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No Joy of Giving For You!

This is a story from last Christmas that stems from my parents’ good intentions that put me in an awkward position. My brother (my only sibling) got married in the summer of 2015, and we were looking forward to having his new wife join us for Christmas. I live three hours from my parents and they are a good plane ride away, so only I came home for Thanksgiving. While I was home, my parents told me they had talked to Brother and SIL on the phone and agreed to no Christmas gifts this year. Brother and SIL were both in graduate school, I was teaching at a charter school (with great kids but horrible pay) my dad is retired and my mom was preparing to retire, so it made sense for us to forgo the gift exchange and just enjoy one another’s company. I had been budgeting for gifts but decided I could invest my meager savings elsewhere.

Christmas Eve rolled around and I picked up Brother and SIL at the airport, and then we made the trek back to my parents’ house. We walked in to find the house decked out for Christmas, including a pile of presents under the tree. At first I thought maybe my parents had just decided to get some token gifts for traditions’ sake, but then my SIL opened her suitcase and added two more gifts to the pile- one for my parents and one for me. It turned out to be a very nice handbag- of course I appreciated the gift, but I was mortified to not have anything to give, especially to my new SIL. My parents had made up the story because they didn’t want me to spend money on gifts. I know my parents meant well, but I was also irked that they had decided that I couldn’t afford gifts and had robbed me of the joy of giving.

The funny part is, I quit the charter school and took a public school position this fall, which was a pretty big pay increase. It will be just me and my parents this year (Bro and SIL are celebrating with her side of the family)- and they tried to pull the no-gifts stunt again! I’m beginning to wonder if they think I am careless with money or that I can’t make ends meet because I am a single woman? We are a family of teachers, so my parents know that, while the salary isn’t extravagant, it is manageable!

I did finally drag out of them that my dad would like some tools and my mom would like some cooking utensils. Then, they pointed to a $75 cat condo and asked if my CAT would like that for Christmas. As if I’m going to believe they are forgoing gifts but spending $75 on my cat! 1206-16

{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Just4Kicks December 12, 2017, 7:17 am

    Ah, the “Joy” of the holidays.
    My only sibling moved a four hour plane ride away from my family over 20 years ago and pulls some sort of stunt every damn year.
    About 10 years ago (when we still spoke to each other, haven’t in years), my husband got downsized in the fall, and money was VERY tight.
    Our kids were pretty young at the time, and we were losing sleep over finding the money to give them a nice Christmas.
    My sister calls one day to announce that “my half” of OUR present to our parents is upwards of 300.00 for a trip down to see her and her family.
    Uhhhhh, no. Not happening.
    “Why the hell not?!?”
    Because we are trying to find the money to give our kids presents, and Mom and Dad know we are having financial crises right now and said to please don’t get them anything.
    My husbands last big commission check was due the last week of December, and we said we will get them gifts, they will just be a few weeks late.
    Well! Darling sister flipped out and called me a selfish bitch, and who the hell can’t come up with 300.00?!?
    Us. We can’t. …..and I never even discussed getting plane tickets, she took it upon herself to get them.
    Argh! Yeah…..Merry freaking Christmas to you, too, Sister!!!

    • HelenB December 12, 2017, 10:56 am

      Whoa! The present you were to pay half of was for your parents to visit *her*? Even if I had the money, I don’t think I’d contribute.

    • BellyJean December 12, 2017, 11:06 am

      … wow. The sheer gall and presumption. That a gift from you to your parents is for HER to fly down? Jeeze louise, wow. Good on you, Just4Kicks.

    • lakey December 12, 2017, 12:21 pm

      A lot of us have a relative who thinks it’s their place to tell you what to do.
      When you are caught off guard by a demand you tend to say the first thing that pops into your head, which might involve telling them you can’t afford to do what they are demanding.
      In the future it might be better to have a response ready, “You don’t make my decisions for me.”
      Believe me, I know what you are dealing with.

    • staceyizme December 12, 2017, 8:24 pm

      Sorry you went through that. Holidays seem to bring out the flaws in ourselves and those around us with a vengeance. Sounds like your sibling has trouble with basic boundaries…

      • Just4Kicks December 13, 2017, 12:44 pm

        Thank you to all!!! 🙂

        The kicker? My parents have only a slightly better relationship with my sister than I do, and they were appalled at her antics, and didn’t WANT to go visit her.
        That sounds awful, but my dad has MS.

        • Just4Kicks December 13, 2017, 12:46 pm

          …has MS and getting around the house is hard for him.
          A trip like that would be terrible in his condition.

          • Jessy December 16, 2017, 10:16 am

            Your poor dad! My best friend has MS, he is only 31 and its to the point where I have to shave his face for him every second day because he cant do it himself anymore. I have seen how it can affect mobility and it is dreadful. I cannot believe your sister would not take something that major into consideration!

          • NostalgicGal December 18, 2017, 9:21 pm

            There are always Family that think they can spend everyone else’s money for them. I have a few totally over the top ones in mine, and I’ve mentioned in comments over time about some of their lulu’s. Did your parents go or not? And I hope you didn’t give Sis a cent.

  • Aleko December 12, 2017, 7:30 am

    “Good intentions”? Well, we all know what road is paved with those . . .

    Seriously: what part of their brains were your parents thinking with? How could they possibly avoid realising what a painful situation their lie would inevitably create for you, and how bad that would make you look to your bro and SIL? (Unless they had actually gone to them and said “Look, OP is poor as a church mouse, so we’re fibbing to her that there will be no presents, so the poor dear doesn’t spend any money on us and we can all deluge her with presents.” Which of course would be even more outrageous.)

    It’s really immaterial what they may think of your income or your ability to manage it; they need to be told that the inevitable effect of that sort of well-meaning deceit is actually pain and embarrassment, and asked to just cut it out. And this is not only for your own sake – if they are pulling stunts like this on you, based on whatever assumptions they are making about you and your life, you should assume that they are liable to pull equivalent ones on your bro and SIL. In fact, I think it’s worth talking this over with your brother, so you can present a united front against any such kindly-meant malarkey.

    • Wild Irish Rose December 13, 2017, 9:08 am

      Good points here.

  • Marie December 12, 2017, 7:39 am

    I once had the same with Christmas, but just with my husband. We decided on no gifts that year – not due to money issues, but simply because we already have so much and really don’t need more.
    I couldn’t stick to it and decided to buy presents for us both, and he felt really guilty he didn’t buy me anything. Then I felt guilty!
    Two months later, when we REALLY weren’t going to buy anything for each other on Valentine’s Day, you can guess what happened.
    Long story short, we’re “even” now, and nowadays we decide on one gift we “give” each other, such as a new painting for our living room, or a small vacation we go on together.

  • Abby December 12, 2017, 7:52 am

    Wow, they have had good intentions, but their little “prank” really embarrassed you and was really condescending. I would have been pretty mad.

  • Wild Irish Rose December 12, 2017, 9:24 am

    I had a similar problem with my family a few years ago. Since we’re none of us young and most of us have grown or near-grown kids, we decided to forego overall gift-giving and draw names. Did that for a couple of years and it worked out great. Then came the year when my husband lost his job, and my family decided I couldn’t afford ONE GIFT for ONE PERSON, so they left me out entirely. I’m not the type to pout and wait for someone to ask me what’s wrong; I came right out and told my sisters how this made me feel. It never happened again, but I’ll never forget my youngest sister telling me she thought I wouldn’t want to participate that year because I wouldn’t have enough money.

    Entertaining presumptions about someone else’s financial situation is not cool, and neither is being dishonest and sneaky about family plans. If these were my parents, OP, I’d sit them down and discuss this, and explain that unless YOU say you want to opt out, they should not assume you do.

    • BellyJean December 12, 2017, 11:07 am

      Feeling left out at Christmas… blurgh. 🙁 *sending belated hugs* Also – that’s awesome, Wild Irish Rose – glad you could speak up. I can’t imagine having to go through that twice.

      • David December 14, 2017, 5:49 am

        The dreaded ‘draw a name’. One year my family decided to do this as there are a lot of people. The person who drew my name kept seeing great gifts for other people, so bought all of those for the other people. So everyone but me had a gift from them – it was really funny.

        I was happy – I’d ridden the bus there and really didn’t want o have to carry anything back.

        • Asharah December 16, 2017, 8:41 pm

          We have 15 adults at out Christmas Eve family gathering, without the name draw we would all go broke. And wind up with piles of stuff we don’t want or need.

          • Elizabeth Hansen January 16, 2018, 1:27 pm

            I have 5 siblings and we span 23 years. My oldest sisters were married and having children when I was still in elementary school. I don’t even know when it was decided but we handle Christmas gifts on a rotation system. This year I had my oldest sister, next year I will have the sister just below her and so on. It is wonderful because you can literally plan years in advance. We also trust that people will know their own financial situation and plan a gift that is within their budget. There are no real parameters which is great in my opinion this allows for so much personalization and creativity.

        • sarugani March 25, 2018, 3:21 pm

          We’ve been doing that in my family (8 adults total with parents, siblings and significant others) for the past 2 Christmases, because yes, we have all the stuff we need and the focus is more the being together and watching the next generation (3 nephews, 1 niece, currently between the ages of 8 months and 4 years) tear into the presents. Thing is, both Christmases my boyfriend or I got “stuck” with my weird BIL which was a real pain. Hopefully, next Christmas we’ll both get someone else… Last year, I finally got so desperate that I actually asked my sister what we could get her husband. When she finally replied, it was like 3 days before the event and since we had to travel for one of those days and had plans with friends on another, we had long finished our shopping, though I think we did manage to do well enough.
          What I found terrible last year, were the mean-spirited, passive aggressive gifts one of the group got from others. Yes, there seems to be a problem with a particular responsibility that person has, but the gift-givers had not drawn that person, but one of them chose to do a gift anyway and the other was the recipient’s spouse. Talk, people, talk! Christmas is not the time to be mean. If the person does not change the attitude about said responsibility, then there should be consequences, but under the Christmas tree in front of all the adults in the family is not the time or place to remind them of their failure.

  • NostalgicGal December 12, 2017, 9:32 am

    It can get very strange with family takes an interest in your income whether they have an accurate idea or not. At least they’re not trying to pry out of you how much you do make and trying to sit down and help you budget your life because you obviously have problems with such (according to their perceptions or misconceptions). Buy the gifts. Full speed ahead.

    • EchoGirl December 12, 2017, 3:38 pm

      My grandfather tried to convince my mother this past Thanksgiving to intervene in my life because he thinks it’s a mistake for me to be trying to start an online business instead of getting a “regular job”. As my mom pointed out, I’m 25, have minimal expenses, no debt (thank you, Americorps student loan repayment), and no dependents…isn’t this the part of my life where I’m supposed to be able to take a few risks? Then again, my grandfather’s never been entirely in love with the fact that my mom went into public interest law instead of using her degree for something more lucrative.

      • NostalgicGal December 13, 2017, 1:45 pm

        Before I left home my father planned my life for me several times. Including a career or two that was total the anti- of anything I wanted to do (I’d rather scrub floors than do THAT) and it finally sorted out to his crazies from empty nest. (the circle tighted ever more closely to home and let’s not forget that some of them involved me commuting a few hours every day for education but coming home every night and thanks to him I didn’t have a driver’s license yet-the last pass was guilting me over he picked out a new car for my graduation gift which would have wiped out my student loan and aid package, NOPE!)

        I’ve been self employed, and my commute was to walk downstairs every day to my basement workshop. Just because I didn’t drive somewhere and sit in someone else’s building to work didn’t mean I wasn’t employed and working. Only thing you might have trouble with, is convincing everyone ELSE that you are AT WORK and don’t have time to do this that and the other. And convincing yourself, you have to get it done. Good luck

        • EchoGirl December 17, 2017, 2:00 pm

          Thank you!

          My parents are actually very supportive (and my dad, being a web designer, has been especially helpful). But my grandparents were, from what I understand, a bit like your dad — they cut my mom off when she left her “elite” college for something they didn’t consider up to the same standard.

          My mom is technically working in a field (law) that my grandfather “approves of”, but he doesn’t always approve of her choosing meaningful work over a bigger paycheck.

          • NostalgicGal December 18, 2017, 9:26 pm

            Once I left home I flew my own flag. My dad finally buried that one shortly before I became engaged. He’d picked me up from my rideshare dropoff and on the way to the house, the trip was otherwise in silence, he said “You’re just like me when I was that age.” and after that we got along. Mom, finally gave up, I think. Especially after her ‘Silent Treatment’ didn’t faze me in the least and after three months, she actually caved (her previous record had been three weeks).

            Good luck in what you’re doing, may you succeed.

  • Margo December 12, 2017, 10:17 am

    On a practical basis, I suggest that you speak directly to your brother. let him know what happened last year, and ask him what he and SIL would like to do this year.

    Between yourself and your parents, do what you would like – maybe get small gifts for them, or things which are perishable (fancy food treats / coffees / wines) – that way, if part of their motivation is that they have too much stuff, you are not adding to it, but at the same time you get the pleasure of choosing and giving them gifts.

  • Dee December 12, 2017, 10:31 am

    OP, the gist of it is there are two different rules being applied to you vs. the rest of your family. Ask your family why that is. If they are doing it as a favour for you let them know that it is actually dividing you as a family. Really, it’s common sense that such an action would be divisive, rather than endearing, but some people are clueless. The intentions might be good but the actions are awful. Let your parents know how this makes you feel (they don’t seem to be particularly empathetic, and you say they were teachers?!?) and hopefully they won’t pull this again. How does your brother feel about these deceptions? Is he in on it, too, or can he be recruited to advocate for a more fair attitude towards you?

  • Anon December 12, 2017, 10:44 am

    Why do they think that they can get away with this again? It sounds like a slightly abusive situation.

    I would definitely ask why they believe that telling you about no gifts (what, were you just supposed to be blind and deaf and suddenly have a case of amnesia when it came to remembering last year?) is a good idea and what they are possibly gaining out of it.

  • Devin December 12, 2017, 11:26 am

    This sounds a lot like my family. Parents are preparing for retirement. Brother and SIL aren’t big into gift giving and would rather share experiences (trips, concerts, dinners out). I’m the youngest and also least financially secure, working for a non-profit in an expensive city. I love buying and giving gifts but since moving I don’t have the expendable income I used to. Brother, SIL, and I are all trying to go the no gift route, or token gifts like stocking stuffers, but it is hard to get the whole family on board. My mother also loves gift giving, so we take a gamble not bringing gifts, knowing she might just buy gifts because that’s what she loves to do. Luckily my mother is also the easiest to shop for and online shopping with 2 day shipping could cover our tears if we show up to a pile of packages.

  • LadyV December 12, 2017, 11:51 am

    I wonder why OP’s parents felt that two people in grad school were more financially capable of buying gifts than someone employed full-time. I suspect OP may be close to the mark when she says it’s because she’s a single woman. Whatever the reasoning, it was a pretty shabby thing to do.

  • JD December 12, 2017, 12:28 pm

    It seems like OP’s parents are still trying to “parent” her and manage her money for her. Because she’s their daughter, not their son? Because she’s single? Who knows? I would make it clear that it was totally embarrassing and spoiled my Christmas last time. I would make sure brother understands he will not be in my good graces if he falls in with this plan again. And then I would buy the gifts, forgive everyone, and have a happy Christmas.

    • Queen of the Weezils December 14, 2017, 2:20 pm

      I think to many parents, their little baby (whether son or daughter) will always be their little baby. And it doesn’t matter if that baby is a full grown adult, or if that baby has babies, or if that baby has a place of their own, or if that baby has a full-time job, or if that baby is well into middle age!

      I completely agree with your last part: forgive everyone and have a happy Christmas. This is awkward, but it isn’t worth ruining the day over.

  • Princess Buttercup December 12, 2017, 4:29 pm

    Reading this I immediately thought of the woman who says to her guy (or kids) don’t buy me anything but then pouts when they get nothing. I saw that trap coming a mile away. This is why I keep some simple gifts around to give in case I am surprised by a gift giving occasion. I also often still make a gift that isn’t too big of a deal and bring it just in case. If there really is no gift giving you take it back home (without anyone knowing you brought it) and save it for a later date.

    • NostalgicGal December 14, 2017, 8:06 am

      Well my guy asked me yesterday what I really wanted for Christmas.

      Note that our gifts included techtoys already purchased and in our hands, and I had a trip to do business and a convention with friends. I told him that I considered the trip my Christmas, birthday and anniversary… he in turn said nothing for him, his techtoys (phone and tablet) were enough. Though I know him and he has a mope on Christmas Eve if he doesn’t have a gift and a tree, so I got him some soft black licorice that I know he likes. One gift bag and he’ll be a happy camper… and no I won’t mind not having a real gift. Letting me sleep in, would be enough.

  • staceyizme December 12, 2017, 8:27 pm

    I’m trying to imagine a situation where lying to someone who is bound to find out about it and in a very public fashion would ever be a good idea and I can’t come up with a single instance. Lies of omission about surprise parties, maybe…. In all other instances, not a good idea. It’s manipulative and disrespectful and the repercussions are going to be quite bad in most instances.

  • MyWorld December 13, 2017, 12:12 pm

    While it totally was the wrong thing for them to do, it sounds like your parent’s hearts were in the right place. You should have a heart to heart with them and tell them it kind of hurt your feelings and embarrassed you. Remind that that while you will always be their “little girl” you are an adult and need them to treat you as such

  • Shalamar December 13, 2017, 12:29 pm

    This reminds me of when a close friend told me after the fact about an amazing trip he, his wife, and a few mutual friends had taken to Cuba. I got very quiet as he went on and on about how awesome the trip was, how much fun they had, etc. He finally noticed and said “What’s wrong?” I said “Why didn’t you invited me and (Husband)?” He said airily “Well, I know money is tight for you guys right now (true), and you wouldn’t be able to afford to go.” I said “That may be, but it would have been nice to have been invited just the same.”

    • staceyizme December 13, 2017, 5:52 pm

      “It would have been nice to have been invited” is kind of irrelevant if you would not have chosen to go. In such a case, why would it even matter? If you had actually missed out on an activity that you would have undertaken but for his mistaken reasoning, I could understand being disappointed. It seems that he wasn’t too far off in his assessment, however, and that his motive was kind rather than otherwise. What good does it do to castigate a friend over a formality when there would have been no difference in the outcome? Now- if your complaint is more to the side that he is droning on and on about a very pleasant experience that you would have loved to participate in but could not, I could see some reason for mild annoyance and a swift change of subject. Otherwise, it seems like a simple difference of the definition of “how to best proceed”.

    • Kelly December 14, 2017, 6:49 am

      It seems a bit presumptuous to invite yourself to someone else’s vacation.

  • at work December 13, 2017, 2:14 pm

    OP, if it is a nice cat condo and you think your cat would like it, you should let them get it. And some of those little mice thingys.

  • Queen of the Weezils December 14, 2017, 2:15 pm

    This is something my parents would do. They love to omit information because they see it in my best interests. For instance, they didn’t tell me my cat had to be put down because it occurred during my freshman year finals. I told them I’d rather know. had I known, I might have been able to take the bus out there to say goodbye. After all, it was only a half-hour trip. Or maybe not, depending on those finals. But it would have been my call.

    Apparently, the lesson didn’t stick, because decades later they neglected to tell me that my uncle had died because I was on vacation when it happened. I found out from my brother, who didn’t know I wasn’t home and was asking if I wanted to ride with him across the country to the funeral. I was upset for multiple reasons, and after I hung up I realized that had I just known about it when it happened, I might have been able to change or cancel my flight since my vacation site was within an easy drive from the funeral location as opposed to halfway across the country! As it was, I found out when I was at the airport preparing to board that flight.

    They also didn’t tell me that my dad had to go to the hospital. I was throwing a party that weekend and they didn’t want to sour my mood. (Thankfully, he was fine and it was just an ordinary fall and not a sign of something more serious.)

    And the icing on the cake here is that they got very upset when we didn’t tell them right away when I had gotten in a motorcycle accident. The thing is, we did call them and left a message at the house. We also had a friend drop a note off at the door. We also emailed. What we couldn’t do is call them on vacation *because they don’t have a cell phone and neglected to tell us the hotel where they were staying*.

    Look, I get it. They are parents and they don’t want to put a burden on their children, and they think that only goes one way. But their children are adults, and they can make their own decisions. You mentioned that you were budgeting for gifts. That’s a reasonable decision. Making homemade gifts (cookies, for instance) would have also been a good gift and within the budget of most people. Being empty handed while gifts are given to you is really awkward.

  • Ergala December 15, 2017, 7:04 pm

    I was once not invited to a step-siblings wedding that was a 4 hour drive away. As in no invitation nothing. I only knew the wedding happened because I saw family photos with my entire family together at the wedding. Reason I wasn’t invited…my mother said I wouldn’t be able toaffordto attend so they simply didn’t send me an invitation.

    I think one of the most offensive people do is make financial decisions for you…as in decide if you can or cannot afford something. Let ME decide if I can you donut.

    • at work December 17, 2017, 10:25 am

      Not being told (because they think not knowing is better) and not being invited (because they think you won’t come) or not being included (because they don’t think you can afford it) is just the pits. It can make a person feel unwanted and it is demeaning. Donuts, mmm.

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