Care and Feeding

My Family Is Sucking the Joy Out of Gift Giving

They do not conform to my version of politeness.

A child holds a present with a bow in their lap.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by flyparade/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a question about gifts. I have three delightful adult children. Two of them let people know when gifts are received with a thank you call, email, or text.

The other does not and never has. She and I agreed a couple of years ago to stop exchanging gifts. Such a relief! The mental energy saved, not wondering if the package arrived! Ending the dashed hopes that she would conform to my version of politeness! But I digress… this delightful daughter has two delightful children, ages 13 and 4, who have not been taught to acknowledge gifts. I enjoy getting gifts for them on birthdays, Christmas, and smaller occasions when the mood strikes. I’ve let their mom and the older grandchild know that it really means a lot to me to get a thank you in any form. Crickets. I’m not even getting any feedback on whether the gift was a hit or a miss unless I specifically ask. Which I do, but it’s hard to do it without some attitude on my part. Is there a way out? I don’t want to stop giving gifts to my grandkids, but the silence is sucking the joy out of gift giving.

—Grumpy Grandma

Dear Grumpy Grandma,

I know it must be extremely annoying and hurtful to not receive any acknowledgement for gifts you’ve sent. I would suggest two options, and you can roll with the one that’s best for you.

The first option is to stop sending gifts to them at all. That may seem like the pettiest way to go about this, but if recognition is important to you, then that’s an effective way to remind your daughter that people in polite society usually thank people for gifts. You can simply send your grandkids cards instead of presents on birthdays and holidays, and if your daughter has a problem with it, you can say, “I never hear back from you about the presents I purchased for you and the kids, so I stopped sending them. It’s expensive to give gifts without knowing if you and the kids actually like them.” If anything, that should serve as a wakeup call to be more vocal with their appreciation and acknowledgment.

The second option is born from something that happened to me as a kid. Back in the day before automatic doors, I saw a woman holding a bunch of bags as she was about to exit the supermarket. Being the nice kid that I was, I held the door open for her, and she walked right through it without even looking at me or acknowledging my presence. I was heated. My mom witnessed the whole thing and said, “You don’t do nice things for others to get a ‘thank you,’ you do it because it’s the right thing to do.” That life lesson stuck with me forever. If that lesson resonates with you, then you should continue to give gifts and know that you’re doing it because you feel that it’s the right thing to do as well.

With those two options, you’ll need to decide if you’re giving gifts for your daughter and grandchildren to get a thank you or because you feel it’s the right thing to do. I’m not going to judge you either way, but the decision you make will provide clarity on how you should proceed going forward.


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