Grandparents’ unequal approach to gifts unappreciated

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 16, 2013

Carolyn: I have a bizarre dilemma that needs a light touch in handling. My wife, my children and I are very close to my grandparents, who live within an easy drive. We see them often and never miss birthdays, holidays, etc. My grandparents are generous with gifts but, in recent years, gifts have been replaced by checks (usually about $100) because it’s harder for them to get around to stores. No problems there, of course.

The issue is that the amount given to me is usually double the amount given to my wife, who spends as much time with my grandparents as I do, if not more. I seriously doubt this is an intentional slight.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My guess is that they don’t think of the implications for my wife, who is in a small way somewhat hurt by the move. It’s just a sense-of-worth thing that unfortunately is manifested in a monetary gift. Is there an easy way to handle this without hurting someone’s feelings or coming off as ungrateful? — T.

“Light touch”? How ’bout no touch. Wow.


Sure, a stroke of the pen could indeed bring equality to Giftland, but that route is hardly “easy.”

For one, there’s nothing simple about hurting your grandparents with the suggestion that their gifts haven’t been warmly received, and/or insulting them with the implication that they haven’t been generous enough.

It’s also an illusion that Giftland is in any need of equality. Your grandparents have known you, presumably, since your infancy. Even if you don’t agree that this alone justifies a larger gift, surely you — or your wife — can appreciate that others would?

The genuinely easy solution is for your wife to realize she can’t expect her love or validation to come in the form she prefers. Or at all, though she’s apparently close to your grandparents.

I realize this is advice for her more than it is for you, but I hope you’ll encourage her to see that having her children enjoy their great-grandparents is its own validation. It would take shortsightedness of epic proportions to sell this for a hundred bucks.

* * *

Dear Carolyn: So we’re moving out of state and have to leave our house a week before school ends, but Mom had said we could stay with her for that week. Now, she says she can’t handle it. (To be fair we’re two adults, two kids, two dogs and a cat.) So we’re scrambling to place the animals and pay for a hotel.

On the one hand, this is classic Mom, yanking help at the last minute to leave us hanging. On the other hand — even our nanny has offered us her place, and neighbors have offered their basements. So I can’t decide if I’m mad at my mom, or just grateful to have another Mom story to trot out at parties. And she hasn’t called since then — so should I call and let her off the hook? — Mom flaked

One key word: “Classic.”

One new mantra: I can’t lean on Mom. I can’t lean on Mom. I can’t lean on Mom.

She apparently wants to be the person you lean on, and therefore makes the offer — but offering is easy. Following through requires resources that she apparently doesn’t have.

A mother’s failings always feel personal to a child, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. For every argument you can make that not wanting you and your kids in her house is as personal as it gets, I can counter with an argument that when anyone talks a generous game but doesn’t come through, it’s always about her — specifically, her need to appear the hero and her shortage of character when it comes to the messy work of actually being one.

I wouldn’t say this, of course, if she “yanked help” just this once (and didn’t go silent on you).

But since she has, some of the responsibility falls on you here, for taking part in the series of choices that, predictably, becomes another Mom story.

That’s one of a few reasons you ought to call her. By the time this sees publication, your limbo will be over, right? So use that to view the whole thing as past, done, forgiven.

Then, work on the future: Say to Mom that while you appreciate her impulse to help out, you and she both need to get better at recognizing what will push her in over her head.

And when she keeps making offers to help anyway, recognize the pattern you’re both in, and break it. “No, Mom, but thank you for offering.” As in: Stop setting her up, or letting her set herself up, for these ritual failures.

There’s also no need for you to “decide” on one feeling. If we don’t allow ourselves multiple, confusing, even conflicting feelings about our mothers, then how else do we learn to deal with people when the going gets gray?

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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