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Don’t Tell Grandma I Opened Your Gift

Help! It’s now February but for Christmas my husband’s grandparents sent us a gift via his parents as they live out of state and his parents visit them on occasion. Apparently his mom accidentally unwrapped the gift, thought they were for her and have not given them to us, or told us about them till now.

The catch is she told us “don’t tell!” (That she unwrapped them and neglected to give them to us, I guess.) So now I’m stuck in the middle of sending a thank you card 2 months after the fact with no real excuse for the lateness, and his mom getting mad for telling them of her negligence with the gift. In other words, give his grandparents the impression that we are ungrateful rude boars, or give his mom the impression that we are tattle tales and blamed it all on her. What should I do? 0221-13

This story was submitted many months ago before being published but I hope that the OP has since written a nice thank you note to the grandparents.

One hard and fast rule I have is that I will not lie for others.   It is not my responsibility to rescue you from the consequences of actions at the peril of damaging my own reputation and conscience.   So, I would not agree to specifically lie to the grandparents if asked by them if you received the gift in time for Christmas or asked directly why a note of thanks was so late in coming.   You can be discreet in not offering that information, however.


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  • Red Cat December 12, 2013, 5:33 am

    Agree with Admin – do not get into the habit of lying, especially for what seems to be an honest mistake. Simply explain that there was a mix up with the gifts and that’s why the thank-you note was late. Perhaps you may need to carefully word the note to avoid telling tales and blaming MIL – that’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate your good manners and graciousness.

    I believe the only time one should lie on another’s behalf is when it protects the other person’s privacy, security or health. For example, a dear friend, C, has recently come out as a lesbian to our small group of mutual friends. She has a partner and they live together in C’s home. C’s close-knit family don’t know she is gay and think they are good friends/flatmates. C’s mother is 80 years old, a devout Catholic, extremely conservative and in poor health. She was raised to believe that homosexuals are contrary to God’s law and are all going to hell – C thinks the shock of discovering her only daughter’s secret could kill her. We have agreed to support C in preserving the fiction of the ‘flatmate’ until her mother passes away and she can live openly with her partner.

  • non American December 12, 2013, 5:57 am

    I’m always surprised to see that it seems to be the female part taking all responsibility for correspondence to both families and wonder why the OP is taking the initiative here at all – seeing that it is her (presumably!) partner’s grandparents, why isn’t he sorting this out… No need for her to possibly be blamed.

  • Cherry91 December 12, 2013, 6:33 am

    My Dad and I have the same initials (eg, we’re both C. Ninetyone), so we accidentally open each other’s post on a relatively regular basis. You know how we deal with it? We declare it!

    OP’s MIL sin is not that she opened the gift. It’s that she didn’t pass it on, and now expects OP and husband to take the blame. That wouldn’t inspire much motivation to lie for her in me…

  • Weaver December 12, 2013, 6:47 am

    Hang on, I’m slightly confused… I’m assuming your MIL has at least now handed over the gift?

    If so, just write your husband’s grandparents a nice thank you note with a (brief) apology at the start for the lateness of your note. Resist the urge to make any excuses or mention what happened, just let them know you appreciate the gift.

    If they ever press for details, I think it’s fine to (again, briefly) explain exactly what happened. If that happens, and your MIL ever complains about your telling them the truth, just ask her whether she’d prefer that your husband’s grandparents think that you and your husband are rude, inconsiderate and ungrateful, or just think that she (your MIL) made an innocent mistake? Even if she’d secretly prefer the former, she’ll have a job saying so.

  • Weaver December 12, 2013, 6:51 am

    Oh, additionally, I don’t mean to disparage the MIL too much and imply that’s what she’d secretly prefer. The only basis I have for my last remark is that I can’t imagine my own mother, or MIL, doing such a thing. Either one of them would have told the grandparents directly what happened.

  • Jinx December 12, 2013, 7:45 am

    It seems easiest to just use the truth, but not all of it.

    “I’m so sorry we didn’t send this note sooner, you must think we were ungrateful for XX. We really love XX, it was so kind of you to think of us, we’ve always wanted XX for YY, and this XX is perfect. We missed you very much at Christmas…..”

    Since it was close to valentine’s day, I think it would also be appropriate to send a small nice box of chocolates which would also smooth over any rough feelings (if they existed).

    The letter is late, but things happen. Really, all most people want is to know you’re thinking about them and love them and that whatever gift they picked out for you is indeed cherished. It’s an odd situation you’re in with receiving the gift late, but really, it doesn’t change what should be important about the thank you note.

  • jojo December 12, 2013, 8:26 am

    Um, if thank you notes are a regular thing in your family, why didn’t the grandparents realise the mistake when MIL sent them a thank you note for the gifts herself? – oh, wait, she didn’t.
    If I was in the mood to be cheeky, I’d send a thank you note for the items signed with your MIL’s name.
    It’s only February, get over it, send a nice letter thanking them for the gifts, including pictures of the family and an update of how you’re all doing. Say you’ve taken so long to get back to them because you wanted to take the time to write properly, people love a nice long letter – it’s so rare to get them nowadays.

  • haji December 12, 2013, 8:54 am

    I don’t understand OP’s MIL’s attitude here. Yes the situation is embarrassing, but it seems that information is missing. How did MIL figure out the gift wasn’t for her? Did the grandparents call and complain why they hadn’t heard from OP to thank them for the gift? At any rate, I agree with Admin, don’t lie for another person. No good will come of it. Please clarify too if MIL did eventually hand over said gift, or if she kept it. Because if she’s still got it, that’s a whole other ball of rudeness wax!

    A thank you note, which humorously plays off the mistake could easily take care of this issue. And makes a great story, if all egos are preserved. Something like, “Our apologies for not sending this note sooner. MIL opened the gift by mistake, thinking it was for her. She only realized this much after the fact! How silly! Thank you so much for the great gift! As you can see, it was such a great one that even MIL loved it! Guess you know what to get her next year! Ha!”

  • Heather December 12, 2013, 9:02 am

    I don’t think the OP should lie but the question is, should she send a thank you note or just not say anything unless they ask? Obviously, one would tell the truth if asked, but does etiquette say she needs to send a thank you for something she didn’t actually receive? I don’t think that was addressed.

  • ShinyFun December 12, 2013, 9:52 am

    I would tell my husband to deal with it as it is his grandparents & parents.

  • WMK December 12, 2013, 10:02 am

    I guess I’m a bit confused.

    Did MIL eventually give OP and her husband the gift from the grandparents? If so, then I agree with Admin that a ‘thank you’ note be sent out immediately. If not, how can you send a ‘thank you’ note for a gift you never received? They’re going on the information that MIL provided about the nature of the gift. It could have been something entirely different.

    And wouldn’t it be awkward if the grandparents saw the gift they gave OP and her hubby STILL at the MIL house?

  • Cat December 12, 2013, 10:14 am

    I take full responsibility for my own mistakes. I do not take responsibility for those made by others. Mom should write/call and explain that she made the mistake. ” I’m sorry” goes a long way and a lot further than asking you to lie to her.
    There is a time and a place to lie. If the Nazis are at the door, I would not tell them that Anne Frank is in the attic. I won’t tell you that your blouse is on backwards in the midst of a church service and make you worry about it. I would tell you once I got you alone. I would not rush to tell someone the “truth” in order to spite someone else or to show them up. I would ask them to take responsibility and to ask forgiveness.
    I hope you wrote the thank you note and, if asked, told the truth.

  • hakayama December 12, 2013, 10:23 am

    @non-American: this “American by choice” joins you in saying “HIS FAMILY, HIS PROBLEM”.
    It is disgusting how the MIL expects to be rescued from her “boo-boo” after all this time. It is doubly disgusting that it appears that the LW’s DuH apparently expects the light of his life to do the dirty job. It is verrrrrrrrrrrily sad that that the LW even seems to feel it’s her job to deal with this scenario.

    It is the OP’s husband’s job to handle that sticky situation as it involves his parents and grandparents. In this day and age especially, it seems totally wrong that the woman should get stuck with the secretarial and/or diplomatic tasks, especially since they do not involve “hazardous duty pay”.
    Even the “standard” vows do not have a clause whereby the bride promises to send greeting cards, buy and wrap gifts for all occasions, pick up socks in the living room and dog poo in the yard… 😉 Till death, or death of love?

  • Meegs December 12, 2013, 10:28 am

    This does not have to be complicated. Yeah, sure, two months after is a bit late to be sending the note but certainly not outside an acceptable time-frame IMO. Just send a nice note saying you are sorry it was so long in coming (no further explanation necessary) and that you are so thankful for the gift, etc.

  • Wild Irish Rose December 12, 2013, 10:34 am

    What ShinyFun said.

  • EllenS December 12, 2013, 10:53 am

    OP says MIL has not given them the gift, only told them of it? If MIL only told them about the gift and did not deliver it as intended, they need not write a thank-you note. If it ever comes up, they can say quite truthfully, “We never got it.” MIL can deal with the fallout on that herself. I think writing a thank-you note is just helping her perpetuate a deception on the grandparents.

    If they did eventually receive the gift, just late, then she can say “I’m so sorry for the lateness, it seems your gift was mislaid and we only just opened it.” (they would have “opened” some kind of container, even if it was not in the original giftwrap). Then of course, all the nice thank you things.

    I can understand making an honest mistake, but the lying plus (possibly) not actually giving the gift? That is not an honest mistake. MIL sounds like a piece of work.

  • Ellex December 12, 2013, 11:33 am

    I will admit that I have in the past, and probably will in the future, “found” a thank you card that “must have slipped under the passenger seat when I was mailing out thank you notes.”

    Not saying other poster’s aren’t right about it being MIL’s fault or you shouldn’t lie to cover up for her, or that you should send a note and be discreet – just something that I’ve done when I realized that, for some reason or another, a thank you note didn’t get sent.

  • Mae December 12, 2013, 11:45 am

    If I am reading the post correctly, OP & husband do not have physical custody of the present; MIL has only *told* them about the present and that she opened it but please don’t tell grandma.

    OP, if the gift has not made it to your hands/home, I would ask MIL if she intends to keep the gift or send it to you. If she intends to keep it, I would not write a note and when asked, honestly reply that I never received it. Why she did not immediately send it on to you, once she realized the mistake, is what I don’t understand. She could call or put a note in present with a sorry, I opened this by mistake and then it would be done. I would not lie about it for her.

    I am also in agreement with pp who said, his parents/grandparents, he handles it. Including the thank you note, should you decide to send one.

  • The Elf December 12, 2013, 12:26 pm

    Wait a tick. At first this looks like an honest mistake. MIL thought it was her gift, unwrapped it, and only later realized it wasn’t. So….. why hasn’t MIL made good on her mistake? If it was a non-perishable gift, then she should have just simply passed it on with apologies. If it was a perishable gift, she should endeavor to replace it. That’s just something you do to own up to your mistake. There’s something big missing from this picture, and I suspect it is because MIL is a piece of work who didn’t actually make a mistake.

    As for the thank you note…. I wouldn’t lie either. I would thank grandma for the gift and for thinking of them at Christmas. In this case, it’s truly the thought that counts, since you aren’t actually getting the gift.

  • hakayama December 12, 2013, 12:28 pm

    @EllenS: Thank you. The last sentence of your comment emboldened me to look for faults in MIL’s character*. Now I’m inclined to think that MIL opened the gift “accidentally on purpose”. Liked the gift for HERSELF. Kept mum. Got tired of gift and/or had a change of mind about it after two months. Delayed moral pruritus? 😉 Nah! Decided to fib, etc. The rest is EHell fodder.

    *Disclaimer: My own MIL was beyond reproach, it’s some of the other people’s MILs that seem to give the species a very bad press.

  • Margaret December 12, 2013, 12:36 pm

    Sounds like you at least got the gift eventually. I have one family of cousin’s where several times now it has happened that one sister was given a gift to pass along to another sister, and the gift never made it. Each time it was discovered, whichever sister (more than one has done this) appropriated the gift seemed to feel perfectly entitled to have kept it, and in at least one case was visibly annoyed that she had to give their sister what was left of her present. One time one of them dropped off presents for my kids with one of the sisters, and my kids never did receive them. No apology, no explanation. Needless to say, I do not pass along gifts anymore.

  • babaran December 12, 2013, 12:45 pm

    Thank you notes for xmas presents aren’t done in our family, unless the gifters are far away. If I had gifted someone at xmas, and it is now Feb., I would be thrilled to get a thank you! I don’t even think I would think much about it being “late”–just thrilled that someone wrote one to me! (my hint to the grandchildren!) 🙂

  • June First December 12, 2013, 12:55 pm

    I like haji’s wording for a thank you note.

  • WillyNilly December 12, 2013, 12:56 pm

    “Apparently his mom accidentally unwrapped the gift, thought they were for her and have not given them to us, or told us about them till now.”

    I cannot see how any sort of thank you note from the OP would not be a lie… unless it’s simply a “thank you for trying to give us a gift, we appreciate the thought.” The grandmother physically gave the gift to the MIL, and the MIL physically kept the gift. The OP and her husband have nothing physical to thank anyone for.

  • Weaver December 12, 2013, 1:44 pm

    @ non American You have a good point there! You know what, I always deal with the cards and presents for both my side of the family and my husband’s side, and have done ever since we got married. Goodness knows why! I don’t mind the responsibility at all, but it is interesting that so many wives seem to fall into it so naturally.

    Red Cat That’s a very difficult situation for your friend C. I don’t have any useful comments really, but I did just want to let you know that I’ve known a few friends in similar situations. One couple I know came out to their family (the family had mixed reactions), another didn’t, but both are still very happy together. If you get the chance, send your friend C a hug from me.

  • Huh December 12, 2013, 1:47 pm

    I don’t understand why MIL wants LW and the son to lie for her – that seems like the kind of thing that gets cleared up pretty fast when grandma inquires about the present (otherwise how else did MIL find out about the ‘mixup?’) “Did Grandson and LW like the box of chocolates I sent, daughter? I never got a thank you.” “What box of chocolates? OMG, I must have mistaken them for something for us as I ate a box of delicious chocolatey goodness! I’m sorry mom!”

    If it was a misunderstanding, then I can’t come up with a good reason to lie or force others to lie. If it’s something MIL has done deliberately, then no, I’m not lying for you! As a television show once said, “This is your dish washing liquid, you soak in it!”

  • Gen Xer December 12, 2013, 2:28 pm

    I don’t get why this a big kerfuffle in the first place. Why get into elaborate deceits over a simple mistake? I would think it would just get laughed off. I have to ask…..are the grandparents the type that would get really upset about this type of thing? Some people are easily scandalized and everyone dances around trying not to upset them.

  • Harley Granny December 12, 2013, 2:47 pm

    How about…..Greetings, I hope this finds you well. I am so sorry about the lateness of this note. We wanted to thank you very much for the ( ). We love it and are so glad you thought of us.

    Everyone’s behind is covered unless the lateness is questioned. Then I would hand the problem over to your MIL.

  • Marozia December 12, 2013, 3:25 pm

    Has MIL got the same initials or name as you and/or your husband or is she just one of those giddy gift openers? Why would she open a gift meant for the both of you anyway especially if it had your names on it? Why don’t the grandparents know your address? When did MIL realise the gift was supposed to be for the both of you instead of her?, are just the many questions I’m asking.
    Perhaps “We’re sorry for the lateness of the thank-you card. Your gift was greatly appreciated..blah, blah, blah, etc’ would be OK.

  • AIP December 12, 2013, 4:40 pm

    To quote the old IRA dictum: “whatever you say, say nothin'”.
    A note thanking them for the gift but making no excuses other than “sorry for the delay” is all that’s needed. Unless granny corners you and demands an explanation I wouldn’t give excuses or reasons, regardless who is really at fault.

  • hakayama December 12, 2013, 9:28 pm

    @Gen Xer: I think that the big kerfuffle (love that word! ;-)) is about MIL wanting to be like teflon, to have HER screw up not stick to her.
    The more I think about some MILs I’ve seen in action, the more I’m convinced that MIL is the one that people dance around.
    “I have a vision” of a light sit-com setting, with the DIL is sometimes coerced by others to do all kinds of things she feels a distaste for. Here, the DH at the behest of his mom, browbeats wife into writing a thank you to the GPs, so she pens the followings:
    “Dear GPs: Thank you so much for the present that you wanted us to have, but we never received it. As it is something we’ve never seen, we cannot be more specific as to how we’ll use it or how much we’ll enjoy it. In any event, we are most grateful for the generous thought. Yours, etc.”

  • Angel December 12, 2013, 10:33 pm

    Better late than never. Send the thank you note, with apologies for the lateness if you think that’s necessary (frankly, I don’t think 2 months is all that bad) and be done with it. If pressed by grandma, just say, “I didn’t want to mention this because I didn’t want “mom” to feel badly, but we didn’t receive the gifts until last week. It was really no big deal, and just wanted to let you know we appreciate the gifts.” And that’s it. Why complicate things??

  • nk December 13, 2013, 12:46 am

    It seems to me that a way to tell the truth without throwing your MIL under the bus is to send the thank-you card, apologize for the lateness and explain that you only just received the gifts–just leave out the reason why you only just received the gifts. She’ll probably assume they got temporarily lost in the mail, she won’t think you’re a boor for neglecting to send a thank-you note, and you wouldn’t be put in the awkward position of either ratting out your MIL or lying for her.

  • La December 13, 2013, 7:25 am

    If the MIL gave the gifts as soon as she could, then I can see her reaction being an attempt at a cover-up. I’ve tried to do this myself out of panic and fear of being in trouble (my parents had… unorthodox… punishment methods, I’ll leave it at that). The end results tend to be something like one of those government cover-ups: it’s a huge mess, when it’s discovered there’s paper and incriminating things everywhere, and the initial ‘crime’ was someone ticked the wrong box on form 32-A. So yeah, MIL could just be trying to avoid getting in trouble and isn’t really thinking things through.

  • Tracy December 13, 2013, 12:11 pm

    Is it really a requirement that one send a thank you for a gift that one never received? That one has simply heard rumors of?

  • hakayama December 13, 2013, 2:37 pm

    @nk: The problem I see in sending the card and apologizing is that it is a lie. A lie (or a fib, if you want to see it as “harmless”) that benefits only one person: the MIL. The same person whose behavior (maybe misbehavior?) is the root of this whole tangle. The same person that opened a gift handed to her to pass on, and was so overwhelmed and confused she could not remember which one was which… (Aw, right! Did you see the pig that just flew by? ;-))
    The same person that took her sweet time in telling about it. The same person that now wants the “ungifted” son and DIL to cover up for her. To LIE for her so that SHE can still look OK at the expense of her own son. Yeah… and the DIL quite likely does not count anyway.

    Dear charitable but not quite fair (in the sense of justice) “nk”, could you tell me when is the next bus coming by? 😉

  • ddwwylm December 13, 2013, 3:00 pm

    I’m willing to bet that the MIL didn’t realize the gift was meant for the kids until the grandparents called her up to complain/inquire about why they had not received a TY note. Which would make sense, since they gave it to the MIL they would check with her to see if it had in fact been delivered. Instead of admitting that she kept the gift, I bet MIL threw the kids under the bus for just not writing a TY note, which is why she then frantically called the kids to tell them to write a TY note for a gift they never received. I would also be curious as to whether or not the grandparents are the IL to the MIL. MIL probably doesn’t want to look bad to her own MIL so instead lied about delivering the gift and is willing to make her own kids look bad to save face.

  • MichelleP December 15, 2013, 1:46 pm

    @hakayama, you’re really laying on the dramatics and assumptions. Again.

    Agree with admin. If you have the gift, send a note. Short and sweet. If you don’t, tell them the truth.