I've read so many threads here about the importance of accepting gifts graciously. I agree with this concept. I believe it is polite behavior. However, I've also read some threads about outright gifting disparities between siblings, children, and grandchildren, and that's what I'm asking about. Honestly, I've reached the end of my rope with my mother. As it is, we rarely see my mother because she is narcissistic and manipulative. My heart is hurting for my DS (age 11), who did an admirable job of keeping his chin up yesterday in the face of yet another obvious disparity in my mother's gifting of her grandchildren.
We had late Christmas with my family yesterday. After lunch, my mother decided it was time to open gifts. I was in another room, but I could hear her setting gift-opening groundrules with my three nieces (12, 8, and 6) and nephew (10) because it is usually complete and utter chaos. She expected them to read the tags carefully to avoid opening gifts that aren't for them. She expected them to open one gift at a time, spend a moment oooh-ing and ah-ing, and then to say thank you to the gifter. When I entered the room, the frenzy had already begun.
I was stunned as I watched my nieces and nephew opened gift after gift after gift while my DS struggled to find anything that had a tag with his name on it. He eventually found three things from my mother in the back of the tree. He spent most of the gift-opening period picking up wrapping paper from the other kids' gifts and handing out gifts to other people. Then my mother showed my brother and his kids their "special" big gifts. One was for the "Jones" family. The other was for the "Jones" kids. My family and my DS merited nothing similar, but we sure got to watch all of them being showered with their gifts.
DH went out to the car to get a bag so we could pack up our stuff to get it out of the way. I watched my mother trying to hand DS a gift box that already had been opened and telling him that it was his. I took it out of her hands, pointed at the tag, and said, "No. The tag says 'Joe.' " It was my nephew's. DH and I got the mess cleaned up and our items into the car. When we were in the garage throwing out the trash, I told him we needed to leave. He agreed.
When we went back upstairs to the kitchen, DS was sitting at the table, drawing a picture on a piece of paper. The other kids were playing with their gifts. DS had nothing to play with. He looked at me and said, "I don't mind that I didn't get very much. I got (X gift)." (X gift being the thing he really wanted that DH and I gave him on Christmas morning.) I repeated loudly, "Oh, you don't mind that you didn't get very much. You're grateful for the things you already have." My mother turned around when I said it. I don't care if I was being PA. She needed to hear it. I gave him a hug right there in front of everyone and told him how much I love him.
DH informed my mother that we were leaving, and that's exactly what we did.
Now for the background: The gifting disparity has occurred for several years, but this is just the second year that DS has noticed it. Last year, he got a coloring book (at age 10), a toy for a 5 year old, and a bathrobe that was too small. And he watched my nieces and nephew open gift after gift after gift. When it was over, he quietly told me he noticed. I tried to make excuses for my mother: that she doesn't realize how old he is now; that she doesn't always know his clothing sizes; that she may not know his interests. But I was lying. She knows how big he is. She knows his interests. And this year, she'd just seen him a couple of weeks ago. She could: a) see he is nearly as tall as I am, and b) they had an entire conversation about what he's doing and what he's interested in.
DH and I discussed this last night. He is concerned about DS, but he also is concerned about me. See, this year I got another pink bathrobe. The pink bathrobes are the staple gift my mother gives me. DH and I have been together for six years, and he said this is the fourth time he is aware that I've received a pink bathrobe. I've received so many pink bathrobes that I don't count them anymore. DH has been there when I've tried to exchange them. Once, the bathrobe had been purchased so long before Christmas that the store would only give me 1 cent for it. I gave it away. I appreciate that DH is concerned about how the disparity affects me, but I told him last night that this isn't about me anymore. Now it's about DS, and I'm worried about how my mother's behavior will affect him.
As a non-gifting example: Last year at Thanksgiving, she almost succeeded in keeping DS out of a photo session of her grandchildren because she only gave me two days' notice that she had it planned. My brother had known about it for weeks. I had to rearrange Thanksgiving weekend plans in order to accommodate the photo, which affected our opportunity to see DH's family. This caused a huge argument on Thanksgiving Day. She tried to play it off to me as if she'd just found out when the photo session had been scheduled; however, my brother called her on her dishonesty. When she could not lie her way out of it, she broke down in tears and claimed the whole thing was my fault because I don't call or visit enough. See, if I were just more ____, she wouldn't have to do stuff like that. In other words, she was using DS in a bizarre attempt to teach me a lesson. We have had very little contact with her since then, although I didn't completely cut her off.
My concern with the gifting is that she is trying to send a not-so-subtle message that DS merits less consideration because of something I am doing that she doesn't like. In essence, she is punishing him to get to me. The message DS is getting, however, is that he simply merits less consideration. It sickens me to think that she would use him in that way, but she has proven before that she will do it.
There are many more examples. These are just a few of the most recent. We're trying to figure out how to handle the gifting situation, so we have come up with two options:
1) The cut direct, which would mean DS no longer has any contact with his grandmother.
2) Declining the invitation to open gifts when my brother and his children are in attendance.
I have given her the cut direct before. The last time was six years ago after Christmas for a situation that had nothing to do with gifting but was a serious manipulation tactic on her part. I could give her the cut direct again. It wouldn't be that difficult for me, but DS would wonder about it. What I like about option #2 is that it completely takes the wind out of her manipulation sails while simultaneously protecting DS. It removes the element of satisfaction she might feel while watching the disparity unfold.
I cannot say anything to her about her disparate treatment of DS because she will behave as if she has no clue what I am talking about. In addition, it lets her know that it bothers me, which gives her license to continue doing it. I have attempted many times in the past to talk to her about how her behavior affects me (and now DS), but she will not acknowledge it. Instead, she portrays herself as the victim. That's the narcissism.
Also, as an FYI, I was in therapy for several years to help me deal with the effects of being raised by my mother. I have worked very hard to come to a place in my life where I can say "no" to her without feeling guilty. She tends to escalate the manipulative tactics when I've said "no." She does not see the cause and effect between her behavior and my/our decision to avoid her.
So, those are the options as we see them. Are we missing any options? If we decide to do the cut direct, how would we explain that to DS? He is almost 12 now. How should we explain this to my brother? No matter what we decide, he is likely to get the brunt of my mother's drama.