Author Topic: The "obligation" of gifting.  (Read 8167 times)

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Coley

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The "obligation" of gifting.
« on: January 29, 2014, 10:55:35 AM »
DH has found himself in a quandary with his youngest son (my stepson), Jeff. Jeff lives halfway across the country at present. He visited at Thanksgiving. Over Thanksgiving, he made a comment that he is in his mid-20s now and sees little need to participate in the giving and receiving of gifts. He said he wasn't coming for Christmas and didn't want anything. DH wasn't sure how to take that. A couple of weeks before Christmas, Jeff texted DH and asked him for gift ideas for my DS (age 12) and me. DH related this request to me, and I suggested a gift card for DS (I suggested a few stores) and a pair of gloves for me. Jeff texted me and asked for gift ideas for DH, so I gave two suggestions. DH asked Jeff for gift ideas, and Jeff said he didn't really care. Without any gift ideas provided by Jeff, DH and I bought several gifts for his GF and him that we thought they could use and mailed them to their home.

Shortly before Christmas, gifts arrived from Jeff and his GF. They gave DS a $50 gift card. They gave DH both the gifts I suggested. I got the gloves I'd mentioned.

DS's birthday was approaching. DH, in the spirit of trying to build our blended family, texted all three of his sons (Jeff plus Rob and Shawn) to remind them of DS's birthday. He suggested that they might want to call DS that day. DH mentioned that we happened to have a gift on hand that we could say was from them if they wanted to do that. Both Rob and Shawn responded quickly and said yes to the gift. They even offered to contribute something toward the cost, which DH hadn't asked for. Jeff's response was quite different.

Jeff said that he didn't think he should have to participate in the gift. He had never done much with birthday gifts for HIS brothers' birthdays. He also said he's just not into gift-giving and receiving. Jeff asked DH to call him to talk more about it. DH was very confused by Jeff's response. He also thought Jeff's attitude was rather rude. He agreed to call Jeff.

DH called Jeff. They talked for an hour. After that hour, DH and I aren't much clearer on Jeff's issue with gifting than we were before they talked. The best we can surmise, Jeff is having difficulty with the possible obligation that a gift should be given on gift-giving occasions. He said that when DH lets him know about an upcoming occasion, it makes him feel like he has to give a gift. He doesn't like feeling that sense of obligation. DH very quickly clarified that he's just letting Jeff know about the event (birthday, wedding, Christmas, whatever), and it's up to Jeff to decide whether he wants to give a gift. He told Jeff that certainly these are gift-giving occasions, and typically, gifts are given. But people give gifts because they want to. Not because they have to. If Jeff doesn't want to participate in gift-giving, then that's his decision. It's up to him to say no.

Jeff then complained about having to exchange gifts at Christmas. He didn't like being expected to give Christmas gifts. DH reminded Jeff that he asked us for gift ideas. We didn't volunteer them. If he didn't want to exchange gifts, then it was up to him to make that clear. We would respect that. But asking us for gift ideas only muddied the waters. Jeff then complained that there have been more gift-giving occasions in the past couple of years -- weddings, births of babies, etc. He just feels that whenever anything like that happens, he is obligated to give a gift.

When DH told me about their conversation, he was very concerned that when he tells Jeff about an upcoming occasion, he might be implying that Jeff has to give a gift. I asked DH if he ever discusses gifts specifically when he mentions these occasions to Jeff. He said he doesn't. My take was that either we tell Jeff about these occasions or we don't. DH said he told Jeff that during their phone conversation, and Jeff said he doesn't want to be out of the loop. Oookay ...

So now we are left with Jeff's sensitivity about being obligated to give gifts whenever he is informed of a gift-giving occason. DH asked me what he should say differently to Jeff about these occasions so that Jeff isn't left feeling as if he is obligated to give a gift. I told DH that I don't know that there is anything he can say differently. He can't be responsible for how Jeff feels upon hearing that someone is getting married or there's another graduation or another baby has been born or it's someone's birthday. Those are Jeff's feelings to deal with. It sounds to me like Jeff doesn't like the sense of obligation that comes with these occasions, but he feels guilty about not participating as expected. Those are his feelings to wrestle with, and DH isn't responsible for that. It's as if Jeff is frustrated because life has changed and there are more gift-giving occasions than there used to be. It's true that there are. And ironically, Jeff also has birthdays, he has had two graduations in four years, and it appears likely he will be planning a wedding in the next year or so himself.

DH and I are both feeling some irritation about Jeff's attitude, and we're not feeling much inclination to tiptoe around his sensitivities about gifts. This was my suggestion to DH: The next time Jeff complains that DH is making him feel obligated to give a gift, DH should ask Jeff how he would prefer to be informed about these occasions. In other words, make Jeff give DH the words that will keep him in the loop about family events and occasions and also ensure he doesn't feel obligated to give a gift. I also suggested a cut-and-paste statement like, "We've discussed this before. X event is happening. A gift is your decision."

I should also note: Jeff's stepdad told DH recently that Jeff became very agitated at their house over Thanksgiving when the topic of Christmas came up. He said Jeff was angry when his mom was talking about it. They were all baffled by Jeff's behavior and attitude. It's a big change. I'd also mention that money doesn't seem to be part of the issue. At Christmas, for example, he was not obligated to purchase a $50 gift card for DS or to buy both of the gift ideas I suggested for DH. Those were his decisions as the gifter. He could have chosen differently.

Edited: Forgot to include my question! What do you think of my two suggestions for DH on how to handle this: Making Jeff give DH the "right" words and using the cut-and-paste I mentioned above.
« Last Edit: January 29, 2014, 11:08:17 AM by Coley »

TootsNYC

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2014, 11:26:04 AM »
My words to Jeff would be: "People give gifts as a way to send a message that says, 'You're important to me.' Gifts aren't the only way to send that message, and sometimes in fact they are an inferior way of doing that. When they're not very personal--just a gift card you picked because you didn't have any ideas, or something, for example. Often a personal phone call is way more effective. Or an actual personalized note on someone's Facebook page, or an email that's more than just 'happy birthday!'


I also think it's time to say to Jeff: "I'm sort of insulted that you think the only reason I told you about your brother's birthday was because I wanted to pressure you into giving a gift. That's kind of a nasty thing for you to assume about me.
   "Just to be clear, kiddo: I *am* trying to remind you--maybe even pressure you--into paying some attention to your younger brother.
   "And actually, I can totally understand why you would resent that--you're a grownup, and your parents shouldn't be pressuring you.
   "Therefore, I would really like if I felt that I didn't need to do that--if you would put his birthday into your phone calendar and remind -yourself-, and do the work -yourself- of keeping in touch with your family. And letting your brother know that he's important to you really -is- your responsibility, not mine.
   "So I get it that you feel pressured. Because in a way, I am pressuring you--not for gifts, though. For attention.
   "And if you don't want to feel pressured, then you need to step up and take charge. I'm not going to remind you anymore about your brother's birthday. I'll send you an email with all the important family dates, and you can put them on a calendar, in your phone, in your Facebook--wherever."

"Oh, and Jeff: Regarding all the other family events that seem to require gifts--you had those too, remember? You graduated, and people gave you gifts. You might get married, and people will give you gifts. If you resent being expected by -our culture- (NOT by me) to give gifts, then you need to make darned sure you never do anything that might prompt people to give you gifts."

This is another one of those situations in which someone is complaining unreasonably, and I think it's time for the other person to get offended and to complain back.

Then, the way your DH might remind the kids about family events is to make a point of sending each kid their own "Dad's update" email once a week that says stuff like, "And we'll probably drag Kid#2 out to his favorite restaurant next week for his birthday." Or "I think we might get your brother another XBox game for his birthday next week--got any suggestions, do you know what's out, and good, lately?" In other words, mention the birthday as though it is simply an organic part of the family's activities.

That'll have the benefit of a continuing conversation with them as well.

alkira6

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2014, 11:28:35 AM »
I think that he should call Jeff now and ask him how he wants to be told or IF he wants to be told.  Waiting until another occasion comes up is just adding drama to the situation.  If Jeff gives gifts on his own, thank him but if he complains afterwards gently remind him that he chose to give a gift, no one asked him to do so.  Also, please look at your attitude towards not getting a gift - have you complained in his presence before about someone else not giving anything on one of these occasions and Jeff has picked up on it? That might be where his attitude is coming from.

staceym

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2014, 11:33:06 AM »
maybe for next Christmas someone should give him a calendar for the following year with important dates marked in them.  Give it to him and say this is the last you will hear of it; it's up to you what you do.

Also, if he is also referring to occassions like weddings, etc.  Are the invitations going to him?  If not, since he doesn't live at home, it's time to tell people to send them to him directly and let him do what he wants, rsvp, etc. And, since he is so angry about these things, don't mention them to him, if he misses a birthday or a wedding, that's his own doing.

but, I will say, money as a factor, did come to mind.  Perhaps, you don't feel it was since he bought the gifts, but you may not know how bought the gifts (i.e. didn't pay a bill, used credit cards, etc.)

rose red

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2014, 11:38:32 AM »
maybe for next Christmas someone should give him a calendar for the following year with important dates marked in them.  Give it to him and say this is the last you will hear of it; it's up to you what you do.

I think they should send him one now.  No way should they deal with this for another whole year.  I'm sure some stores are still selling calendars for 50-75 percent off.

heartmug

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2014, 11:39:03 AM »
He just sounds like a conflicted 20-something.  He is now an adult, so he is not obligated, but he probably sees his girlfriend giving gifts and then the obligations sets in and he feels he has to.  Or maybe she tells him to. 


I think you and your DH should "roll with the punches."  If one holiday or birthday he doesn't want to, so be it.  Next holiday or birthday he does, so be it.  I wouldn't inform him anymore - let him figure out how he is going to remember dates.
One option in a tug of war with someone is just to drop the rope.

Outdoor Girl

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2014, 11:42:45 AM »
maybe for next Christmas someone should give him a calendar for the following year with important dates marked in them.  Give it to him and say this is the last you will hear of it; it's up to you what you do.

I think they should send him one now.  No way should they deal with this for another whole year.  I'm sure some stores are still selling calendars for 50-75 percent off.

Or get the Dutch one.  Friends of mine have Dutch heritage where it is traditional to have a calendar, hanging in your bathroom where you would see it every day, where you write the important dates down.  Each month has its own page with a line beside each date.  No days of the week so you just flip from month to month as they change.  So Joe's birthday is January 31st, Jane's birthday is March 12th and Joe and Jane's Anniversary is May 5th.
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Coley

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2014, 11:44:56 AM »
I think that he should call Jeff now and ask him how he wants to be told or IF he wants to be told.  Waiting until another occasion comes up is just adding drama to the situation.  If Jeff gives gifts on his own, thank him but if he complains afterwards gently remind him that he chose to give a gift, no one asked him to do so.  Also, please look at your attitude towards not getting a gift - have you complained in his presence before about someone else not giving anything on one of these occasions and Jeff has picked up on it? That might be where his attitude is coming from.

I can't imagine that he would have picked that up from me. He might have heard it from someone else (his older brothers maybe), but not from me.

Coley

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2014, 11:51:01 AM »
maybe for next Christmas someone should give him a calendar for the following year with important dates marked in them.  Give it to him and say this is the last you will hear of it; it's up to you what you do.

Also, if he is also referring to occassions like weddings, etc.  Are the invitations going to him?  If not, since he doesn't live at home, it's time to tell people to send them to him directly and let him do what he wants, rsvp, etc. And, since he is so angry about these things, don't mention them to him, if he misses a birthday or a wedding, that's his own doing.

but, I will say, money as a factor, did come to mind.  Perhaps, you don't feel it was since he bought the gifts, but you may not know how bought the gifts (i.e. didn't pay a bill, used credit cards, etc.)

He should be getting his own invitations. I wouldn't know for certain whether others are sending them to him though. I can say that we don't get mail for him at our house, but it's possible some may be sent to his mom's house.

I like the idea of giving him a calendar with birthdays, etc. marked on it.

I'm honestly not sure what to make of the money question. It's not possible for me to answer it. It could be an issue. It might not be an issue.

magicdomino

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2014, 11:56:28 AM »
He just sounds like a conflicted 20-something.  He is now an adult, so he is not obligated, but he probably sees his girlfriend giving gifts and then the obligations sets in and he feels he has to.  Or maybe she tells him to. 


I wondered if the girlfriend was insisting on Christmas gifts.  Ah well, that's Jeff's problem.

I can kind of sympathise with Jeff if it seems like every time he turns around, someone wants a gift, even if they aren't asking for one.  I'd either ask Jeff if he wants to be informed of such occasions at all, or alternatively, tell him that you are keeping him up to date on the news, and if he wants to follow up with a phone call, that's cool.


Coley

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2014, 11:58:28 AM »
I also think it's time to say to Jeff: "I'm sort of insulted that you think the only reason I told you about your brother's birthday was because I wanted to pressure you into giving a gift. That's kind of a nasty thing for you to assume about me.
   "Just to be clear, kiddo: I *am* trying to remind you--maybe even pressure you--into paying some attention to your younger brother.
   "And actually, I can totally understand why you would resent that--you're a grownup, and your parents shouldn't be pressuring you.
   "Therefore, I would really like if I felt that I didn't need to do that--if you would put his birthday into your phone calendar and remind -yourself-, and do the work -yourself- of keeping in touch with your family. And letting your brother know that he's important to you really -is- your responsibility, not mine.
   "So I get it that you feel pressured. Because in a way, I am pressuring you--not for gifts, though. For attention.
   "And if you don't want to feel pressured, then you need to step up and take charge. I'm not going to remind you anymore about your brother's birthday. I'll send you an email with all the important family dates, and you can put them on a calendar, in your phone, in your Facebook--wherever."

It's interesting that you point this out because that's actually what DH was trying to accomplish -- including DS among his stepbrothers as a sibling. DH did say something along these lines to Jeff. DS is the youngest by quite a few years. Naturally, their interests are far apart. It would take a different type of effort for his stepbrothers to stay in touch with DS as opposed to the way they communicate with each other. And certainly, there is no reason why the three of them can't be responsible to enter DS's birthday in their calendars so they acknowledge it in the way they wish.

You also make a great point that Jeff certainly has had and will continue to have occasions that others might acknowledge with gifts. How would he feel if one of those gift-givers expressed resentment about giving him a gift?

TootsNYC

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2014, 12:06:51 PM »
He just sounds like a conflicted 20-something.  He is now an adult, so he is not obligated, but he probably sees his girlfriend giving gifts and then the obligations sets in and he feels he has to.  Or maybe she tells him to. 


I think you and your DH should "roll with the punches."  If one holiday or birthday he doesn't want to, so be it.  Next holiday or birthday he does, so be it.  I wouldn't inform him anymore - let him figure out how he is going to remember dates.

I agree with this too.

Sort of, "least said, soonest mended" thing. Don't turn this into a big deal; just think of it as a stage of development--the 20-something's version of the Terrible Twos, or separation anxiety, or something.

Don't let him make into a big deal either. Model for him how he should handle this sort of conflict--as if it's a minor blip.


Oh, the other point I'd made to Jeff is "if you think you want to give a gift, it does not need to be expensive, remember. If you thought you'd like to give your brothers a present, two of their favorite candy bars would probably be fun. Ditto your stepmom and I--if you bought us Nestle Quik and wrote a note that you always loved having choc. milk when you came to our house for the weekends, we'd love it. It's not about the money--it's about the attention."

GlitterIsMyDrug

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2014, 12:07:19 PM »
So Jeff is a grown up. Mid-20s=grown up. I know once I hit my mid-20s everyone started getting married, having babies, and graduating from...something. I feel like it's been at least once a month I'm at a wedding or a baby shower for the past few years (seriously was there some kind of memo that went out?). So yes, I can understand Jeff is getting frustrated with constantly having to buy gifts. And since you guys are family well...he vents to you.

However, like I said, Jeff is grown up. If Jeff doesn't want to give a gift, he doesn't have to. But he has to make that decision. If chooses to give a gift, he doesn't then get to whine about having to give a gift.

I'd say something like "Jeff, I remind you of your little brother's birthday because he is your little brother and I want you two to have a good relationship. He deserves a good relationship with his big brother and you deserve one with your little brother. That relationship doesn't have to have anything to do with gifts, that part is all up to you", and leave it at that. If he wants to stamp his feet about buying a gift repeat "Jeff, this isn't about a gift, that's all up to you".

MindsEye

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2014, 12:22:48 PM »
DH has found himself in a quandary with his youngest son (my stepson), Jeff. ... Over Thanksgiving, he made a comment that he is in his mid-20s now and sees little need to participate in the giving and receiving of gifts.

... at least he's consistent, I guess?   :-\

OP, I wouldn't bother reminding Jeff (or his brothers) about important dates at all anymore.  They are in their mid-20s and older, which is way past the time when their parents should be playing secretary for them.

Also, and I am going to say this as delicately as I can, and this is coming from the perspective of someone who has closely-related family members who are very very very much younger then myself...  Your DH needs to stop trying to force a relationship between your DS and his other children.  He just needs to drop it.  The brothers will all eventually have a relationship, or they won't, and there is really nothing that your DH can do about it.  And anything that he does try to do right now would probably be counterproductive, especially since it seems like neither Jeff nor your DH's other kids live near you guys. 


YummyMummy66

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Re: The "obligation" of gifting.
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2014, 12:27:23 PM »
I would give Jeff a calendar with all pertinent dates listed, (everyone's birthdays, anniversaries, etc.).    If Jeff is an adult, your dh should not have to remind his sons all the time about calling for your son's birthday.  He can look at the calendar or list of dates each month that are special. 

If Jeff wants to act like an adult, than treat him like one. 

As for Christmas, I would point blank ask him the situation closer to the holiday season. For some that could be the beginning of October when people choose to pre buy their gifts.  "Jeff, so that we are clear, would you like to exchange gifts this year or not?".  Don't let him get wishy washy.  All you need is a simple yes or no. It is no big deal and he does not have to make it into one.

I wonder if Jeff is experiencing some financial difficulties?

As far as weddings, babies, etc., I think Jeff would be in for a rude surprise, when he feels he does not have to or should not have to give gifts at these events, and then people turn around and do the same for him.