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Thwarting The Gimme Pig Spirit Of The Holidays

E-Hell, please help with a gift gimme problem! As we all know the holidays are coming up and Christmas presents are to be bought. My husband and I had a baby this year who was the result of a very difficult pregnancy and long NICU stay. As such, this year we’ve decided we would love to make homemade gifts and goodies for our family instead of buying store-bought gifts to save money. (Also, we both have a lot of siblings). I don’t think there would be too much objection to this, except perhaps by my husband’s step-mom. Last year, as I was new to the family she was explaining to me how the ‘older kids’ (her step-kids) do gifts (secret Santa) and then proceeded to tell me, “Of course you would still get Dan and Ethan their own gifts.” Dan and Ethan are her two younger sons who are spoiled beyond spoiled and have absolutely everything. Most people just gift them with gift cards or money, which is what we did last year.

This year though, we are struggling to figure out what to do. We honestly don’t think Dan and Ethan could care less what we get them, but their mom is insistent that they be given a gift from everyone in the family. I personally don’t want to get them anything, especially since we will be making our gifts this year (which they certainly will not appreciate) and we don’t want to then spend $20 on each boy when we aren’t doing that with anyone else in the family. I am afraid of the backlash from their mom, but we really want to keep it super simple and cheap this year. Any thoughts on how to combat gimme pig syndrome over the holidays? 1105-13


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  • White Lotus December 2, 2013, 1:27 pm

    I recall that my favorite holiday gifts as a child were “family” gifts given by business associates of my parents. Harry and David pears — how good is that? A case of satsumas — yum! And we knew a lady who went into a cookie baking frenzy for a few weeks and gave everyone she knew, practically, a mixed box, the size of which depended on the size of the recipient household. She was famous! Didn’t get better than that — not even for a kid. I say do something edible and give the boys their very own packages. I think it is hard to do better than homemade treats, for anyone. I do suggest having a variety so people who are lactose or gluten intolerant or vegan can have a restriction accommodating present.
    SMIL is out of line, of course, but don’t take it out on the kids. Food? They’ll love it and not care if everyone else gets ski hats or slippers.

  • alex December 2, 2013, 1:36 pm

    Wow, that is ridiculous. You don’t owe them any gifts as gifts are not mandatory and are not what the season is about. If you want to get them something I would suggest making them something and then it is up to them how to treat it. Or giving them a $5 gift card to Starbucks that would cost much less money.

  • Enna December 2, 2013, 1:37 pm

    OP I would be inclinded to give the boys homemade gifts – if your step MIL brings up the issue again say that you are treating everyone equally and due to your situation you are going carry though with your plan. I would also discuss this with your husband and see what he thinks on the matter. As a mother herself this woman should know that you always put your own baby first!

    I can think of 4 reasons why a parent can put restrictions on a gift:

    1) The child has an allergry which may ban make-up, food and tolietires.

    2) The child has a phobia e.g. if a child is scared of clowns buying a clown toy would be unsuitable.

    3) Age restricted products: for example buying a 12 rated film for someone under 12, 15 rated film for someone under 15 etc.

    4) Religion: some people belong to certain Christinan groups which avoid or prohibit certain things: e.g. buying a Mormon teenager a Starbucks coffee set would be unsuitable or a Quaker teenager a war game – both could well be age approproite but not appropiate for followers of those religions.

  • Abby December 2, 2013, 1:39 pm

    @ Funny girl-

    “Why does the step mother think that her kids are entitled to certain gifts? It’s not your responsibility to spoil her kids, especially if you can’t afford it.”

    In defense of stepmother, I don’t think she’s saying that her kids need certain gifts (OP is speculating that stepmother will be miffed, but Stepmother hasn’t said so). What Stepmother is getting at is that all the adult (I assume) kids – meaning OP’s husband and OP’s biological siblings- will each purchase one gift for one other person and do an exchange, however, the younger kids (OP’s husband’s stepbrothers) are expected to get gifts from all the older kids. That’s not really that unusual for extended family gift exchanges. Since OP says she was new to the family last year, perhaps Stepmother was truly not being bossy, just explaining how it has historically been done.

    Without knowing this woman and her boys, it’s hard to guess whether she is a super entitled gimme pig and is teaching her kids to be the same, or whether she is hyper sensitive to her kids being accepted into the larger blended family, and equates receiving gifts with acceptance.

  • WillyNilly December 2, 2013, 1:45 pm

    Like others I wonder at the ages of these boys. In many families the “Secret Santa” exchange is for adults (over 18/out of high school) but all kids (under 18/still in elementary or high school) get individual gifts. The ‘kids’ on the ends of a transitioning generation tend to get the short end of the stick – and it sounds like that’s where these boys are. They are the youngest of the your DH’s ‘sibling generation’, still children as the other siblings are starting to have their own kids, thus starting a new generation. If your DH got gifts up until the family age cut off, then your husband should pay it forward and give his stepbrothers gifts until the family age cut off. If you want to change the ages of participation in things it should start with the new generation (your child, and your child’s cousins & siblings) not with the already established folks.
    That said there are lots of great for kids/tweens/teens gits to be had in the $10 or less category – MP3 speakers, wallets, sports balls, art or music gear, t-shirts, etc.

  • Ergala December 2, 2013, 2:22 pm

    Is anyone else curious how on earth these get together’s go? I mean if everyone draws a name and therefore opens one gift but everyone buys Dan and Ethan a gift it must become kind of weird once it becomes obvious it’s a “Watch Dan and Ethan open presents” event. Will there be the same expectation for your child when he/she is older, that everyone will get your child a gift as well? If not isn’t that kind of hypocritical of SMIL? Sorry that just seems odd to me. My step siblings stopped sending me birthday cards when I turned 14 or 15. Their reason, I didn’t send them one on my own. I signed the ones my mom and step-dad sent. I had no money, I wasn’t old enough for a job and I didn’t get an allowance. But they thought I should still be able to buy a card and send it so if I didn’t do that I didn’t deserve to get one either. It hurt.

    I vote in the party of cookies. We’re doing homemade gifts this year as well. I make homemade baking spice blends. We’re putting them into pretty jars with labels and creating nice gift baskets for family members. I make a taco blend, Italian blends…you name it. They smell and taste fantastic and are all natural. We all cook so I know they will be appreciated.

  • Meri December 2, 2013, 2:45 pm

    You’re probably right, the boys don’t care what you give them. As others have said, giving them each a plate of homemade cookies or other treats would be my suggestion. The boys get their individual presents, so SML can’t complain, and it’s in line with what you’re doing for others this Christmas.

    If she does complain, you can either A: explain why you’re doing homemade gifts this year, or B: say “I’m sorry,” roll your eyes at your husband, and ignore her from then on.

  • just4kicks December 2, 2013, 2:47 pm

    As hard as it might be, stick to your guns and original gift giving plans.
    Anyone doesn’t like it….tough toenails!
    You have your own precious child and that is where your priorities lie now.
    Happy holidays and many congratulations to you!

  • Marozia December 2, 2013, 3:21 pm

    I like the idea of giving Dan and Ethan some homemade cookies or fudge for Christmas.

  • Barbarian December 2, 2013, 4:14 pm

    If you want to keep peace in the family and still give only the homemade goodies to everyone, you could personalize the young boys’ gifts with a personalized gift certificate saying something like

    Good for a dozen homemade cookies of your choice: chocolate chip, sugar, etc

    or 6 cupcakes in these flavors–x,y,z

    You could put pictures of the treat on it if you want. If you’re baking already, it may not be much more work to accommodate this relative even if she really does not deserve it.

    You should not get the kids anything different than what you’re giving the rest of the family just because their mom has a wish list. Nobody gets everything on their wish list and it’s time these kids learned that.

    Our family is pretty flexible about things like this so we would not expect a gift in OP’s situation.

    I’m curious to know what OP’s family has done for them during a difficult year to help with the little ones.

  • Pamela December 2, 2013, 4:31 pm

    In addition to the cookies/fudge/whatever you make, you could enclose the recipe. Then if anyone complains, you can tell them that the boys can also have the fun of making another batch themselves.

  • Daisy December 2, 2013, 5:08 pm

    Congratulations on that new baby and its successful progress through the NICU! Over the years, many people in our lives have had financial constraints at Christmas. (There’s been a few here and there for ourselves as well!) The best gifts we’ve ever received have been the homemade ones: cookies, mini loaves of quick breads, mason jars with all the ingredients for a soup or dessert layered inside, informal cards with hand-applied pressed flowers and grasses, beautiful padded and beribboned coat hangers, sachets, those fabulous clove-studded oranges, calendars with family pictures on every page, photos in dollar store frames. These gifts represent time and love far more than anything you can pick up at Wal-Mart. SMIL may think she’s the arbiter of all gifts, but there’s no reason you need pay any attention to her. Give what you want to whomever you want, without advance warning to anyone. People who have a problem with that should be gently reminded that gifts are optional; gratitude isn’t.

  • mark December 2, 2013, 5:11 pm

    FWIW I think you are worrying to much. If you bother to give them anything at all, I would base in on what you give your husbands siblings. Make it something roughly equivalent. But that’s if you even bother at all. My wife has 3 step siblings and we like them, but they are her step-siblings not her siblings. Her blood siblings get presents for christmas and they don’t. (It’s a two way street they don’t send her any either. Making all of us happier for avoiding the pain.) Honestly I think a gift to the whole family would be perfect. Dad/StepMon/Step-siblings all on the same tag.

    It’s a gift, not an obligation, if you are asked about I would recommend you remain completely unapologetic.

  • startruck December 2, 2013, 6:11 pm

    simple. dont cater to it. get everyone exactly what your budget allows. maybe a certain amount for the adults, and a certain amount for the kids.? however you about it, dont over extend yourself for anyone. really its christmas, we should just be happy we are all still alive and able to gather around as a family. not everyone is so fortunate at christmas.

  • Amanda H. December 2, 2013, 6:36 pm

    First and foremost, I would gift the boys anyway, but give them homemade gifts as several others have already suggested. Cookies, fudge, etc. are excellent inexpensive ideas that are generally appropriate for all ages. Dollar stores often have nice holiday tins in varying sizes for gifts like this, too.

    I too wonder how old Dan and Ethan actually are. If they’re old enough to be included in the Secret Santa exchange, then they should be, rather than singled out for special treatment. Especially if your own child (as one of the “younger kids”) isn’t given the same.

    My mom comes from a very large family that all lives within the same county (or close enough to count), with only one or two exceptions. When we got together for Christmas at my Grandma’s house, the adults did a name-draw gift exchange while purchasing gifts for all the grandkids (or the grandkids as family units). This lasted until I (the oldest grandkid) was about 12, when there were now more grandkids than adults. At that point, we switched up so that the grandkids also drew each other’s names for gift exchanging, making things a LOT easier on everyone’s budgets. Now, instead of each adult purchasing a gift for one adult plus TWELVE or more kids, they only have to purchase for one adult plus whichever cousins their own children drew in the exchange. And when the kids turn 18 and graduate from high school, they also graduate from the kid exchange to the adult exchange, regardless of age (meaning yes, I could’ve occasionally drawn one of my parents’ names once I graduated).

    In my own immediate family, we actually rotate names rather than draw from a hat, but it’s otherwise the same in practice. Couples can team up for couples’ gifts if the names fall that way in a given year, but otherwise we’re each only buying for a single other adult, plus all our nieces and nephews (since there are currenly only six grandchildren in the family so far; we’ll probably switch to name exchanging for the grandkids once enough come around, and are already switching to gifting as a family unit rather than individuals). We also set a dollar cap so people don’t feel obligated to break the bank, and there’s no minimum (meaning if you can get everything for $5 or less, great for you!). And our cap is usually about $20, enough for a DVD but still VERY reasonable for a bunch of recent college graduates and newlyweds.

    Regardless of whether Dan and Ethan are old enough to bring into the Secret Santa exchange or not, gift from your heart, and even if you’re trying to save money make sure you’re giving something you think they will enjoy, and don’t let your SMiL bully you into spending more just because that’s what’s “expected.” As others have said, no one should expect gifts.

  • Rosie December 2, 2013, 6:41 pm

    When I was a struggling single mom many years ago, I always created made-with-love gifts, be they cookies, fudge, or other things. One year, I made Christmas-decorated sweatshirts, with the shirts being purchased from Walmart. One year, I made holiday placemats and napkins for everyone. Another year I did framed pics of family, you name it. The cost didn’t break the bank, and the funny thing is, most of my family members still have (and wear at Christmas) the sweatshirts and still have the placemats and napkins. We now don’t do anything for the adults in the family and let the moms & dads give to their own kids. No hassle, no fuss. Just do what you’re comfortable with and can afford. If you must gift the two boys, just know that teenage kids will love any home-made goodies they can devour!

  • Wendy December 2, 2013, 6:51 pm

    I think home made gifts are greatness you might be surprised by the boys attitudes if you aim it at their interests (favourite sport for example) I would just be careful of one thing your baby is likely to be spoiled new babies to the family usually are and especially if they had a rough start if the boys are young themselves eg under 10 then seeing everyone heap gifts on the baby when they get nothing from you would rankle I would even if the gift is home made take the time to give them a little attention especially from their older brother special bonding time that doesn’t resolve around the new infant.
    I would also make it clear that you are giving home made gifts I know it shouldn’t work like this but if people spend a fortune on you or your child and get cookies in return even ones made with love it can bread resentment.

  • Cat December 2, 2013, 7:03 pm

    Kelly, Yes, I am joking. I think problems are easier if one thinks of what could do and then does what one thinks is the right thing to do. No, do not give children anything that will annoy their parents.
    As a child, I gave the little girl next door a pet turtle in a bowl (this was in the 1950’s before we knew about Salmonella). She went on vacation and gave her father, a medical doctor, strict instructions on how to care for the turtle. As luck would have it, turtle went to turtle heaven and Dr. called my mother in a panic. His beloved offspring would never trust him again, “You killed my turtle!”
    We rushed out to get a replacement turtle, and they were sold out. We had to go to another pet store and get a much larger turtle. Child was pleased when she got home and saw how big her turtle had become. Dad did a great job looking after turtle!
    It’s been nearly sixty years and neither of us have ever told her the truth. So no, no pets. Stick to fudge/cookies.

  • Kristen A. December 2, 2013, 8:03 pm

    Assuming that Dan and Ethan are the youngest in the family apart from the new baby and not just the youngest of the siblings/step-siblings (meaning: none of the other siblings have children yet, and there aren’t any other branches of the family tree with children of a similar age involved in this get together), I think that what their mother probably meant to say was “Traditionally, children under age [whatever] get gifts from everybody, and the adults do Secret Santa and draw one name.” She just made the mistake of a) making it sound like it was about Dan and Ethan specifically, and not the age range they fall into, and b) phrasing it so that it came across as a demand instead of an explanation of the tradition. Maybe you’ll arrive for the celebration and find out that your baby is also benefiting from the tradition of children getting presents from everybody. I agree that something like cookies or fudge that can easily and inexpensively be homemade would go over well with the kids, and their mother couldn’t reasonably complain about it. If she unreasonably complains, just politely say that you’re doing all homemade gifts this year and leave it at that.

  • Mabel December 2, 2013, 9:28 pm

    Just do what you were going to do anyway. Let them suck it up. If these people can’t accept that you bothered to give them anything at all, which you in no way OWE anyone, that’s a reflection on them, not you.

  • crebj December 2, 2013, 10:07 pm

    Bring on the Polite Spine. Mother really can’t compel a gift from everyone in the family for the boys. She has no control over anyone’s behavior, and no one is entitled to a gift.

  • Hellbound Allee December 2, 2013, 10:29 pm

    Make them fudge. I have not met a teenage boy (save for the diabetic ones) who won’t appreciate food. Don’t worry about what it is–make bars, cookies, dipped apples. Make ’em food with no regrets.

    Now, if this is a secret santa thing…eesh. If they want presents, they have to participate. A teenager can afford 5 or 10 bucks, and if they don’t have it, they can shovel a driveway. Hell–give them each a hug, say you love them, and be on your way. That’s Christmas.

  • SV December 3, 2013, 8:24 am

    Baked goods – teenage boys like to eat 🙂 No explanation necessary, simply give everyone the same thing.

  • WMK December 3, 2013, 1:11 pm

    In my family, we do a Yankee Swap for the adults that want to participate and give to the kids (my two nieces and two nephews).

    Last year, hubby and I were having some financial difficulty, so I decided to knit the kids their Christmas gift. Two of the nephew and one of my nieces received handknit hats that they loved. My other niece/god-daughter received a handknit poncho since I have been knitting her a sweater per year since she was born (she’s five now) and she receives a little bit more from me for being my godchild.

    OP, My advice would be to give everyone the same homemade gift you were planning. It’s up to the recipient to receive your gift graciously. If they all don’t like it, tough.

  • Lila December 3, 2013, 1:17 pm

    Family dynamics are always interesting. My dad remarried and his wife has a daughter with two kids. Every Christmas for years we have spent Christmas evening with them watching all of them open gifts. Since my dad’s stepdaughter is intermittently unemployed or employed at a low paying job we know that my dad’s wife has paid for most of her grandchildren’s many gifts. It’s not a secret. Totally her perogative as it’s her money. I would probably do the same. My dad does not give wrapped gifts to his grandkids. He and his wife donate to both his wife’s and his grandkids’ college funds. All the kids think this is fantastic and are appreciative. I’m incredibly grateful and tell them this every year. It’s an amazing gift. My kid’s have never seemed to mind that they had nothing to open and I don’t think they realize that the stepdaughter is double dipping–her mom pays for regular gifts and the college fund gift. They wouldn’t care anyway and it doesn’t bother me that the other children receive the gifts. It’s the idea that it’s acceptable to open present after present after present in front of children who have nothing to open. They MAYBE have one from the stepdaughter. Depends on the year. Last year she gave my two and my sister’s two nothing, while we both spent $20+ bucks on each of her children. I would have been happy to forgo presents altogether if she could not afford it but instead of telling us she wouldn’t be buying gifts she just let us show up with items for her kids. Awkwardness all around–especially for her older daughter who figured out she got presents but didn’t reciprocate. This will probably happen this year too so my sister and I are together buying less expensive but nice gifts for her two kids because we don’t want to punish them because she’s an idiot. My dad insists that it be done this way so we spend and hour and a half watching other people open gifts. There are A LOT of gifts. Why they don’t open them on Christmas Eve or before we come over is beyond me. I’ve taken to bringing a couple things for my kids to open so it breaks up the monotony a bit. It’s just all so insensitive and clueless.

  • Angel December 3, 2013, 9:34 pm

    I think you should say nothing and just give whatever you can afford. There is no need to explain. You just had a baby, for heaven’s sake. You have much more important things to worry about especially this year. I can see some other posters’ points about the kids feeling a little resentful about the new baby getting spoiled with presents–but unless they are under the age of 9 or 10, they are old enough to suck it up and learn to be gracious and DEAL WITH IT. Even if they are young kids I don’t see anything wrong with giving a homemade gift. You’ve gotten some great ideas on here.

    One of the worst things about dealing with family is that if you don’t agree with how they do things or you don’t like them personally there is very little you can do to get away from that. The best thing to do is choose to not let it bother you. Congrats on your new baby 🙂

  • Daphne December 6, 2013, 1:12 pm

    If you were going to give the adults sweets like cookies or fudge, you could get the boys some regular, store bought candy. Most boys love skittles, starburst, gummi bears, anything sour. There are tons of options for Christmas packaged candy at Walgreens, Target, etc. It’s still the “food” concept but something age appropriate that the boys will enjoy.
    And, a big bag of starburst probably costs about the same as the ingredients required for cookies, fudge, etc.