Reciprocal Family Love

by admin on July 3, 2013

I have a situation that I would like some help with from E-hellions so that I can maintain grace and poise.

My husband and his brother are currently going through the same milestones of life in the last few years. We both got engaged and married in the same year, bought our first houses, had 30th birthdays and now the brother is having his first baby with his wife.

Such milestones warrant thoughtfulness from your close family members to mark the occasions, well, at least on our behalf…

My husband and I have been putting a lot of effort into marking his brother’s occasions appropriately, helping to set up and attending all their events even if it means taking time off work or using our own money to contribute, buying generous and thoughtful gifts and writing heartfelt things into cards expressing how we are proud and happy for them. But it’s all very one-sided. They didn’t come to our last two events because they were tired after work. And they can barely manage to even write a message in a card sometimes.

So I’m not sure what to do, does this mean that they could be embarrassed by our generosity because they are unable to match it? We know that they are not rich people, but they aren’t even generous with their time. I don’t think they are deliberately being mean, but just thoughtless. I’m getting a bit sick of forever buying them gifts and rearranging our lives for their occasions when we seem to be receiving no appreciation or reciprocal effort. Maybe they just don’t care about these milestones like we do and think that we’re over the top? But then the brother got mad at me this year because I didn’t remind him about Mother’s Day, so that makes me think that he does care about personal occasions.

The next big occasion will be the birth of their baby, which will be the first grandchild in the family. What would the polite thing to do be – to give this milestone the enthusiasm it deserves, or do you think that I should tone it down to meet the same level of enthusiasm that they have been giving us? 0701-13

There are always thoughtless, selfish, tired people in our lives and unfortunately some of them happen to be related by marriage or birth.   I don’t think it is productive to have an expectation that they have the same values as you because you will walk through life disappointed far too much.  I also do not believe it is productive to engage in social interactions that are burdensome and done out of a sense of obligation that has a detrimental affect on your family life.  You should be blessing them with gifts and your time because you love them and this is your expression of that love that does not have an expectation of it being returned in kind.   When you reach the point where the things you do for people are motivated by a selfless love, then you’ll find more balance in how much you actually do for them and you will be happier with that balance.   I hope I am communicating my meaning on this cogently.  There can be hidden motives for why we do things for others….we can be people-pleasers, wanting to score points, fear of rejection, one-up-manship, misplaced duty, and so forth.   In other words, I have found that if I feel a sense of striving when I do some kindness, I ponder whether my motives are altruistic or if I’m doing it out of a misguided obligation or expectation that I am owed something.  I don’t think kindnesses are wasted but I will be a happier person when I do them freely…and that may mean I scale back my expressions of hospitality so that they are done with sincerity.  Make sense?

However, I would nip in the bud your brother-in-law’s belief that you are his personal secretary employed to alert him of impending holidays that have an implied expectation that him actually do something (like bless his mother).   You may love him but it’s not love or kindness to facilitate his failure to keep track of his calendar.

Note to readers:  I’m taking a vacation from approving comments Thursday through Sunday.  You can write them and they will eventually be approved but don’t expect to see them til Monday.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

LonelyHound July 3, 2013 at 10:15 am

OP, it took me a long time to realize that you have to assume when you give to family that the gift is gone, whether it be money, presents or time. If you give a gift, especially of time, and it is ignored, not appreciated or not even received with a thank you; and it is beginning to sour your relationship with the person then maybe you need to scale back. I have someone with which I am in the same situation as you. My person will dig into the past and claim I have to do Y because they did X for me in the past. They forget everything I have done for them since they did X for me and the fact that I thanked them/reciprocated in kind, etc. They expect me to honor their birthdays, give extravagant gifts and pretty much pander to what they want while they offer no thanks, dismiss important events of mine and fail to reciprocate in any way. It was a very tiring and frustrating situation. I learned that, if I gave a gift, I had to accept no acknowledgement and expect nothing in return. I also learned to limit my contact so that the frustration I feel about them would not take over my life. It is hard but that is probably what you have to do.

As for him getting mad you did not remind him of Mother’s Day, I’d say something like, “That is too bad you forgot Mother’s Day. Maybe next year you could have you WIFE remind you when the day is getting close or set a phone alarm.”

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Helen July 3, 2013 at 10:57 am

I hope you have (had) a happy Independence Day weekend, Admin!!!

Thank you for your site :)

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Mae July 3, 2013 at 11:05 am

Brother-in-law expects you to remind him of special occasions? Does he not own a calendar or if he cannot remember occasions, why doesn’t his wife remind him?

It seems as though the OP is celebrating because she feels that she *has* to and then feels hurt when her BIL & SIL do not match her level of enthusiasm. First, you have to go in not expecting anything in return. If you are doing these things because you expect to be reciprocated at the same level, I am afraid you will be disappointed alot. Instead of rearranging your lives to be able to attend and celebrate everything (exception: wedding), just do what works best for your family and schedule.

I speak from experience. I was just like you, OP. Tried to celebrate everything, going out of my way attend and buy presents. It hurts when you are not treated the same. So instead of doing things because I felt I had to, I started doing the things I wanted to do and worked with my schedule. I don’t do anything expecting to get something in return ,so I end up much happier.

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Jewel July 3, 2013 at 11:10 am

You could spend the rest of your life trying to figure out these people’s motivations. Don’t bother. Instead, because you are feeling resentful of them (and I don’t blame you a bit), make the decision to tone down how you recognize their special milestones. For example, instead of knocking yourself out to select the perfect gift for your in-law’s next birthday, just bring/mail a card (skipping the heart-felt message simply because you’re really not feeling it). When their next gathering is announced, go only if you want to and if it doesn’t require that you re-schedule your life to do so. It’s not a matter of “revenge” or “what’s good for the gander is good for the goose”, but more that you have learned that they are unappreciative of your efforts beyond the moment and it’s healthier for you to put your energies into more positive activities.

As far as how to celebrate the arrival of the baby, you’ll certainly want to mark the occasion appropriately (but not extravagantly) because you are, afterall, the child’s aunt and will eventually have your own, separate, distinct relationship with the child. A couple cute outfits and a lovey would be the way to go whereas buying a fancy stroller, the crib, a pack-n-play, starting a college fund, or choosing another expensive item would be too much considering the situation with the parents.

When the requests to babysit start coming, just remember to do so only if you feel like spending time with your niece/nephew and not because you hope the parents will notice your generosity and will respond in kind when your child(ren) begin to arrive. Based on their behavior, that just ain’t gonna happen.

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Kara July 3, 2013 at 11:31 am

Dear OP,

My advice to you would indeed be to “tone it down”.

You spend a lot of time and money and effort on your brother-in-law, get nothing in return, and really really resent it. So… dial back what you are doing to a level where you no longer feel resentment. Maybe that means you stop going so over board… maybe you just call, or send a card, or a small token gift. Maybe you don’t do anything for his occasions for a while to let your built-up resentment dissipate. Whatever you decide to do or not do is fine. And if brother-in-law doesn’t like that? Well, you reap what you sow.

Oh, and absolutely you are not your brother-in-law’s secretary! He is a big boy and presumably is more than capable of keeping track of events and holidays by himself. So stop sending him reminders. And if he berates you for not reminding him of an occasion? May I suggest responding thusly – “Why do you think that’s my problem?”

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Mary July 3, 2013 at 11:34 am

I would love to know what the OP is doing for her in laws and what she really expects in return. Right now I’m thinking the OP and her hubby might be going overboard with some of these events and expecting too much.
Or they are doing the basic minimum and the in laws are doing nothing. I don’t remember what we did for my SIL’s 30th birthday but probably a small gift and a card. When she bought her first house, we helped her move. But didn’t buy anything. These types of things I would see as reasonable.

For the birth of the grandchild I would give a reasonable item as a shower gift, such as some sleepers or the baby bathtub or table booster seat. When the baby is born, some cute outfits and some diapers. However, probably not going as far as buying the stroller, car seat or crib.

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gramma dishes July 3, 2013 at 11:35 am

Your husband’s brother is mad at you because you didn’t remind him about Mother’s Day? Good grief! How could he have missed the incredible amount of advertising reminding us all of this “special” event? Did his wife also not know it was Mother’s Day? I agree with Admin. You are not your BIL’s personal secretary and his forgetfulness (or lack of awareness) is not your problem.

I’d cut back on the gifts a little, just in case you are embarrassing them because they really can’t afford to reciprocate — which may also explain why they miss your special events. But I’d certainly not chose the birth of their child as the right moment to start this cutback.

Be enthusiastically happy for them and their growing family and then taper off on the gifts, but let them know by words (cards, phone calls, notes) that they are important to you. They may or may not reciprocate, but words are free. You can afford to be generous with them.

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Cami July 3, 2013 at 11:53 am

One of my credos in life is that I believe people treat me the way they expect to be treated. Therefore, if you don’t remember my birthday, I feel free to assume that you don’t think birthdays are important and you won’t mind if I don’t acknowledge yours. If I do acknowledge it, it’s with no expectation of reciprocity. I find that credo to be quite freeing.

I also have no problem saying to someone who complains that I ‘ignored’ their milestone, “Well, gee. You ignored my milestone, so I thought they weren’t important to you.” Amazing how that comment flips it back on them and ends the attempt at guilt-tripping.

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Angel July 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm

I second everybody else, OP. Taper off the gifts and tone down the celebrations. You are obviously resentful of the time and effort you put into these things and not get anything back in return. I’m not saying I blame you, heck, I think most people would feel the same way after a while. If you are a human being there is only so much you can give, give, give, get no acknowledgement or thank you, and NOT feel resentful after a while. It’s not about money it’s about gratitude and feeling appreciated. I get it.

When the baby is born of course send a heartfelt card. Buy an outfit. Make a diaper cake if you want. But I wouldn’t do much more than that. If they have an expectation, that’s on them. But bending over backwards and trying to please people like this is only going to leave you feeling upset. Life is too damn short!

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Lychii July 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm

What Admin said is spot on – stop putting the extra effort; only do what you’re comfortable doing selflessly, without expecting something in return. It’s very possible BIL is taking you for granted, not even realizing you are going out of your way to support him and his family.

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June First July 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Sorry, OP. I’m in the group that thinks you should tone it down.
Taking time off work for a sibling’s wedding is one thing. Routinely taking time off work and financially contributing to all of their events seems like a bit much.
A red flag for me is the word “events”. Is this the sibling’s only baby shower or a “gender reveal party”? Do you live in the same town or an hour away?

I suppose I should include a disclaimer that I’m currently debating attending my sister’s 30 birthday party. Mostly because I don’t know if I’ll be up to driving an hour after work this weekend, when I’ll be seeing her in our hometown a few days later. I’ll probably just make an appearance at the party and then spend more time with her at the family event.

In my mind, the best way to cope with this is to understand that people change as they age. With a growing family, your in-laws might not be able to spend as much time at your events as they once did. And it’s perfectly reasonable to tell your brother-in-law that even though you used to remind him of Mother’s Day every year, he can handle it on his own now.

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MollyMonster July 3, 2013 at 12:29 pm

It is a tough situation when one part of the equation is very invested in the gift giving/acknowledgement while the other party is much more lax. I am the lax one. I have four nieces, 2 sisters-in-law, and then all the other members of my immediate family and friends. And I am TERRIBLE (oh, so so terrible) at remembering birthdays. Or figuring out what to get people for them when I do remember. Part of it is simple egocentricity (and I recognize my personal selfishness and try to do better) and the rest is pure forgetfulness. It isn’t that I don’t *want* to say happy birthday to my sister-in-law or send a gift to my niece, it is just my brain simply isn’t wired in such a way that I prioritize it and often forget unless reminded. I am the living embodiment of the absent-minded professor. On the other hand, I have a friend who must have a calendar of everyone’s significant events and never fails to give a card or give some other acknowledgement. It just seems to be her “thing” to track and remember all that stuff whereas I can barely remember my own siblings’ birthdays and think cards are a waste of money.

The suggestions here of sending a card if you feel the need for acknowledgement is a good one. You can mark it off in your “done good” column and forget about it. It isn’t a huge financial or emotional outlay so lack of reciprocation shouldn’t bother you. That said, for the new baby, a present is de rigeuer–the other events (birthdays, houses, anniversaries, etc) can be reduced to cards or nothing but a facebook acknowledgement. And if including heartfelt messages is your thing, keep doing it–just don’t expect anyone else to do it back because some of us just don’t think that way.

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Anonymous July 3, 2013 at 1:50 pm

>>……..but words are free. You can afford to be generous with them.<<

This, exactly. Although, on the flip side, that's probably why the OP is hurt by her in-laws' complete lack of any kind of reciprocation, even with words, because words are free. I don't think she's wrong to feel that way, and I think people are being a bit harsh in accusing her of "keeping score," because sometimes, it's hard not to. When you acknowledge other people's major life events, and they ignore your similar events, then that hurts. The OP hasn't mentioned calling anyone out on this behaviour; she's just told us, anonymously, that it's happened, and she's asking if she's right or wrong to be upset, and how to proceed. In that case, I think it'd be perfectly fine if she started gradually scaling back on gifts–maybe not blatantly IGNORING the birth of her BIL and SIL's child, but rather, by sending them a mobile instead of a car seat, for example. Alternatively, you could get the baby whatever you would have done anyway, and then maybe at Christmas time, you can mention scaling back on gifts in general. The reason why I chose Christmas as a time to have that conversation is because Christmas isn't an event centred around one person (okay, it is, but I doubt that that person is a member of the OP's family). So, instead of abruptly "scaling back" in the middle of the year, by ignoring the birth of the new baby (who technically has nothing to do with the BIL/SIL upset), or acknowledging Sarah's birthday with only a card, when you got Sam a big-screen TV, if you have the "scaling back" conversation at Christmas time, then you're "scaling back" for EVERYONE, so it's equal. Even then, it'd probably be best to make the conversation about what you DO want, so not, "We don't want to give big-ticket gifts anymore, because you don't appreciate it"; but rather, "We'd like to take the focus off gifts in general, and just spend the day together."

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Tanz July 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I’m with Mary and Admin here. I’d also like to add that there may well be another ‘good’ reason why they can’t/won’t reciprocate at the OP’s level – the OP suggests that the family members may not be as well off as she is. I’ve found that the less one earns the longer one needs to work in order to earn it, and that makes the rest of one’s life busier as well.

But really, OP, different families have different ways of doing things/seeing things and this is one of those that isn’t important enough to worry over. Just because someone doesn’t spend as much or make as much of a fuss of others on their ‘milestones’ doesn’t mean they don’t care or appreciate the other person. We all need to remember that we don’t do these things hoping for or expecting a certain ‘payback’, but because we want to do them.

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David July 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm

You are not your BILs secretary – he is an adult with a child on the way, he should be able to schedule remembrance days on his own or with his wife’s help.

However, give this milestone the happiness it deserves – the first grandchild is definitely special. However, if you are part of the planning, make sure it’s on a day that you don’t have to take off work or make a huge rearrangement in order to be there. A couple of nice baby outfits and a toy is fine. The child is a baby after all. They will not remember much of anything.

Scale back the adult gift giving to a more comfortable level.

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Marozia July 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Stop being his PI! Let him and his wife work things out. Surely they both have brains and calenders!!
Buy them the essentials for the new baby (nappies, etc), but not expensive items. They’re big enough and ugly enough to do it themselves. And for goodness sake, DO NOT ORGANISE THE BABY SHOWER for them, otherwise YOU will be doing and paying for everything!!!
Milestones are important for you, but not for them. Don’t force your beliefs onto other peoples. It hasn’t been appreciated so far.

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Lo July 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm

They aren’t matching your expectations. Lower your expectations.

If that means that you scale back your own involvement a bit, so be it. I agree with everyone else on this.

You sound like me. I’m a giver. I love to give gifts and I love to get them. Over the years I’ve had to make peace with the fact that just because I give someone something, doesn’t mean they’ll give me a gift to mark my special occasion. The only return on the investment I should expect is gratitude. Sometimes I don’t even get that but oh well, gifts don’t mean as much to some people as they do to others.

Are they asking you to overboard? No. So scale it back. Easier said than done but once it’s done you’ll feel a weight off your shoulders.

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Gabriele July 3, 2013 at 6:34 pm

It seems like there’s a phantom in this situation, the SIL…what she does, what she hasn’t done, what she’s said…what we are hearing is about the BIL and come on, don’t you think the SIL may be the motivating force here?
Perhaps she’s from a family where things are strictly vertical: Parent to/from child to/from grandchild. If that’s how she sees things then that’s probably how she’ll set up her household and the husband (BIL) will follow along. If your husband is the alpha male then the BIL might be happy to opt out of extensive ‘family’ events, especially if his wife has other priorities.
And since they’re both working, she is the one who knows their schedules and may take responsibility for their scheduling, not from a control point of view but from a practical point of view. How many husbands really know their wives schedules (work and other commitments) and how many wives keep track of all that as a given?
The SIL could be prioritizing the ‘disposable’ time and money they have toward those they are closest to which probably would mean her parents, etc. would be more important than her husband’s…and your BIL might be quite happy to have her take care of things.
It sounds as if your own husband is quite willing to cede the responsibility to you…since you didn’t mention that he was upset at such-and-such or was hurt that ——.
Maybe your SIL has been hoping that by not being so closely engaged with gift exchanges and visits that you might get the idea that they’re ‘just not that into’ such things.
You might look at the BIL/SIL relationship with your MIL/FIL as that should be their priority…they won’t be around as long and the SIL may feel more comfortable with them than with you.

I know most people can identify with many of your concerns as givers are underappreciated and takers/receivers often in the majority and I’ve been there too but having been on the receiving end of gifts that had strings attached (in my sister’s mind) years and years after (even when the gift was not wanted and unsuitable, well I see thing differently.
You have the right to do what you want to do, give what you want to give but you have no right to expect anyone else to appreciate it, and not on a level equal to your expectations.
That you have time, energy and money enough to do what you’ve done is great but not everyone does and if you’ve been invited to some family gathering it could be that the invitation was more of a courtesy than a royal command that you should attend.
Have there been subtle hints from SIL about their ‘underindulgence’ and your ‘overindulgence’ in gift giving that you’ve missed?
I’ve read nothing about your MIL/FIL and really, have you discussed any of this with them? If you have much of a relationship with your MIL I would think you could ask a few questions and learn a lot. Perhaps the SIL has a relationship with the MIL that is more low keye and personal and your MIL might be more comfortable with that, and might even not understand why you go all-out on so many occasions.
Instead of questioning why the SIL/BIL give so little, why not really try to understand why you feel you have to give so much? I think it’s worth looking at before you have a child as the world has enough helicopter moms.

And one last comment: I laughed out loud about the “why didn’t you remind me about Mother’s Day?’ from the BIL> Perhaps he was trying to call your attention to the fact you seem to have involved yourself in all their other affairs, why NOT consider yourself his social secretary. ..nudge, nudge…

If you genuinely care about these people then don’t inflict your own values and practices on them.
You may be one of those people who ‘do too much’…and the results may be beneficial to neither the giver nor the person who is supposed to gratefully receive.

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FerrisW July 3, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Expectations within families are always awkward, in my opinion- my mother’s youngest sister didn’t acknowledge a single milestone in my mothers life, including my birth, and used the fact they lived on opposite sides of the world to explain her disinterest, yet got angry with my mum for not sending a card for her graduation (my mum was in hospital at the time), and years later very angry when she needed a flowergirl for her wedding and I was the only one that fit the age she wanted, but my parents couldn’t afford to fly me across the globe for it. Later, when we lived in the same country, she would pointedly ignore me during gift giving moments, saying that I was too old to be treated like the other children in our family. More recently, as I have once again moved to another country, I received a christmas card from her, containing a list of her children’s birthdays and other important dates and a suggestion that since postage is so expensive, I instead make a bank transfer to her (preferably in one lump sum for the year, so she wouldn’t have to pay fees on receiving international funds) so that her children wouldn’t have to do without ‘their due gifts’ (actual quote). Naturally I told her that would not be possible, which resulted in an angry phone call to my mother, saying that since she had supported my mother and me so much over our lives, she was owed something in return. Funny how people’s minds play tricks on them in these situations! :)

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Sister-in-law July 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Hello, OP here. Thank you for your comments, I found Anonymous #13 particularly helpful with the acknowledgement that I’m not even getting words of kindness from the in-laws, and the idea that I scale back the gifts using Christmas as a starting point so no one is hurt.

I also found the idea of generosity occuring without expectation enlightening, I really needed this advice! Thank you Admin. I always felt that it would be rude to not give milestones all my effort, but now I see that it would be rude for me to continue at that unsustainable level and let my feelings of resentment grow.

As for the reminders about Mothers Day, I did this mainly because I didn’t want to see my mother-in-law hurt that her sons had forgotten her. I did come to the conclusion at the begining of the year that I no longer needed to be responsible for reminding everyone and that they are on their own from now on in this regard. The brother’s wife is no better than he is about remembering days like this so it completely passed them by. Anyway, I’m sure they’ll be better at remembering next year when they are parents themselves!

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Elsie July 3, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Scale it back. If you’re putting forth a lot of effort and are feeling slighted, politely pull back. Don’t mention it or be spiteful or anything… but if you schedule doesn’t align, it doesn’t. No harm no foul. That is life.

He got upset at YOU because you didn’t remind him about Mother’s Day? That’s not your responsibility. Obviously, it wasn’t important enough for him to bother remember. Trust me, I know about that. My father spent a lot of effort to make sure he saw us kids when my parents divorced (not that my mother was withholding us or anything, don’t get that idea haha). He had his faults, and my older siblings obviously didn’t want to be a part of that. Which is all fine, it is their choice. Except I, as the youngest, felt really bad to see my siblings being so careless and my dad getting so upset about it. So I would text them and remind them about things like his birthday, or father’s day. But it was stressing me out a lot. So I decided to stop playing peace keeper. I completely stopped getting involved in when my older siblings contact my dad, except for one (she has a great relationship with our dad these days, but she lives far away. I typically will send her a quick text because I know time can slip by. She’d rather call when he isn’t busy, so I give her that tip off). I realized that having a good relationship with their father was not important to my siblings. I don’t agree with it, but that is their choice.
You’ll be much happier if you cut off being his calender, trust me. You have enough to keep track of, I’m sure!

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Anonymous July 3, 2013 at 8:05 pm

There’s “not reciprocating at the OP’s level,” and there’s not reciprocating at all. Sometimes, people fall into the trap of thinking that “reciprocation” has to be dollar for dollar, and then they drop out of the whole gift-giving game altogether, because the dollar levels are uneven–say one couple’s six-figure DINK* in-laws got them a Blu-Ray player, and they could only afford to give them a nice framed family portrait, or another couple’s friends with three kids in braces and a mega-mortgage just got them a movie gift basket, and they got them a coffee maker, so these people figure “Our DINK-in-laws are rubbing their wealth in our faces,” or “Our friends are just cheap.” So, one side keeps gifting, and the other side stops, and hurt feelings abound, until the gift-givers eventually stop giving, and the relationship deteriorates. This could all be avoided with a little bit of communication–either mutually deciding on another tradition without gift-giving, or just accepting that gift-giving is going to be lopsided from a monetary point of view, but not lopsided from a “caring” point of view.

For example, my brother has more money than I do, but I’m more creative than he is. So, two Christmases ago, he got me a laptop (online, at a discount price), because my old laptop was six years old, and on its deathbed. For his birthday that year, I made him a birthday slideshow using that laptop, which he loved. I didn’t spend any money, but I did spend a few days going through family photo albums to find pictures for the slideshow, since our collective childhood predated digital photography, and then a while longer putting the whole thing together. Conversely, my brother spent a fair bit of money on the laptop, but that gift required a lot less legwork than the slideshow did. So, in our minds, that counted as reciprocation. Your mileage may vary, but my family sees that kind of reciprocation as being far preferable to no reciprocation at all.

*DINK = Dual Income, No Kids.

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Lady Antipode July 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm

This: “You should be blessing them with gifts and your time because you love them and this is your expression of that love that does not have an expectation of it being returned in kind.”

If the motivation for your giving is anything other than that, you are in fact keeping score. Why? You give a gift because you think the receiver will gain something from it, not that you will. Acknowledgement, gratitude, reciprocation is lovely, not necessary.

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Ginger 630 July 3, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I absolutely LOVE to give cards with heartfelt messages, even “just because” cards. My SO doesn’t remember to buy cards. This past holiday, I gave him beautiful cards with heartfelt messages. News posse because I made him feel guilty because he didn’t remember. Guess what? He is NEVER getting another card from me. Childish on my part? Probably, but why should I waste my time finding the perfect card and taking time to write a heartfelt message for someone who can’t even give me a card? Now I only give cards to my friends and family who truly appreciate them. Even though it’s SO, I’m not wasting my time and feeling unappreciated anymore. It actually hurt my feelings when he doesn’t give me a card. I’m not asking fordiamonds or expensive jewelry, just a sweet card. That’s not too much to ask.

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Michelle C Young July 4, 2013 at 4:42 am

Wow. I have seen plenty of people who assume that the wife is supposed to remind her husband of social calendar dates like Mother’s Day and birthdays. But in what culture is the BROTHER’S WIFE supposed to remind a man (a married man, no less, with a female wife) about HIS mother’s special day?

I’m not calling shenanigans, because I totally believe this. I just find his behavior unbelievable. Come ON!

As for the gifts/calls/cards for special occasions – I think you should keep it up for the sake of the child. Someone needs to set that child a good example, and it seems that the parents won’t do it, so aunt and uncle must.

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Marozia July 4, 2013 at 5:27 am

I showed my husband this case and it left him shaking his head. He said: “BIL will say….
“Why didn’t you let me know it was Mother’s/Father’s Day?”
“Why didn’t you tell me it was my wife’s/mum’s/dad’s/brother’s birthday?”
“Why didn’t you tell me it was mum & dad’s/our wedding anniversary?”
“Why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday?”
“Why didn’t you tell me it was my mum’s/dad’s birthday?”
“Why didn’t you tell me it was MY birthday?” And on and on it went.
Certainly gave me a few laughs in an otherwise dull, rainy day.
One wonders how the BIL measures the passing of the year?

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sv July 4, 2013 at 9:17 am

My brother and sister in law are the non-thanking type of folks. They just….are. I can’t personally imagine how someone can give you a thoughtfully chosen gift and you don’t say, ” Thanks! How sweet! ” or whatever, but there you have it. Over the years I have learned to simply give the gift because I want to and to expect nothing in return. This has made me quite a bit happier, actually, because I no longer take it so personally. I don’t go overboard when marking special occasions but I do mark them – because I want to.

Your brother in law is a grown man and he does not need you, his wife or any other woman to remind him when Mother’s Day is.

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Julia July 4, 2013 at 9:24 am

I don’t see this letter as resentful, but as seriously concerned. You love to give gifts, and these people aren’t completing the gift ritual.

For me, I love to hug people, and a while ago I realized was hugging people too much. It wasn’t that I resented that other people didn’t want to wrap their arms around me and squeeze. It was just that I realized my intention–to be caring and sweet–wasn’t being accomplished. I was even making some people uncomfortable. I paid very close attention to who liked being hugged and who endured it and changed my behavior accordingly. Lots of people would rather just have a smile.

If you really think your gifts might be getting sucked into a black hole because they make these people uncomfortable, then match what they do not out of resentment, but out of consideration. If they don’t think other people’s “milestones” are worth celebrating and that this whole “thank you/you’re welcome” business is a chore and pain, then only give them what everyone can feel OK about when it goes unacknowledged. Perhaps a phone call instead of a card and a card instead of a present.

(And if they are just jerks who can’t stop scratching themselves long enough to care about you, then you’ve lost nothing as well.)

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Marguette July 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

As for the new baby, please feel the excitement involved in the prospect of having a new niece or nephew, and your parents-in-law becoming first-time grandparents. That’s an exciting time for a family, and I hope that you will rejoice in it and enjoy being aunt to a new baby. Not feeling resentful because you gave it gifts that you know won’t be returned in kind when it’s your turn.

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Wendy B. July 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I’ll tell you what my mom tells me and what I tell my husband: Do the right thing, even if they don’t. At the end of the day, you have to be able to sleep at night.

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momofeveryone July 8, 2013 at 7:07 am

im a SAHM w/3 kids ,my dh works full time. we have been married 5 years and his family now looks forword to the homemade gifts i give them. i do not have alot of cash so i have to get very creative. 2 years ago i learned canning and made each ‘family group’ a basket of goodies. tomato sauce, pasts, bread i baked myself, cookies ect. each basket cost about $12 bucks each and i made 9 of them. the next year i made every family a ‘quilt’ that went with the livingroom decor in thier house or the master bedroom. when a baby is born i give an afghan. at weddings we give a small cash gift. at wedding showers i make up a gift that goes with the honeymoon theme. dollar amount doesnt mean much if your not willing to give someone some time too. i would rather have your time then a fancy gift, your words in a card then the latest and greatest.
but not saying thank you? thats some bs.

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Sister-in-law July 8, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Hello, OP again. Just to clarify – I don’t expect the in-laws to reciprocate by buying us gifts that match what we spend dollar by dollar. I have been sad that I don’t get reciprocation from them in other ways, such as saying “Thank you” or “Congratulations on your milestone” or the gift of time like coming to our house for our celebration party. I would absolutely treasure a card if they took the time to write a personal message in it.

I was unsure what was the more polite thing to do – to continue marking occasions with lots of enthusiam and extra effort, or tone it down a bit so as not to make them embarrased of me. Looks like the consensus is to tone it down.

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Melalucci July 11, 2013 at 2:54 am

OP, I don’t think your relatives are “embarrassed of you.” And if they are, they should be ashamed of themselves. You just do what makes you and your hubby happy!

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