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Ghastly Gift Choices

I’ve been reading all the recent gift giving dilemmas that have featured on EHell with growing amusement and thought I’d submit this.

The problem for my brother and me is the complete opposite of the angsty gift givers wondering what to do about picky people. We’ve been desperately trying to stop our mother giving us gifts for years.  We’ve tried so hard to be grateful for the things she’s given us but she just manages to get it spectacularly wrong on almost every occasion.  Apparently I’m hard to buy for but, frankly, I’ve given up even bothering to ask for things I want as I know I’ll just be completely ignored and still get something totally inappropriate.  Here are a few of my favourites-

My 15th birthday – what would you give a teenager in the mid 1990s? A gift voucher for clothes or music? Make up? Books? A computer game? No.  Obviously the ‘in’ thing is a cast iron fondue set.  That year my friends got sneakers, clothes, money and large birthday parties.

My 30th birthday – I’d had a really bad year. I was going through a tough divorce and really needed cheering up.  Mum was living 400 miles away and had just come into a little bit of money which she intended to use for a once in a lifetime holiday.   She asked me and my brother to go but as the travel time coincided with my busiest period of work, I simply couldn’t do it. Either side of that month, the same month as my birthday, would have been fine.

I pressed her to tell me when she was travelling as I wanted to make birthday plans myself. No travel date. I push her again, as she may be on the holiday during my birthday and I need to know so I can make plans to do something nice with the family or make alternative arrangements. Still no travel date.  Then I discover, a couple of weeks before my birthday that she will be in town for my birthday but is working, so we could squeeze a birthday thing for me around our work schedules. Still no commitment to doing anything.

It gets to a few days before my birthday, and therefore too late for me to arrange a party or get my internationally scattered friends together.  In the end, I find myself having a quick family birthday picnic (made by me) during her hour long lunch break.  A week later she jets off for an incredible holiday with my brother. I guess I got my wish that year, if only it hadn’t been when I was at such a low point and if only she’d given me a little more warning about her plans so I could decide to include her or not. Even a birthday card would have softened the blow.

My 31st birthday – I’d had hay fever for 20 years at this point. Every potted plant I’ve ever owned has died. EVERY SINGLE ONE.  My mother decides that what I need for my birthday are three house plants. I was so surprised that I couldn’t even fake a positive reaction. The next day I mention this to my brother.  He decides to tell her that the gift wasn’t appreciated.  Very generously, she decides to buy me a second gift – the book I’d been reading that week and discussing with her.  I now have two copies of “Her Fearful Symmetry” sitting side by side on my bookshelf at home. It does make me smile every time I walk past – which is a massive win in terms of gifting!

First Christmas with the New Man- So I meet a lovely new guy, he’s super picky about food. Mum unexpectedly decides to give him a Christmas gift.  She’s visited his second floor inner city apartment and knows that food gifts are not a good idea.  The New Man hates mushrooms, really can’t stand them. Mum is made aware of this. Obviously, my mother decides that the only thing to buy for a picky eater living in a garden-less home is a mushroom log.   Yes, a piece of wood sewn with mushroom fungi so you can grow and harvest your own.  We couldn’t even re-gift, or return ( where do you buy such a thing?!) we just had to give it straight back to her in the hope she could put it in her own garden.

The Wedding – New Man turns into New Husband. Although we have a gift registry, we’ve asked no one for anything, just for them to be there and payed for the wedding ourselves.  My ex-husband and his new wife will be in attendance.   My mum had missed their wedding but had written a piece of music as a gift for them.  It turns out that she has also written one for us. At last, a lovely gift!  The kicker?  She has asked the band to play BOTH pieces of music.   Yes, at my wedding to someone else, she had the band play a piece of music for my ex-husband.  She couldn’t understand why my husband and I were so deeply offended at her ‘great’ idea to kill two birds with one stone.

So this Christmas, my husband and I have told everyone we’re only doing gifts for children.   My mother has agreed that we are NOT doing adult gifts.   It has been made explicitly clear that we don’t want gifts from anyone, nor are we giving them.  If someone feels moved to offer to give us a gift, we will ask them to make a donation to a charity of their choice instead.   It hasn’t stopped my mother accidentally letting slip that she’s planning on getting us a gift….

I can’t understand why she didn’t bother the year she had some money and I desperately needed some TLC, yet is desperate to give us something we really, really don’t want now?  Oh well, I guess that’ll be my New Year’s submission ;-).

Happy Holidays! 1216-13

{ 99 comments… add one }
  • Elizabeth January 1, 2014, 2:28 pm

    I read that narcissists are notoriously horrible gift givers because they lack any empathy for others. This made perfect sense in explaining a member of my family.

  • Natalie January 1, 2014, 3:16 pm

    Jewel, I think you must be related to my MIL. Each year she asks for a list of ideas for myself, my husband and the children. Even when I write down sizes, I am always certain to ask for gift receipts because the clothes for the children are NEVER the right size. I have gotten to where I ask for simple, but specific, items. I almost always include links to a website for purchase. And yet…*sigh*. This year I got an ice scraper for my car. Oh, well.

  • Marozia January 1, 2014, 6:36 pm

    My normally etiquette-proper mother gave me the most hideous birthday gift one year. I suppose I can’t really blame her as she was caring for my rather over-demanding grandmother and she was rather stressed. The gift was a black & white sweater, size Small (I am a Large). Mum knew I was a large size, so why she bought it, I don’t know. Another thing that puzzled me was, coming from a large family, mum used to knit us the most gorgeous sweaters and always at the correct size. She saw the look on my face, grabbed the sweater from me and said, “Well, you do have a lot of these, you don’t really need it. I’ll take it back”. I never did get a gift for that birthday from her.
    OP, there are some parents who will never learn. Your mother is obviously one of them. I shudder to think at what gift your mother gave you!

  • Marozia January 1, 2014, 6:45 pm

    My normally gift-clueless late MIL actually gave me a fabulous gift one Christmas. It was a steam mop I was about to buy for myself.
    This was the best gift I ever got from her.

  • Marian Perera January 1, 2014, 6:53 pm

    I believe that a gift can be a symbol of love and generosity and caring. I’ve received many such gifts from wonderful people.

    I also believe that a gift can be something that shows no love, affection or thought. It depends on the gift.

    I suppose if someone believes that all gifts, regardless of what they are, are evidence of love and should therefore never be complained about to anyone, we would have to agree to disagree on this matter.

    Also, my father is no longer a part of my life, so I can safely say that I do not miss getting inappropriate gifts from him.

  • Lo January 1, 2014, 7:04 pm

    I don’t feel like any entitlement perceived as coming from the OP changes the dilemma at hand.

    Obviously etiquette requires us to always show our gratitude for any gift, no matter how much we dislike it. Everyone can deal with a few bad gifts and everyone’s probably given a bad gift at least once. But a pattern of bad gift giving isn’t fun to be the recipient of because you know those efforts, no matter how well-intended, are going to waste.

    I do think it’s kinder for everyone involved to put a stop to the gift giving. I personally like tacky stuff, so I’ll always have room in my home for a weird statuette or naked gnome clock or whatever crazy thing someone wants to gift me, even if it makes me do a double take, but this isn’t most people’s idea of fun.

    When I was growing up my mother was once the recipient of several terrible but well-intended home-baked goodie gifts from a coworker and because she’s so passive this went on for ages. I’m talking huge quantities and poor quality. We got to the point where we were literally throwing food away. My mother simply could not conceive of a polite way to end it and honestly I don’t envy her position because I’m not sure I’d have known what to do either. The nice thing about this being OP’s mother is that she has an opportunity to be direct without hurting feelings. No gifts between adults is not an unreasonable request and if you can’t ask that of family then who?

  • Thistlebird January 1, 2014, 7:30 pm

    Why are people hating on the OP? She’s not “putting pressure on her Mom to make birthdays special”–she’s explicitly stated that she’s trying to convince her Mom to give her nothing! And she wasn’t expecting Mom to throw her a 30th birthday party–just to respond in time so that she could be included, as the OP, perhaps out of family duty, seemed to think she had to be. If you’re going to criticize someone, take the trouble to read, rather than skim, their story. Seems to me that may be a point of etiquette too.

  • Leah January 1, 2014, 8:23 pm

    This has GOT to be something that’s driven at least partially by the recipient’s feelings towards the giver. All laughing and venting aside (and believe me, I get the concept of laughing at/ venting about bad gifts; a lot of your comments above are hilarious, and I loved reading them), it just makes me think about situations in my own experience where I’ve received not-great gifts from loved ones, but because of how I felt about them, those gifts meant the WORLD to me, even while they were useless. Tana’s comment, #33, (not singling her out, she’s just the most recent example) is what made me think about it… I have a very loving relationship with my dad, and while we don’t always understand each other/ he misses the mark on gifts or misunderstands my needs at times (as I do his), if I received a watch or camera that wasn’t the one I asked for from him, I would be unable not to think about the time he would have spent trying to pick the right thing for me, and just the fact of that effort would make me love the gift. Of course, this is different if you know the person didn’t put in thought or love and just bought thoughtlessly (that’s what I mean when I say the response is driven by the person’s feelings towards the giver). Useless gifts, I’ve gotten; ones that weren’t what I needed, and that showed a lack of knowledge about me, I’ve received multiple times. But receiving those items makes me think about the person doing their best to choose something that they think will make me happy, and on the basis of that, well, I have a lot of things I can’t use but I nonetheless treasure and have kept around me for lots and lots of years. And I’m pretty happy with that. What is a gift supposed to be, after all, but a tangible reminder of the giver loving you and wanting to make you happy?

  • kingsrings January 1, 2014, 8:25 pm

    To all the holier-than-thou posters who are scolding those who complain about the bad gifts given them: nobody is required to like what is given to them. As long as they accept it graciously and politely from the giver, it’s okay to complain about it. Since the point of giving gifts is to do something nice for someone, it would certainly make sense to make sure it’s something that the recipient will like and is in good condition.
    My worst gifts: a friend whom I went antique-shopping/looking with quite frequently. So she got me something old, a silver bracelet, but it was also very tarnished and in poor shape. “I know how much you love antique things”, she told me upon giving it to me. Yes, antique things that are in good condition. It sat unworn in my jewelry box for years until I threw it out. Another bad gift: a friend of mine is a notorious hoarder. So, she decided to help cure herself by gifting all her stuff (she didn’t let us know she was doing that, but it was pretty obvious). For several years in a row, she kept giving me holiday-themed décor. Some of it was cute and I used, but then it got to be too much stuff. And some of it was clearly used, like the Halloween cup that had her name written on it. Eventually, I just either threw it away or gave it to the Goodwill shortly after the receipt.

  • Jewel January 1, 2014, 8:38 pm

    Natalie — Sis-In-Law, is that you?? 🙂 You and I must make a pact. Let’s agree that next Christmas when she asks for a gift list, we simply reply, “Oh, anything you select will do” and dodge giving her one. Because, what’s the use? When we give the list, it’s ignored, so why take time out during the busiest part of year to carefully put together ideas (including links!!) that are totally disregarded? Let’s just avoid this farce altogether!

  • Mabel January 1, 2014, 8:57 pm

    Oh GOOOOODDD this sounds like my mother. And my sister. They miss the mark every. Single. Time. At least this year, I got slippers that I actually needed, and my sister had the entire family go in on a Coach purse for me (which sounds nice, and was appreciated, although I could care less about expensive designer crap). But I didn’t get any of the adults anything, because furnace repair. I’m going to stump for no more adult gifts, other than gift cards, ever. The “opening ceremony” is just torture for me.

    Example: I’m a skater, but no one ever asks if I need any skating stuff, and I do. I always need tights, and workout gear, and I have to make my own dresses because I’m tall. There are numerous places to order that stuff and also gift cards to fabric stores. But they buy candles and necklaces and knickknacks with skates on them. It’s all just junk.

  • hakayama January 1, 2014, 9:05 pm

    Dear OP, Mya, Cashie and all others that suffer at the hands of those who offer awful gifts:

    Please do not heed much the platitudes along the lines of “the thought being what counts” * and other bologna. I believe that here is absolutely no reason for ANYONE to be subjected to often cruel gestures, and be gushing gratitude. If there is a present that misses the mark, I think polite but curt thanks should suffice.

    @Mya: Your Aunt X, at least in the gifting area, seems to have frozen in a 4 or 5 year old’s stage of mental/emotional development. I’ve observed very young children going about making presents out of “stuff” they no longer wanted/liked. When Aunt X changed her methods, it may have been because she had run out of “stuff” she had no use for.

    OP: Your Mom is a quite serious case of “absentminded mis/non focus”, described by a folk expression in my native language about people “hearing bells but not knowing from which church”.
    Let’s stay with the case of when she heard the word “mushrooms” in a negative context, but through some synaptic twist put it in a totally unrelated and inappropriate context, and wound up giving the wonderful fungi bearing log.
    Since the FUBARs are of recurring nature, I feel that Mom bears close watching so that she does not wind up being a victim of … let your imagination run free here. Perhaps you can consider making sure that there is a responsible adult overseeing the important decisions/steps in her life.
    I also hope that things that are important to ME and MY well-being are not managed by individuals with such rather serious lapses of perceiving life’s realities.
    This concern comes from someone who watched her own Mom slip away from reality into a world of her own imagination…

    * As in the case of intentionally nasty gifts, a lot of thought goes into them.

  • hakayama January 1, 2014, 9:09 pm

    P.S.: I am sure that the “plaintiffs” here are necessarily entitled gimme pigs as some commentators try to insinuate. They just don’t want stuff that is TOTALLY off the mark, or completely out of the field.

  • hakayama January 1, 2014, 10:08 pm

    OH, RATS! The “plaintiffs” are NOT entitled etc…

  • NostalgicGal January 1, 2014, 10:54 pm

    My family wasn’t too bad other than Mom had a totally obscene love affair with Baby Pink, and that my body should be swathed with it even after I started walking and talking. I look horrid in that shade, I loathe that shade, I’ll go nude in public first before I wear it. When I got past junior high, I was almost exactly the same size as she was so I could leave them in the ‘joint wardrobe’ (yes I shared a wardrobe and a half with my mother. This had many stories as I got older and actually cared about what I wore, I wasn’t 40 and didn’t want to dress like that). Still the BP clothes kept coming after I went to college even though I tried several times over I hated that shade, I loathed that shade, and I was NOT going to wear this (one of the few times I wasn’t gracious over a gift) and handing it back… It finally stopped when I got married.

    Dad, was the Car issue. I could have sent in my info at the end of Driver’s Ed, and by the time the license would have arrived I would have been 16. No, I had to wait then I had to try to schedule to go to another town and take the written and the driving… and get a permit in the meantime. I got a permit three times and scheduled that test four times and always something prevented us from going… so I was heading for college; with an aid package that I had worked on for months; with clearly defined limits on certain things. Including the value of a car. If it was worth more than so much the value over was considered available to pay tuition. It is graduation. I do not have a license or a permit. He is waiting for me to ask for what I want. I ask for a $65 10 speed, very common, from a big box store. Specific store. He has picked out a brand new car for me; and is upset I don’t want the car. 1) no license and no permit. 2) it wipes out every cent of my aid. Either I’m not going to college (which is what I suspected, they were taking empty nest hard and wanted me HOME-he kept planning my life for me and the circle of how far away I could go or what I was going to be doing for a living got progressively closer to home) or they have to pay for 100% of it. 3) It needs licensing, insurance, gas, maintenance, a place to park it, and I can’t afford a lick of it.
    He buys me a weird off the wall brand three speed GIRL’s frame that I can’t get parts for when it does break and I *hate* girl frame bikes, always have. I can bail off a boy’s but the girl’s I get caught up in every time and this is well known. When it broke at college a few months later there was no getting parts so I sold it to the bike shop for about 10% of what he paid for it.

    Anything else, I can smile about, say something nice, thank the giver sincerely and put it away for return, white elephant, regift, or donation. I’m pretty good at ‘dodge and beandip’ about what happened to it too!

  • Stacey Frith-Smith January 2, 2014, 3:52 am

    I agree with the “objectors”. I don’t think it’s rude to want to be treated reasonably by intimates and certainly not by a parent. Being marginalized in the ways listed by “Anonymous” is hurtful- and no amount of prating about the need to just “roll with it” or accept it will negate the harm inflicted. The truth is that it does natter how we treat others and this includes how gifts are given, favors are done, time and money are spent… If we are ever due some bit of equity- shouldn’t it be from our nearest and dearest? Of course- we don’t control the behavior of others. And there is the ever-present danger of an entitlement mindset. But pretending that it is quite all right to favor one child over another, to favor one branch of the family over another, to favor some grandchildren over others.. where such favoritism is obvious and of long standing…is wrong. And I think that is why we don’t feel quite “all right” shutting up about such things. It stings, it’s inexcusable, and often causes pain to others in the orbit of the less favored (spouses, children…). To me, a situation of this type is different than one where the “claimant” in a case of injustice is just entitled and whiny. Perhaps the test of which side of the line a situation falls on is dependent on context, always- but that doesn’t mean that passive aggressive and insulting behaviors should be tolerated on an open ended basis (and gift giving, like hosting in your own home, isn’t such a sacred cow that any expression other than “thank you” is forbidden).

  • Wendy B. January 2, 2014, 9:16 am

    Have you ever point blank asked her about any of this? “Subtlety” (insert sarcasm here) doesn’t seem to be something she gets.

  • Angela January 2, 2014, 10:14 am

    I can certainly appreciate OP’s frustration. A history of gifts that don’t fit with the recipient suggests that the giver wants to make a gesture of a gift for whatever reason but isn’t particularly interested in the needs or wants of the recipient. That’s not inappropriate in a business relationship but when it’s a parent/child relationship, it seems to me that it would sting a little. My own mom had a history at one time of giving me presents based on the person she wanted me to be, not the person I was, and I was rather distressed by the message that I wasn’t OK as I was.

  • GEna January 2, 2014, 10:21 am

    there is a difference in someone who just doesn’t choose well, and someone who is just thoughtless. If my mother gives me a book I’ve got no interest in,that is just not choosing well. If she gives me a ceramic figure that is broken, that is something else.

    I think too many people suffer from the “I have to get them SOMETHING, so just grab something”. Too much of my family was like this so a few years ago I told them the adults were no longer exchanging gifts and we would just buy for the children. Everyone except my mother was happy.

  • Shalamar January 2, 2014, 10:24 am

    Elizabeth, that would explain why my MIL is such a terrible gift giver. One Christmas she triumphantly presented us with cloth placemats made from fabric that had a “corn on the cob” motif. She then told us a long story about how much trouble she’d gone to to get them. The thing is, we hadn’t asked for them – we never use placemats, and they didn’t go with anything we own. Yet, to hear her tell it, you would’ve thought that we’d begged for them. Very odd!

  • HelenB January 2, 2014, 10:33 am

    I don’t get the feeling the OP is high maintenance. For all of the people saying “it’s the thought that counts”, this is true. And the thought being conveyed to the OP is that her mother doesn’t care enough about her to give her even neutral gifts (socks, gloves, kind of things) but instead gives gifts that are negative for the OP — a plant for the person with hayfever, mushrooms for the person who hates them.

    Other people might think these are nice gifts, but they’re not nice for the OP, and her own mother should know better.

  • Chicalola January 2, 2014, 10:46 am

    I didn’t find the OP’s story to be a mom bashing one…..but a tale of a mother who either doesn’t know her, or doesn’t listen. My mother had issues with this, when I would explain exactly what I liked and didn’t like. She would get what she liked, for me. You always try to be grateful and gracious, but it starts to hurt when you feel completely ignored.

  • SimplySam January 2, 2014, 11:41 am

    I understand being frustrated and/or hurt by gifts like these. When I was a child and up into my teenage years, my step-grandmother (step-father’s mother) would often give really “interesting” gifts. Christmas usually meant receiving an “old-lady” sweater in the style that she would buy herself, only in a size that would fit me. These always came from a store that was local only to her (she lived 3 hours away), so it wasn’t possible to exchange them for something more along the lines of my own style. I would also receive children’s books (think elementary age appropriate) when I was in high school. One year, I got a brown paper bag full of hotel soaps and shampoos and an obviously used sachet as my gift, meanwhile all the other kids (who were all blood relations) got new electronic poker games.

    I have an aunt in this same family that would give me a very shall I say “spirited” Christmas sweater, every year on Christmas day. This would be fine, if it wasn’t on Christmas day itself. Unless I changed out of what I was wearing that moment, and wore the sweater, it would sit unworn until next year. After receiving them for a few years in a row, and not putting them to good use, I finally discovered what store she bought them from, and would exchange them for items I could put to good use year-round.

    However, my mother taught me to accept all of these with a smile on my face and be polite. It wasn’t always easy, especially when it was obvious that I was being treated differently simply because I “married” into the family instead of being born into it like all the other kids.

  • Angel January 2, 2014, 1:11 pm

    Oh my goodness, these stories are cracking me up! My worst gift ever from a family member was a Christmas gift from my aunt when I was about 12. It was a fluorescent orange crocheted vest. It was so god awful that my mom and dad actually burst out laughing when I opened it. Then, about 25 years later, the Christmas gifts that she bought my kids? It was a doll-head ornament. Not the whole doll. Just a doll head with lace trim around it. It was so creepy that my kids were actually scared of it. Do I wish my aunt would just stop giving gifts? Of course. But there’s always one person in the family who gives wacky gifts. If nothing else it gives a funny story to tell. You can’t control people’s gift giving habits but you can control how you react to it. Instead of reading into it and being offended, it’s just easier sometimes to laugh it off.

  • just4kicks January 2, 2014, 2:39 pm

    I’m sure I probably shouldn’t even post this, but here goes:
    We ALL get crappy gifts sometimes!!! The OP sounds entitled and petulant.
    Maybe one of your “international friends” will come up with a gift you deem acceptable.

  • NotCinderell January 2, 2014, 2:43 pm

    Stacy Frith-Smith, I think situations like this require a little empathy. We don’t know the relationships of the people here. There are definitely cases where people try to buy good gifts and don’t manage, and there are definitely quite different cases where people clearly don’t try at all, or specifically try to hurt with gifting.

    My DH’s late aunt and late father are definitely in the first camp: both were quite ill and disabled before they died. DH’s dad was married to a hoarder (DH’s mom) who predeceased him. She would compulsively shop for stuff she intended to give as gifts at some unnamed future time, and after she died, these things remained in her house. DH’s dad was strapped for cash and physically unable to shop. I got some pretty random stuff, a lot of it purchased from Avon many years previous, during the time that DH and I were together and he was still alive. DH’s aunt used to order gifts for us from catalogues. We ended up with some very poor quality stuffed animals for our kids and other random stuff for us. Then, she also got me an inexpensive but really nice wrap scarf that I still use and really appreciated.

    Still, I know that no matter what they got me, they always thought of us, and they really did give consideration to what we might want. I know that they were limited by their lack of funds and physical abilities, and it’s totally okay.

    Then there are my paternal grandparents, who have been well-to-do since before I was born. They are the kind of people who would open their checkbooks at the drop of a hat, if they thought you deserved it. And they would expect you to be beholden to them because of it. Conversely, if you didn’t do something they wanted or they wanted to make a point, they’d be incredibly stingy. I’d take a cheap, ugly, catalogue-bought gift from DH’s aunt over a fat check from them any day.

  • knitwicca January 2, 2014, 3:19 pm

    Oh, NostaligicGal, I can sympathize with the baby pink clothing.

    I am the only daughter to my parents. My mother so very much wanted a girly daughter. Because I am a natural blonde, she thought that pink was the perfect color for me. Of course it is the most detested color in my world.

    Even into my forties, my mother thought it appropriate to purchase frilly, lacy baby pink items for her daughter who rides motorcycles, works on her own car and flies airplanes for fun.
    Somehow the fact that I like having my nails done, wear a minimum of make-up and like my skirts and heels for work or dining out translates to the idea of my secretly adoring pink.

    Weirdly enough, my own daughter adores pink. She and I wear the same size so she gets the fussy pink stuff which makes her deliriously happy.

  • badkitty January 2, 2014, 4:16 pm

    Yes, it’s the thought that counts. And with some of these “gifts” it’s clear that the gifter stood in a store, saw something THEY wanted, thought of themselves, and then purchased it under the excuse of “gift for ___”. I have received many such items from my mother over the years, things she knows I hate but she can’t stop herself from buying them so she sends them on to me. I recognize the thought behind these gifts every time I open one: once again, she was thinking of herself.

  • AE January 2, 2014, 4:42 pm

    Stories like this are why I thank heavens for Amazon wishlists. I put things on it all the time that I intend to buy for myself, eventually. But because I leave it “public” to family members (who were tactfully informed of its existence via a close family friend, “Oh! I had the hardest time finding stuff for my family before I found their wishlists. Let’s see if the kids have any…” ) Suddenly, my gifts from the worst of the well-intentioned have become things I actually want…and said family members have started lists of their own.
    I rather like those lists because even if you don’t want to get something specifically on the list, you can get a pretty good idea what someone will actually LIKE.

  • ddwwylm January 2, 2014, 6:11 pm

    I think it definitely depends on the context of the gift and the relationship with the gifter. I started out thinking that the OP seemed a little ungrateful, but then there are also those people who give bad gifts purposefully. My mom is pretty bad with gifts, but with her, I think it’s more clulessness, i usually end up with an assortment of random stuff and everyonce in awhile there is some neat little gem in there that i don’t discover on first opening. Like one year I got a garlic peeler, which – random – but when I actually sat down to use it – best garlic peeler ever! so I can appreciate the gifts from my mom that no matter how random, at least she is thinking about me and they are given with love. My brother and uncle’s girlfriend however are in a different category. My brother is what I would consider a passive agressive/malicious gift giver. He is the type of person to purposefully give you a political book not of your beliefs just to show you how wrong you are. One year he gave me a picture of his kids, which on the face of it was fine, I was happy with a picture I could put up in my home, but then I was told that he said “well, all she gave me last year was a picture of her kid so that’s what I’m giving her” So it was a revenge present? He’s really big on finding offense with presents, holding a grudge and “getting back” at you years later. One year he gave my kids a collection of musical instruments because i had apparently given his kids something loud years prior – ha, my kids loved that present, I had no problem letting them play with it. My uncle’s girlfriend is what I would consider just a completely thoughtless gift giver. My uncle used to be pretty good about giving gifts, so it’s kind of sad that he’s now given it up to her when it’s pretty obvious she considers giving our side of the family gifts an obligation to be done with quickly. On good years we’ll get whatever random thing she happens to pick up from Costco. Usually we get whatever random thing she had lying around the house that she thinks she can pass off as a purchased gift. I still feel bad for my husband the year she gave him one of those hillshire farms type meat and cheese trays. He was pretty excited about what he considered a good gift, and it would have been a great gift for him had it not been expired by about 10 years which he discovered upon taking the first bite of sausage. This year she gave my dad a box of candy that I’m pretty sure I gave them several years ago, it was a distinct store brand that they haven’t carried for a few years, so yeah. So, I can get behind the sentiment of “it’s the tought that counts” but sometimes that thought is I don’t give a crap aout you but feel obligated to give you something so here’s this. I don’t think anyone needs to feel grateful for that kind of “thought”.

  • Greta January 2, 2014, 8:13 pm

    I don’t think this really is an issue of bad gifts, I get the OP is more disappointed with the mother’s lack of consideration than the actual gifts given (or not given). I’m thinking that they might have the same issues in their family that we have in ours. We are five siblings, all of us are now grown up and have a functional relationship with our parents, except for my sister. Though I’m sure our mother loves us all equally, she just have never really seemed to “get” my sister, and one of many ways that has shown is by the gifts my sister has been given. Our family was poor but big, and everyone always worked together so I could get the most wonderful, unexpected and suitable gifts for my birthdays. Throughout the years I have been given a snowboard, had my room decorated the way I wished, a sewing machine, a camera, an expensive arm chair I had fallen in love with, a trip to another country for my 20th birthday, tickets for my favorite opera etc. My brothers has always received the new sports equipment they wanted and needed, and the brothers who have turned 20 also got trips abroad (we live in Europe). When my sister turned 20 she got to choose between a dress and half the payment for a new mobile phone. In her teens she once got a set of expensive bed linnen (which is nice, but this was at a time when we never really had any nice or even proper clothing because we didn’t have the money to buy them), she got used sports equipment that was the wrong size, she got to go on a journey that she paid for herself with all her savings when she was 14 (the gift was the permission to go and a ride to the airport I guess? I’m not sure what they were thinking…). My sister doesn’t care at all for gifts, but this is a symptom of the real issue – that our parents just doesn’t seem to care to know sho she is, what she is interested in, what she needs and wish for. And that is hurtful. I’m thinking there is someting similar going on i the OPs case.

    • Anne S February 10, 2014, 6:09 am

      I couldn’t agree more. I had a friend who never got me any gifts, no matter what the occasion was, but who fully expected them on her birthdays.

      She turned around to another guest at her 30th and asked out straight, ‘Where’s my present, Charlie?’ I’m not sure whether she is slightly on the autistic spectrum, or just massively self-absorbed.

      She came to my 40th and my wedding and didn’t give a gift,or buy any drinks for the table she was sitting at, even though she won the speeches bets.

      (We tend to place bets on the length of the speeches in my country. The joke is that you then spend the money buying everyone a drink, so you don’t end up making a profit). She went home early and with all the money from the bets. The other guests were speechless at such meanness.

      What hurts me most about her lack of gift is that I have no idea if she knows me as a person. I have no evidence that she does.

  • The OP January 2, 2014, 8:14 pm

    Hi there,
    I posted the original story. It’s great to know there are lots of other relatives out there who give interesting gifts!
    I do love my mum but it does bruise your ego somewhat when she can go out of her way to do thoughtful things for others but not her own child.
    The pay off is that I have a reputation for thoughtful, considered gift giving – I very rarely give a gift that isn’t commented upon favourably by the receiver long after the gift has been given.
    Yes, I do sound petulant and high maintenance but I never expect anything for my birthday and I don’t do much to celebrate it either so when I make an effort to do something it’s because it really is important to me.
    Yes, I’ve often been given gifts that aren’t to my taste by friends and family and have always appreciated the sentiment behind the gift, received it with a smile and found appropriate, loving homes for those gifts.
    I was just particularly down around my 30th birthday and the trip my mum was going on would have required visas to be organised a good couple of months in advance so she would have known her travel dates – even if she hadn’t told my brother.
    I’m very close to my brother so I wanted him to be at my birthday which is why I was so patient with my mum about dates and would have considered it a nice gift it if she’d put even a couple of hours of her time aside.
    My friends from work and university have all left my city as the industry they work in has died here, they’re now spread all over the world from Melbourne to London to Missouri – which had left me with very few local friends, mostly from school, who don’t mix well ( I’m still working hard to rebuild my social circle as yet more people leave).
    This year, even though we explained repeatedly to everyone in the family that we were only doing gifts for children and that we’d appreciate it if they did the same, my mum gave us a lovely photo frame with family pictures in it. Win!
    We’ve hung it by our front door.
    My brother, also not giving gifts this year, got rather a large sum of cash and his favourite sweets.
    Maybe she reads this site?

  • Mabel January 3, 2014, 10:13 am

    #68 @Angela–that is EXACTLY why I get so upset by my family’s gifts. They tend to be all about THEIR pleasure at making it a surprise, picking out stuff they like, wrapping it artfully (and people always ooh and ahh over the packaging), and they don’t even ask what you might want (or need!).

    And Mom’s been doing the “I don’t want this anymore, do you want it?” thing, but at least she’s asking first and not giving these things as actual gifts. We have a game we play called “When you die can I have that” (sounds morbid, but it’s a joke), but I have no faith that anything I actually want will end up with me.

    I can’t complain too much because my parents have helped me out a lot, but it’s infuriating that family members either don’t see me for who I really am, or think I should not be that way.

  • La January 3, 2014, 11:25 am


    I think the worst gift I ever received was diabetic chocolate from my grandmother. I’d been recently diagnosed with type 1 and was quite upset about not being able to eat chocolate.

    Unfortunately, diabetic chocolate is expensive, vile, and gives you the dire rear if you eat too much (for the record – about three squares is ‘too much’). I kept getting this as a gift as we couldn’t work out how to tell my grandmother that the squits is not an appropriate way to say “Happy Birthday/Christmas”. 😛

    (We did eventually. Thank goodness.)

  • Natalie January 3, 2014, 12:52 pm

    Jewel, yes, let’s make a pact! At least I know she means well. At least, I hope she does. 😉

  • Abby January 3, 2014, 1:47 pm

    OP- has there always been a disparity in gifts between you and your brother? Just given some of your examples- the birthday picnic, not disclosing her travel plans until last minute, giving your new boyfriend the mushroom gift, writing a wedding song for your ex and his second wife- it makes me wonder if perhaps your mom blamed you for your divorce and has been unconciously punishing you for it ever since.

  • Hilary January 3, 2014, 4:19 pm

    My FIL is notorious for getting gifts for everyone in the family that are really just things for himself. He shops exclusively at a specialty geology bookstore and buys topographic maps, technical scientific books, and sometimes even mineral samples (yes, he’s a geologist). So we open these gifts, smile and thank him, then leave them at his house for him to read and enjoy. Cracks me up!

  • Anonymous January 3, 2014, 7:30 pm

    La–I thought people with Type 1 diabetes could eat chocolate, or candy, or whatever, as long as they ate it in moderation, and gave themselves a shot or bolus (on an insulin pump) in the appropriate amount beforehand. I had a friend in university who had Type 1 diabetes, and I recently met a young woman at an arts collective I belong to that has it too. My friend from university used a pump, and he ate whatever he wanted, and my friend from the arts collective is on she does the same. Were you diagnosed a while ago, when it was “no sweets, ever,” or are you still not allowed sugar even now? If it’s the latter, I’ve found that a teaspoon of cocoa, mixed with five packets of Splenda, a bit of cinnamon, hot water, and a bit of milk or soy milk (optional), makes a really good sugar-free hot chocolate. If you blend ice, milk or soy milk, a banana, some cocoa to taste, and five packets of Splenda, then that makes a really good sugar-free chocolate milkshake. If you freeze the banana (in slices, of course), and omit the ice, and add less milk, then the result is more like a Wendy’s chocolate Frosty. Anyway, I’m not diabetic, so I don’t know all the intricacies of carb-counting and whatnot, but I am fairly health-conscious, and I try not to eat too much sugar for health reasons.

    As for what to tell your grandmother, well, that’s easy–she’s not diabetic, so she doesn’t know that diabetic chocolate tastes bad and causes diarrhea. She meant well, because she knew you were (still are?) upset about not being able to eat chocolate. So, you have all the tools you need for a good response right there: “Grandma, I know you meant well, because I said I was upset about not being able to eat chocolate, but since you’re not diabetic, you wouldn’t know this. Diabetic chocolate doesn’t taste good, and it actually causes me a bit of stomach upset. I’d rather have a small amount of regular chocolate, or a sugar-free chocolate drink that my new friend from the Internet taught me to make.” Would that work? In my experience, people are less likely to be offended if you praise their intentions.

  • NostalgicGal January 4, 2014, 3:22 am

    knitwicca, my father wanted a boy in the WORST WAY and after two losses they got me as a preemie girl. Mom wanted the frilly flouncey lace monster. This ambulatory flounce pile had an affinity for mudpuddles. She tried harder, it ended when she accidentally bought me a pair of pea-spring green polyester pants with the crease sewn in… no more drafty skirts. From three on it’s been hard to get me into a dress. (it’s dating, it moved out, it has a life of it’s own; the baby pink is so OVER)

    I agree with others, Amazon’s Wishlist has been a godsend; IF kept up to date it can be an invaluable resource for others wishing to gift the list maker; that’s permanent. I work hard to manage our list to two pages of needfuls; and it keeps my hubby better in line over what he thinks he wants and needs, how much does it cost, and if and when it will get bought depending on the budget. Things do get purchased off it, maybe not by others, but. Powers above forbid, I’m NOT advocating yet another avenue/venue to be exploited as a Gimme List or Registry. But I do leave that list public. It is also a way to shop in that you have where to get it at your fingertips, and can order it to be delivered or know where to go pick it up.

    I too, wondered if there is a gift disparity with the OP’s mom; and maybe the submission could have been written to present things better, but. It is good to hear that out of this the OP got a WIN present finally!

  • La January 4, 2014, 7:25 am

    Anon – this was when I was first diagnosed (eleven years ago), and I was on a ridiculously strict regime where I could only have 100g of carbs a day, and it was deemed better to use those for long-term carbs such as pasta and bread rather than sweets and stuff. I wasn’t getting enough to eat anyway. 🙁
    I can now eat proper chocolate and food because my insulin is adjusted to my carb intake rather than the other way around. 😀

  • Love my mom January 4, 2014, 11:01 pm

    I love my mom, but she in no way knows how to shop for me or my sis. At least it was my sis that got this particular gift and not me. One year my mom had the idea that the world was coming to an end so what does she get my sis in case of emergency? Wait for it, …………..a bucket that had a a toilet top in order for them to go to the bathroom. Ding ding ding we have a winner!

  • wrysuitor January 5, 2014, 11:22 am

    I think a lot has to do with perceived motive, as well. My paternal grandmother was like this. She was actually a really sweet woman, she just didn’t “get” my parents at all (it was a classic example of the war/boomer generation gap). It was a running joke and my parents looked forward every year to seeing what she would get them (she was great at gifting for us kids, it was the adult gifts that were awful). They would crack up once it was safe to do so without hurting her feelings. My mom kept a lot of the stuff and used it only when my grandmother came over. She had a tendency to giggle to herself both before and after. Since she knew my grandmother was putting in an honest effort, even though the result was not very good, it was just sort of this endearing trait and completely funny. On the other hand, my maternal grandmother would give gifts deliberately intended to insult and my mother would get flame-throwing furious, or cry. Because this was an expression of much larger problems in their relationship (we suspect she may have had undiagnosed narcissism, actually). We moved half way across the country when I was still quite young so I think the resolution in that case was just that there was enough distance it wasn’t worth the effort to insult my mom any more. So, yeah, it depends on context.

  • Anonymous January 5, 2014, 11:43 am

    Whoops, La–I meant to say, “my friend from the arts collective is on SHOTS, and she does the same,” meaning she also eats what she wants, and balances it out with insulin (and presumably exercise), just like my friend from university who uses a pump. Anyway, that’s good that you can eat regular chocolate now. I have to wonder, though, how could diabetic chocolate have stayed on the market for so many years, if it tasted bad and caused diarrhea? It must have gotten all of its profit from well-meaning people buying it for the diabetics in their lives (before the advent of fast-acting insulin that eliminated the need for such strict diets), and then the recipients being too polite to speak up about The Horrible Truth About Diabetic Chocolate. So, maybe if all the diabetics of the world spoke up, then diabetic chocolate would cease to exist……or, if it already has, maybe it would have ceased to exist a lot sooner.

  • Harley Granny January 6, 2014, 12:35 pm

    This so trumps my Uncle Si Chia Pet and the battery operated heated neck scarf.

  • psammead January 15, 2014, 12:25 am

    It definitely trumps my ex-boyfriend’s V-day gift of a book on how to improve your kissing technique!

  • Ash Kilday January 21, 2014, 9:50 pm

    I have a great-aunt/great-grandmother pair– well, come to think of it, the entire “that side” of the family– who are completely batty when it comes to gifts. Almost every Christmas it was like they remembered there were kids coming, scurried around, found something in the piles of junk in their house (the show Hoarders could shoot there) and stuffed it in a 20-year-old gift bag to pass along to us. Creepy china dolls, dusty tea sets (for an 11-yr-old girl), a tiny purse made of tacky pearls to name some of the better items– seriously, it made going over to their house a time of dread. We used to beg to not be made to go because of how uncomfortable the whole situation was. This request usually fell on deaf ears (and while we were there we hid behind our dad). It did give us a great field in which to practice gracious gift receiving, so that was a plus.

    I saw the diabetic side-convo on here too and just wanted to throw in a link to a site for sugar-free caramel my cousin makes. It’s really delicious, they made it with diabetics in mind, and many people have told them they can’t tell the difference between the sugar-free and the with-sugar caramel. http://www.caramelcandyco.com

  • K January 28, 2014, 1:26 am


    Please work on your reading comprehension. Also, as a former student of a major university, I, too, have many friends that I met there when they were exchange students and they are now living back in their home countries. Why is this an issue? Sounds like jealousy to me. Try getting out more, and maybe you’ll find a better attitude. 🙂

  • Theta Marie October 23, 2014, 5:27 am

    My mother had a bad habit of buying things for me that she would have loved herself, at my age. It’s almost like she believes she is buying the present for herself and it will be sent back in time for her. She even gets it in the size she was at the time, so for my fourteenth birthday (when I was a little chubby) I got this horrendous grey jumper in a really small size and for my eighteenth (when I’d lost all the puppy fat) she got me a large cream poncho that would have made an excellent emergency shelter were it not also wool. She’s given up getting me things now and gives me book vouchers.

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