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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 }
  • Mya December 31, 2013, 4:27 am

    Oh dear. Your mother sounds a bit like my Aunt. Bless her we love Aunt X but she’s hopeless at gifts. Here are a selection of the ones that have gone down in family history:

    1) As a Wedding Gift to my Parents: A Cheese plate (It might have been a Pate dish – my mother can’t remember). That is cracked. That came with Cheese on from a Supermarket. My parents did not receive the Cheese. Only the cracked plate… There was a minor family drama when my Gran found out and tackled her son on the matter. My Mum tried not to let my Gran find out but family matriarchs have a way of knowing everything…

    2) Back when Long haul flights used to give you decent freebies, as a Christmas gift I received one of these free gifts from Virgin Atlantic from which the actual toiletries had been used…

    3) The following year I received two used bottles of Shampoo and Conditioner for hair not even remotely related to mine… Cousin Y has the finest, most blonde hair I’ve ever seen and it is wispy and delicate. I have naturally dark blonde, quite thick hair that is prone to being oily. These bottles were for fine and/or flyaway hair to add weight and volume – this kind of product leaves my hair lank and greasy. On top of this there were obvious signs that they had been opened and used. My theory? She found out last-minute that my sister and I would be coming and Cousin Y had found the hair products not to her taste so Aunt X simply grabbed them and wrapped them… I’m sorry to say I ended up binning them. I dislike waste but I simply couldn’t do anything else with them.

    4) Eventually Aunt X gave up on buying individual gifts and started buying ‘Family gifts’. Which would have been fine except she opted for the ‘I’ve gifted to X Charity in your name’ kind of gifts. The kicker? My mother feels very strongly about her charitable giving (as UK residents this has nothing at all to do with Tax write-offs) and has a select number of charities she supports (for example: she feels very strongly about infant bereavement charities, Breast feeding, Breast Cancer, etc) and a few she refuses to give to because she doesn’t agree with the way they distribute funds (Oxfam for example). You guessed it, Aunt X donated to Oxfam on our behalf. Mum just rolled her eyes. She has been friends with Aunt X long before Aunt X married so she knows what she is like. Although the following year she donated to the WWF (the Animal one, not the boxing) which was fine.

    As it happens Aunt X has improved with age quite drastically but as I was growing up any ‘gifting’ event involving Aunt X was an object lesson in gracious gift receiving and as such both my sister and I have been brought up knowing how to graciously receive even the most inappropriate gift.

    I do feel a bit sorry for the OP in this tale as it can’t be easy dealing which what sounds like a really ‘flaky’ mother. I’d love to hear what you received, OP, please write in. In our family my mother asks us outright what we want or makes contact with our Significant Others. Well, not so much my BIL as my sister writes her Christmas list the day after her birthday and writes her birthday list on Boxing day (her birthday is in march) but my parents have a really good relationship with my SO and he with them so my mum is always phoning him to ask him what she can buy me for various events – it is quite liberating actually because my SO is brilliant at gift buying. He pays attention to all the little things I say and the stuff I show even a passing interest in then puts together a great gift bundle that I probably wouldn’t have thought to buy for myself in a million years. Then, when Mum phones him and asks him what she can get me he always has a tie-in to hand. This year I got a dressmakers dummy and a lovely gardening calendar. Perhaps it might be worth your DH phoning his MIL and saying ‘I’m buying OP an ABCD, she could really do with an XYZ to go with it but I can’t stretch to both – do you think this is within your budget?’. Just a thought.

  • crebj December 31, 2013, 6:51 am

    On the up side, you have stories to dine out on for years to come.

  • Marian Perera December 31, 2013, 7:21 am

    My father was like this too. When I completed my O’Levels with great grades, do you know what he gave me? A set of plastic Chattery Teeth. You could wind them up and they would go click-click. I was 16.

    I went abroad to college and came back home for Christmas. He gave me a large box that I opened eagerly. Inside was a heavy ornate candelabra, all polished brass and hanging prisms. Even if it had been at all appropriate for my college dorm room, they had a strict no-candles policy and I only had so much weight I could carry in my suitcase anyway. I gave the gift to my mother.

  • A December 31, 2013, 7:36 am

    On the bright side, you have some pretty funny stories to tell! I came to the realization this year that my parents are…quirk-ely, predictable gift-givers…calendars, bath sets…my husband gets a ratchet set every year. After a certain point you just have to laugh. It’s the stuff great family stories are made of. 🙂

  • Abby December 31, 2013, 8:38 am

    I’ll give her a bit of a pass on the wedding song thing. Obviously you and your ex are on good enough terms for him to be invited to your wedding, and when else is your mom likely to be with them at a venue where a band is playing and taking requests?

    The mushroom and book thing are both inexplicable. The mushroom especially- that is the kind of esoteric gift that should only be given when specifically requested. I mean, I love mushrooms and I can tell you I would have absolutely no interest in the mushroom log.

    As far as your last question about your mom- granted, she sounds disorganized and inconsiderate, but in her defense- she did invite you on the trip and offer to cover the costs.

  • Mae December 31, 2013, 8:51 am

    Are you sure your Mom likes you? Just kidding. Sounds like her heart is in the right place but she has the same issue as my teenagers- selective hearing.

    Of course, some people are simply not good at picking gifts. I thought I was decent at picking gifts but when it comes to my husband’s family, I must be the worst. Every single time I have given them a gift, they give that fake smile (we can all tell, right?) and mumble “how nice”. Any other time they are pretty nice to me but when it comes to gifts… I have given actual presents, gift cards and out of desperation, cash, but nothing seems to make them happy. So I have chosen to not bestow gifts any longer. Best decision ever!

  • Emmy December 31, 2013, 9:05 am

    They are some unusual gift choices. I would love the cast iron fondue set now, but not as a 15 year old. The 30th birthday one is the most confusing. Since your mother wanted to take you and your brother on holiday, why didn’t she just consult you and plan it at a time that would work for you? It seemed like a few weeks in either direction and you would have been able to join her. You have to set a deadline when it comes to making plans. For your birthday, you should have told your mom that she needed to let you know her plans by X date. If she was undecided, you could have planned a party or other plans and let her know that the day was no longer available. If she never committed to a date and wound up working, it seems that didn’t make your birthday a priority. I can’t figure out her getting a copy of the book you already have. It’s good your expectations low and have a sense of humor when it comes to your mother’s gifts.

  • HeartvsBrain December 31, 2013, 9:23 am

    I do empathize with the author, it’s difficult when ones own parent doesn’t know or understand them well enough to know what gifts would be most appreciated.

    But in my mind, gifts are meant to be given from the heart, with love or affection, caring and friendship in mind. It shouldn’t matter what the gift is, it matters that a gift is given. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of selfishness in this entry, not the least of which is the incredible pressure the OP seems to place on her mother to make her birthday or holiday something special. Why at 30 years old is someone so concerned with what their mother is doing for their birthday? Were there no acquaintances or friends around to have a special time with? Maybe I’m being judgmental, I just feel that the OP has the wrong attitude about gifts and other peoples responsibility for her happiness.

  • MyWorldand December 31, 2013, 9:58 am

    While your mother sounds more than a little clueless about gift giving, it does not seem to me that there is malicious intent behind those gifts. However, you seem to be more than a little needy about what she has given and what you expect of her. Your then boyfriend didn’t like the mushroom log? Ok. You thank the gift giver sincerly and either regift it to someone that will use it or go online and try to figure out where she bought it to see if it might be returned or exchanged. But to hand it back to your mother???? That would be the very last gift you or he would get from me.

    I have to say; I agree totally with HeartvsBrain’s statement….. “I just feel that the OP has the wrong attitude about gifts and other peoples responsibility for her happiness.”

  • ferretrick December 31, 2013, 10:20 am

    Sounds like my father in law-he’s famous for going to the flea market on Christmas Eve or thereabouts and just grabbing every cheap tool he can find, and they are always ridiculously poor quality. Think $10 drills that don’t charge anymore after one use, hammers that the handle breaks off, knives that couldn’t cut warm butter, etc. Last year we got a wrench set-and one of the wrenchs already had a huge chunk broken off of it before we even unwrapped it (how do you design an inch thick piece of metal so poorly that it can break clean apart?) But we accept them with quiet grace and have a private laugh about it later. And, if nothing else, a good friend always hosts an after Christmas party where we play a white elephant gift exchange game and we are always all set up for it. 🙂

  • Whodunit December 31, 2013, 10:21 am

    I just don’t even know what to say — I completely was lost in the whole birthday thing — why were you planning your own birthday?? I am so confused!! And my goodness, you have your mother, she seems nice and kind, why are we bashing her cause she is clueless about gift giving?

  • LisaB December 31, 2013, 10:22 am

    The OP’s mother sounds just hopelessly ditzy. It seems as though she remembers certain details—but only partially—which ends in misguided giving. She remembered the OP talking about the book—but not that she had it in her hand at the time, or something about the SO and mushrooms—but not that he dislikes them.

    I think I might sympathize with the mother, though, because it sounds as if the OP is high maintenance. Perhaps the selective hearing is an adaptive strategy for dealing with someone who seems rather picky, demanding, and humorless.

    The mother gets some money and decides to treat herself to a “once in a lifetime” trip—and invites her children to join her. Based on the tone in the submission here, I can imagine that the OP wasn’t particularly gracious when declining her mother’s invitation. Did it occur to the OP that perhaps the mother was hurt that the OP turned down her invitation?

    Why is a 30-year-old woman waiting for her mother to make her birthday plans? If she wanted to have a party or dinner with friends, she should have planned that and invited her family. Perhaps her mother wasn’t planning anything for the OP’s birthday because the OP had told her mother that it was the busiest time at work and the mother didn’t want to intrude.

    It seems to me that if the OP wants to be heard by her mother, she needs to start listening to herself.

  • DGS December 31, 2013, 10:23 am

    OP, your mother sounds like my sweet, kind, generous, loving and absolutely clueless maternal aunt, my mother’s older sister. Let’s call her Aunt Lucy.

    Aunt Lucy is a very generous gift-giver who never forgets a holiday, a birthday or an anniversary. However, she is a big believer in quantity over quality, so rather than one lovely gift, one is inclined to receive a massive load of inexpensive knick-knacks (disclaimer: Aunt Lucy is well off, although she is not being cheap; she grew up very poor, so she is thrifty and does not believe in spending much on presents). Once when I was a teenager (I’m in my late 30’s now), I had mentioned that I happen to like a cow figurine that Aunt Lucy has (Aunt Lucy has a very esoteric taste and a warm, welcoming albeit very cluttered home that is literally, overrun by doilies, collectible plates, figurines, oversized porcelain frames holding various family pictures, china cups, etc.) Aunt Lucy took my compliment to mean that I was interested in collecting cow-themed things. Fast forward more than 20 years, this past birthday, I unwrapped an enormous box from Aunt Lucy and her husband, my Uncle Joe, filled with…you guessed it, cow-themed things. Cow figurines, cow soap dishes, a cow planter, cow china cups…at least, 10 porcelain, bone china or ceramic painted cow-themed things. Which are completely not my taste (my home is very clean, very modern, very minimalist). Another birthday, when I was in my 20’s, I received four different handbags, all very poorly made, all in colors that make me think of the Queen Mother – pale violet, pale teal, etc. When Aunt Lucy goes on a trip, she brings back every touristy brick-a-brack she can possibly find – heaps of plastic magnets, cups covered with stickers, t-shirts that say, “Rome, Italy” or “Nassau, Bahamas”, etc. What do I do? I thank her for her thoughtfulness and generosity; I privately exchange a laugh with my DH, and I chuck the various knick-knacks in a box in the basement to subsequently, quietly donate when we make our seasonal clothing donations or repurpose them (the cow planter is quite cute and cheerful on my office desk rather than in my home; the cow soap dish made a great White Elephant gift for a Christmas party, and the endless assortment of pastel handbags a la Dowager Duchess were donated to charity along with heaps of old bridesmaid dresses…perhaps, someone will use them for a costume party?) The point is not the present; the point is that my Aunt Lucy, effusive, generous and gracious soul, loves me enough to think of me and buy me something. Someday, I’ll miss hearing her laughter, getting her hugs and opening boxes of brightly colored knick-knacks.

    I wouldn’t know the first thing to do with a mushroom log (donate it to a local organic grocer’s, perhaps), but it’s wonderful that your mother does think of you, albeit in such silly, clueless ways. Thank her, be grateful for the time you have with her, and as you are an adult now, make your own birthday plans. No one should make a huge deal of an adult’s birthday; it’s really a children’s holiday. Hopefully, your awesome husband will take you out for a nice meal or a great outing together, and hopefully, your nearest and dearest will call or send you a card, and hopefully, you’ll treat yourself to something nice, whether it’s a morning lounging and reading in bed or a mani/pedi or a trip to the theater. However, it’s a bit much to expect adults, even your own mother, to come up with just the right thing to celebrate your birthday.

  • Lilac December 31, 2013, 10:23 am

    Every year my dad and his wife give $100 gas station gift cards to my sister, my brother, and me. My brother hasn’t owned a car in 3 years. He’s handed it to me in my car, as I am driving him home, for the last three years 🙂
    Just FYI–my dad is perfectly aware that my brother does not have a car. He’s just figured out the perfect gift in his head and it hasn’t occurred to him that it isn’t suitable for one of his kids!

  • DGS December 31, 2013, 10:32 am

    P.S. My Father is also a hit-or-miss gift giver. In contrast with Aunt Lucy, he spends a lot and buys things he thinks are very practical, but they are usually things that he will enjoy rather than what we will enjoy. For our first wedding anniversary, we got a…giant, massive, professional-sized espresso machine. It was surely exhorbitantly expensive, and at the time, we lived in a small apartment with a tiny galley kitchen, so even if we wanted to put it on the counter, we simply did not have the space. Also, we are perfectly fine with drip coffee and only drink espressos, lattes and cappucinos on a rare occasion, typically, when dining out. A lovely gift, for sure, but something that he, a daily espresso drinker, would enjoy much more than we would. (It’s in the basement. We hault it out when he comes to visit). Another year, my birthday gift was a portable generator. In case the power goes out, you know. Because nothing says “I love you” like a portable generator. Incredibly useful in case of a hurricane, but not the world’s best birthday present, no? Love him to death and have implored him repeatedly to stop buying us gifts to no avail, so have to graciously thank him, roll my eyes and find places to stash industrial-sized appliances.

  • Erin December 31, 2013, 10:38 am

    One year for Christmas my uncle got my aunt walnuts. Only walnuts. Separately wrapped bags of walnuts. The first few, the ones straight off the forest floor with the big hulls still on, she opened like “Huh, I wonder what this is leading up to.” When she got to the “big present,” it was two bags of store-bought walnuts. She was less than pleased. To this day no one knows what that was all about.

  • Cat December 31, 2013, 10:42 am

    I have never decided if people who give weird gifts are passive-aggressive or just clueless, but, please, allow me to share.
    I often made the honor roll in high school (where an “A” was 96-100 & a “B” was 88-95). My friend, Jim, asked what my parents gave me for doing so well. His folks gave him money and his favorite dinner. I told Mom I thought I should have some recognition. She gave me a large, black, plastic spider that jumped when the attached bulb was pressed. Jim was speechless when I showed it to him. Thanks, Mom.
    When I was in a college dorm and eating in the cafeteria, a friend of my aunt presented me with a device that cut potatoes into French fries. Uh, thanks.
    At a faculty gift exchange, I got a Strawberry Shortcake mug meant for a young child. Ok.
    My vice principal gave all the women shampoo for oily hair. Merry Christmas. Gee, you shouldn’t have.
    This Christmas, I got 300 bags of my favorite hot tea. I drink it maybe twice a month-in winter when the weather goes to freezing. I live in Florida. I am set until I am one-hundred and fourteen.
    The secret is to find joy in everything-whether it be plastic, jumping spiders or french-fry makers.

  • JanG December 31, 2013, 10:43 am

    Oh, this sounds like my MIL! We joke that she’s the world’s worst gift giver. It isn’t the gift so much but the money she wastes on them.
    Our first Christmas together was spent across the country as DH was stationed there in the Army. the only things we asked for that year was to have both families ship some of our wedding gifts to us. We left them behind, not sure what we would need. I happened to mention to my mom that someone told me I could use my electric skillet to make popcorn. But we really needed some of the other small appliances as well. The package from my parents came, several of the wedding gifts we asked for and included was a new electric popcorn popper. The package from MIL arrived, I forget what she sent DH but I received a crocheted bed jacket and none of the wedding gifts.
    One year Christmas was some sort of electric hot dog cooker where you stuck wires into the hot dogs and current ran through them. First use there were sparks, smoke then POW, it blew up. Every year my husband got either some sort of very strange sweater or shirt, either way too big or an extremely ugly color. My 4 year old granddaughter got a Bible one year. There were amazing ugly Christmas decorations. One year she gave my sister in law’s parents a bottle of hand lotion and a box of tissues. Two years ago we all got hand soap and a bottle of vanilla extract.
    She’s very elderly now and sometimes not quite with it so she got a pass this year when she gave me a pedicure file and 2 mechanical pencils and gave flowered pens to my 22 year old nephew.
    I know it’s the thought that counts and I am grateful but I just hate to see her spending money on this.

  • Jessica December 31, 2013, 10:48 am

    I understand that it kind of sucks when you get a gift you don’t like/want/need/can’t have in the home for allergy reasons. But as this site is about etiquette, the polite thing to do is be grateful under all circumstances. It’s not about what you get, it’s the fact that they went out of their way to prepare a gift for you. What you do with it after you receive it is entirely your own business, but to be honest OP you sound as if what is given is more important to you than why it’s given.

  • Lo December 31, 2013, 10:56 am

    Your mother is not good at gift giving. I hate to say “make peace with it” because it sounds so trite but I think you’re out of options.

    I would stop giving her gifts and every time she buys you one just reminder her that really don’t want a gift next time, quietly regift it or give to Goodwill or another resale ship, and repeat as necessary.

    No more gifts between her and you.

    What I would do is make it a point to schedule a lunch or dinner with her around the time of either of your birthdays and do that instead of the gift.

  • White Lotus December 31, 2013, 11:40 am

    Oh, OP, honey, it just isn’t ABOUT you!

  • The Elf December 31, 2013, 11:41 am

    With some people – and it sounds like your Mom is one of them – you just have to shrug and make the best of it. Unless you think there is a malicious intent, she’s just clueless. Every year emphasize that you just want to do kid’s gifts, and if she gives you another gift you graciously accept it. What you do after that is your choice.

  • Allie December 31, 2013, 11:44 am

    Who needs birthday gifts at 30? And why on earth would your internationally scattered friends gather to mark that occasion? Your 100th, sure, but 30? It was unfair and hurtful, though, that she took a nice holiday with your brother and did not include you. It sounds like she’s just clueless and not deliberate, but still… She’s not liable to change, so I guess accept the situation and move on. I don’t know what else to suggest.

  • padua December 31, 2013, 12:02 pm

    this post and some of the responses were really difficult to read. there has been some assumption that the gifts purchased were because the mother was ‘cheap’ and i don’t see any evidence of that at all. there was also some assumption that the mother was thoughtless, and i don’t see that either. i’ve often thought i found the ‘perfect gift’ for someone only to find out they didn’t think it was as perfect as i did. however, i give gifts with thought and it’s a wonderful feeling to give someone something you think is thoughtful. so mom gives you a fondu set. and a book she knows you’ve enjoyed. you thank her for her thoughtfulness and maybe share a knowing smile with your partner. i think forbidding her to give you any more gifts would be beyond hurtful.

  • PHW December 31, 2013, 12:19 pm

    It’s nice to recieve gifts and also nice to know that someone has thought of you and taken the time and effort. I think we all have someone in our lives that has a penchant for poor gift choices, I personally have two : ) But, it’s the thought that counts. Simply say “Thank you” and find a new home for the gift, whether it’s regifting or donating. If you don’t want your mother spending her money on these gifts that go to waste, you may want to mention prior to an upcoming gifting related event that a card and a visit is all you need. She may also be completely oblious to her poor gift selection skills. I used to buy golf shirts for my Dad all the time as he is a big golfer (participates in tournaments). Imagine my surprise the year I asked his wife for ideas on what to buy him and she said “Don’t buy him clothes because he never wears anything he doesn’t buy himself”. Now I buy him gift cards : ) But unless I had asked, I would have never known.

  • Gilraen December 31, 2013, 12:37 pm

    My MIL is quite minor compared to the OP but she has a knack in getting gifts wrong unless specified to the nth degree (and then it is FIL keeping her in line). It is just she gives in a fashio of how she would have liked to have seen things. Including overtly feminine gifts for her two engineer DILs.

    For years she’s been buying me and my SIL gift cards for a store neither of us ever set a foot in, because neither of us is of the dress up/girlie persuasion she would have loved as DIL. She has also given us the most ugly ornaments for in the house which do not go at all with our home, but great with her house.
    She also keeps giving us flowers despite knowing her son suffers hayfever. She just loves flowers herself and feels a house is empty without them. My poor husband, he always grins and bears it.

    Her gifts show very much what she likes and takes very little into account the receiver of the gift. But at the same time she does enjoy giving. This Christmas I got a gift card I do not know what to do with from a store I never use. I’ll just ‘forget” about it or something. But she got a hug and a thank you. She meant well

  • siamesecat 2965 December 31, 2013, 1:18 pm

    I’m torn on this issue. On one hand, I have been the recipient of gifts over the years, by family who “meant well” but totally missed the mark. Those I’ve sucked it up, and accepted graciously, and then either forgot about them (when younger) or disposed of (now that I’m an adult)

    However, I’ve also been on the receiving end of gifts that just smacked of “well, i know i ahve to buy you something, and even though you gave me some decent suggestions, i was too lazy, cheap (insert word here) to bother with any of them, so I just gave you carp”

    My one relative did that to me several years back. She is notoriously cheap, except when it comes to HER. Now mind you, i get she was being deployed right before Christmas, so had not a lot of time to figure things out. However, I had given her (at her request) a number of suggestions, which wouldn’t rquire much at all, i.e. an electronic gift card.

    instead, I got a bunch of stuff she had pulled from her closet, and just left on a chair (I stopped at her place to look in on her cats on my way to and from Christmas). I was frankly insulted she thought so little of me that she just left me a pile of stuff she didn’t want. two itmes were not my taste, a third was a cheapo bath set, clearly a regift as I know her well enough to know she wouldn’t actually SPEND money on it to give me, and a fourth was the smae thing i had bought while WITH her, 4 years prior. The best though, and still not clear if it was meant to be part of my gift or not, was a gift card with NOTHING on it. I think she found it and without even checking to see if it was indeed valid, just added it to the pile, or it somehow got mixed in. Either way, it was worthless.

    I thanked her, of course, and then quietly gave away/donated the items. I will say she has gotten slightly better, but still gives many things that are HER taste, rather than what the recipient might like. THis year she gave me the same exact bracelet she did last year, but with difference color crystals. Didn’t like it the first time around, and don’t like it still.

  • Despedina December 31, 2013, 1:31 pm

    Op’s mother does sound a bit clueless, however I’ve encountered worse.

    My BIL and SIL are horrible gift givers. Every Christmas they text asking what the kids need, every year I give suggestions and every year they get some $5 cheap thing from Wal Mart. Honestly it would not bother me so much if SIL did not make such a production of tracking us down and asking what they need. So this year we told her to get whatever was appropriate and she was of course irritated. Not sure what her game was.

    They also used to get my DH presents that were completely age innappropriate, before he finally told him to please stop getting him gifts. One year he got a Mr. Potato Head, one year a Lego Clock and the last time was a Darth Vader mask. That was the year he pulled his brother aside and asked him to please stop worrying about him for Christmas. It caused quite a barrage of angry texts to my husband. I’m not sure where they got the idea that my husband wanted toys. I agree with those who say gifts are a passive aggressive thing in some instances.

  • Dev December 31, 2013, 1:44 pm

    I was reminiscing with my 16 year old son regarding the training we did with him for his first kid birthday party (he was 5) complete with opening the gifts in front of all his friends and accepting gift graciously no matter how awful. To which he responded “Mom, you don’t have to go over all that with me…. Kenny always gives me strange things and I say thank you”. Was one of my great parenting moments 🙂

  • Miss-E December 31, 2013, 1:48 pm

    I’m floored by both this post and the subsequent comments. Who complains this much about getting gifts that aren’t suitable? That’s happened to me dozens of times in my life, you say thanks and you move on because guess what? Just because its Christmas/your birthday/your wedding/you have good grades, nobody OWES you anything! How entitled can you be?? Be grateful there are people who care enough about you to buy you presents, even if they are ill-suited.

  • Cathy December 31, 2013, 2:07 pm

    These stories are so funny. My husband and I have had a lot of laughs over the years about some weird gifts we’ve received. We put them in giver categories:
    Re-gifter: needs no explanation
    Clueless: doesn’t know what to buy, so buys first thing that comes down pike, whether appropriate or not
    Bad crafters: person is taking a ceramics class (or whatever) and gives everyone on their list hideous, gigantic vases
    Last minute: buys the only gift cards left at local grocery store, whether appropriate for recipient or not
    Promise of a gift but no gift: “I’ll get it over to you next week! Promise!”
    Punitive: person does not care what you like or want, they think you “need” a gift certificate to Jenny Craig or *ahem* a gym.
    Can’t decide/looking endlessly for that “perfect gift”: my mother never liked any of the gift suggestions she solicited from us – she was always searching for that “perfect” thing, never understanding that we always liked what she gave us.
    Non-approving: They won’t give you something you really want because they don’t approve of it or it is something they would not want themselves, so you don’t need it either.
    Ruthlessly efficient: often combines with last-minute. Kamikaze run through the mall on Christmas Eve, grabs gifts for everyone on the list within 30 minutes, out the door.
    I’m sure I could think of a few more, but these are the ones that came to mind from the last 30 years or so. We always thank the person profusely and quietly put the gifts aside. We give a lot of stuff to charity this time of year. LOL
    It seems like a lot of bad gift-giving stems from not being able to put yourself in the other person’s place and thinking “Would he/she like this?”
    My favorite gifts to give are a big gift basket with the person’s favorite things in it, or a gift card to their favorite store. I know a lot of people don’t like to give gift cards, but I love getting them and I notice that when I give them to the younger generation in my family, that tends to be the one that makes their faces light up. (So many possibilities…) It’s nice to be able to find a “real” gift that is both a surprise AND a delight, but that just doesn’t always happen. And sometimes, as many posters have said here, it’s best to stop exchanging gifts.

  • penguin tummy December 31, 2013, 2:47 pm

    Agreed, the best thing to do is say thank you very much and then do with the gift whatever you want.

    After many years of participating in my workplace ‘Secret Santa’ I am rethinking doing it next year. I always try to find out a bit about the person that I get and try to get something they would like or even something that they could re-gift, such as wine or chocolate. So this year I bought some quality chocolate truffles for my chosen person. I received from my as yet unknown Secret Santa a plastic leopard print purse and leopard print scarf. I am now struggling to think of someone that I talked to about leopard print! They are both quite hideous, and luckily my friend’s young child adored the purse so now she has it for a toy. The scarf is going to the charity shop. But I have not told anyone at work that I disliked the gift, I simply say that it was a nice gift. But once it is yours, you can do what you like with it.

  • Tana December 31, 2013, 2:51 pm

    Every year for every occasion my father would ask me what I wanted. I told him. One year I took a photography class in school and tested every fellow student’s camera to decide which one I liked best. Took me 3 months of deciding. I wrote it down. He went to our cousin who worked in a photo store and they said “oh no get her this.”

    I asked for a new watch one year (I’m allergic to metal on me, even good metals give me a problem so I only wear stuff over clothes, and normally put my watch on my purse handle (this was back when pin watches were very hard to find,)) so instead of a Timex he gives me a $400 Seiko. It stayed in a drawer, one day he asked me why and I finally gave up and let him have it. “You know I can’t wear it I’m not going to risk putting it on a purse I hang on the back of my chair, and it has dots for the numbers and you know I can’t tell time without actual NUMBERS on it. I ASKED you for a specific Timex, you do this every damned time I ask you for something. I also never use that Olympus camera, I told you which Nikon I wanted.”

    And to the day he died he still did it. Asked me to write down specifically what I wanted and got me whatever anyway. After he died I sold both the camera and the gold watch. And I just gave up on caring what he got me, said thanks and chucked it in a drawer and wrote down cheap things that didn’t matter, because what was the point about researching a big ticket item if I wasn’t going to get it anyway.

    I’d have rather gotten whatever, then be asked to list and be ignored. Especially when every time, what I wanted was actually less expensive than what I got.

  • Jewel December 31, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Every November, my mother asks me to provide a list of Christmas gift ideas for myself, my husband, and our two kids. I don’t know why. She never shops off the list. She doesn’t even use the list for reference for other things that we might like. This year, for example, my youngest child wanted books from a series he’s currently reading so I told my mother which titles in the series he doesn’t already have. She got him a book alright. A book that isn’t in the series or even in the same genre (i.e. Lemony Snickett is what he wants, but a book about geology is what he got — not even close). One year, my husband indicated he would like a moderately priced rachet set. Instead, he got an ocsillating table fan (his internal body temp always runs cold, which she knows, so why a fan? It’s a mystery).

    The silver lining of this cloud is that our kids have learned how to open a terrible choice of gift in front of the giver without revealing any negative emotions and while finding something complimentary to say about it. We figure that this skill will come in handy in all sorts of business and family situations when they’re adults. 🙂

  • K December 31, 2013, 3:58 pm

    I have a friend with a hoarding problem. Her gifts to close friends and family alike are either random old stuff she’s dug out of her home (think a bunch of paper bookmarks from the 90s) or a hodge-podge of things bought at the dollar store on her way to the party in question (I’ve been on the receiving end of this, and I accompanied her on one of the trips when we were driving to a family member’s birthday). I know she’s aware that this isn’t really thoughtful, because she’ll bring it up in a way that shows she feels guilt while also shooting down any potential criticism (“This is kind of a silly present, but we’re not fancy people, right?”).

    It’s hard, because it’s supposed to be “the thought that counts” when it comes to gifts, but there clearly isn’t much thought given and it hurts when you’ve taken the time to get her something special. Still, when I get these gifts from her, I just smile and say “thank you,” and then later either throw it out or donate it so that her hoarding problem doesn’t become mine. Unfortunately, OP, I think all you can really do while still being polite is the same.

  • Goodness December 31, 2013, 3:59 pm

    DGS, your ‘Aunt Lucy’ made me laugh. My husband’s ‘Aunt Jenny’ does the same thing: I made the mistake of mentioning that I like horses, especially draft horses (they seem to think they’re puppies) and she spent the next several years giving me horse calendars, postcards, books, and even a set of exceedingly kitchy horse brasses. Thank god she can no longer afford to give presents!

  • Rayner December 31, 2013, 4:48 pm

    I don’t think this is sweet, and I definitely don’t think it’s something that OP should be pleasantly amused by. If your Mother cannot hold it together for two minutes to purchase a suitable gift, or find a reasonable middle term, like a gift card, then that’s not being a good parent.

    OP says this has gone on for years – and most of these things strike me as passive aggressive or just plain disinterest. I would expect a fondue set for a fifteen year old to be sent my a distant relative. Not a parent. Taking one child on a fabulous holiday, after giving other on a picnic (which had to be supplied by the OP during her lunch break) smacks of either favoritism or apathy about one child. Equal, it was not.

    The worst thing there is the wedding song thing. You do not do that. It is not funny. It’s not ‘a bit forgetful’ or reasonable to do. It is plain crass to ask the band to play the song for another couple, one of whom is the exhusband of the bride.

    Listening is a skill. It is not a funny thing that people do sometimes but it’s okay if you don’t.

    OP, I suggest you start by really growing that polite spine, and by explaining to your mother what it feels like. And then by reiterating that you don’t want a present again. *shakes head*

  • remi December 31, 2013, 5:20 pm

    My parents are very hit-or-miss gift givers. Either what they give you will be perfect and an amazing gift….or not. And they are fond of gag gifts. For example, for my sixteenth birthday, we had a family dinner and I didn’t get many gifts, though I truly appreciated the few I did get. That is, except for the gift from my parents. They gave me…a loaf of bread. In a colourful gift bag, with tissue paper and a huge balloon sticking out of it saying Happy Sweet Sixteen. As an insecure middle-child teen who never got a lot of attention when compared to her outgoing and brilliant siblings, I was incredibly hurt and read it as a sign that my parents hadn’t put much thought or care into a milestone birthday like they had for my sister and brother (who got much better gifts when it was their turn), but at least I managed to hide that and laugh about it at the time and defend my parents (who thought it was hilarious) to my aunt, who was offended on my behalf. I don’t think they ever realized how hurt I was over that gag gift, though.

  • JeanLouiseFinch December 31, 2013, 7:16 pm

    My mother gives me awful gifts as well, mostly things she bought for herself and no longer wants. Once it was a set of hideous tea mugs, virtually guaranteed to get stains in all of the many ugly crevices. Once I think she actually bought me something on purpose and it was a heavy Dr. Suess looking teapot that absolutely could not be used for anything. It used to be sweaters that she had bought for herself and decided she didn’t want. They were always too small and totally not my taste, since she had bought them several months before, I could not return them but only donate them. If she is going to give me something more valuable, like a piece of her jewelry, she usually tells me on the day that that is what my gift is, and the next gift occasion she tells me again she will give me the same gift – I have one ring she “gave” me about 6 times before I actually got it! The thing is, I don’t wear jewelry – only my wedding ring and she knows that. It used to bother me that she spent no time or trouble picking anything for me and never bothered to ask what I wanted, but I have learned not to get my expectations up, which is good because for the last 2 years, she has forgotten my birthday and did not even call.

  • Anonymous December 31, 2013, 11:09 pm

    To the people in the “it’s the thought that counts” camp, that’s a good theory, but let’s think about it for a minute. The OP’s mother said she wanted to take both OP and Brother on vacation with her, but then kept the OP in the dark about the trip, and took off with Brother, and ONLY Brother, on the OP’s milestone birthday. She also hijacked the OP’s wedding by having the band play a song that she’d written for the OP’s ex-husband. So, what could she have been thinking there? The most charitable interpretation would be that she wasn’t thinking, which would mean that she’s either clueless, or she really doesn’t care about her daughter. A slightly harsher interpretation would be that she was deliberately trying to create bad feelings. The other thing is, why didn’t Brother speak up about the trip? Even if it was just to say something like, “Let’s go scuba diving on OP’s birthday, because I think she’ll like that best,” then it would have made it clear to Mother that he assumed that his sister, OP, would be included in the trip, as she’d said from the beginning. If Mother and Brother were colluding to exclude OP, or if Brother, as an ADULT, wasn’t adult enough to stand up for his sister, then that’s just despicable. I suppose it could have happened that Mother and Brother each thought the other one had contacted OP, but for something that big, you make sure, or you BOTH contact the third party, just so you’re absolutely sure that everyone’s in the loop.

    Anyway, maybe it’s true that it’s always the “thought that counts,” but I just wanted to show that there’s a flip side to that sentiment, and it’s not always positive. Just to make this less personal, has anyone else here seen the movie “Spanglish?” Remember the scene where the mother buys the (slightly overweight) daughter a whole wardrobe of too-small clothes, in order to entice her to lose weight? Well, that’s an example of “it’s the thought that counts” that isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Pygmalion gifts, blatantly inappropriate gifts, thoughtless gifts, obvious duplicate gifts, and blatant exclusion/broken promises, all fall under that same umbrella. Yes, it’s the thought that counts, but that doesn’t absolve the giver every single time–they still have to make that “thought” a good one.

  • Wendy January 1, 2014, 12:43 am

    I have to admit some confusion with the 30th birthday it sounds like you put off all plans so your mother could be there why didn’t you just plan a party/dinner whatever and tell mum the date if she couldn’t make it then you have a nice dinner or something with her later. Also she offered you the vacation you couldn’t go that is neither her fault or yours it’s just what happened in imo your lucky she offered at all and should be greatful for the thought.
    I do agree though that the other gifts are silly, except the book maybe. She could have misunderstood just because you were reading the book doesn’t mean you owned it.

  • LizaJane January 1, 2014, 1:15 am

    Would her “internationally scattered” friends typically travel to her for her birthday? I’m in the US and I understand it’s easier in Europe, where countries…but still.

  • LizaJane January 1, 2014, 1:17 am

    Where countries are smaller, that is.

  • Kimber January 1, 2014, 3:00 am

    I’m honestly shocked at some of the responses. I would be honored if my mother would give any thought to me at all….even if it was for a non suitable gift. There is so much entitlement here. I can’t believe how many people seem to feel that they should be able to get exactly what they want from their parents. Etiquette still counts even with mom and dad.

  • RC January 1, 2014, 6:42 am

    Some of the entitled attitudes in the comments are giving me chin rash from dragging my jaw on the floor. Gifts are to be accepted graciously, even in the event it’s not what you want/expect/think is appropriate.

    OP sounds very high maintenance, especially about birthdays, and their mother is not a great gift giver. So what? You publicly complain about her, when she’s giving you nice (somewhat misguided) gifts? Shame on you OP.

    The only thing I would back you on is the ex-husband wedding song, that wasn’t nice of her at all.

  • Marian Perera January 1, 2014, 8:25 am

    Cathy – I had a “promise” friend too. We worked at the same place, and I remember one Christmas I gave her two books in a series she liked. She said she’d got me a present too, and it was on her bedroom table, she just forgot to bring it in that day.

    For a few days I heard how that gift was right there on her bedroom table and she kept meaning to bring it in. But you know, it was wrapped and ready for me. I assume it’s still there, because I never got it.

    Oh, and for anyone who’s surprised or disapproving that people dare to voice their thoughts about inappropriate gifts – please consider the possibility that we were unable or unwilling to express our real feelings at the time but are taking this one opportunity to vent with people who have also gotten inappropriate gifts and might therefore understand how we felt. Yes, no one’s entitled to a gift, but that doesn’t mean we’re robots who never feel disappointed.

  • Rebecca January 1, 2014, 9:44 am

    I have an aunt who gives horrible presents. For example, for my mother’s wedding, she gave her a ceramic rabbit that had clearly had the head broken off and glued back on. We always had a good laugh about it and just put the stuff away and never used it.

    One Christmas when I was in high school, my boyfriend at the time came to visit us late in the day on Christmas Day. Mom and I had opened a particularly bad set of gifts from this aunt, and decided to show him. We thought it would give him a giggle. As we exhibited our gifts, he began to get a look of disgust on his face, but he didn’t laugh. When we were done, he said he was leaving. When asked why, he said,

    “Some people don’t get much of anything for Christmas. You aunt might have made a bad choice, but at least she was thinking about you”. This from the mouth of a teenage boy. I have never forgotten that moment.

    Your mother stood in a store, saw these items, and thought of you in that moment. She thought you’d like them. It doesn’t really matter why. These aren’t just wacky items, they’re a symbol of her love for you. And (hopefully a long time from now) when she’s gone, you’re going to miss her quirky gift choices.

  • cashie January 1, 2014, 11:28 am

    What I wouldn’t give for a bad gift from my sister. Instead , she gives me gifts with strings attached, like the time she brought me 30 pounds of very hard, unripe pears from her tree to process and give half back, using my own canning jars. While, I certainly appreciate a gift of food like this, the next few weeks consisted of her asking if the pears had ripened yet and if I’d had time to process any, usually calling after I’d gotten home from a 12 hour work day. I don’t know if it was the way I stored them orr what, but those pears never did ripen gradually. Instead, it seemed they were hard one day and a gooey mess the next. Put of exasperation, I purchased some pears, processed them, and gifted them to my sister, to which her husband asked if they were really “their” pears.

    Another time, she tried to give me cash as a “gift” on condition that I build a web site for her husband’s brother, whom I don’t even like. I turned the gift down.

    Another time it was a very nice gift of a meal in a restaurant for my boyfriend and me. We were excited about it and worked together to make a date we were both available (the restaurant was quite a distance from both of us, and we lived an hour apart from each other at the time). Then my sister insisted it had to be a date of her choosing so she could babysit my son on the same night. She lives another direction and wanted me to bring my son to her house. She was quite insistent. Amidst her rquirements that a date be set, my boyfriend and I quietly went to the restaurant on a day convenient for ourselves and had a great time. A week or so later, I brought my son over to visit with my sister as I’m pretty sure that is what she really desired. I wrote her a very nice thank you card for the gift. 🙂

  • Anonymous January 1, 2014, 1:28 pm

    Another thing I forgot to mention–it’s a common habit of toxic people to use the “rules of etiquette” as a weapon to hurt others. For example:

    -“Respect your elders” can be used as an excuse to mistreat members of the younger generation, through teasing, taunting, gaslighting, and other forms of emotional abuse, and worse.

    -“It’s the thought that counts” can be used as an excuse to put NO thought, or hurtful thought, into selecting gifts for others.

    -“Don’t be greedy/entitled/jealous,” or “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” can be used as an excuse to favour one sibling over another, through unequal gifting practices, exclusion from family activities, and other snubs.

    -“That’s just how he/she is,” can be (and often is) used to excuse another person’s longstanding pattern of bad behaviour.

    -“You’re overreacting/you’re too sensitive/you have no sense of humour/you can’t take a joke,” can be (and often is) used to deflect blame from someone who’s acting like a bully, to his or her victims.

    -“It’s rude to point out rudeness,” often prevents people from pointing out rudeness in others, so the rude behaviour goes unchecked, either out of ignorance, or lack of consequences. Also, in a lot of families, this is a one-way street. The more powerful, or favoured, family members, can often ride roughshod over others, while the less-powerful, less-favoured members (younger people, people with less income, less-assertive people, etc.), will get called out on “rudeness” for standing up for themselves.

    Anyway, how many threads have there been on E-Hell, that were basically a variation of “Family Member was repeatedly rude to me, I stood up for myself, and now the rest of the family has shunned me?” How many times have people responded, “Good job, OP!!!” to that? That’s right–more than I can count. So, to all the people who think the OP was being rude here, I think they have it backwards. I think the OP is the unfortunate victim of a toxic family dynamic. That’s not to say that her mother is completely toxic, but the pattern of lopsided gift-giving, and excluding her from plans, trips, etc., is definitely toxic. If she bought equally bad gifts for everyone, and/or was equally flaky with everyone, then she’d just be flaky, but if the OP is being singled out for this kind of treatment, then there’s a message there that Mother thinks OP is less important than Brother.

  • Anonymous January 1, 2014, 1:31 pm

    P.S., I forgot one–“It’s faaaaaaaaamily.” Remember that? In some people’s minds, that etiquette rule/meme/ingrained mentality, excuses family members for rude behaviour, simply because they’re family, while conveniently forgetting that the people they’re rude to, are also family.

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