Etiquette Hell

General Etiquette => Family and Children => Topic started by: kitchcat on July 26, 2013, 12:46:58 PM

Title: A birthday dilemma
Post by: kitchcat on July 26, 2013, 12:46:58 PM
My MIL will be having a milestone bday next week!   :D the only hang up is DH and I don't think we were supposed to know. Growing up, money was very tight in DH's family. To ease her children of guilt over being able to buy her a gift or even a card, she never revealed her bday to them. She's the type of person who never wants to be even a slight burden, so even once DH was an adult, she never shared her bday. We've know her birth year, just not the actual date. We've asked before, but she always tells us not to worry about it because she doesn't want us spending money on her.

Well, we recently discovered her birthday on accident while helping her fill out some paperwork that required that info. We said nothing at the time, hoping she wouldn't realize what just happened. We've since bought her a card and a gift (a case for her new ipad) to give her on her bday. I was planning on making a cake for her as well. Is this okay? Now that the day is looming closer, I'm wondering if it would be rude to surprise her with gifts and a cake seeing how she had declined multiple times to tell us her bday.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Zizi-K on July 26, 2013, 01:06:20 PM
I think the best thing to do would be to be straightforward. Money may have been tight back in the day, but now your husband is established and can certainly afford to do a little something for his mother's birthday. He should call her and have a discussion with her about it, emphasizing how much she means to him and how much you all would like to be able to celebrate her in the same way that you do everyone else. You can also be upfront about how you know her birthday. I would not just spring it on her, though, because habits like this (even when the reason is long since gone) are hard to break. She may not feel she "deserves" it for whatever reason, she may like playing the martyr, it might just be what she's used to. But a gentle, loving and direct approach would seem to be the best way to address it.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: EllenS on July 26, 2013, 01:06:46 PM
I don't think it is rude, but how it is received could go either way.  Some folks are afraid of being a burden, but are very touched by spontaneous expressions of love - they deprive themselves but crave it.  Others might feel violated.

Is she intensely private?  Would she feel put on the spot if you present it in person?  Would she feel better if you left it for her to find and open on her own?  I think as long as you emphasize that you just love her and want to celebrate how special she is to you, that's your best shot.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Bast on July 26, 2013, 01:36:57 PM
Ask her, especially about the cake.  The card and gift can be passed off as "Oh, I was walking through the store and saw these and thought of you," but a cake comes across - to me, at least - as a bit more involved.

I'd love it if I was able to keep my birthday a secret, but I end up being put on the spot every year and it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.  I've never been asked if I wanted it or not, it was just shoved on me because it was what they wanted.  (When it comes closer to my next birthday, I do plan on shining my spine and putting my foot down as much as I can, but I still have a few months.)
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: cwm on July 26, 2013, 01:38:55 PM
I think the best thing to do would be to be straightforward. Money may have been tight back in the day, but now your husband is established and can certainly afford to do a little something for his mother's birthday. He should call her and have a discussion with her about it, emphasizing how much she means to him and how much you all would like to be able to celebrate her in the same way that you do everyone else. You can also be upfront about how you know her birthday. I would not just spring it on her, though, because habits like this (even when the reason is long since gone) are hard to break. She may not feel she "deserves" it for whatever reason, she may like playing the martyr, it might just be what she's used to. But a gentle, loving and direct approach would seem to be the best way to address it.

POD to this. My grandma never wanted anyone to do anything special for her birthday, even once she realized that money WASN'T tight any longer. My parents spoke with her about it and it was resolved that we wouldn't do anything because that's what Grandma wanted. The why didn't matter.

Talk to MIL, explain to her that you know her birthday is coming up and you wanted to get her a gift and have a dinner and make her a cake, and would that be okay? If she doesn't want to, then respect that. Wait a few months and then give her the iPad case as a random gift. "We saw this and thought of you, please enjoy it."
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Piratelvr1121 on July 26, 2013, 01:42:11 PM
If she is still keeping the birthday a secret even now, it might be for reasons other than money. Some people are uncomfortable with having a fuss made over them.

So maybe just presenting her with the present randomly on any date would be good.  An "unbirthday" present. :)
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: White Lotus on July 26, 2013, 02:08:40 PM
I agree with the people who say she probably doesn't want to be fussed over.  So e people adore it; so,elope hate it.  I think quietly giving her the iPad case and a card on the day, with no fuss would be OK.  I think taking her out to dinner near the day would be fine, but I wouldn't mention birthday.  I would only do a cake as a separate gift (and not a singing-cutting-serving fuss) for her to enjoy on her own or with those she chooses, and only if there is a cake or dessert she loves, but doesn't get very often.  Lemon merengue pie and flourless chocolate cake -- things hard to make at home -- come to mind.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Hmmmmm on July 26, 2013, 02:43:15 PM
If she is still keeping the birthday a secret even now, it might be for reasons other than money. Some people are uncomfortable with having a fuss made over them.

So maybe just presenting her with the present randomly on any date would be good.  An "unbirthday" present. :)
POD to this. I think there are other issues that drive herb to not want to celebrate other than money. It costs nothing to say Happy Birthday, let me do the dishes tonight.

I guess it's too late time ease into the celebration, like continuing to pretend you don't know and then in a few months picking a random date and surprising her with "Mom, since you want share your bday, we've decided that's from now on, today is your special day."
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Kaypeep on July 26, 2013, 03:29:22 PM
I'd try to find a happy medium here. I'd go ahead with the gift and cake, but I'd do it fast and not make a fuss.  Like if you go over her house to bring them, present them, and then beandip as soon as possible.   No candles and make a wish, etc.  Just bring the gift and cake (bring paper plates, too, and plastic cutlery even?) and tell her you remembered her birthday and just wanted to let her know you were thinking of her.  But don't make it all about her and put too much of a spotlight on her if you think that's going to make her uncomfortable.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: delabela on July 26, 2013, 03:56:34 PM
What about maybe sending her something, so if what she really wants to avoid is being fussed over, she's not confronted with it?  Maybe some flowers if she likes those or an edible arrangement?
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: shhh its me on July 26, 2013, 05:12:48 PM
   I'm going to go against the grain a little and say "yes its rude" she has gone through some effort to never acknowledge her birthday. forcing a party no matter how small on someone against their express wishes is rude.  I think you can give her a gift , take her to dinner and buy her a lovely card telling her how much she means to you (neither card nor cake should mention birthdays)  and give them to her on another day.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: JoieGirl7 on July 26, 2013, 06:30:23 PM
I've got to POD Merry Mrs Martin.

You found out by accident, not because she wanted you to know.  When you hve tried to find out her birthday she has beandipped.  If she wanted you to know, she wouldn't beandip the question.

It's not necessarily a given that her reason for not wanting you to know if the reason she has given you.

Knowing how extreme she has been about keeping this from you, I do think it would be rude surprise her on her birthday.  You won't only be surprising her with a gift, but with the fact that you now know something she didnt really want you to know.

Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Oh Joy on July 26, 2013, 07:36:20 PM
Just ask, then respect her response.  'MIL, we noticed when filling out your ABC application that you have a birthday coming up next week.  How would you feel about having cake, just the three of us?' If she accepts, you can also offer something bigger while reassuring that you'd be glad to do whatever she wants - even if that's nothing.

Best wishes.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: AmethystAnne on July 27, 2013, 10:26:27 AM
I, personally, would take the gift and the card (or even a hand-written note saying "we love you Mom") and go visit her and unobtrusively put it somewhere not obvious in her house, where she would find it later after you have left her house.

Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Specky on July 27, 2013, 12:02:46 PM
I think you should respect her stated wishes, wait until nowhere near her birthday, and give her the gift.  To ignore her wishes would be rude, dismissive and disrespectful.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: artk2002 on July 27, 2013, 12:09:21 PM
I think you should respect her stated wishes, wait until nowhere near her birthday, and give her the gift.  To ignore her wishes would be rude, dismissive and disrespectful.

I absolutely agree. Simply finding out the exact day doesn't remove the original restriction. This new information shouldn't change what OP and her DH do.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: snappylt on July 27, 2013, 12:39:32 PM
Just ask, then respect her response.  'MIL, we noticed when filling out your ABC application that you have a birthday coming up next week.  How would you feel about having cake, just the three of us?' If she accepts, you can also offer something bigger while reassuring that you'd be glad to do whatever she wants - even if that's nothing.

Best wishes.

I agree with the "run it past her first" opinions if there is any chance at all that she might be upset.

Is there any chance at all that part of what she wants kept secret is her birth year and her exact age?  I am reminded of "Sarah", an elderly friend of my mother's maybe 25 or 30 years ago, who kept her license hidden so her friends couldn't see her birthdate.  Sarah was very angry when another friend (not my mother) snooped inside Sarah's purse one day, found Sarah's license, and told their circle of friends that Sarah was actually several years older than Sarah pretended to be.

Edited to add:  When my mother told this story, I remember my mother saying how disgusted she (my mother) was with the snooper, too.

The OP and her husband are not snoopers.  But I think if there is a chance that the MIL might (incorrectly) see it that way, they're better off checking with her first before they use the information for a surprise.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: sweetonsno on July 29, 2013, 02:09:00 AM
I like all of the ideas I've seen so far. If she asked you to help with the paperwork, then she likely knows there is a possibility that you saw her b-day. There would be no problem, I think, asking her whether she would mind having a small get-together on her special day, particularly if you can think of another reason to acknowledge her (thanks for her help with planting the garden, congratulations on ten years in her current house, etc.). If she doesn't like "the fuss," then keep it between the three of you and just bring over cake/pizza.

If she says that she'd rather not, then hang onto the iPod case and give it to her as a "just because" gift in a few weeks.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: bopper on July 29, 2013, 07:59:56 AM
My GMIL always kept her real age hush hush.  No problem.  But then one time my ILs did a big party for the other GMIL for her 80th birthday.  GMIL said "Hey, where's my party?"  But GMIL, we didn't know you were 80!
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: AppleBlossom on July 29, 2013, 08:12:08 AM
I keep my birthday, not birth year, secret (except from my parents and husband, obviously) so I can spend the day however I want. I'd be very upset to suddenly be forced to have a birthday party just because it's what some other family members or friends want. I've seen threads here on a similar issue, which is that some like to force surprise parties on others and just cannot understand why that would upset someone.

If you can't let the day pass in peace, as the birthday girl wishes, then I agree with the idea to send her the Ipad cover in the mail. That way she can privately deal with the disappointment of having accidentally let her secret slip. If you confront her with your knowledge in person, in the form of a gift and cake, she'll have to smile and pretend she's not unhappy.

Most importantly, think about why you're doing this. Is it really for her or do you want to flaunt your discovery and use social norms to make her miserable while you get to pretend to be the better person?

Edited to add: After posting, the first thread I saw was "Dear Prudence: My MIL redecorated my house." It's the same situation. The MIL did something "nice" for the son and his girlfriend, but it was really passive-aggressive. The girlfriend can't even complain freely to her friends, because some see it as "nice".
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: delabela on July 29, 2013, 09:17:35 AM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: artk2002 on July 29, 2013, 10:18:28 AM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.

Not martyrish at all. She would only be a martyr if she complained about the inequality. Her desire to have her birthday celebrated (or not) in the way she wants it overrides anyone else's right to the "same joy." My birthday is mine and not yours and its celebration is about me and not you. You aren't entitled to get joy from my birthday.

Edited because I *do* know the difference between it's and its.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: shhh its me on July 29, 2013, 12:27:03 PM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.

I don't think it would be rude to point this out to MIL (assuming she gives gifts) MIL you always do nice things for our BDays it makes us feel bad we can't do anything for your yours.  or is she acted" woe is me" about it  in the moment say " MIL we would celebrate your birthday but you refuse to tell us when it is"

I think op can ask every year "this year can we do something for you?"  while I do think it would be a tiny bit rude to make MIL repeat herself annually I don't think its egregious.  I think asking more then once can be called being "nice but annoying" just doing it tramples borders.

She didn't just say "ohh don't do anything for my birthday" she kept the date from her SON , who presumably lived  with her for a number of years. That means he never saw a card, cake , gift or bday message to his mom for what 15-25 years?  that takes some serious commitment to not telling people your bday.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: snowdragon on July 29, 2013, 12:34:51 PM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.

Not martyrish at all. She would only be a martyr if she complained about the inequality. Her desire to have her birthday celebrated (or not) in the way she wants it overrides anyone else's right to the "same joy." My birthday is mine and not yours and its celebration is about me and not you. You aren't entitled to get joy from my birthday.

Edited because I *do* know the difference between it's and its.

This, especially the bolded. You ( general you through out) get to celebrate your birthday with all the parties you want - because that's what you, presumably like. You don't get to co-opt my birthday so that you can have it the way you want it, too.  if you do, you deserve the reaction you get. My birthday is about me, not about you. And forcing a party is making it all about you.
  Which does make the victim of a forced party a martyr...to the wishes of the party throwers.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: Specky on July 29, 2013, 12:54:17 PM
Another way to look at this is:  by using brain bleach to wipe your discovery from your memories, you are giving her the PERFECT gift every year.  You are giving her EXACTLY what she has asked for:  privacy.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: delabela on July 29, 2013, 08:55:29 PM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.

Not martyrish at all. She would only be a martyr if she complained about the inequality. Her desire to have her birthday celebrated (or not) in the way she wants it overrides anyone else's right to the "same joy." My birthday is mine and not yours and its celebration is about me and not you. You aren't entitled to get joy from my birthday.

Edited because I *do* know the difference between it's and its.

I certainly respect your opinion. Were I a close member of your family or a close friend, I would find it off-putting if you celebrated my birthday but refused to allow me to acknowledge yours. Different personalities and expectations is all. 
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: delabela on July 29, 2013, 08:59:39 PM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.

Not martyrish at all. She would only be a martyr if she complained about the inequality. Her desire to have her birthday celebrated (or not) in the way she wants it overrides anyone else's right to the "same joy." My birthday is mine and not yours and its celebration is about me and not you. You aren't entitled to get joy from my birthday.


Edited because I *do* know the difference between it's and its.

This, especially the bolded. You ( general you through out) get to celebrate your birthday with all the parties you want - because that's what you, presumably like. You don't get to co-opt my birthday so that you can have it the way you want it, too.  if you do, you deserve the reaction you get. My birthday is about me, not about you. And forcing a party is making it all about you.
  Which does make the victim of a forced party a martyr...to the wishes of the party throwers.



Please note I never indicated anyone should be forced into a party - my personal opinion is that if you acknowledge my birthday, it's a natural part of the relationship for you to allow me to acknowledge yours. There is a vast difference between a surprise party for someone who doesn't want it and being allowed by your loved one to offer a sincere "happy birthday, I'm glad you're in my life." I understand some people feel differently, and if someone doesn't 'do' birthdays, I respect that. If they only don't 'do' their birthday but acknowledge others, I would be very uncomfortable with that.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: snowdragon on July 29, 2013, 09:31:35 PM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.

Not martyrish at all. She would only be a martyr if she complained about the inequality. Her desire to have her birthday celebrated (or not) in the way she wants it overrides anyone else's right to the "same joy." My birthday is mine and not yours and its celebration is about me and not you. You aren't entitled to get joy from my birthday.


Edited because I *do* know the difference between it's and its.

This, especially the bolded. You ( general you through out) get to celebrate your birthday with all the parties you want - because that's what you, presumably like. You don't get to co-opt my birthday so that you can have it the way you want it, too.  if you do, you deserve the reaction you get. My birthday is about me, not about you. And forcing a party is making it all about you.
  Which does make the victim of a forced party a martyr...to the wishes of the party throwers.



Please note I never indicated anyone should be forced into a party - my personal opinion is that if you acknowledge my birthday, it's a natural part of the relationship for you to allow me to acknowledge yours. There is a vast difference between a surprise party for someone who doesn't want it and being allowed by your loved one to offer a sincere "happy birthday, I'm glad you're in my life." I understand some people feel differently, and if someone doesn't 'do' birthdays, I respect that. If they only don't 'do' their birthday but acknowledge others, I would be very uncomfortable with that.

  That is on no one but you. They are respecting your wishes to 'do" your birthday the way you want....why is it so hard to respect their wish to 'do' their birthday in the manner they want...even if that is quietly letting it pass?
 
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: esposita on July 29, 2013, 09:54:31 PM
Just chiming in to say (and sorry if I missed someone else saying this already) that this is a trust issue. I personally see nothing wrong with popping in to give her a simple card and gift, and leaving quickly without a fuss. (But you know her best, you know if this is simply because she dislikes being fussed over or if she actually doesn't like any acknowledgement of her birthday for reasons other posters have stated.)
My reason for advising something extremely quiet and low key is because this involves you finding out a secret while doing personal paperwork for her. If you break her trust by making a big deal put of something that you found out while caring for her, that could quickly become an issue. But in my opinion, a simple, respectful acknowledgement of how much she means to you on a special day...just an understated and meaningful card and gift, so unobtrusive that she wouldn't be able to tell it was for her birthday but for the card saying so, I think that would be a lovely sort of homage.
But only if you truly truly suspect its because of the money and fuss, not because it would hurt her that you knew.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: delabela on July 29, 2013, 10:03:32 PM
I get the idea of not wanting people to know your birthday so that you don't feel forced to have a party, or something like that. But the OP specifically states that the MIL has said it's because she doesn't want anyone to spend money on her. Does she recognize other people's birthdays with cards and/or presents? If so, then I think it's a little martyr-ish of her to refuse to allow her loved ones the same joy.

Not martyrish at all. She would only be a martyr if she complained about the inequality. Her desire to have her birthday celebrated (or not) in the way she wants it overrides anyone else's right to the "same joy." My birthday is mine and not yours and its celebration is about me and not you. You aren't entitled to get joy from my birthday.


Edited because I *do* know the difference between it's and its.

This, especially the bolded. You ( general you through out) get to celebrate your birthday with all the parties you want - because that's what you, presumably like. You don't get to co-opt my birthday so that you can have it the way you want it, too.  if you do, you deserve the reaction you get. My birthday is about me, not about you. And forcing a party is making it all about you.
  Which does make the victim of a forced party a martyr...to the wishes of the party throwers.



Please note I never indicated anyone should be forced into a party - my personal opinion is that if you acknowledge my birthday, it's a natural part of the relationship for you to allow me to acknowledge yours. There is a vast difference between a surprise party for someone who doesn't want it and being allowed by your loved one to offer a sincere "happy birthday, I'm glad you're in my life." I understand some people feel differently, and if someone doesn't 'do' birthdays, I respect that. If they only don't 'do' their birthday but acknowledge others, I would be very uncomfortable with that.

  That is on no one but you. They are respecting your wishes to 'do" your birthday the way you want....why is it so hard to respect their wish to 'do' their birthday in the manner they want...even if that is quietly letting it pass?

I would respect it (and have been in a situation where I persuaded people not to celebrate against someone's wishes) - but it would be uncomfortable for me to not wish a happy birthday to someone who went to the effort to do something for me. It's like going out with people who insist they always be the one to treat and never let anyone else pay - it seems nice and giving on the surface, but after a while it feels wrong to never be allowed to be the generous one. If you (general) don't do birthdays, fine, don't do them. I will not be offended if someone doesn't acknowledge my birthday - let's go get a beer some other time. But I would strongly someone not celebrate my birthday if they are so secretive about their own that I can't even know the date.

snowdragon, I did find your reply a bit aggressive - I certainly apologize if my post appeared that way to you, and I will work on my tone.
Title: Re: A birthday dilemma
Post by: snowdragon on July 29, 2013, 10:18:16 PM
your posts were all coming across as the person's feelings don't matter, you want to do what you want to do because to do otherwise makes you uncomfortable - that's not their responsibility. ( I know no softer way to put it)
  Where the reciprocity is exhibited, IMHO, is in "allowing" people the dignity and respect of 'doing' their birthday as they see fit.