Care and Feeding

Who’s the Grinch?

Every time I bring up getting gifts for my sister’s kids, she changes the subject and talks about how our relationship makes her sad.

A smiling woman carrying a bunch of gifts.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by artiemedvedev/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My sister and I are in our mid-30s and we don’t get along.
When holidays and birthdays roll around, I text her to ask for her kids’ wish lists so I can buy them presents. She usually replies by phone, with some version of “The only thing my kids want is their mother to be happy, and our relationship makes me very sad.” And I’m like, “OK, but my gifts to your kids have nothing to do with our relationship.” This is not a situation where I’m buying gifts that she does not approve of, and perhaps it’s worth noting that my sister makes very little money, so her kids could actually use the lessons, toys, shoes, etc., that I’d send their way.

She recently told me that “The worst thing that happened in my life was the way you spoke to me as a child.” Again, we are very close in age, so this wasn’t an instance where one much older sibling was beating up on a much younger one. I’m not quite sure why we don’t get along, but it’s probably a personality clash—think an artist and an accountant—but I completely resent how she’s making me responsible for her mental health and, more specifically, denying her kids material things because she can’t get over herself. Do I not send gifts? Go through a neutral intermediary? What to do?

—Sick of the Drama

Dear SotD,

You cannot take responsibility for the state of your sister’s mental health, nor her happiness. However, it’s not surprising that she’s more bothered by the issues stewing between the two of you than she is excited about her better-resourced sibling dropping money on her kids.
Financial challenges can be emotionally devastating, especially for those of us who are caring for children. You can find yourself feeling inadequate as hell, and if you’ve got existing issues with depression or other mental health woes, that’s a lot to bear. Getting a little help from a wealthier sibling may sound like a great blessing, until you factor in having to cope with the lack of friendship and closeness between the two of you.

You say that you aren’t sure why the two of you don’t get along aside from having very different personalities but that she also feels you mistreated her as a child. You both may be right. In the meantime, please do your sister, yourself, and her kids a favor and take the time to address the issues between the two of you head on. There is likely to be a time in which you will have to interact with one another, such as an illness or death in the family, and you don’t want to have to deal with these struggles in the midst of great sorrow or stress.

Furthermore, keep in mind that gifts from a lady with money who makes Mommy cry just don’t have the same luster as those from a beloved aunt who is a true member of your family. Simply providing material goods to your sister’s kids will not make you the latter, and it’s worth making these presents count as something more than charity. While your presents may be well-intentioned, perhaps even needed, it sounds like what your sister needs more than new skates for her kids is peace with her own sibling. Reconsider your approach to her, please.

—Jamilah