Care and Feeding

My Nephew Threw a Fit Over a Gift I Gave His Brother

Odin got a Lego set and was extremely excited by it, until he saw that I gave Mark a laptop.

A young boy sitting next to a Lego set and looking down.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus and Amazon.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am childfree by choice, but the aunt to seven niblings whom I adore. Seriously, being the aunt is the greatest! I like to spoil them a little on Christmases and their birthdays, and go out of my way to make sure the presents I get are things that they would like and enjoy.

This weekend, I went to visit my family for my eldest niece’s 9th birthday. I have two younger sisters, “Cat” and “Karina,” who live in the same town out-of-state from me. Cat has three children: Mark (11), Louisa (9), and Odin (6), and Karina has two daughters: Sarah (2) and Jean (1 month). As is my habit, on the kids’ birthdays, the birthday child gets the “big” present, but the others get a little something. Louisa got a doll that she wanted and few smaller things because it was her birthday; Sarah got some books from a series she loves; and Jean didn’t get anything because she’s a baby and doesn’t care.

The tricky bit is with Mark and Odin. Odin got a Lego set and was extremely excited by it, until he saw that Mark got our 7-year-old laptop. He didn’t think it was fair that Mark got a laptop that he can play games on “when it wasn’t even his birthday,” and spent the whole evening upset that he didn’t get a laptop, too. I honestly didn’t consider our old laptop to be a big present; it’s not going to run the latest video games and its battery is busted and has to be plugged in for use longer than two minutes. Plus, quite frankly, 6 seems a little young for a computer (and his parents agree). I only got it for Mark because I just upgraded mine, and I knew Mark would be excited to have his own laptop; he’d being saving money for the last year and has not gotten very far along. Cat said not to worry about it—Odin is allowed to “feel his feelings” and that disappointment is a hard, complicated one.

Our mother, however, was also upset that he spent the evening sulking. Odin didn’t even want to join his siblings in a game of “run around the house screaming like a dinosaur,” the game he “invented”! I love giving gifts, and I really love how excited the others were about their presents, but I must admit I feel like I let down Odin somehow. This has never come up before. How do I give appropriate gifts for everyone while forestalling disappointment in the future? Did I do something wrong?

—Doting Auntie

Dear D.A.,

You did nothing wrong. A laptop in nearly all circumstances, however, will feel like a big gift—it’s a major device! But it’s OK for Odin and your other niblings to experience watching someone else get a big gift when it’s not their turn. It wasn’t as if Mark was singled out with the purchase of some super fancy computer; he is old enough and his brother is not. I might have worried that the birthday kid may feel a bit shortchanged by someone else getting a laptop, but the entire story you laid out just sounds like a very normal example of a kid being jealous in a situation that is both completely fair and jealousy-inspiring for a kid who’s inclined to measure present sizes. I’m sure he let it go not long after the actual event had come to a conclusion. Be mindful that it isn’t terribly hard for children to be salty about gifts, encourage them to be grateful (“Not all kids get presents on their siblings or cousins’ birthdays, just saying!”), and continue to be the thoughtful, giving auntie they love.

Odin is likely already long over this, and you shouldn’t worry about it any longer; however, you can give him a little extra attention next time and remind him how much you adore him, and that you’ve got more than enough love to go around.

—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I’m six months pregnant with my first child and I need some help dealing with incredibly overbearing parents. I love my mom and dad to the bitter end, but ever since I’ve gotten pregnant, I simply can’t handle how many unsolicited opinions they insist upon sharing and how they blatantly disregard my requests, always justifying their behavior with “it’s because we’re so excited about the baby.”