A Poor Standard of Generousity

by admin on December 16, 2013

I have 3 grown children. My daughter is married with two young children who are a gift to me with just their presence. Her family is struggling to make ends meet so Christmas gifts other than to her children are hard to do. My youngest son is single with a girlfriend and he is the most generous person. He bought me a new fridge for this Christmas because mine was on its last legs and I was totally surprised. My oldest son is hardworking and giving of his time and actions but really hates to shop. He usually doesn’t give gifts at all.  Both my sons earn the same pay.

I was planning to treat them equally on gifts this year but would really like to get youngest son something very nice, not because of his gift but because of his loving, generous spirit. I would appreciate having your opinions to consider.   1205-13

Youngest son gets you a refrigerator and he’s the one child you would bestow “something very nice”to reward his “loving, generous spirit”  but you appear to diminish the oldest son’s “giving of his time and actions” as unworthy.    Anyone can order a refrigerator online from the local home store in a matter of minutes.   But gifts of time and deeds takes a considerable personal investment that far exceeds the value of a store bought item.  You, dear madam, are defining generosity by material standards.   Pity your poor daughter who is busy with your precious grandchildren but she’s too poor to ever meet your definition of generosity.

If you were my mother, words cannot express how disheartening it would be to realize that you judged me and each sibling by such a petty yard stick.

{ 80 comments… read them below or add one }

just4kicks December 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm

After reading the comments again, (hello, grandma? Is that you? Lol) , I remembered when my sister and I were little, my mom’s dad got remarried. Step-grandma had a “real” granddaughter who would have NUMEROUS expensive gifts to open on Christmas, while my sis and I got bargain basement cheap gifts that were ugly and too big/small. I remember feeling very slighted, and very upset for my mom, who was beside herself with anger and disappointment that we were all not treated equally.

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Lisa Marie December 16, 2013 at 3:26 pm

OP here, to clarify. I babysit my two grandchildren for my daughter 50 hours a week for free so I am generous with her. My youngest son who bought me the fridge also bestows his time and helps his father and I way more than my oldest son does. My oldest cannot be bothered to shop and doesn’t care if he gets any gift and he often eats dinner with me which is wonderful company while his father is on the road. I see now I should NOT give my youngest boy anything but my thanks. Thanks for the clarification on the part of you all.

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Marozia December 16, 2013 at 3:29 pm

What a petty, materialistic, vulgar person you are! Admin is correct with your judgement standards.
Treat all your children equally in regards to gifts.

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Calliope December 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm

I guess I’m the “poor daughter with young kids” in my family. One of my younger siblings, single and without children, almost certainly has more money to spend on gifts for our parents than I do. That doesn’t mean that she has a “generous spirit” and I don’t; it means she’s at a different place in her life than I am. The homemade gifts my parents will receive from my children and me come from the heart, from a place of generosity and love, every bit as much as the fancier gifts my sibling might give. I’m giving my talents and my time. Not money, no, but I’m of the opinion that time and talents are just as valuable. Fortunately, my parents agree.

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Amara December 16, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I have to agree with everyone else: gift all your children equally. And never change. The bitterness it can cause can linger for decades even if outwardly it doesn’t appear.

My maternal grandmother did this, favored my mother’s sister’s family over ours. The gifts were blatantly disparate in cost, and I have personally never forgotten the year my cousins got about $200 worth of toys while I got a card with a $20 bill inside it. (This was nearly 50 years ago.) I never said anything even to Mom–I didn’t want her to be hurt at my hurt–but I have never forgotten it. To this day, none of us like or will even have anything to do with our cousins.

I urge you to not do anything that could cause such pain.

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LizaJane December 16, 2013 at 4:50 pm

OP, PLEASE READ THIS! These posts are all good and I can’t improve on them. But I can tell you this: I’m one of 8 kids. My parents treated us all fairly. Not the same. Fairly. Gifts were always equal. Some of my siblings are better off than others, one is completely extravagant with gifts. We all received equal gifts; my mom went to delicious lengths, sometimes to the point of getting someone something they liked less than something that cost $5.00 less. But how can you be mad about that? My dad just handed out cash and said, “Do what makes you happy.” If that meant paying a bill, fine. If it meant an expensive dinner, that was cool, too.
There were times in my life that I did slot for Mom after Dad was gone and times when siblings did more. No matter.

Do you know what we got out of this? A family that gets along and stayed close. We settled the estate peacefully and still get together at least 3 times a year. Our family now numbers 60, and we share the best legacy; a family that

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LizaJane December 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

gets along.

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startruck December 16, 2013 at 4:54 pm

as a mom, you really cant show favortism in the form of gifts. your kinda asking for some trouble between siblings. its just natural. bestow on each of your children the same. dont be generous with some and not others

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startruck December 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm

i would like to add though, that if you want to get him something for giving you the fridge, i would do it another time. in private. not openely at the christmas gift exchange

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Emmy December 16, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I agree with the admin. If youngest son did give the OP a generous gift and he is as truly generous as she thinks he is, he won’t want a payment for his thoughtfulness. She wanted to give the youngest son a special gift for his generous spirit (the gift of the fridge), which shows she doesn’t seem to think her older son who displays his generosity in a different way or her daughter is worthy of a special gift. A heartfelt ‘thank you’ should be payment enough to the youngest son and if she does want to show her appreciation in another way, she shouldn’t do it with Christmas gifts. I hope the OP doesn’t decide to go ahead with this show of favoritism, especially at Christmas.

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Kate December 16, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Maybe I’m bringing my own Childhood Issues into this, but boy, do I hate when parents blatantly play favourites. Often parents may have their reasons, but it causes so much resentment between children when you’re forced to outperform and outspend your sibling in order to earn your parents’ love (or gifts in this case).
I was always second best in my family, OP, and while I am on friendly terms with my parents and sister, I will never completely forgive them for it.

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Dezrah December 16, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Am I the only one who really doesn’t have a problem with the OP? This is my interpretation:

That refrigerator was the perfect thing she needed at exactly that moment and it truly touched her. Being at the point where you need a new fridge but you are either unable to afford one or too mentally paralyzed to get one yourself is not a proud situation. In all likelihood, her son bought her more than a fridge, her gave her her dignity. By her own account, he was probably the only person who could have done this for her (daughter is very busy and older son is an non-savvy shopper). I see nothing wrong with giving an extra special thank you for this gift, but make it something outside Christmas.

If your children are all kind-hearted, then they’ll understand your love for them is not diminished just because you’re especially grateful in this instance.

We all tend to read these stories through the filter of our experience. I saw a mother who was so grateful she wanted to do something special, but then again I come from a balanced household where there is no favoritism or jealousy even when gifts are unequal. I can’t help but suspect so many people here must have had very bad parental/sibling relationships and see their own family here instead.

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RedDevil December 16, 2013 at 6:08 pm

@ Wild Irish Rose – I don’t think Rap meant that the OP’s daughter was broke through her own bad choices – but that in Rap’s family (as noted by the “equivalent to youngest son” comment) there is one sibling that is broke due to bad choices, and another who perhaps focuses their money on their children a little too much (I’m thinking spoiled brats, or similar).

I can understand Rap’s comments, and relate. Just because I can afford to give a gift that has a higher monetary value than what you have given, does not make my gift any less meaningful than yours, just like you giving a homemade or labour-based gift would not be any less meaningful than what I have given. Both gifts deserve heartfelt thanks.

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Decimus December 16, 2013 at 6:11 pm

“My oldest cannot be bothered to shop and doesn’t care if he gets any gift and he often eats dinner with me which is wonderful company while his father is on the road”

Hm. Gary Chapman came up with the theory of “languages of love” and I think he is right about it; people show love in different ways. The fact that your oldest son doesn’t care for either giving or receiving gifts suggests that gift giving isn’t actually how he shows love. It doesn’t necessarily mean he cares less. It just may mean he values time together.

Your youngest son may still spent more time and money on you than your others, but the best way to deal with that, for the sake of family harmony, is with either verbal thanks or some form of gift separate from the Christmas gift.

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Dezrah December 16, 2013 at 6:21 pm

@Cat
Your brother is pathetic and your parents are enablers. This makes them both weak and they should be pitied accordingly. These are facts, nothing more. You are stronger than they are; don’t let them continue to poison you.

@Amara
Your grandmother gives your cousin better gifts and you still refuse to do anything with your cousins 50 years later?! I think grandma’s not the only petty one being petty at this point.

@Lisa Marie
Thank you for filling in some of the holes. I’m so glad you’re taking everything that’s said here so gracefully. For what it’s worth, don’t discount your older son too much. It could very well be that he is simply doing his best to live within his means or that physical gifts simply aren’t something that feel as loving to him. Or maybe he’s just a Scrooge. ;)

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Wild Irish Rose December 16, 2013 at 6:36 pm

@Rap: I am very sorry for offending you! It was not my intention to do so. I’m not saying that a generous gift to a parent (or a child, or a sibling, etc.) should not be acknowledged. I’m saying that the other two sibs KNOW that Youngest got Mom a fridge, and they will notice if she gives him something more than what she gives them, which in my mind is just saying that the material gift is appreciated more than the gifts of time and love given to her by the other two kids and their children. I understand that your comments were in reference to your own siblings.

Please accept my apology. I didn’t mean to be snarky or rude. I just think gratitude should never be expressed in the form of a Christmas gift. If you’re going to give a gift, do it from the heart and not because you think you owe someone something.

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WMK December 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm

OP, If your intention is to make your other two children feel like the only thing that is important to you is what they can provide you monetarily, then, by all means, do some extra for your youngest. I, personally, have been in your older two’s position and I can tell you that it makes one feel like crap when one’s thoughtful gestures throughout the year didn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to a new {insert expensive gift here}.

If, however, your intention is not to make the other two children feel like you are favoring your youngest, I would stick with giving them ALL an equal gift.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you.

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Kate December 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm

@Cat – I was in a similar situation and I left home at 17. Everything I achieved (good grades, extra-curricular activities etc), my sister came along and did it better, therefore receiving more praise. Then when I was about 14 or 15, I started having pretty bad mood swings and was depressed a lot. Mind you, I was still getting good grades and never got in trouble. My parents saw this as attention seeking behaviour, ignored me when I walked into the room and continued talking only when I left, and would frequently tell my sister not to ‘turn out like me’. I left the week after I finished high school. Turns out the reason for my ‘bad’ behaviour was mental illness, which nobody bothered to look into, my parents being happy to write me off as a teenage brat. My extended family then told me that I was ‘making up’ having been in an abusive relationship, and to stop trying to get attention. Yep, parental favouritism can be awful!

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Lisa Marie December 16, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Thank you Dezrah for saying the words I needed to hear. I do not play favorites. Never have and
they know it. I am thinking of showing him the sweater I am knitting for him at Christmas and
of course if the others want one I will make one for them also. My family is very close, we live
next door to each other and work together each day.

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Patricia December 16, 2013 at 10:50 pm

@Lisa Marie
I understand wanting to show your appreciation for someone who is good to you. I know everyone is saying be fair, but it’s always nice to know that you’re appreciated.

If you wanted, maybe you could take your younger son to a movie or a show that he’s been wanting to see, and that his brother and sister aren’t too interested in. Something that isn’t too extravagant, but a little out of the ordinary.

It seems like your kids like spending time with you, and that’s a good thing.

PS-Just saw the post about your knitting him a sweater, and that is really sweet. :) And extra awesome that you are taking your other children into consideration. I think that’s a great idea.

Happy Christmas!!

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Rap December 16, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Wild Irish Rose – apology accepted. I also overreacted.

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Niamh84 December 17, 2013 at 8:02 am

I agree all the children should be treated equally and no one of them should get a better present than the others. I’m only about half way through the comments as there are so many but I have to say I cannot believe how mean spirited so many commenters are being. I feel perhaps the OP phrased the question poorly but I’m shocked at the cruel accusations being thrown at her.

The way I would see the question is this: “My son has gifted me with an extremely thoughtful present. I was in need of a new fridge and when he surprised me with one I was so grateful and overwhelmed by such a thoughtful gift. I would like to reciprocate his generosity somehow and was thinking of perhaps getting him a more generous Christmas present than I normally would. I am writing to you to ask, as I wouldn’t want to cause any bad feelings amongst my other children who are both wonderful too, is it okay to repay my son’s kindness with a larger Christmas gift?”

To which the answer would be as many have said – No. Equal presents for Christmas. Find another way / occassion to repay your son.

It looks to me as if this was phrased poorly but I am absolutely positive the OP did not mention her grandchildren being a gift and her other son’s giving of time for no reason – they were mentioned as praise as she wanted us to know that she loves all her children and they’re all good people. I would almost go so far as to say she didn’t want to phrase it as “two out of my three children get me nothing for Christmas – is it okay if I give a bigger present to the one child who does give me presents?” instead she appears to have been trying to make it clear that the lack of presents from the other two are not poor reflections on their characters as they are great in these other ways.

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Niamh84 December 17, 2013 at 8:31 am

Just read to the end of the comments there. I think Dezrah summed it up perfectly.

I also think there are a lot of people projecting here. Everyone’s situation is different and I’m so sorry that so many of you have had difficult upbringing with parent’s playing favourites.

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AnaLuisa December 17, 2013 at 9:12 am

I do not share the harsh feelings towards OP at all.

It is possible that each of us reflects his/her own situation into what OP described.
I will try and see OP’ s situation from a totally different angle:

When I was a teen my parents died, and I went to the family of my Uncle and Aunt. They had an only daughter ten years older than me. Ever since, they treated me as if I was their daughter, and made no differences between my cousin and myself in terms of affection. I have deeply appreciated this, and I am always trying to show them I do.

Chance has it that a few years ago, we bought them a new fridge as well :-)). We knew they needed one, and we could afford it. And I would be quite offended by the suggestion that it is nothing more than “sit and order it through the internet”, and that if you have the money it’s no big deal. For me, it was much more than this – it assumed that we noticed that they needed one, and realized that if we bought it for them, they would be able to use their money on something else instead of on a new fridge. I sincerely meant it as an act of love (you need something, I notice it and get it for you although it involves an investment of time/money on my part).

My cousin (and their own daughter) is rather in the position of OP’s daughter, and my Aunt and Uncle have helped her in various occasions. I would NEVER think of placing myself in front of her or anything of the like, and I would feel very embarassed if my Aunt and Uncle gave me a bigger present for Christmas (it is, if I’d noticed that because I do not make records of what other family members get). Yet I appreciate very much if they occasionally say “it was so nice you gave us that fridge” (of course not in my cousin’s presence as I wouldn’t want her to feel embarassed for something she would perhaps want to do but couldn’t).

It is possible that OP feels that she is doing a lot for her daughter in terms of deeds of love (50 hrs a week is some time!), and (OP please correct me if I am wrong), that the third son does not invest a lot (I’ve understood he is willing to spend some time with his mother if she cooks him dinner). But her third son went out of his way to do something for HER (i. e. he did not just take from her but gave to her).

I know there are times we are not able to give to our dear ones although we would very much like to, and are rather accepting their help (as OP’s daughter at the moment). There is basically nothing wrong with this, yet I understand OP’s urge to do something to let her younger son know how much she appreciates he is not taking but giving. I would by no means offend OP by suggesting she is a mere materialist, there is much more to that (as I tried to describe above). Yet I’d agree with most of the commenters that her gratitude should not be shown in terms of a more expensive Christmas gift but rather by a one-by-one expression how much she appreciates what I perceive not as a mere monetary gift but rather a deed of love. If I was her son, I would prefer a clear statement that my parents were pleased and proud of what I did to any material thing.

I am convinced that OP will find the right way to tell her son.

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Markko December 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

Perhaps the OP did just word this badly; I hope so. I feel this is at least a possibility because her children seem like nice, well adjusted people who hold her in good regard. Parents with a strong history of playing favorites with their children generally can’t claim that at all. Many are the times I have said and written things so badly that I was ashamed of myself when I realized how it sounded.. . Still, the way the OP sounded in this post makes me want to agree with Admin.

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Anonymous December 17, 2013 at 10:18 am

OP apologized, so I think we should stop dogpiling on her.

Anyway, I have a similar story. Two Christmases ago, my laptop (circa Christmas 2005) was dying. It barely worked anymore, and the fan had died too, so it made rather disturbing jackhammer sounds whenever I started it up. It was getting to the point where I was afraid that it would burst into flames. I knew it was a problem, but I couldn’t afford to replace it, so I made do. So, just before Christmas, I asked my brother what he wanted for Christmas, as I always do, because he doesn’t like surprises. He told me he wanted a package of saxophone reeds, and asked me the same question in return. I gave several suggestions, all under $30 or so. On Christmas morning, I gave my brother the saxophone reeds he’d requested, and he was happy. All was well until he gave me his gift to me. It was a card with a note inside that said, “Sis, I’m sorry I don’t have anything for you to open right now. Your new laptop will arrive shortly after New Year’s.” I was happy, but at the same time, a little embarrassed, because of the obvious disparity in value between the gift that my brother got me, and the gift that I’d gotten him, even though it was what he’d wanted. My mom got REALLY angry with me for accepting the new laptop, although I only accepted it after many, many “are you SURE” conversations with my brother over the next few days. She said that I “should have said no,” and that I was “selfish,” and basically, made me feel completely awful for accepting what my brother had intended as a nice gesture. Later, for his birthday in May, I made my brother a birthday slideshow on the laptop he’d gotten me for Christmas. He said that that was his favourite birthday gift that year, and for our purposes, we counted the slideshow as reciprocation, because he has more money and less creative ability than I do, and I’m the other way around. So, obviously, tit-for-tat doesn’t work in our family, and I’d imagine that it doesn’t work in ANY family where there’s a disparity in financial circumstances among family members. So, I think the best thing to do is to give to each of your children according to their needs and interests, even if “exact mathematical equality” takes a back seat to that.

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Angel December 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I know you want to do something extra special for your youngest son but Christmas is not the occasion to do this. Christmas should be equal gifts. Take your youngest son out to lunch or a movie or something at a later time.

IMO family and friendships do NOT always have to be tit for tat. Do things for someone else because you WANT to not because you feel an obligation, and you will be much better off. That’s just my two cents.

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Amanda H. December 17, 2013 at 8:50 pm

@Anonymous #76, I think your mother was a complete boor with how she reacted to your brother’s generous gift. It’s not like the laptop was the only thing on your list (from what you said, it sounds like the laptop wasn’t on the list at all), and it’s certainly not like you threw a fit demanding a new laptop, so I can’t figure out why she would think you were being “selfish” for accepting it graciously. Unless she was TOO hung up on “all gift exchanges must be equal.”

This is why I think equivalent emotional value is far more important than equivalent monetary value, but obviously that is going to vary with family. I never once thought that my parents favored my sisters over me or vice versa. Even when one year saw one of us receiving a portable CD player and another one of us receiving a small (not nearly as expensive) baking set, because both gifts were geared toward what we wanted, and the baking set came with time spent with Mom actually using the supplies. The important thing was that the thought put into each gift was the same, and nothing *felt* like favoring one child over another.

So I will add my vote in saying that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to thank your son for the gift of the fridge, but don’t tie it to his Christmas gift, because that sends the wrong message. Thank him in a separate way (a dinner, an outing, a movie, a physical item, whatever you choose). Keep the Christmas gifts themselves equal as much as you can to send the right message to all your children.

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Chicalola December 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

OP, your “clarification” did nothing to help you here. You still sound completely selfish.

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Anonymous December 18, 2013 at 11:38 am

Amanda H., thanks for letting me know that I wasn’t being selfish when I accepted my brother’s gift. My mom reacted that way, because it she felt that I was poor from my own bad decisions (nothing illegal or harmful; I just graduated into a recession, as a right-brained person in a left-brained world), and if I wasn’t “too good for a menial job” (not true; I’ve worked in call centres and retail and other things of that ilk, but even those jobs are hard to come by these days), then I wouldn’t have been in that mess. Anyway, you’re right–I didn’t ask for a laptop; my brother got it for me because he could see that I needed it. Actually, I’m sure the neighbours could practically HEAR that I needed it, with the way my old laptop jackhammered away every time I turned it on. The saxophone reeds weren’t a cheap gift either, but anything like that is of course going to look cheap/tacky/stingy/whatever in comparison to a laptop. So, my mom didn’t so much feel that “all gifts had to be equal” (although, her gifts to everyone were a bit more modest than usual that year, because she was strapped for cash too), but maybe it was because she thought I didn’t deserve a laptop, or because my brother showed her up, or any number of things. Long story short, although my brother bought me that laptop, I paid for it in maternal tantrums. My dad was around for all of this as well, but he kept quiet. My mom’s anger faded over time, and after she saw the birthday slideshow I’d made for my brother in May, I think she finally understood. Actually, I think she might have been starting to get it before then, because now that I remember, she requested a creative gift from me (a video slideshow of a song she’d written when I was a child) for her birthday in April, and was thrilled with it.

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