not spending “adequate” (which is a totally relatives term) time with our family, but it’s an extremely reasonable explanation.

    I think the idea of spending time together as a gift is good, overall. But I think a better thing to do would just be one of those coupon things that says something like, “A day with grandma of shopping, lunch, and an activity of your choice!” or whatever. Then it’s decided, done, with little planning required of the recipient except to choose a date. I know a few people whose grandparents – or even parents – take them out for a lunch and treat them to a gift while shopping for their birthday or holiday, in lieu of a standard wrapped present. That may have been what she was going for, but got a bit over excited. 😉

  • Caros January 3, 2013, 7:00 pm

    This is a gift I’ve given myself – to my godson (although without the money specified). My birthday present to him was a day out, just the two of us. I planned one or two things in advance, the rest of the day was entirely of his choosing – where we went for lunch etc. We had a lovely time & it was great to spend the day with just the two of us, no-one else taking precedence, no-one else dictating what was going to happen with our time. He was 10 at the time, we had some good conversations that we’d never been able to have together before and it’s a day I will always remember.

    There isn’t any bribery in this offer, it’s an invitation to spend some special one-to-one time, unencumbered by the presence of other relatives, and the opportunity for each relative to have some truly special time with their relative.

  • Schnickelfritz January 3, 2013, 7:46 pm

    All of you seeing anything negative in this adorable Grandma gesture, are showing your OWN colors. Your mind goes directly, to the way you think and view the world. She wants to make a freaking memory, with her grandkids. She knows her lifetime is winding down. She has the cash to spend. I am very surprised, after lurking here awhile, how negative some of you are. Always looking for some bad intensions, some kind of abuse. It was worded funny? Are you kidding me! She is an old Grandma! This type of thing, makes the funniest Grandma memories. I can see all four of my Grandparents, being thrilled to do this in the last years of their lives. This Grandma didn’t care what they did – and is very happy to just watch them do something cool. The cousins will have stories to tell for a very long time. My family (16 cousins on side / 28 the other) tell Grandma and Grandpa stories and laugh our heads off; they have been gone 30 plus years now. It is noteable, to me, that the OP is an in-law, not a Grandchild.

  • Angel January 3, 2013, 9:12 pm

    I was with her until the 500 pounds. Why talk about money. Why make it 2 days specific? What if I don’t have 2 days to spend? What if I only have an afternoon free? Personally I was very close with one of my grandmothers, the other one lived on the other side of the country and never would have done something like this. Why force closeness that isn’t there? I don’t know. Certainly her intentions are good, there is no question about it. She’s just going about it in too heavy-handed a way.

  • Schnickelfritz January 3, 2013, 10:34 pm

    Dear Merilee,

    I also want to note, boxing and labeling your lifetime treasures, is so far away from “morbid”. It is a very thoughtful thing to do. Anyone that has had to dis-semble a lifetime household, knows the work and uncertainty. My Mother, left to a walker and could not get to the attic. We spent several months, once apparent she needed to get her business in order, emptying her home. She had such a time – sitting at the dining room table, and her adult children would come in for weeks, emptying the upstairs rooms and attic. She sat at the table, labeled and explained the family treasures, (her wedding shower gifts, stuff she inheritted etc.) Because she was so physically limited, it was a real gift to her, to see things packed away long ago. She sorted photos, taken decades ago, and wrote letters and sent many to her surviving cousins and their kids. It was a very therapeutic experience for her, and she felt she was empowered to distibuting her estate, all from the dining room table. She told stories to the grandkids and gifted her treasures. By that age, death is such a reality, and really not “morbid” – as so many of their lifetime people have already gone. Hell, I am middle-aged, and already distribute and label stored items for clarity. It is all part of the acceptance and maturity of the invetible.

  • Rebecca January 4, 2013, 1:36 am

    I wouldn’t begrudge Grandma this gift with “conditions.” To me it cries, “Please spend time with me! There are so many things I would love to do still, and nobody to do them with. I want to see my grandkids!” Yet she realistically realizes that many can’t afford to do these things, or if they have the funds, they have other priorities for those funds, such as going away with college friends, spouses, etc.

    I would allow Grandma to have these experiences even if there was something else I’d rather be doing on a given weekend.

  • Melnick January 4, 2013, 5:50 am

    If I had have received this letter from my grandmother, it would have broken my heart. It would have made me realise that in the business of my life, I had forgotten to include her in the details of my life. I somewhat agree with Schnickelfritz. I read this as a grandmother who wants to be a part of her grandchildrens’ lives as she realises hers is winding down. She doesn’t want to sit in the peripherals, missing the details. Here is an opportunity for her to get to know her grandchildren and see what interests her grandchildren have. She wants to know them in THEIR world. I think she is trying to make it as easy as possible on them by letting them choose something that interests them and she’s footing the bill so they aren’t financially out of pocket. Making it a surprise for her is a way of building excitement. I’d love to do it that way. OP, my suggestion to you would be to fly her out to spend the weekend with you. Use her money to buy her ticket and if there’s money left at the end of the weekend, don’t collect on it. Tell her she is always more than welcome to fly out and visit your family, no gift arrangement necessary (if you feel that way)!

    And you know what would be a GREAT Christmas gift for the grandkids to give Grandma next Christmas? A photobook that has pics from everyone’s time with her. Make it even more special by each writing a note about what that time meant to you and the recollections of the time. Let her see the memories she created and the impact she had on you.

    This post has actually made me wake up to myself. I just asked my husband to arrange some tickets for me to take my grandmother to the theatre – just the two of us. I am guilty of leaving her in the background of my life. She is a wonderful woman and I love her dearly, but I get so caught up in the business of my life and my little family that I forget to ask her to do more than just the family functions. It doesn’t occur to me that she would like to be more involved in my life. She will be tickled pink when I take her out! In fact, she gave me my favourite gift for Christmas – a cookbook of all her recipes that she makes us.

  • Lo January 4, 2013, 8:14 am

    I’m in the minority too. I think this is kind of awful, actually.

    This is a bribe. If she wants to spend more time with her grandkids why not arrange for an outing with them with the money she has to spend. Why not take some of the kids to a spa day or go to the movies with them? Why would you mention the amount of money (tacky), and add a disclaimer that you could keep the remainder (bizarre! And also making it more like a bribe)

    She doesn’t owe the money to her kids but if she wants to spend money on them nothing is stopping her from approacing them or the families one on one saying, “I’d like to see more of you, I’d love to treat you to an acitivity of your choosing.”

    Sending a mass letter with the amount of money mentioned and the stipulation attached seems incredibly badly thought out to me. I would be really concerned about my own grandmother if she did this, thinking, oh my goodness, she must be desperately lonely. She’s taken me out on the town before, her treat, and it was a pleasure being in her company. If it had been a vague offer like this I probably would have begged off not wanting to put any expectations on her, not wanting to feel that I was being bought for love.

    Or maybe she could just come up to the grandkids and say “Hey, I’d love to see you, would you like to have an outing together, just you and I?” She must know them well enough to have some idea of their interests. Or at least be able to get together with the parents to ask for ideas. Then she could privately mention to their folks what her monetary limitation was if it needed to be said.

    The mass letter, the specified amount of money, the offer to keep the remainder (what the hell??), is just so spectacularly sad to me.

    I don’t think this poor woman is displaying bad etiquette so much as she’s displaying a bit of social tone-deafness. If this were my grandmother I’d definitely rush to spend time with her. If I did take her up on the offer I’d adamantly refuse the rest of the money. If she wants to give me a gift of cash for a birthday/holiday, that’s all well and good but there’s no way I’m going to be meticulously planning an activity with a certain amount of cash in mind concious of the fact that we’re both fully aware that I’m going to get the remainder. Awkward awkward awkward.

  • Goldie January 4, 2013, 9:45 am

    I agree with what Spuck said: “I like the gesture, but my inner pessimist just keeps telling me something could go wrong.” First of all, like I mentioned above, the strict requirement of two days can backfire, because honestly, there are only a handful of people in the world that *I* can be around, 1:1, for two days straight. With the grandkids working and going to school, or having young children, not all of them may even be able to set aside two whole days, plus the travel to their destination and back. Then there’s leaving all planning to the recipient. Older teens may not even have the capacity to plan a weekend of R&R for two people. My own older teen doesn’t yet have a car, a debit card, or a credit card. He’s in college where he doesn’t need any of those things. Which makes it pretty much impossible for him to travel, book a hotel, book any activity etc without my involvement. I can imagine that Grandma’s college-aged grandkids may be in the same situation. Lastly, the part that I missed on the first read, about Grandma giving the grandkid the remainder of the 500 pounds in cash. Oh boy can this go wrong in a lot of ways. Really hope Grandma is prepared to sit around people’s apartments and watch TV for two days in a row, because out of 13 grandchildren, I guarantee you at least a few will try to give her the cheapest vacation possible. I agree that this is a very nice idea, but the implementation could have been better. I would’ve gone with an offer of quality time with each of the grandchildren separately, for up to two days with each, grandma covers up to 500 pounds for each. Really not sure how I’d go about planning specific activities, but I would imagine some of the grandkids would need help with that – I wouldn’t say that it is entirely up to them to plan everything, end of discussion – I’d at least offer to assist in more ways than pure reimbursement. Personally, both my children (one in high school, one in college) would LOVE to spend time with either of their grandmas, or their grandpa, in this way. But if they were told it had to be two days and they’d have to plan and book everything, they’d probably send in their regrets, because that would just be way over their heads. The idea itself is great, so maybe it’s not too late for Grandma and Aunt Jane to make some corrections and send the updated “gift offer” out to the grandchildren? just a thought.

  • Elizabeth January 4, 2013, 10:08 am

    I think interpretation has to be in the context of your relationship with Grandma. Is it healthy, respectful, without drama/manipulation, etc? We really can’t comment without this context. This may be a bribe if the relationship has a pattern of manipulation and control. Alternatively, it may be a truely genuine gesture of wanting to create a shared memory. OP doesn’t speak of the dyamic of their relationship (just of the past visitation pattern).

  • Anonymous January 4, 2013, 10:52 am

    If I got a “gift” like this (which I know is well-intentioned, but probably not feasible for me, because of the time/money/logistical reasons that everyone’s already outlined), then I’d probably politely decline, but make a counter-offer of a standing weekly Skype visit.

  • Spuck January 4, 2013, 1:10 pm

    Schnickelfritz, I don’t think we have negative world views but realistic and we are basing our opinions on our personal experience. I know for myself that if either of my grandmothers sent out a letter like this I would be worried. One never had the funds to afford a gift like this, and on both sides of my family we don’t talk about money. When we received monetary gifts there aren’t any expectations, and we don’t compare and contrast the amount give or what we do with it.

  • Hanna January 4, 2013, 2:31 pm

    It’s not the best idea in the world, Grandma. Unfortunately I can see some grandkids deciding to take grandma to the park for a picnic for the purpose of getting as much physical money as they can, without having to spend it on an “experience.”

  • Hannah2 January 4, 2013, 4:06 pm

    Sorry I don’t like it. If someone told me I was to do this and that with x amount of money, thems would be fight in’ words with me. I honestly may not be able to do this but I do other things with grandma, I call her frequently, send cards often, even FaceTime/Skype too! But don’t tell me what I have to do, it makes me feel like a child and that previous offerings aren’t good enough for you . It’s how I do our relationship, and its my personality. I live too far away to do this, I work weekends, and can’t leave during the week because I’m a single mom with kids in school. Now you’ve just succeeded in making me feel even more like a failure than ever. And personally I am broke and could use the money to pay a doctors bill, so I could never be as frivolous ad you are wanting me to be right now.

  • missminute January 4, 2013, 5:47 pm

    I love this idea and find it very moving. To quibble over the wording because an elderly lady dearly wants to get to know her family and have new experiences before she passes on – even if she has to pay to do so – is a little unfair in my mind. Enjoy the weekend with your grandma. One of my biggest regrets is not spending more time with my nan in the last three months of her life. I was a self-interested teenager, and although she asked to see me several times, I had boys to chase and concerts to go to. Every time I think of those days now, I remind myself that the one thing you cannot get back is time. If nan has to bribe you for it, so be it. It’s just two days, and it’s two days you will all treasure when she is gone. My only advice is to keep the adventures on the cheap side and refuse the difference. Personally I’d take nan to get her hair done and then on to a trendy bar to see a low-key concert, I’d bet she’d be fascinated with what the kids are up to these days. But then I’m thinking of what my nan would have liked, and it’s brought a little tear to my eye. It’s a wonderful, wonderful gift she’s giving you – memories that will last forever. In my mind, to refuse would be selfish, and I’d say you’ll regret it.

  • Hilary January 4, 2013, 6:10 pm

    This also strikes me as a “strings attached” gift. While Grandma has agreed to pay for the activity, the way she presents it seems more like a gift to herself than a gift to her grandchildren. She wants them to visit her, take her to a spa, or invite her to spend the weekend with them, and she’s willing to spend the money to make it happen.

    I think the whole issue could be avoided if:
    A) The letter was sent to each grandchild individually, not to the whole group
    B) The letter said, “For your gift this year, I’d like to take you on an outing of your choosing. Let’s discuss your ideas and a time that would work for you!”
    C) No monetary value was set, and she didn’t offer to give the “leftover” cash to the gift recipient
    D) Grandma didn’t put a time limit on when the “gift” had to be used. She specifies it has to be before December 2013, and there are bound to be some family members who just can’t fit it in.

    I’m also finding myself agreeing with other commenters who wonder if Grandma is even pleasant to spend time with. Perhaps that’s why she feels the need to include cold, hard cash in request for visits from the grandchildren?

  • Treeang January 4, 2013, 9:27 pm

    I think it is a wonderful idea. I am surprised by all of the Negative Nellies running around here.

    I don’t know why people are all bent out of shape about Grandma sending a letter. With as many grand kids as there were, likely she wanted to make sure that everyone got the same information at the same time. No confusion as it is all there in black and white ( and no awkward silences by stunned grandkids or trying to make sure she included all details).

    As to mentioning the money, I can only imagine she just wanted to set some parameters. If I had gotten the letter, I would wonder how much grandma had to spend and would worry about how much to plan for that wouldn’t bankrupt Granny. Knowing in advance would help me plan. I would also guess tht letting people know that they would get the rest of the money was just a desire for everyone to know that everyone would get the same amount so no one has hard feelings.

    While I recognize that having small children makes it more complicated, I don’t think that two days is unreasonable. I have young children and Grandma comes for the weekend often. Invite her to your home and see the local sights.. Go out as a treat so you don’t have to cook(or get takeout). As for University students who cannot plan, do they not have parents who can help if they are out of appropriate ideas? Give the kids credit though…they may have things that they have been dying to do but lack funds to accomplish.

    I just see it as a grandma who wants to create memories and get to know her grandchildren. She wanted to set out the parameters so that no one would misunderstand or feel that someone got more than someone else. The great thing about this offer is that if Grandma is unpleasant, you don’t have to go. Politely decline and it is your loss. I would hope that people would have the patience and desire to indulge an old lady.

    It was the tradition in my father’s family to spend the night at Grandmas once you turned twelve. I couldn’t wait for my turn. Sadly she had a stroke before it became my turn. I regret never having that experience because when my cousins talk about theirs, I am incredibly jealous.

  • Library Diva January 5, 2013, 12:08 am

    Wow, Hannah2. You’re honestly saying that you have no time, whatsoever, in your busy life for your grandmother to so much as visit your home for a couple of days at her own expense? And not only that, but “it’s not your personality” and not how you “do” your relationship? It’s “frivolous” to want to spend time with someone you care about? What a sad, selfish outlook. Then again, that’s not surprising, considering you used the terms “I,” “me,” or “my” nearly twenty times in your short comment and managed to twist a letter which was not even addressed to you into a judgement on your own life.

    Relationships are a two-way street, even relationships that have been in place your whole life, like that of a grandparent. Anyone who is in college, as even the youngest grandchildren of the OP’s grandmother-in-law are, is well past the age where they can simply be an object of adoration. Once you get into your teens, you have to start putting some work into these relationships if you want them to continue, and the amount of work on your part will only increase as your elders continue to age and their ability to travel decreases. College students are capable of carrying out this work. They make all kinds of other relationships continue over distance, Grandma is not expecting a fully-choreographed weekend from them, and Aunty Jane is there to help with logistics. Actually, this isn’t a bad way to gain some practice in planning a weekend away.

    But in the midst of these depressing comments, I’ve put my finger on what’s troubling about this letter. It’s the money aspect of it. If your initial inclination was to invite grandmother to a picnic in the park and an afternoon at an art museum, you might look as if you’re simply trying to get as much of the 500 pounds as possible, despite that being a delightful shared experience. You might feel pressured to try to use it all up, even on something that really doesn’t make either of you very happy, just to show that you’re not trying to cheap out. Perhaps it would have been better if she’d simply phrased it as saying that she’ll pay expenses up to 500 pounds, and then surprised everyone with the balance. But even if this came out slightly clunky, I do hope her grandchildren responded well to it, and will make the coming year a memorable one for the OP’s grandmother-in-law. I’m also kind of hoping the OP returns to report on how this all went.

  • Katie January 5, 2013, 6:14 am

    This actually sounds like fun but I do agree about the money value. My time with my grandmother would not need money attached to it. It also sounds like grandma just wants to spend time with her grandchildren and their spouses and get to know them better. What is the harm in that?

  • GleanerGirl January 5, 2013, 10:32 am

    My first response is “Granny just got word that she has a terminal illness, and won’t last much longer. She’s got one good year left, and instead of leaving the inheritance for the younger generations to squabble over, she’s using it now to create memories for her grandchildren to have, of spending time with her before she dies.”

    I mean, five hundred pounds is a lot! And that’s EACH.

    Instead of making everyone feel sad and guilty, “Look, kids, you’ve got to spend some quality time with me before I die,” she is presenting it as a gift and opportunity.

    Normally, a gift with conditions is not a gift, but in this case, the gift is not the money. It’s the time, and the willingness to do whatever the grandkids want. She specified the amount of money to be spent, so that each grandchild knows that they are getting a fair share, financially, and no one is being played as a favorite. But the REAL gift is supposed to be “time with Grandma.”

    I wouldn’t complain, if I were one of the grandkids.

  • GleanerGirl January 5, 2013, 11:08 am

    You know, choosing a cheap activity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagine, you spend the whole two days and a night just chatting and telling each other your stories and really digging deep, getting to know the REAL people and REAL histories. And maybe it only cost a few pounds for transportation and some food.

    She agreed to spend the same dollar amount on everyone, and I do not think that focusing on communication for a weekend is “cheaping out” or “bilking” her of the money she would have spent, anyway. After all, is she more interested in doing a fantastically expensive adventure, or is she more interested in spending time with the family?

    And for those University students who, apparently, can write a thesis, but not plan a weekend (I bet they could plan a weekend if their same-aged friends were involved), I think the cheap but meaningful weekend would be great. University students are often strapped for cash, and could use that cash for things like groceries, rent, tuition, and the like, and still enjoy a wonderful, meaningful experience with Granny. If I were Granny, I’d be thrilled, because I’m all about the memories.

    And the reason she made it a gift of 500 pounds each is so that there would be NO complaining about “Well, her activity cost more than mine!” If she hadn’t already said she’d pay the difference, she probably would have been nagged into doing it, anyway. I imagine there is probably a grandchild out there who compares and contrasts all gifts among the cousins, and is always eager to get his “fair share,” one way or the other, and setting an exact spending limit, with notification that anyone who doesn’t spend it all on the activity will get the balance, ensures both fairness and a complete lack of complaint later, about inequality in the costs of activities.

    Why are we so quick to put blame on Gramma for “bribing” people to spend time with her, and completely ignore what we see so often on this site: grabby young people who put all the emphasis on the financial value of a gift, and “Hers was bigger than mine!” whining? Maybe Granny’s wording wasn’t the best, but I believe her solution was elegant.

    And those saying, “this isn’t a gift, at all, because it comes with conditions!” are obviously caring more about the money than about their relationship with Gramma. The gift is the experience. The money is just to keep things even and fair. IF you can’t see that, then it’s YOUR problem, not hers.

  • Spuck January 5, 2013, 1:07 pm

    Library Diva, I wouldn’t call Hannah2’s response selfish. It is just realistic. Some people don’t have the time or the monetary funds to visit their relatives, and it Hannah2’s case it is clear that she has come up with alternative ways of keeping the relationship strong. As mentioned by other posters and myself, I’m not fond of the public nature of the letter. When my grandmother’s wanted to do stuff with me they just initiated the event, not request it in a letter that may not put you on the spot but does lead you to look like a jerk if you have to decline the gift.

  • Lynne January 5, 2013, 2:19 pm

    What stuns me the most is what seems to be consensus that a university-aged student would not be capable of planning a weekend away. Seriously?? If there are young adults in your lives who have gone to college and do not have those skills, they have been genuinely hindered by their upbringing. Maybe planning something to do with Grandma is the time to learn these skills, but I think it more likely that everyone is simply underestimating rhe capabilites of those young adults. Many 18 year old’s are out travelling internationally, and independently.

  • Kris January 5, 2013, 5:57 pm

    I really don’t see a problem with this. This sounds like a grandmother who is trying to be generous not only with the money she has, but also the time she has left. I don’t see her mentioning the amount of money as a bribe so much as she is trying to take some of the burden off her relatives when it comes to the financial aspect of spending time with her and doing things. Could some relatives do as little as possible to get as much back as they could? Sure, that’s life and every family has one. Does that make her intentions any less genuine? No. Is the deadline a bit much? Possibly, but it could be shorter and there is the fact that Grandmother may be withholding information about her health from her family. BTDT and I am starting to think its a genetic trait for my mother’s side.

    And as for teens/college age kids not being able to plan an appropriate two days, I take offense to that. Yes most in that age range are selfish and self serving, but not enough credit is given that there are smart and selfless teens and young adults out there. At 14 I could have easily come up on my own with two days of activities that I like and that my grandmother would enjoy – Dinner and lunch both days, tickets to a show(probably Cirque) and a trip to the book store.

    Also saying two days may be too much for Granny implies that all older relatives are the same and can’t possibly pace themselves.

    If my grandmother were she still alive sent out a letter like this, I would only be hurt in the fact she felt she could not call the 7 of us personally as up until she was hospitalized my grandmother would call all her grandkids, kids and living siblings weekly.

    Are there strings? The loosest ones ever. It is not a noose of spend time with me or become the black sheep in my book. This does not sound like a woman who will turn unreasonable if certain relatives cannot find the time/money to spend time with her this year.

    My advice op is to follow your husband’s lead – if he’s game for this then go and have fun. If not then you two need to sit down and make a plan to visit his grandmother and spend time with her.

  • kat January 5, 2013, 7:04 pm

    never commented before on the site, but I would love to have a chance to have a weekend with my grandparents. One died before I was born, one died when I was 3, one died when I was 5, the other died in my early 20s. I’m 32 now. I wonder how many stories I will never ever get to hear.

    I personally don’t see a problem with this. Grandma doesn’t want to give out tons of money for “stuff” and “Things”. She wants to create memories. Etiquette be damned, if any of my grandparents could offer me to spend time I’d say damn your money I’ll be there tomorrow.

  • Allie January 5, 2013, 9:31 pm

    It’s a bit of an odd idea, but hardly an etiquette faux pas. I wouldn’t think of it as a gift with conditions but just her offering to foot the bill if the grandkids will come up with some fun and interesting ways to spend time with her. I’m a little worried about the “keep the change” clause as that could cause problems if some choose really cheap things to do or things they like without regard to what grandma might enjoy while others make sure there is no change left over and the majority of the money is spent on things grandma is bound to like or on mutually enjoyable activities. However, I think it’s nice she has suggested she wouldn’t mind observing while the grandchild does an activity they enjoy such as kite-surfing, rock climbing or bungee jumping. Let’s give grandma the benefit of the doubt and take this in the spirit in which I believe it was intended – an invitation to do something together with grandma willing to foot the bill, as most grandmas usually are. I have a friend whose grandma always wants to pay when we go out for lunch with her. She thinks it’s a burden for us to take her out but in truth we enjoy spending time with her. We let her pay sometimes if she insists, although not for the whole bill as we can really pack in the food and pints and she eats like a bird, so that wouldn’t be fair. But it’s her prerogative to offer to pay for a jug or two.

  • Lara January 6, 2013, 12:04 am

    I’m with Melnick on this one. This seems extremely sad to me.

    I think it’s an interesting comment on how broken down our family structures are these days and how little time we spend with our elders when we live far from them.

    I don’t think there’s any etiquette breach, and even if there is a small one in the initial phrasing of a “gift” of money (when it’s not really that) then that is overwhelmed by the sadness of an elderly lady feeling she needs to do this to get to spend more time with her grandchildren.

  • Schnickelfritz January 6, 2013, 10:52 am

    Hannah2 and Spuck, I am sorry for you. GleanerGirl – I so agree with you! I also agree that Grandma is trying to whittle down her bank account. She has probably pre-paid her funeral. That is exactly what my Grannies did. They lived within their means, didn’t drive anymore, no cable etc. They were by no means wealthy – they were savers. In their last years, they started passing out equal sums of money to the grandkids. One bought savings bonds for all. They wanted to gift the kids before they died, and also make their estates simpler to settle. Gift with strings? Really? Maybe your family has a lot of drama, but this column is about this particular Grandma, not yours. The OP did not say “the manipulating narcissistic Grandma” – after reading these selfish posts, I thought about my lifetime friends, and their Grandmas. We all still hang out, and knew each other’s Grandma’s. In high school, we actually once hooked our Grandma’s up for tea! It was hilarious, a bunch of 80something Slovak ladies (coincidentally) , and the silly 17 year old girls. I am not sure where we got that idea (maybe the Slovak thing), but we laugh about it to this day. That was 1974. Not one of my friends would ever, ever look for the negative, in anything odd their Grandma may have done. They are elderly, and elderly people get quirky. Things they say, if a bit off, are overlooked. That is the beauty of growing old! My cousin (65) jokes that she can’t wait until she can start being quirky – she is looking forward to it! (Jokingly, but it is funny – I guess you know you are there, when you start wearing PURPLE!

  • FerrisW January 6, 2013, 4:14 pm

    Gosh, I find this letter heartbreaking, and hope that all of Granny’s grandchildren take her up on the offer and plan things they know she’ll enjoy. I only have one living grandparent and will always regret not spending more time with the ones who are long gone.

    I find it very difficult to believe that anyone would have trouble finding two days out of 365 that they couldn’t spare to spend with their granny, especially since she’s willing to travel to wherever they are. I was at university in the UK a long time ago, and don’t know of a single person who couldn’t have spared the time (and if you have time to go away or out drinking with friends who you will probably barely remember the names of years down the line, you have time to appreciate your grandmother). Also I don’t know of any working people in the UK who don’t get at least 20 days holiday a year, and that doesn’t include all of the bank holidays. Surely no one is too busy or important to squeeze 48 hours (which could easily include travelling time from one end of the UK and back again, since it’s a pretty small country) of quality family time.

    I don’t have children, but I’d like to think if I was an old granny with a lot of grandkids, they would jump at the chance to spend time with me.

    That being said, my opinion is coloured by the fact that I was raised in a culture where we’re brought up to take care of parents and grandparents- from that perspective, the etiquette failing in this letter would be that of the grandkids for having to be reminded to keep in touch with their grandmother, not the grandmother having to offer up a monetary reward. If I received such a letter I would graciously accept, refuse to take any remaining money (and if acceptance was forced, would use it to buy granny something lovely) and set aside a bit of money whenever I could to return the favour.

  • Spuck January 6, 2013, 6:25 pm

    There is no need to feel sorry for me. I have many pleasant memories of my grandmothers around the holidays, and other times that I visited them through out the year. As I mentioned before, on either side of the family we don’t talk about money. If either grandmother ever sent out something like this, my own parents wouldn’t feel sorry for them but instead what would suddenly bring on the change of character. I.e. is someone dying.

  • Tracy January 7, 2013, 11:18 am

    My goodness. What a number of interesting assumptions we have now. Grandma is terminally ill, has prepaid her funeral, and wants to use her remaining funds now rather than distribute them after her death? Yes, that’s certainly one possibility (actually a whole cluster of possibilities, but whatever). But Grandma might be an ill-tempered old bat who has to bribe family members to visit her is, for some, reason, NOT possible at all? And those who wonder if it COULD be the case are cheerfully insulted? And those of you who say that the mere THOUGHT of such a possibility says a lot about the person who thinks it? Well, your refusal to even consider it, and your insistence that all Grammies are made of hugs and cherry pie and can do no wrong – that says a lot about you as well. The truth is, there are toxic people in this world. And some of them become grandparents. I’m not saying this grandmother IS one. I’m saying it’s naive for you to not even accept it as a possibility. And rude of you to be so harsh and judgmental to those who do, especially since they may be basing their theories on personal experience.

  • Politrix January 7, 2013, 2:27 pm

    THIS! This! Exactly this! Yes! I couldn’t have said it better myself – there ARE toxic people in this world, who make the people closest to them absolutely miserable whenever they’re around… they are unwilling to talk it over, to understand (or much less consider) anyone else’s POV on why the things they say, and what they do, is either passive-aggressive, or even outright hurtful. They deny, deny, deny that there’s anything wrong with THEIR behavior, and squarely place the blame on everybody else… then feign ignorance and hurt feelings whenever people prefer to keep their distance, for the sake of one’s own sanity.
    Wow. Are their really people who read this site regularly — with all the stories of rude, nasty, intentionally cruel people — who find it hard to believe the woman in question may be such a person herself?
    The fact is, there wasn’t much background to provide context for the letter… maybe Grandma should get a pass, maybe the overture was awkward but well-intentioned. Maybe she’s like many of the abusive relatives that many regular posters complain about — would it make sense, then, why her grandchildren might want to keep their distance? Maybe it’s all just a big misunderstanding, and the grandchildren are happy to receive this “gift.” We really don’t know. All we know for sure is that the OP thought it was an odd way to ask to spend time with her family, and wanted to know what everybody else thought.
    From strictly an etiquette standpoint, though, it IS rude to give a “gift” with strings attached. It’s a way of asking for a favor, but making it seem like YOU are doing the giving, when it’s actually the other party who’s doing the obliging. And if you are offering me money to spend time with you, you are making me feel as if I’m a mercenary type of person who can be bought for a price. Not a very nice thing to infer, IMO. Like I said, I don’t know the whole situation (NONE of us do), but I certainly know how such a gesture would make ME feel.
    @ Hanna2: A single mom who is putting two kids through school on her own is no failure in my book 🙂

  • Brockwest January 7, 2013, 5:20 pm

    I’ll state the story backwards:
    Can you imagine how much I….would pay, to be able to spend 2 days with one of my relatives again who died?

  • DowagerDutchess January 7, 2013, 10:46 pm

    I think this is an absolutely charming idea. Sounds like a great way for grandmother to fill up her calendar, an excellent opportunity to share something you love with her, and a great way to do it that allows her to foot the bill in a non-awkward way. Particularly liked that she had a planning contact in case you needed to put deposits down. And hey, if you don’t want to, or don’t have time, or find the concept of spending a whole weekend with someone stressful (which I think is a totally legit reaction, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) I think it would be absolutely fine to politely decline, and even better if you could suggest an alternate- thanks so much grandmother, I’m not really up for an entire weekend at Downton, but I’d love to come down to London one day and take you out to lunch.

    I wish I could do this with my grandfather.

  • flowerpower January 8, 2013, 6:33 am

    Library Diva, I’m not entirely sure how you read Hannah2’s comment about being a single parent to her kids all week, working weekends, and still calling her grandmother regularly – and still came up with ‘sad’ and ‘selfish’.

  • Michelle C January 8, 2013, 3:49 pm

    While I agree that gifts with conditions are not gifts at all, perhaps it would not hurt to indulge Grandma a bit. After all, what if Grandma just found out that she is sick and fears not getting to spend one last weekend with the people she loves the most and being able to leave them with the impression that they are loved and cared for by her? I know that if I had one more weekend to spend with my grandfather, I would be so grateful, no matter if their were conditions. And, if my grandmother was well enough to do something like this, I would indulge her the way she always indulged me as a child. So, maybe instead of looking at this as a gift with conditions, perhaps look at it as a gift of time with a beloved family member who, though she may seem energetic and healthy, probably does not have a whole lot of Christmases and Birthdays and special occasions to spend with the people she loves.

  • Caros January 8, 2013, 4:26 pm

    If it’s such an offensive offer, perhaps it should be refused and then, when Grandma is no more, a reflection can be made on just how offensive the offer really was and what a relief it was not to have spent hours/days in her company under such duress….

  • Enna January 9, 2013, 12:44 pm

    I think Grandma did not phase it very well. She could have said “I want to treat each of my Grandchildren by doing something special with them. I’ll pay XXXX.”

  • LizaJane July 27, 2013, 5:16 pm

    I wonder how this is turning out?

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