Thwarting The Gimme Pig Spirit Of The Holidays

by admin on December 2, 2013

E-Hell, please help with a gift gimme problem! As we all know the holidays are coming up and Christmas presents are to be bought. My husband and I had a baby this year who was the result of a very difficult pregnancy and long NICU stay. As such, this year we’ve decided we would love to make homemade gifts and goodies for our family instead of buying store-bought gifts to save money. (Also, we both have a lot of siblings). I don’t think there would be too much objection to this, except perhaps by my husband’s step-mom. Last year, as I was new to the family she was explaining to me how the ‘older kids’ (her step-kids) do gifts (secret Santa) and then proceeded to tell me, “Of course you would still get Dan and Ethan their own gifts.” Dan and Ethan are her two younger sons who are spoiled beyond spoiled and have absolutely everything. Most people just gift them with gift cards or money, which is what we did last year.

This year though, we are struggling to figure out what to do. We honestly don’t think Dan and Ethan could care less what we get them, but their mom is insistent that they be given a gift from everyone in the family. I personally don’t want to get them anything, especially since we will be making our gifts this year (which they certainly will not appreciate) and we don’t want to then spend $20 on each boy when we aren’t doing that with anyone else in the family. I am afraid of the backlash from their mom, but we really want to keep it super simple and cheap this year. Any thoughts on how to combat gimme pig syndrome over the holidays? 1105-13

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

lakey December 2, 2013 at 2:36 am

Stick to your guns. Explain to your step mother in law that because of the difficult pregnancy and the long NICU stay you are “slimming down” your Christmas by giving home made gifts. She really can’t tell you what you have to give. The truth is that a lot of people sympathize with what you are trying to do. Christmas gets to be overwhelming for a lot of people.
By the way, as a retired teacher, some of the best gifts I received were home made.
It would be nice to come up with some way to include the two boys, although home made gifts for boys might be tough. Depending on what their interests and activities are, could you make up gift certificates to do some activity with them?

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ddwwylm December 2, 2013 at 3:29 am

To me, it depends on a couple of things, how old the boys are and how much of a relationship your husband has with them. Does he consider these kids his brothers or more like his dad’s wife’s kids. If they are in their older teens or if you don’t really have much of a relationship with them outside of family holidays, then I don’t see a problem with saying “we are giving family gifts this year” and then only give one gift per family unit, especially if it’s something like homebaked goods. But, you do have to stick to that, no giving out special gifts for certain people ie: you can’t give his dad a book he wants and his wife and kids the gift basket, you really don’t want to appear that you’re playing favorites. Decide what you’re going to give out and make it as equal between all the people you are giving to as possible.
The only thing I’m not 100% clear on in your story however, is that you said secret Santa with the older kids. So does that mean that you intend to give the homemade gift only to the sibling you draw, or do you plan to give the homemade gift to every sibling and your FIL/SMIL? If you only plan to give the homemade gift to the sibling you draw and then consequently nothing to the step brothers, then I would change my answer. If the second scenario is the case, then I would say that you should NOT give a homemade gift as secret Santa. Secret Santa is already intended to help save everyone money, so it’s a bit chintzy to then turn around and give an impersonal cheap gift. If this is the case, you should follow the rules of whatever $ ammt is agreed upon, petition to change the $ ammt, or opt out entirely. I also think that it’s perfectly reasonable, if the stepbrothers are high school age to also suggest that they join the secret Santa exchange as well.

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Kirsten December 2, 2013 at 4:32 am

This is entirely up to your husband to handle, but do you need to tell her? I’d just give what you want to give without any warning, or give nothing. You have a new baby (congratulations!), you have better things to think about than this.

Alternatively, just announce your plans then ignore any complaints. “We’ll be making presents this year. No, we will be making presents this year. We will be making presents this year.” See how this works?

Or you could opt out of present giving with that lot altogether?

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RC December 2, 2013 at 5:10 am

Firstly, congrats OP and hubby on the baby! And on your graciousness at wanting to give thoughtful, handmade gifts which take time when I am sure time is scarce with baby around! You sound like lovely people.

Do not give in to the gimme pig mother, I am sure you can think of something personal to make for each boy, and stick with that. Or treat them to a fun meal out, or a picnic just for them. Step-mom can burn in ehell for requesting gifts, you keep on being your good hearted self OP.

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Lisa Marie December 2, 2013 at 5:14 am

Christmas is about giving and love. Give the gift you would like and can afford. Put a smile on your
face and ignore any remarks step mom may make. No one can force you to do what you don’t want
to do and the most important people in your life are your husband and new baby. No explanations needed.

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Kimstu December 2, 2013 at 5:17 am

OP, congratulations on your new baby and on your ideas for keeping the holidays festive while respecting your new budget constraints! You should absolutely go ahead with the homemade gifts for family members, WITHOUT any preliminary explanations or justifications, which might make it appear that you were guiltily apologizing for “shortchanging” the recipients. They are very lucky to get lovingly made tokens of your affection, and all of them who aren’t gimme-pig boors will appreciate your thoughtfulness and effort.

That said, I think it would be a pity to lose graciousness points by excluding your husband’s stepbrothers from your gift-giving ENTIRELY, especially since you seem to have accepted the expectation in previous years that you’ll give them gifts. Yes, I get that the kids are spoiled and ungrateful, and I don’t blame you for not really feeling motivated to put yourself out for them, especially now that money and time are tighter than they used to be. Still, cutting somebody off your gift list altogether is a rather serious snub, and I don’t think the few bucks you’d save is worth the trouble it could start with your husband’s stepmom.

But you sure as Ehell aren’t obligated to pony up to the tune of twenty bucks for each kid. Either do your best to come up with a homemade gift or goody that they’ll enjoy (and if they still don’t enjoy it or don’t think it’s good enough, that’s their problem), or shop for an inexpensive gift like a paperback book or a magazine that suits their tastes. Or send them nice cards with token amounts of money or more modest gift cards, or just nice cards with affectionate good wishes but no money at all.

Whatever you give Dan and Ethan, do NOT explain or apologize or express regret that it wasn’t something more costly. If your stepmom-in-law is piggy enough to complain that their gifts are “cheap”, just say sweetly “Well, we’ve had to cut back on our spending this year due to all the baby expenses, but we wanted Dan and Ethan to know we were thinking of them and we hope they’ll enjoy the cookies/books/download credits/whatever anyway”.

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Nestholder December 2, 2013 at 5:57 am

It would seem awfully unkind to single out these two to get nothing. But surely, everyone likes cookies?

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Kelly December 2, 2013 at 6:00 am

“I’m sorry, that’s not possible.”

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Marie December 2, 2013 at 6:14 am

Make them the home-made gift.

If they complain, tell them that you feel a bit hurt they don’t understand money is a bit tight with the newborn baby and your hospital bills that came along with the pregnancy, and that you spend a lot of time and love making those gifts because you wanted to make sure you still got everyone a gift. Say you thought that they would appreciate you taking the effort to make them gifts when you are unable to buy them some.

If Step-MIL complains, tell her the same. It’s a shameless guild trip, but it should shut everybody up. Don’t say it like you are sobbing and begging for money, but say it a bit upbeat and with suprise – as if the thought that they wouldn’t understand your situation genuinely suprises you.

If that message does not come across, try and shrug it off. If the brothers are so spoiled they can’t appreciate your gifts, they are not worth your time.

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tess December 2, 2013 at 6:17 am

I think a simple “circumstances are different this year” is the only explanation she needs. No explaining, just firmly state that sentence. The boys might appreciate a snack mix for watching videos or something like that.

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UKHelen December 2, 2013 at 6:32 am

I say give Dan and Ethan exactly the same as everyone else. If they don’t like your homemade gifts, tough. (Who knows, perhaps they’ll love them!) You’ll be fulfilling her instruction: “Of course you would still get Dan and Ethan their own gifts.”

Your stepmom-in-law will be her own lovely self whatever you do, so do what YOU want to do.

Hope all is going well for you, your husband and the baby. You’re the important ones this year.

PS to all readers…
I wondered about a way of giving and getting free presents this Christmas, for any group of friends/family who don’t want to spend money this year. As long as everyone agrees and has attractive ‘spares’, why not circulate lists of DVDs/CDs/books which the owner no longer wants, so that each person can choose an item they would like to see/hear/read? The recipient stakes their claim, and that’s what they receive on Christmas Day. It needs an app, really…

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Lo December 2, 2013 at 6:42 am

We’re doing homemade gifts this year too! (well, mostly home-baked)

Definitely don’t give the boys $20 if you’re hand making everyone elses gift. But are you sure there’s nothing you can do for them that they won’t appreciate? I mean I don’t know anyone who would turn down homemade cookies. Wouldn’t that be a good gift for any age?

Might be good for them to get something other than gift cards and money too. It seems a shame that their mother is so domineering that she insists everyone buy gifts for her children because it takes any joy out of gifts.

I think you should still give them something just don’t feel obligated to continue a tradition you don’t enjoy.

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Lex December 2, 2013 at 6:47 am

Eurgh, you are in a pickle aren’t you? I loathe Secret Santa gift giving at the best of times and for MIL to pre-arrange gifts is crass and rude.

I would explain to MIL that this year, due to the new baby funds are limited and you cannot accommodate extravagant gifts and planned to make home made items that are personal.

Ask her to suggest what you could make for these spoiled boys and stress that you will not be purchasing any items for anyone and that if a suitable alternative cannot be found, each boy will receive a bag of homemade cookies each (or something).

Believe me I know the hassle of spoiled and entitled nephews/cousins – our nephew is so ridiculously spoiled it isn’t even funny. Currently he is the only grandchild (he is the son of my partners older brother) and pretty much whatever he wants he gets. Brother In Law (Lets call him ‘L’) has a sly trick in that when people ask him what nephew ‘D’ wants, the list is usually more appropriate to what L wants. It drives me potty because I have very different ideas about what to give a child of 8 as I firmly believe that giving children gifts that predetermine play (such as Pixar merchandise) is a waste of money. That is not to say I am miserly – quite the opposite. I would happily buy ‘D’ any number of creative and imaginative gifts as I have seen first hand how he becomes quickly bored with the shiny merchandise and has more fun playing dominos than playing with his expensive plastic novelty.

As LeBoyfriend and I are currently trying for a baby (with little success unfortunately) I am acutely aware that the gift list L provides with the expensive shiny toys only applies to his own child and he would not reciprocate should we eventually provide D with cousins. As L is the older brother, MIL always defends him and excuses his behaviour. LeBoyfriend is the sweetest most generous man who is always going out of his way to help and support his parents, L only ever appears when he wants something, yet everyone must pander to little D and fawn over him. It drives me potty.

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HollyAnn December 2, 2013 at 7:02 am

If you don’t think a handmade gift will work for these boys, how about giving them food? It’s hard to imagine any boy turning down homemade cookies or chocolates.
Congratulations on your new baby, by the way. My second son was born 3 months premature and spent 72 days in the NICU. It’s so good to look back on those days as a bad memory, isn’t it?

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Merrilee December 2, 2013 at 7:18 am

If it were me, I would involve Dad in the conversation and talk to both he and step mom: just tell them – hey, we just incurred a lot of large hospital bills this year, so we can’t afford to do the holidays as we usually do. This means that we are paring down/giving homemade/not gifting. Hope you understand. And any attempts at guilting, hysterics, etc. do what we call a “Toots Special” cut and paste – and repeat: So sorry, we can’t participate this year. Every single time they object or guilt or whatever. So sorry, we can’t participate this year. And follow through.

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DGS December 2, 2013 at 7:33 am

I’d stick with honesty and directness. I’d communicate to grubby Stepmother, Dan and Ethan that you’re not able to spend much on holiday gifting this year and either give them handmade presents you were planning on giving the rest of the siblings or a small inexpensive token gift. And if Stepmonster huffs and puffs and threatens to blow the house down, raised eyebrows and an “excuse me”, might work quite well to dispell any squabbling in your direction. Indubitably, she will complain but you don’t have to engage with her.

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Lythande December 2, 2013 at 7:34 am

Since you said you want to make your gifts this year, why not bake them each a big batch of cookies or something? Boys generally like food. (I was picturing teenagers but I’m pretty sure younger boys wouldn’t normally mind cookies either.) I think that leaving them out would look like consciously and actively snubbing them, which would be bad for family peace, but if they or their mother complain you could point out that you gave homemade gifts to everyone and tried to give them something they would like.

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PlainJane December 2, 2013 at 7:39 am

Homemade gifts are lovely but can be just as time-consuming and stressful as shopping. With a new baby and a tight budget I would go with a blanket statement ASAP something like: “As you all know, this past year has been a difficult one. DH and I have decided that we will not be giving gifts this year. We hope you all will understand.”

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Abby December 2, 2013 at 7:43 am

What are the homemade gifts? I can understand your reluctance if this is a very labor intensive, time consuming project (like knitting or something, which I can’t imagine you have a *whole* lot of time on your hands, with a new baby), and you’re pretty sure Ethan and Dan will just scoff and chuck your handiwork into their closets, but I definitely think it’s a mistake to give them nothing, particularly if you explain it is because you think they’re ungrateful brats.

I think you have two options- 1. give them what you’re giving everyone else, and teach them the art of gracious gift receiving (or highlight their mother’s failure to do so), or give them each a $10 gift card instead of $20. $20 seems like a small price to pay for family harmony. If they want to whine that the gift cards are not enough, that’s on them (and their pushy mother).

For the record, in my extended family, it is a tradition that there is a gift exchange between the adults (each person buys one gift for one other person, and they draw names out of a hat), but everyone buys gifts for anyone under 18, so I don’t think your inlaws’ practice is that unusual.

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Dominic December 2, 2013 at 7:54 am

I’ve struggled with this in my family as well. When I married in, everyone bought everyone LOTS for Christmas. Sometimes spending totaled in the thousands per couple in gifts for everyone else in the family. After many years of lobbying, we finally went to a name exchange (each adult gets one adult to buy for, and each adult/couple buys for all young children). We set a spending target of $200, which I still think is high. In any case, gift-giving is not supposed to be obligatory, but we all know that, in the real world, that’s exactly what it is in some families. There are major expectations. But sometimes it may be necessary to explain that those expectations cannot be met this year due to special circumstances. If you have the time and inclination to make homemade gifts, give them with a smile and no apologies to everyone on your list. Better yet, give everyone a lovely card with a photo of your child, and leave it at that for this year. It’s up to the recipients to be gracious and understanding, and if they’re not, that’s their problem. You’re not responsible for how others receive gifts from you that are given in the spirit of Christmas. But definitely communicate up front that, due to your strained circumstances, your Christmas gifts will not be “the usual” this year.

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Randalf December 2, 2013 at 8:06 am

Give the boys what you give for other relatives — homemade items within your budget. Don’t make assumptions: despite your perception of them being “spoiled beyond spoiled” the boy might actually like your gifts (or at least understand your situation). If (When?) their step-mom grills you, just say “I think it is a nice idea”. No elaboration on your financial situation (which is nobody’s business but yours); no “the boys already have everything” (which is just an assumption). You really don’t owe anyone an explanation

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clairedelune December 2, 2013 at 8:33 am

I would do the homemade thing with them, too–it’s what you’re doing with everyone else. No need to indulge Stepmom’s greediness, but also no need to skip Dan and Ethan entirely, if you’re making everyone else gifts. If you’re doing a variety of homemade things, I’d probably be more likely to go with something like food for them, vs., I don’t know, homemade exfoliating salt scrub. But you don’t need to give them cash just because their mother seems to think it’s her place to demand that you do.

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Allie December 2, 2013 at 8:43 am

Just don’t do it. I can’t think of anything else to suggest. Their mother will get over it, and if she doesn’t… What, exactly? She’ll throw a fit? Not talk to you? Are you supposed to do whatever she wants just to keep the peace? That’s not fair. If she says anything, I’d just say “we have our own family now and our priorities have changed.” That’s it.

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another Laura December 2, 2013 at 8:50 am

Depending on the age of these boys, and the amount of time you have to invest (maybe not much with a newborn), I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility that you could make something they could enjoy. Young children would love a scavenger hunt. Older ones could appreciate something that promises quality time with their half/step brother and new niece or nephew, especially if it is given in a way that implies they are now mature enough to participate in something they used to be too young for. “Coupons” for a family movie night at your house where they can pick the meal/snacks and movie, an offer of help to build something they could continue to enjoy like a tree house, or other project they can take pride in.
Not knowing age or interests makes it hard to be more specific.

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Caitlyn December 2, 2013 at 8:55 am

I don’t feel that others can dictate how you do or do not spend your money. Let your MIL huff and puff while everyone else enjoys the time and care you put into making their gifts.
How old are these boys? Maybe the other things you were planning on making wouldn’t be appreciated by them, but I know you can make something that a preteen or teen boy would enjoy. Males of that age group are infamous for eating nonstop, so perhaps you could make them each their own large batch of your secret recipe cookies. Or sew them an iPod or iPhone cover in the team colors of their favorite sports team.

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Stepmomster December 2, 2013 at 8:56 am

Forget. Politely. I would dismiss it from your mind, it is not your concern. I would make the entire family a plate of cookies, with all of their names on the card and call it a day. If she mentions that the boys didn’t get a gift, look at her blankly and then state, in your best “shocked and innocent voice”

“Oh no! didn’t they get any cookies?” if she persists in mentioning they didn’t get individual gifts, you simply shrug and say “Well, Merry Christmas anyway”

If you want to avoid the conversation all together, make the same amount of cookies for them that you do every other family, and split them up in separate saran wrapped plates, one for each member. Slap a bow on it, and put a tag with each persons name, call it a day. If she is rude enough to suggest the boys deserve a “better” present, then you may look at her politely and say “Well, Merry Christmas anyway”

It is not your problem that she wants more. Little kids want everything on their Christmas list, I want to have a size six pant and win the lottery, and my cat wants to be an only pet; Wishing is not getting, and wanting is not your obligation.

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JeanLouiseFinch December 2, 2013 at 9:04 am

It sounds as if they are so spoiled that they won’t really appreciate anything that you could afford to give them, even if you broke down and bought them presents. I don’t know what you are making for presents, but if they have a favorite sports team and it wouldn’t make the gifts too absurd, couldn’t you give them a sports team themed gift? When I need to buy a small gift for a adolescent boy, I usually buy him either a book that I know he should read or some gift involving or consisting of candy.

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Meegs December 2, 2013 at 9:08 am

Yes. You simply do what is within your budget and if she complains about it you tell her that it was not financially possible to buy individual gifts this year. This does not have to be complicated at all. She can complain all she wants but it is what is is, your budget is your budget.

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HeartvsBrain December 2, 2013 at 9:10 am

I didn’t think it is appropriate to tell someone to get their child a gift. You seem to have recognized what your husband’s step mother is doing as inappropriate, but you haven’t yet made the connection that you don’t need to do what she tells you, nor do you need to feel bad about it. People can demand gifts for themselves or their children, but you certainly don’t have to obey them.

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Huh December 2, 2013 at 9:13 am

First of all, how old is Dan and Ethan? You said she talked about the older kids and that they were her younger sons. That could be any age range (“older kids” could be in their 30s and 40s and “younger” could be 20s OR “older kids” could be in their 20s and “younger” could be 10.) If they are high school age or up, I would say they get the same gifts that everyone else in the family gets. If they are younger than that, then a small gift is in order. And you don’t have to spend $20, especially with sales right now, if you shop smart, you can definitely get something nice in the $5-$10 range.

I think YOUR HUSBAND (because it’s HIS side of the family) should just be upfront with everyone that you’ve had a lot of medical bills this year and you’ve got too much on your plate with the baby, so this year EVERYONE is getting baked treats/homemade ornaments/whatever. If she throws a fit, he needs to remind her everyone’s working on a budget this time of year and that’s what you’ve budgeted.

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Ripple December 2, 2013 at 9:24 am

You don’t say how old Dan and Ethan are or where they live, which may make a difference as to what you get them. When will they be old enough to join the “secret Santa” and not get their own presents (or does your MIL expect them to get separate presents forever)?

Do you or your husband make a great type of food? For instance, my brother-in-law makes marvelous fudge every Christmas and that would be a great present. Or fantastic cookies or candy or something of that nature. If not, do either of you knit or crochet? A new handmade scarf or hat might work.

If your MIL complains about the type of gift, just let her know this is the type you gave everybody and you don’t have the time or funds to do something bigger for her sons. You say the boys probably won’t care what you give them, so don’t let her browbeat you. Remember that now you are going to be spending more of your money and energy on your baby, so can’t do as much for everyone else. Cutting back a little now will help with that.

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Cat December 2, 2013 at 9:28 am

I would be tempted to get Dan a girl rabbit and Ethan a boy rabbit and let step-mom be the bad guy when the rabbit population explodes. How old these lads are would make a difference in the gift-giving.
There’s nothing wrong with giving Dan and Ethan homemade cookies or fudge or taking them to a park to go fishing. Step mom can be reminded that this is what you can do given your situation.
You do not want to teach step-mom that she is the boss of both of you and gets to make the rules by which you will live. Do what you think is right and she will have to deal with it.

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acr December 2, 2013 at 10:21 am

Honestly, I wouldn’t explain it to your SMiL. You don’t have to justify your choices for her.

As for the boys – give them cookies. My aunt often struggled financially but she is an AMAZING cook and for Christmas she would give each of us a tin of our favorite cookies. My favorite has changed through the years – chocolate chip with pecans, peanut butter balls and currently it is “mystery cookies” with coconut, chocolate and dates. I’m an adult and my aunt still brings me a tin of my favorite cookies that I don’t have to share!

Whether or not the boys are spoiled is irrelevant to your argument. Don’t even get into that with your SMiL. Even if you try to say something diplomatic like, “Oh, they already get so many things at Christmas.” On email or facebook as the boys what their favorite kind of cookie is, or even just ask, “Do you prefer peanut butter or chocolate chip?”

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PrincessButtercup December 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

Are you making for everyone or just for the secret santa you get? If for everyone then make them a gift also. If you only give for secret santa then stick to that. If you decided to give to the two younger kids then how about baking them something. Cookies or fudge are appreciated by most. And if anyone gives you any flack respond with “I’m sorry that my time, thought and love is not good enough for you.” And leave it at that.

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Hollis December 2, 2013 at 10:45 am

if you are crafty at all; you could find each boy a “blankie” (if you will) at a Hancock’s or JoAnn’s with their favorite sports team fleece. Wrap it up it and i bet they would enjoy snuggling with it while gaming or watching ‘their’ team on tv. You can make it home-made by fringing it and tying the fringe into knots, pretty sure they have instructions in-store, or you can Google it.
With the adults, I would go with a bath scrub or coupons for a favorite dessert that you perhaps make at a later time. At christmas, we get so inundated with sweets, it is hard to enjoy everything.
HTH

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Stacey Frith-Smith December 2, 2013 at 10:47 am

Why is this your problem? Can’t your husband sort out how to deal with his own family of origin including the steps? The only way that this becomes a problem is if the two of you aren’t on the same page. You might spare a moment to pity these two teens for the parent they are saddled with and see if you can’t manage to spare enough affection for them to see past that “spoiled” label. Treating them as individuals and with respect would be gift enough.

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Wild Irish Rose December 2, 2013 at 10:48 am

It really doesn’t matter, in my opinion, whose kids they are or how old they are. If you can’t or don’t want to give them gifts, then don’t. It’s your money, your time, your decision, your everything. If they’re younger than, say, 12 or 13, make up some coupon books redeemable for stuff they like to do: paintball, amusement park, whatever, and then let them redeem those later on in life. Otherwise, I wouldn’t let the MIL trap you into that my-kids-must-get-gifts-from-everyone mentality. I really hate it when people hold holidays hostage with this kind of tripe.

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Kelly L. December 2, 2013 at 10:48 am

@Cat, I’m pretty sure you’re joking, but please no. Adding to the homeless pet population, which is what would surely result, is not an appropriate way to lash back at the relatives.

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Alicia December 2, 2013 at 10:51 am

When I was in middle school one of my uncles decides that everyone was getting bags of salted carmel corn with nuts in it for Christmas. He was worried that the kids would all mind but figured the adults would be ok with it. When my sisters and I talked to him in January what he was amazed with was we were asking for how to make it where a bunch of the adults complained. We loved the carmel nut popcorn. So maybe the kids will suprize you. I would not get them anything too froofoo but honestly a lot of people may dislike froofroo nor would a kid be appreciative of say homemade vanilla extract ( which is awesome) but a bit of extra carmel corn or candy or sweet or salty snack could be loved.

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Alicia December 2, 2013 at 10:52 am

Ok and one more thing. If neatly packaged sometimes people mistakenly think the homemade gift is from some gourmet store.

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k. December 2, 2013 at 11:02 am

Make them each a cool wallet to hold all the cash and gift cards they’ll be getting.

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Jen December 2, 2013 at 11:03 am

OP, a few questions:

How old are Dan and Ethan?
This could make a world of difference. If they are old enough to participate in the Secret Santa gift exchange, then perhaps you could talk to them and the participants and have them join in. However, if the participants are all over 20 and they’re under 10, I can see where they *might* be considered separate from it (I know a lot of families that have different present rules for adults vs. minors).

Do the boys get anything for anyone else?
If they’re old enough to give gifts but don’t, they shouldn’t expect gifts (not that anyone should ever *expect* a gift). Or, if they’re too young to give gifts, does their mom get you and your DH a gift?

How is the gift exchange conducted?
Is the whole family together exchanging and opening gifts or do you just send Ethan’s and Dan’s gifts to them and you’re not actually present for the gift opening? If everyone is together and there’s some sort of formal gift-opening where everyone opens what they got and announces who it’s from, that could be awkward.

What is the handmade gift you’re making?
If it’s food, I agree that the boys may appreciate cookies. For my boyfriend’s family, I gift all the male relatives cookies, which they eagerly look forward to each year. If it’s knitted scarves or something like that, perhaps they would like them (sports team colors, school colors, Hogwarts house colors). If the handmade gift is something like cross-stitch, I can see where the boys likely wouldn’t like it.

I do agree that *if* you do gift the boys anything, it should be handmade, just like everyone elses – either the same thing or bake them some cookies and get some Christmas themed cookie gift bags from the dollar store.

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Funny Girl December 2, 2013 at 11:14 am

During the holiday season some people seem to develop a horribly greedy attitude. They put monetary value on love. Gifts need to come from the heart and not from the wallet, no matter what the commercials on TV say. There is nothing wrong with homemade gifts if it’s all you can afford. Why does the step mother think that her kids are entitled to certain gifts? It’s not your responsibility to spoil her kids, especially if you can’t afford it.
I would also like to suggest you check warehouse sales. I don’t know where you live but in the city where I live, we have every couple months huge warehouse sales where I buy all my household products. Anything from band aids, soap, tooth brushes, draino, floor washing , bathroom washing and even baby stuff such as wipes, baby powder etc…. at huge discounts and they are all brand names. These sales have anything and everything and they really stretch your budget. There is usually a website which has a list for your area.

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Lerah99 December 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

I have yet to meet a couple of boys who don’t love cookies.

So keep to the homemade gifts and give them something delicious.

ALSO, if you husband has a relationship with his step-brothers he should start managing their expectations now. As quick talk along the lines of:
“You know wife and I love you both. We think you are awesome and very special. This year has been really tough for wife and me. Your little niece/nephew was in the hospital for a long time. So we aren’t able to give you guys the kind of monetary gift we would like to give you. But I know you are old enough to understand that it isn’t the cost of the gift that displays our love for you.”

Then if Step Mom decides to say something nasty about your present, your husband can simply say “Dan and Ethan understand how much wife and I care for them. It isn’t the cost of the gift that matters but the thought behind it.” And then refuse to discuss it with her any further.

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Nannerdoman December 2, 2013 at 11:51 am

My two cents:

Give these boys the same homemade gifts you’re giving everyone else. Like the Bank of England, do NOT apologize and do NOT explain. This is what you’re giving, hope you love it, Merry Christmas.

As for your step-MIL, have your husband remind her that you’re giving gifts–not paying your taxes. You get to decide what to give, whom to give to, etc.

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babaran December 2, 2013 at 12:11 pm

No explanations necessary, you just give them a homemade gift like whoever else and be done with it. I get that stepmom may expect actual big cash items, but so what. I had a sister in law like that one year, and after a few years of me doing exactly as I wanted, she finally shut up about it (and is no longer in the family anyway so it wouldn’t have mattered whatever I had done anyway!! :-)

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Ellex December 2, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Include Dan and Ethan with the homemade gift giving. It would be gracious. Acknowledge going into it that they may not be grateful for the gift. That will be disappointing and you can’t control whether or not they feel grateful, but *you* can still feel gracious.

And who knows, they may surprise you. Gift cards are all very well and good, but they’re a touch impersonal. If you can demonstrate with your gift that you care about their individual interests (an ornament made out of comic pages for the Superman fan, holiday cookies with their team colors, etc) then that may be worth more to them than a twenty dollar gift card. Or it may not. But it will keep the peace with their mother and you can feel gracious for you actions.

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Tana December 2, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but the inference of “but of course the boys will still get THEIR gifts,” to me, means that their mother is saying everyone does the Secret Santa (one gift for picked person) BUT you also have to buy two more gifts for “the boys.” Not that the letter writer is having to give gifts to everyone in the family, but that the other gifts are for friends or their side of the family. If the boys are old enough to understand (kindergarten probably or older,) they should be in the Secret Santa and mom should help them pick gifts for the person they get. If they’re younger, they won’t care much about gifts anyway except in that mom makes a stink. “Family does Secret Santa,” means that everyone gets one gift. Which I don’t see why it can’t be home made either but if the family is against that, ONE gift in all of this chaserai should be workable.

The answer of course is “Naturally Mom, if I get one of the boys in Secret Santa they will get a gift.” I would not be terribly surprised if the rest of the family doesn’t thank you for getting them off the hook as well.

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Lilac December 2, 2013 at 12:32 pm

Cookies are a sure think but I actually really like the idea of the chex/gorp idea. Package up three or four servings that are appropriate to eat while watching a game or movie. Attach a cute card and tie it with twine. Perfect. Just check on food allergies first as peanuts and the dye in M and Ms could be an issue.

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Heather December 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm

When my friends and I were much much younger, one in our group had to make homemade gifts for a few years because of student loans and such. When she finally had a little money to buy gifts, we requested that she keep making the homemade gifts anyway! We loved them. While some would argue that it’s not your place to teach the spoiled kids any lessons… here’s a great opportunity for them to learn about appreciation, necessity, unselfish acceptance, and a whole bunch of other things. I am now the mother of teenagers and they would never turn their noses up at a gift given with thought and care… and it’s not just my kids… most that I know would act the same.

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