Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My mother AND mother-in-law are both awful at gift-giving, for me, my children, my husband. Wrong size (after asking and being told the correct sizes), awful choices on color, style – most of their gifts are promptly donated to charity, after profuse appreciation and thanks, of course. My mother-in-law has given my college kid a gift certificate for a restaurant that her college town, where she lives year-round, does not have!
How can we delicately tell them our preferences so as not to have them waste their money, or get them to stop giving items; cash, especially for the young adult children, is best! I’d rather NOT receive a gift than go through the fake, “Oh, it’s great!” dance every Christmas, birthday, etc. HELP!!
I’d love to say there’s some perfect wording you can use to correct this and spare everyone the wasteful dance, but your question says it’s not going to happen. They ASK you sizes and still buy the wrong ones. How can you possibly fix that?
It does sound as if your kids aren’t little anymore, which might make it easier for you to put the idea to the whole family of just suspending the gift exchanges now that kids are on their own. Some people, though, especially those who express affection through gifts, will either get offended or just ignore you and get gifts anyway.
I think it makes the most sense simply to expect this will never be fixed, and do your best with what you receive. For example, maybe you can take the restaurant card and treat your mother-in-law with it, and give your kid the cash. Be resigned, be resourceful, be grateful for even misguided generosity, and good luck.
Re: Gifts: Whatever happened to the saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”? If someone gives you a gift, just say thank you. Now people complain about the gifts they get and feel entitled to demand they only get exactly the gifts that they want. Listen, no one is compelled to even give you anything. It’s nice of them to give you something and even if you don’t like it, just be gracious.
This is a response I get every time the gift issue comes up, and I agree with it as far as it goes. But it’s only half of a story that isn’t as greedy and entitled as you make it out to be.
Seeing someone waste their money is the other half. Often it’s money people can’t easily spare, blown on things you only give away, by people who may turn to you when they go broke. The letter is about a mother and mother-in-law; the letter-writer could be profoundly affected if they mishandle their money.
Stomaching that with gratitude is hard – harder, I’d argue, than having to summon thank-yous for clothes that won’t fit.
Re: Gifts: It can be really fun to repurpose those weird gifts. My husband and I received a large gift card to a grocery chain whose closest store was three hours from where we lived. Guess who had a road trip to buy cases and cases of wine?
That covers the “resourceful” – well-played.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.