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.