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Gifts For Everyone! Maybe Not……

This is a question about Christmas presents for non-relatives.

Background: my brother is married to a woman named Susan. They have two daughters together. While my brother was serving in Iraq several years ago, Susan cheated on him with Dave. When my brother returned from Iraq, he separated from Susan but hasn’t divorced her due to finances. Susan is living with Dave, who has two children of his own, both older than my nieces. They’ve also had an additional child together. Dave’s older children are teenagers, one with a child of his own.

My brother lives out of state now, and rarely sees his girls. I also live out of state. I don’t even know the boyfriend’s children but I keep in touch with my nieces. The family does not live near my side of the family.

Because my family is so large, we rarely buy Christmas presents for our siblings or nieces and nephews. There are just too many people.

This year, my nieces and their younger sibling sent me a Valentines Day gift for being a great aunt. I was touched because I don’t see them much. For Christmas this year, I decided to send them small gifts. My brother’s daughters have lost both of their biological grandmothers in the past three years (that includes my mother.) They never see my brother. I feel bad for them and want to have a closer relationship.

I sent small gifts to my nieces and included something for their younger sister who thinks of me as an aunt.

I honestly didn’t think to send gifts to the older ones. The girl is a teenager and the boy is a grown man now with his own child. They came into the picture after my brother and Susan separated, and I never knew them. They also have their extended family living nearby.

I got a message from Susan saying the girls received and loved the gifts. Then she reminded me that there are two other “children” in the family that I did not give gifts to.

Help me out here, ehell. If I send anything next year, it will be a family gift card to redbox and some treats. But what do I do this year? Do I let it go? Pretend I didn’t see the message?    1224-13

{ 124 comments… add one }
  • David December 16, 2015, 2:55 am

    You were fine, Susan was not.

  • Kay_L December 16, 2015, 3:12 am

    I would ignore it. You didn’t need “reminding” and her pressuring you to give gifts to the two other “children” is rude.

  • Lex December 16, 2015, 4:37 am

    I don’t think you did anything wrong. If the parental situation were reversed, with your Brother living with a woman who had two pre-existing children, I think it would be unfair to exclude them, but as neither Susan nor the other children are related to you in any way, I don’t think it is necessary to include her other children. I think you blurred the line, though, by including a gift for Susan and Daves new daughter. I understand how and why, because it is not fair to be cruel to children when their parents are the ones causing a difficult situation, but in this case, I think it would have been more appropriate to have simply sent a gift to your two nieces.

    Susan sounds greedy by challenging you to buy things for children that have nothing to do with you. I suggest that in future, you stick to buying only for your nieces and explain that they receive gifts because they are biologically related to you. I would specifically inform Susan of your intention to buy only for your nieces. But that is just me.

    For now, though, I would just ignore her message. Gifts have been given but you are under no obligation to follow up for the rest of the family – especially since they aren’t any of your business.

  • sweetonsno December 16, 2015, 5:32 am

    I think your plan for the future is a good one.

    This one is a bit tricky. On one hand, the gifts could be seen as reciprocation for the Valentine’s Day card. When they sent cards, the showed that they were open to exchanging holiday greetings. The two older ones didn’t, so it could be argued that they don’t want that kind of relationship. That said, kids often haven’t quite gotten a handle on the gift-giving thing. On the other hand, you’ve essentially acknowledged three of them as relatives and not recognized the other two. (“I only give gifts to blood relatives” wouldn’t have worked as a reason because you sent a gift to the youngest.)

    For this year, I think you could go one of two ways. One way (which is probably what I’d do) would be to send the elder kids token gifts (digital gift cards in a small amount), along with a brief Christmas greeting. Another would be to tell Susan that you didn’t want to overstep or make them uncomfortable. This method would work best if you haven’t met the older kids or spent time with them. (If you have spent time with them and they were pleasant and polite, it’s probably not to work.)

    If the older kids are still living at home, I definitely think it’s smart to include them, even if it’s only in a token way. Do you NEED to send gifts to people who you aren’t close to? Of course not. However, it’s a nice gesture toward the siblings of your nieces.

    Are the older kids old enough to understand? Probably. But it sounds like they noticed that they were excluded and it may have stung, which is understandable given some of the upheaval they’ve experienced lately. I’d think of it as a nice gesture for the kids who have taken on the role of older brother and sister to your nieces. I imagine that they’d appreciate it.

    • KimB December 16, 2015, 11:21 am

      Why would it sting for the two older “children”? One is an man with a child of his own and the other a teen – they should be mature enough to understand. And you get a gift for the adult, then it would be why not for his child? And don’t forget the mother of the child.

      You can buy “token” gifts for everyone and their cousin Sally but where does it end? It’s ridiculous and excessive.

      You were very generous to think of the younger child who is not related to you. There was no need to even do that. You did fine, but next year just send a communal box of treats.

      • sweetonsno December 18, 2015, 11:32 pm

        That’s exactly it… she included one “non-family” child in the household but not the others. If she’d only sent gifts to her nieces, her reasons would be clear.

        Nobody is obligated to give anyone a gift, of course, but specifically excluding some people can result in hurt feelings. This may have been more of a miss on Susan’s part for presenting the gifts in front of the kids who hadn’t received any.

  • Tara December 16, 2015, 5:54 am

    The other “children” aren’t siblings of your nieces… they’re not even step-siblings since their mother hasn’t married the guy.

    Just reply that you’re only sending gifts to children, and teenagers don’t count as children.

    • Becca December 16, 2015, 11:01 am

      To be fair, the OPs neices may feel like those are their siblings and nobody has the right to say differently. They are seemingly being raised together and that bonds children to each other. It’s not as simple as all that legal stuff people lean on.

      If OP responds, the response could easily be “3 kids sent me a Valentine. The older ones didn’t, I have a relationship with 3 Littles. I’m sorry if feelings were hurt, it wasn’t intention.” There’s no reason to open a huge can of worms about definitions of siblings and children.

      • starstruck December 16, 2015, 2:37 pm

        The op’s nieces may have bonded with their step siblings , but that has nothing to do with the op and her relationship to her own nieces

      • Amanda H. December 16, 2015, 5:04 pm

        Yours is probably the approach I’d take too. Point out that three kids sent the Valentine, acknowledging their aunt (or adopted aunt, in the case of the nieces’ half-sibling).

        I have an uncle on my mom’s side who married a woman who had two children already from a previous marriage. The reason they got included in family gatherings despite my uncle not officially adopting them is because they willingly participated, and saw my grandparents as their grandparents as well. They included themselves, therefore my siblings and I consider them our cousins even though we’re not biologically related.

        I also have an aunt on the same side who married a man who had three children from a previous marriage. Again, no official adoption took place. These kids don’t get as involved in family gatherings. They’re still welcomed, but not necessarily automatically included in gift-exchanges and the like unless my aunt confirms that they’ll not only be participating but present at the holiday party, rather than just expecting that they’ll receive something. The older cousins in the family (my siblings and I included) see them less as cousins because they don’t make an effort to BE part of the family. That’s not to say that we’ll turn them away if they want to join in family festivities, just that they’re not included by default.

    • Anonymous December 16, 2015, 1:53 pm

      I’d say, instead, that you’re reciprocating for the Valentine’s gifts.

  • just4kicks December 16, 2015, 6:21 am

    Well, isn’t Susan a treat?!? Good Lord, what nerve!!!
    In my opinion, if the other “kids” in question are that old, then no, I wouldn’t have sent gifts.
    If they were young children, I might send along a little something with your other gifts.
    I personally don’t think you did anything wrong, Susan on the other hand showed really bad manners in her nasty comment to you…..not to mention cheating on her husband who was risking his life everyday in the military.
    I may get backlash for this, but, what a cold hearted bitch!

    • just4kicks December 16, 2015, 6:22 am

      ….And, yes, I would take the “high road” and ignore her rude response about no presents for her kids.

      • Michelle December 16, 2015, 9:03 am

        I may get backlash, too, but I agree with you. Should Susan ever bring it up again, I would tell her that I only buy for children, not teenagers and grown people with children of their own.

      • KC December 16, 2015, 11:05 am

        They are not Susan’s kids. They are the kidS of the man Susan had the adulterous affair and with whom she currently resides. Susan has lots of nerve.

      • PJ December 16, 2015, 11:08 am

        Count me in as another who agrees with you. Susan has a lot of nerve.

        • Dyan December 16, 2015, 1:36 pm

          nope I agree with you guys 100% she has nerve to even bring it up…

  • AMC December 16, 2015, 6:34 am

    I don’t think you did anything wrong, OP. If the other “children” were much younger, I could understand them feeling excluded. But one is a grown man and the other is a teenager. Also, the youngest three are who you have a relationship with. Seems weird that Mom didn’t infer that considering the Valentine’s Day card they sent was from the younger three kids and not the older two.

  • K December 16, 2015, 6:44 am

    I would point out to Susan that you only send presents to your family. These children are not step-relations either. She has a nerve!

    • crebj December 16, 2015, 8:53 am

      Eww. “I only send gifts to my family” certainly doesn’t sound loving and familial. Don’t even go there!

      A simple “This is what I did this year” is all you need. Repeat as necessary.

      • PJ December 16, 2015, 11:14 am

        I’d say “I sent gifts to the girls because they’re family” does sound familial. The other “kids” (or one kid and one adult) are not family to the OP *at all*. They are not-legally, but in effect, step-family to an ex-in-law, or like step-family to OP’s nieces. You can argue that family is what you make it, but it sure sounds like nobody has taken any such steps between OP and the ex-sister-in-law’s-boyfriend’s-kids (or OP’s-nieces’-mom’s-boyfriend’s-kids, or whatever).

        There was no reason to expect a gift in this situation, and to point out that the nieces are family and the rest of the household is not is just a statement of fact and defending that there is something special in the relationship between those girls and OP that doesn’t exist with the other members of the household.

        If Susan has trouble accepting this reality, it is on her and not the OP.

      • Leigh December 16, 2015, 12:19 pm

        I don’t know that I would feel “loving and familial” towards the children of the man with whom my brother’s wife had an affair.

      • K December 17, 2015, 10:56 am

        It isn’t supposed to. Susan needs a reminder that her adulterous lover’s family are not the OP’s.

  • Vanessaga81 December 16, 2015, 7:31 am

    Call me a Scrooge but I don’t think I’d consider Dave’s kids to be my family. They are married to a woman who, for all intents and purposes is your former sister-in-law. To go a step further, I have a step-son and my family has embraced him and they always purchase presents for him at Christmas and birthday but I would never “remind” them to do so as no ones owes anyone a present.

    • LadyV December 16, 2015, 11:39 am

      Technically, Susan is STILL the OP’s sister-in-law, as she and OP’s brother are not yet divorced. So the older kids aren’t even step-siblings to the OP’s nieces. Even if they were, though – you give gifts to people you have a relationship with, and that obviously is not the case with OP and the older “children”.

  • Charliesmum December 16, 2015, 7:52 am

    I say just ignore the message. If they were small children, who might not understand the nuances of the relationships, then I could MAYBE see why the woman would have said something, although I still think it’s ridiculous. That being said, they are NOT children, and you are under no obligation to send a gift to someone you don’t know, and you’re not even related to.

  • Weaver December 16, 2015, 7:55 am

    Well gee, Susan sounds like quite the charmer. It seems to me she’s the one who has made this situation awkward, not you. I think it would’ve been a little odd, frankly, if you had sent gifts to the two older ones, as you don’t have any kind of relationship with them.

    In your position, I wouldn’t deny seeing Susan’s message if directly asked about it, but I wouldn’t bring it up either. Your nieces and their younger sister received their gifts, and that’s the main thing. Sending additional gifts now would just look extremely awkward IMO, not to mention it would make you look like a pushover who’s willing to be manipulated. I would just ignore her message. Your family gift card idea for next year is a generous one, and I would probably do that, along with a small additional gift for each of the three youngest if you feel like it. Honestly, why do people like Susan have to make things so difficult?

    • Michelle December 16, 2015, 9:06 am

      I like this idea as well.

  • flora December 16, 2015, 7:56 am

    How old is the the teenager? If she’s thirteen to fifteen, send a small gift, perhaps an itunes giftcard. If she’s sixteen and up, I wouldn’t send anything. Ditto to the adult man who has his own family. At that age they’re old enough to understand you’re trying to establish a relationship with your nieces. I’d also encourage you to continue to send your nieces individual gifts, perhaps outside of the holidays.

  • Anonymous December 16, 2015, 8:14 am

    I think a family gift would be best. Giving individual gifts for that many people could be a financial and logistical nightmare, but a movie and snack box would be something that they could all use and enjoy.

    • Cat December 16, 2015, 11:04 am

      There are two families since the man has married and has his own family.

      • Cat December 16, 2015, 7:21 pm

        Correction, from what was written, he has a child. There is no mention of his being married. My middle class values are showing.

  • o_gal December 16, 2015, 8:19 am

    You don’t say anything. Susan thanked you. That’s the end. She was a little crass and rude to point out that you did not get gifts for the older kids, but just let it go. Next year do the family gift card instead.

    If you goofed in any way, it was to get a gift for the younger child. I think that’s where you overstepped. If you had just gotten gifts for your biologically related nieces, *maybe* Susan would not have misinterpreted it. She had no way of knowing what you think of the child, and may not realize that the younger sister thinks of you as an aunt.

    • Goldie December 16, 2015, 3:23 pm

      I think it was okay, because it was in response to the younger child’s gift to OP.

    • Amanda H. December 16, 2015, 5:13 pm

      I don’t necessarily think OP overstepped by getting a gift for the younger child, mostly because said younger child did acknowledge OP as aunt (whether or not they’re actually biologically related). I think the younger child would be hurt if she were then subsequently ignored by the woman she considers her aunt while her half-sisters still got gifts.

  • Jewel December 16, 2015, 8:20 am

    Susan has a whole lot of nerve. My reaction to her message is to ignore it. She should be grateful that you included a little gift for your niece’s younger sibling, but instead took you to task for why you didn’t gift Dave’s two older “kids” who are complete strangers to you? Susan needs a reality check. I hope it will come in the form of you doing exactly the same next year than you did this year.

  • Marion December 16, 2015, 8:33 am

    Am I the only one surprised that Susan didn’t solicit a gift for the *child* of the adult man the OP’s never met, too?

    I probably watch too much Judge Judy, but my thoughts are that if you are ‘old enough to make babies’ you are probably too old to have your mum ask strangers [to *you*] for a Christmas present…

    • Dyan December 16, 2015, 1:38 pm

      hahah I LOVE it that is right, you can make a family YOU do not need gifts from a stranger …you are so right Marion

  • abby December 16, 2015, 8:38 am

    Hm, tough one. Blended families have different dynamics. It’s possible Susan took offense on their behalf when there was none taken by the older two. I can see why you did not think of the older two, but I can also see why, since you included the younger one, Susan may have interpreted this as a slight against the older two.

    This submission appears to have been dated in 2013, so too late, but my advice would be to respond to Susan and tell her you weren’t intentionally excluding the older two but that you had no idea to their tastes, and that you usually only buy for kids elementary school age and younger (only say this if this is true). You’re not obligated to buy anything for these two that you’ve never met and are not related to by either blood or marriage, but since it appears your nieces’ relationship with their father’s family is so tenuous, you *really* don’t want to alienate Susan, as she appears to be the only real way you will keep in touch with the girls.

  • Aleko December 16, 2015, 8:43 am

    Regardless of family relationship, it is heartless to send presents to some children in a household and exclude others. So the only question really is, how teenage is the teenager? I agree with Liz, at anything up to fifteen I think she should have been included by at least a token gift. Any older and she is – or will see herself as – an adult. And while adults may of course be given presents by affectionate elder relatives, they should never assume this. So it would be absurd for anyone to suggest that OP ‘ought’ to give one to a grown man.

    • Margo December 17, 2015, 8:49 am

      I disagree. There are lots of situations where it’s perfectly reasonable to do so. For example, if you have a godchild it would be entirely appropriate anre reasonable to send them a gift, but that would not obligate you to send one to any siblings they have.
      My step-niece has 2 half siblings. She receives gifts from her own grandparents and other relatives, the siblings receive them from *their* respective grandsparents and relatives.
      Of course there are many blended families where children or others who are not technically related nevertheless have a relationship and in those situations, it’s reasonable that that is reflected in the gift giving.

      OP – I would ignore this competely. Continue to give gifts to your nieces and to their half-sibling who you have a relationship with. If Susan brings it up with you personally, then I wouldsuggest that you say “I don’t know Dave’s children at all”

  • Alicia December 16, 2015, 8:54 am

    You do not owe gifts to Susan’s new boyfriends kids from his previous relationship. That is appalling that she would request gifts for the children of the man she cheated on your brother with. Susan is not related to you, the children she had with your brother are. You were generous to include the new child she had with her boyfriend. I don’t think I would send a family gift, I would send gifts for your two nieces and their sister (if you want to be so kind). This woman has a lot of nerve requesting gifts for children of the man she cheated on her deployed spouse with. I have no words.

  • Anon December 16, 2015, 9:33 am

    Not surprising that she would send a message like that considering the type of person she is. Sounds like she’s kind of full of herself.

    I would ignore it. You aren’t related to the older kids, sounds like you have barely seen them, if ever, and have no connection to them other than your current but wants to be ex-sister-in-law lives with ONE of them, and the other one is out of the house.

  • stacey December 16, 2015, 9:43 am

    I do agree with the reluctance OP you may feel to send gifts to other teens and young adults in the family. However, since there is no clear precedent for giving gifts to nieces and nephews and since the disruption to relationships within the family is due to decisions made by adults and has no bearing on any choices made by the children, teens or young adults in question, a more inclusive policy would be far kinder to them. A basket of treats with individual trinkets for each of them probably wouldn’t cost any more then the individual gifts purchased this year and would go a long way toward keeping the door open to this branch of the family. That would serve your long-term goal of maintaining the relationship with your nieces.

    • padua December 16, 2015, 11:44 am


  • Elisabeth December 16, 2015, 10:02 am

    I’m going to go against the grain here and say that maybe you did make a slip-up. Susan was pretty rude in her approach, but buying gifts for some of the children and not all, especially if the teenage girl still lives at the house, was a faux pas. You sent a present to the younger child who is not related to you at all, but not the older child?
    Imagine being a teenage girl whose mother has had a younger child with her new husband, leaving you feel shut out of the family or replaced. (This is a common feeling with children of divorce) Now, come Christmas, your three little step-siblings and little half-sibling gets presents, but not you. I understand not sending a gift to the adult son with a baby (since he probably wouldn’t be around to see the other children’s gifts), but not sending a gift to her probably made the teen girl feel awful, then turn around and ask her brother if he got a present, and stir up this drama.
    Even if it was a small thing like lip glosses or jewelry, making sure that the teen girl had gotten at least something to open would have given Susan no need to be rude.

    • theLadyBugg December 16, 2015, 12:52 pm

      But that’s not the case here – Susan is NOT the teen age girl’s mother. The teen has a brother (with his own child) and a father. Her father begins a relationship with Susan, who has two younger children of her own. Then they have a baby together. Susan’s kids getting a gift or correspondence from *their* family is no weirder than this girl receiving a gift from her own mother’s family (who we know nothing about, except that they are not related to the OP or Susan).

      When I was growing up, my parents took in one of my maternal cousins. My paternal eextended family included and made room for her, no problem. But when *her* paternal eextended family reached out to her, none of my sisters (or myself) felt left out. Why would we? We were strangers to them, and they were her family.

    • RigaToni December 16, 2015, 1:47 pm

      A little clarification there: she’s only half-sibling with the youngest. She’s the daughter of the new husband, not the former sister-in-law. So she shares no relation to the OP or the OP’s nieces, and only half relation to the youngest sibling.

      I still see your “pushed out” logic, but that’s on Susan, not the OP. If Susan did not see to it that the Valentine gift was from ALL the girls, then the OP had no reason to believe the teenage girl would feel left out of holiday gifts.

    • MeganAmy December 16, 2015, 2:38 pm

      I agree with this.

      I don’t think you did anything purposely hurtful, and I don’t think Susan handled her response well, but I think it couldn’t hurt to include the other teenager who is still living in the same home. I’d try it once. Just to include the child and maybe even have a good impression on her. Maybe she needs someone nice and thoughtful in her life.

      However if she didn’t thank you and didn’t participate in the Valentines that were sent to you at the next occasion, then my gifts to her in the future would be small or token. Enough to include her but not to spoil her if there’s no reciprocal relationship.

  • jocelyn December 16, 2015, 10:25 am

    I think it’s odd and awkward to send a gift to people you don’t know, unless it’s to a very young child, one that would be hurt not to receive a gift. I certainly don’t get the idea of a ‘family’ gift to the new family of a SIL who cheated on my brother, thereby breaking up the family.

  • The Elf December 16, 2015, 10:39 am

    She shouldn’t have sent the note, but leaving out older kids while giving gifts to the younger kids isn’t good either, even if you don’t really know them. I think the idea of the “family gift” is the best way to make sure everyone is included.

  • Becca December 16, 2015, 10:52 am

    What an entitled brat Susan is. Given their father isn’t in their lives, I wouldn’t be chasing away their extended family like that. I wonder if that was a nasty hint to push you out of their lives, honestly.

    I didn’t even know my aunts and uncles for the most part until I was late teens and now as an adult. So extending that kind of love and affection is wonderful and shouldn’t be responded with in such a manner.

    My dad legally adopted and raised my brother as his own from birth (met my mom when she was pregnant and single, fell in love, lived together and have been married for 32 years and counting. Still. Extended family ignored my brother as a child. Dad’s mom wouldn’t even answer him if he called her grandma, as a 8 year old he realized he only got response using her first name. Now that’s when you tell someone you have a child they are shipping and in my opinion to take a hike out of my life. My parents know any child I raise, despite blood or their feelings on the matter is to be treated as if they’re the grandchild they’ve always wanted or they won’t see me ever again. No child should ever feel my brother’s pain of rejection.

    This is not one of those situations. You’re extending yourself despite being far away and your brother not being involved. Susan needs to get a grip, especially with her grown man of a son.

    • stacey December 18, 2015, 1:51 pm

      I agree, Becca. It’s a failing many of us struggle with- the idea that we ought to include those with whom we have no real connection by blood, by affinity or by affection. But isn’t that the essence of the social compact? We move over and we make room so that everyone is included. Especially in the case of children and other marginalized demographics (special needs, seniors, formerly incarcerated, financially challenged….), it IS the right thing to do. And kindness generally begets kindness. If not- well, at least the adult in question did no harm. And no pangs of conscience later!

  • camlan December 16, 2015, 10:57 am

    Have you ever even met the other two children? It’s understandable why you didn’t send them gifts–they have no connection to you.

    And it is understandable why you sent the other little girl a gift. She is your nieces’ half-sister, and she is a little girl. Younger children don’t always understand gift-giving and who gives what to whom. I am completely on the side of giving gifts to little kids who will not understand why their sibling got a gift and they didn’t. It’s what I do with the one blended family I’m related to–it’s more about making one kid feel included rather than gift-giving along blood lines only. I am not going to be the person who makes a 3 year old sad on Christmas.

    To keep things cordial with Susan, what I’d tell her would be some version of, “Oh, I stop gift-giving to unrelated children when they turn X.” X being younger than the teenaged child.

    And on Susan’s side, I can kind of see where she might want the teenager included–she is trying to blend her family together, and gifts for only three of the four children at home just points out the differences. Although expecting a gift for a grown child with children of his own is a bit over the top. But Susan would have done better to explain things to the teenager, with an eye to teaching her how to deal with this sort of thing graciously.

  • Dyan December 16, 2015, 10:59 am

    I think you did nothing wrong, Susan was RUDE to even say anything about it

  • Cat December 16, 2015, 11:03 am

    I think that I’d let Susan know that I buy gifts for children. Once an individual has reached puberty, childhood has been left behind.

    • Anonymous December 16, 2015, 2:16 pm

      Puberty isn’t really a great cut-off. It might be better to say age twelve, or high school, or some other definite marker, because some kids start puberty at eight, and others, not until fourteen or fifteen.

      • Cat December 16, 2015, 7:25 pm

        Any marker is simply by personal choice. I have seen thirty year old “children” have tantrums that any two year old would envy. I don’t think Susan needed anything more than being told that the teenagers were not going to get a present from the OP.

    • Reaver December 16, 2015, 11:55 pm

      Really? Cause I hit Puberty at nine, that woulda sucked for me 8I “WELP You’re nine now, your childhood is behind you now!”

  • Alli December 16, 2015, 11:42 am

    I don’t think it’s right for Susan to say something. But I also think you probably should have sent something for the older kids that are living with them.

    It’s not their fault what the parents have done. When I think to my own extended family. My husbands cousins girlfriend brought her three teen boys to our family get together. I had never met them, but still got a $10 gift card and wrapped it up. It was worth it and I wasn’t the only one in the family to get them something. The gf and cousin have broken up, but I ran into her a few months ago. She said her kids still talk about how people they had never met thought enough to include them.

    • pittgirl December 17, 2015, 10:46 am

      But you met these boys, the OP had never met the teens.

  • Cora December 16, 2015, 11:43 am

    Agreeing with everyone who has told you that you did nothing wrong, for a lot of common-sense reasons, let’s look at the endgame: say you actually do send a gift for the teenage girl and the grown man. Susan proudly gives them those gifts, which they take one look at and then say, “Who the heck is Aunt OP? Have I ever met her?” They open the gifts, say “meh” to each other, toss them away, and Susan is left there feeling resentful that they didn’t gush over her amazing generosity in blackmailing gifts out of Aunt OP. Way to Christmas-spirit it up, Susan.

  • LonelyHound December 16, 2015, 11:44 am

    Personally, having married into a large family, I can understand just sending to the younger children, even the youngest who is your nieces’ half sibling. The youngest most likely has limited knowledge of what happened before she was born, even less understanding of it, but a close relationship with her closest in age sisters. You have no connection to the other two children, nor does it sound like they have tried at all to reach out. I do not understand trying at all to give gifts to people who have never acknowledged your presence.

  • viviennebzb December 16, 2015, 11:44 am

    If I understand correctly, the standard etiquette regarding unpleasant sounds is to act as though they had never occurred. I would not respond to Susan’s appalling rudeness at all. She’s off the charts!

  • padua December 16, 2015, 11:47 am

    i agree with other posters who implied this situation depends on what sort of relationship you want with the children. if you want to be more involved with your brother’s children, then it wouldn’t hurt to try to become closer to the family as a whole by including the older child as well. if you’re content to maintain distance, then ignoring the request is also an option. i think it’s worth seeing the exSIL reaching out as a positive thing, however. i know my children don’t typically come up with cards and gifts unless it’s at my gentle prompting. i think giving Susan the benefit of the doubt to create a more harmonious relationship is the direction i would go.

  • mark December 16, 2015, 11:56 am

    I wouldn’t even dignify this comment from Susan with a response. You are under no obligation to provide presents to unrelated children in the household. Quite frankly I would of been surprised, if I were Susan, had you sent the older two gifts at all.

  • Annie December 16, 2015, 12:10 pm

    She couldn’t keep her own marriage vows, but suddenly she’s obsessed with fairness?

  • Ty December 16, 2015, 12:11 pm

    Normally, I’m an advocate for making sure that everyone is included. However, the family dynamic here is so complicated, I certainly don’t think you did anything wrong.

  • Jinian December 16, 2015, 12:19 pm

    I’m with the “do not engage” brigade, though I’m a little shocked at how many people think blood relatedness is the most important factor here.

  • Huh December 16, 2015, 12:40 pm

    Blended families also know that they have relatives that are not the other member’s relatives. And teenagers are old enough to know that little Suzy’s aunt has never met you and doesn’t know you, so she sent a Christmas present to little Suzy but not to you. Just like little Suzy’s friend from school may have given her a present, but not to the rest of the family.

    But I’m not surprised Susan acted like that at all.

  • The OP December 16, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Hello! I was pleasantly surprised to see my submission on here today. Yes, this all occurred last year. The kicker was my older niece later messaged me and said thanks for the gift but I forgot so-and-so. I ignored her and Susan’s messages. This year, I ordered Christmas candy “for ask the kids. ” I do feel bad for my nieces because they never see anyone on our side of the family.

    OH! I was able to get my two biological nieces and let them stay at my house for a week over the summer. Susan tried to get me to take the youngest one too. Lol. That did not happen. I told her I had no room in the car or the house.

    • Cat December 16, 2015, 7:29 pm

      You did the right thing by not replying. If she pressed the point, I’d simply say, “No, I didn’t forget.”

    • PJ December 17, 2015, 9:59 am

      It sounds to me like Susan wanted free babysitting for the week. I’m glad you got time to spend with your nieces and keep that bond! It is too bad that you can’t just send gifts to your nieces (with whom you actually have a relationship), but the candy for all the kids is very thoughtful.

      Oh– and I agree with Cat’s response for any questions!

  • The OP December 16, 2015, 1:04 pm

    I forgot to add that I decided to only take my biological nieces so as not to discriminate against the teenager still in the house, and because the younger one is too young to be away from her mom for a week and needs a lot of looking after. I also really only had room for the two.

  • EO December 16, 2015, 1:44 pm

    I think that most of the comments on this thread are completely valid and also a one-way ticket to nuclear detonation of the relationship with the OP’s nieces. It’s not like she can have a relationship with her nieces through her brother since he never sees them. And, considering that tidbit, I’m not going to participate in calling the girls’ mother terrible names for her mistake. Personally, I believe that abandoning your children is worse than leaving your husband.

    So, if the OP wants to be right, she should take the advice, ignore her former SIL and walk away from a relationship with her nieces. If the OP wants to be happy, she can buy the teenager a $10 iTunes card and move on. I know which one I’d pick.

    • Anon December 17, 2015, 10:56 am

      What? You act like this can only have 2 possible situations. Really?

      I know you probably didn’t see OPs reply, but why do you assume it would be “nuclear annihilation” if OP doesn’t give gifts to people she has absolutely no relation to, has never met, and are a bit too old to be feeling left out anyway?

      • abby December 17, 2015, 4:33 pm

        I don’t think EO is assuming anything, just pointing out that right now, Susan is the sole gatekeeper to OP’s nieces. If Susan gets offended by anything OP does, no matter how ridiculous, she can cut OP off and OP has NO recourse.

        Would it be fair of Susan to cut off her daughters from a loving aunt because she feels the OP slighted the teenage children of her boyfriend? No, not at all. But it’s not about what is “fair” or “right”. It’s about knowing what side your bread is buttered on in order to get what you want, and right now, OP wants a relationship with her nieces. That may involve deferring to Susan even when Susan is wrong. OP is free to tell her to pound sand. But in doing so, her relationship with her nieces may become collateral damage, if Susan is particularly spiteful.

    • Ernie December 17, 2015, 1:04 pm

      I agree. From Susan’s perspective, she is now the mother in this new blended family. She may see it as strange that this aunt wants to keep a good relationship with her nieces, since their biological father seems to have very little to do with them. Her thinking may be that singling out only those people that the OP knows for presents is defining a different family unit that the OP’s brother may have made no effort to keep in tact.

      Without knowing details, its hard to say. Indeed, it sounds like Susan may be responsible for a lot of this, but to get her perspective, I’d need to know the reasoning for the OP’s brother living in a different state than his kids. It could be that Susan would say “Their dad and I didn’t work out, and he seems to want nothing to do with them,. So if you are going to send gifts to my family, respect that this is my family now. You don’t get to draw boundry lines for a guy who doesn’t actually want to be a father”.

      Again, I have a lot of assumptions at work here while knowing very few facts. She may just be tactless,

    • abby December 17, 2015, 4:27 pm

      I picked up on that too, EO. While cheating on your spouse while he or she is deployed on military duty is not a particularly impressive testament to one’s character, the subtext I’m picking up on is that Brother was likely not that involved as a father (and probably husband) while he was living with Susan and his daughters. I am less inclined to judge Susan as well, particularly as I don’t get the impression that OP’s brother is currently deployed, making his absence from his daughters’ lives harder to explain.

      • anonymous December 17, 2015, 10:56 pm

        I don’t see why everyone is assuming that the OP’s brother has CHOSEN to be an absent father. It could just as easily be that Susan is making it nearly impossible for him to interact with his daughters. Nothing the OP has told us about Susan suggests to me that she encourages or wishes her estranged husband would be involved with their children; quite the contrary. After all, she’s cheated on him (while he was off fighting in a war, no less), moved her children and herself in with her lover and had said lover’s child. Wonderful example to set for your kids!

        • abby December 18, 2015, 8:30 am

          “I don’t see why everyone is assuming that the OP’s brother has CHOSEN to be an absent father. It could just as easily be that Susan is making it nearly impossible for him to interact with his daughters.”

          Your mileage may vary, but I don’t think these two scenarios as equally plausible. First, OP’s wording suggests that her brother was the one to move out of state, so he has indeed, CHOSEN to live some distance away from them. Second, the husband and wife are still married, so he has as much custody rights as Susan does. If Susan is blocking him from seeing them (although I don’t see how she’s legally able to do this) or sabotaging their relationship, that’s all the more reason to go to divorce court and get a custody agreement settled. He has CHOSEN not to, for ‘financial reasons’. Third, the OP came back and updated that Susan allowed her daughters to stay with OP for a week. That was entirely her prerogative, and the fact that she did does not suggest she is interested in cutting her girls off from her father’s side of the family.

          It’s not impossible he is a loving father and a victim in all of this, but given all the context clues, I’m more inclined to believe the OP’s brother is indeed an absent father by choice.

    • Jessica December 22, 2015, 10:57 am

      Hey wait up there, I have nothing to do with my kids but NOT by my choice, I am fighting tooth and nail to get access to them. I had to move away to get work after my husband left me for my best friend. I was left homeless in the end so I had to give him the kids until I got on my feet and now he and his new partner have decided I am too much bother to deal with and have deleted me from my kids lives, I know the suburb they live but no address or phone numbers and get calls every 1-2 months from my youngest (8) and my eldest (9) refuses to even talk to me anymore. I have an email adress but my ex husband’s girlfriend has taken it over and he isnt allowed to speak to me. She refuses to reply to my email I sent asking if I would get a phone call from my kids on xmas day. Apparently talking to me upsets them too much. I am never sent photos and if I try and see them I get the police called on me and tell them I want to hurt them and it upsets the kids… and I get the blame for causing them distress. I am not violent, I dont drink or take drugs. I am a full time law student and work as a security officer and volunteer with the homeless and all my bills are paid. There is no reason for this other than they wish I did not extist. They tell people I have nothing to do with the kids… that is correct but NOT by my choice and my lawyer and I are fighting it for all we are worth.

  • starstruck December 16, 2015, 2:32 pm

    Honestly, Susan has some nerve asking u to buy gifts for children of the man she cheated on your brother with. Really?

  • Wendy B December 16, 2015, 2:49 pm

    I wouldn’t say anything at all about the ages of the “children” involved, if asked. I would simply say, “These are my nieces by blood and I wanted them to know they are not forgotten when so far away from part of their family.” If asked about the little one, say, “She participated in the Valentine’s gift and I wanted to say thank you.”

    That’s it. Simple and to the point. Those girls are not blind, they know very well what is going on and they probably feel very estranged from your brother’s side of the family. For heaven’s sake, keep in touch with them! A card once in a while to say “hello” is also a good idea.

  • Cat2 December 16, 2015, 3:11 pm

    There seem to be a few assumptions flying around here:

    1) The fact that a teenager has a kid does not actually mean they are all that old or living somewhere else. This kid could be as young as 15, is more likely 16-17, and still living with Susan and Dave.

    2) That LW is merely responding to a reciprocal gift exchange. Yes, she has only been communicating with her nieces and has an established relationship with them, but as an adult it’s on her to look to establish relationships with the other kids. Once she included the younger kid, it’s on her to build the bridge of acknowledging and sending something that the older kids can be part of as well.

    3) This one’s on the LW – she’s chalking up her attention to her nieces as they don’t have family nearby, but the other kids have extended family nearby. Except that she does not seem to know whether that extended family of the other kids has been inclusive towards her nieces and are gifting them and treating them as full on family.

    I’d respond to the e-mail and say “I am sure that you can understand this is an awkward situation. In large part, I did not get a gift for the older kids because I have never met them or spoken to them and therefore don’t have any relationship with them. However, I can see how this could be taken as a slight towards them and that was not my intention. In future, I’ll make sure to find a way to include them in whatever I do. Happy holidays, LW.”

    Except, of course, that it’s 2 years too late for this advice, and I really hope the OP pops in to update us on where it is today.

    (I’d also be really curious what finances make divorce an issue and why neither side has pushed for it. They’ve already split up the housing situation. Kids would still be covered under his medical I believe, so – what gives?)

    • PJ December 17, 2015, 10:12 am

      I agree that there are a lot of assumptions being made…

      The living situation of the teenage father changes my opinions.

      I also don’t think the OP has any responsibility whatsoever to build a relationship with her brother’s-ex-wife’s-boyfriend’s-teenage-kids that live far away. She wants to keep a relationship with her nieces. If these older quasi-step-siblings of the nieces are important enough to the nieces, they may become a part of the OP’s acquaintances, but even that doesn’t *have* to happen.

      I’d also don’t think the OP has a responsibility to include these teenagers to the same extent that the family of Susan and Dave should. There is a big difference between Susan and Dave’s siblings and parents including all members of Susan and Dave’s household (especially if they live nearby and spend time together) and the OP including all members of the OP’s brother’s ex-wife’s household.

      • PJ December 17, 2015, 10:13 am

        I meant to say “the living situation of the teenage father *doesn’t* change my opinion”

  • Goldie December 16, 2015, 3:26 pm

    Susan sounds like such a joy to be around. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two oldest kids know nothing of her message, and would be mortified if they found out.

  • Karen L December 16, 2015, 4:08 pm

    Susan sounds like a piece of work. Keep being kind to your nieces, they probably need and appreciate it.

  • CJ December 16, 2015, 4:38 pm

    I am of the opinion that all the children living at home (the adult on their own is not included in this) should be sent gifts or acknowledged. I would def have gone with a redbox card or something for the whole family. Blended families take a lot of work. You excluded one member of their family, that is wrong. It hurts to be the odd child, especially as a teenager.

    • Cat December 16, 2015, 7:35 pm

      She excluded two teenagers. She sent gifts to the three younger children.
      I would never have, even as a teenager, expected a gift from a woman I did not know and to whom I was not related. The gifts were sent in return for the gifts the three younger children had sent her for Valentine’s Day.

    • mark December 16, 2015, 11:01 pm

      Blended families may be tough but I just don’t see where that’s the OP’s concern. This teenager has no reason to expect a gift from someone to whom they aren’t related and lack a relationship with. I’m not in a blended family and my siblings got gifts from other people all the time who didn’t give me a gift, Did it hurt to be excluded? No because I didn’t have a relationship with them, and has no reason to expect a gift.

      • Huh December 17, 2015, 9:01 am

        I agree. I’m in a relationship with someone with a child from a previous relationship, I have kids from my previous relationship. I cannot imagine my BF’s ex-in-laws sending my kids treats/presents on holidays, and I cannot imagine my ex-in-laws sending his child treats/presents on holidays or why it would be expected.

        It would be totally different if the ex-in-laws were close to the new blended family, regularly saw them/socialized with them, etc. I am 1000 percent sure my BF’s ex-in-laws wouldn’t know ME if I walked up to them on the street, let alone my kids. Same with my ex-in-laws and BF, they’ve never lain eyes on him or his child.

  • CJ December 16, 2015, 5:05 pm

    Also being from a military family a lot of assumptions are made about the morals here. I live near a military base and have been around it all my life. We get AIT kids through Warrant Officer school here, most soldiers say they are single when they are here for a couple months. It is pretty sad but dating in a town like this you have to check ID (for real name) and then check their social media to make sure they are really single. We really do not know what is going on with SIL and brother. Also cheating is pretty common overseas. It also makes no sense for them to still be married for financial reasons, as her brother is the one getting the better deal with it. He is still raking in the family housing allowance and all the pay associated with being military and having a family. So neither us or op have the full, salacious details and I think we can reserve judgment on that part. But leaving out one child is wrong. If I was Susan I would not have said anything but would have returned any further gifts from op without opening since one of my children is not included.

    • mark December 16, 2015, 11:21 pm

      I would hope Susan doesn’t do what you suggest and send the presents back next time, unless her goal is to isolate her children their fathers relatives.

      • Becca December 17, 2015, 3:23 pm

        Some mothers would rather cut out the extended family instead of running the risk of her children be hurt later on.

        The OP posted saying her older neice said that OP forgot her Teenaged Sibling. In my personal experience, that says Older Neice may be upset about that and therfore not want anything to do with her Aunt.

        Not all families are worth the trouble. I’ve disowned my fair share of nasty self serving relatives. I wish my mom saved me from making that decision myseld, instead she too was of the mind “oh but they’re family, the kids need family.” No thank you.

    • Michelleprieur December 21, 2015, 6:08 pm

      That is absolutely ridiculous.

      • Michelleprieur December 21, 2015, 6:09 pm

        My comment was to CJ.

  • lakey December 16, 2015, 6:35 pm

    I would have done exactly what you did, giving gifts to your actual nieces and the youngest, who would not understand that you aren’t actually her aunt. The two older children are old enough to understand that you aren’t actually related to them. Susan has no business expecting you to give gifts to the two older children. For all she knows your policy may have been based on the age. We had a situation like that in my large family, where an aunt gave birthday gifts to nieces and nephews until they were teenagers.

    And if your reason was because you aren’t related to, and have no relationship with her boyfriend’s two older children, that is your choice, not hers. As long as you don’t say anything to the two older kids about the unfortunate behavior of Susan and their father, there is nothing wrong with your doing things for your brother’s children. Given the fact that she created this convoluted situation with her cheating behavior, she has a lot of gall bringing this up to you. The woman has no shame. But you know that, and you are a decent enough individual to not point it out to her. She should be thankful.

  • MyWorld December 16, 2015, 9:25 pm

    I think you should send a small belated gift to the older kids regardless of them being blood family or not. You don’t want them to be resentful of your nieces or disrupt what hopefully is a good relationship that they have with your nieces.

    We were foster parents of 2 girls many years ago. They had a biological great aunt that while she was unable to take care of the girls, had a very close relationship with them. Any gift giving event, she would send the girls each a small gift and some cash, and did the same for our biological son. It touched my heart that she did not want him to feel left out

    • K December 17, 2015, 11:10 am

      Yes, but that woman had not had an affair and caused your brother a lot of emotional pain and misery before running away to play happy families with her lover.

      It would seriously stick in my craw to have Susan demand that I support her lover’s children. It is incredibly bad taste.

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