We Always Give Generous Gifts. Why Are My In-Laws So Cheap?

My husband’s brother and his wife have three children. For nearly 14 years, we’ve given their kids generous gifts for birthdays and at Christmas. It was our pleasure to do so — until six years ago, when we had a son, and my sister-in-law started buying him junk gifts that cost a fraction of what we spend on their children. Their most recent gift to our son (a flimsy superhero coloring book for his sixth birthday) was so lousy that he started crying when he unwrapped it. The imbalance makes me angry, on his behalf and on mine. What can I do?

MOM

Oh, boy! You and I see this problem very differently. I get that as a parent, you feel protective of your son. (I wouldn’t change that for the world.) But you are wrong to think of gift giving as a price-matching exercise. It’s not! Gifts are merely tokens of affection.

The most disturbing part of your letter, to me, is that your son burst into tears at receiving a “lousy” gift. I think you and your husband have some work to do in teaching him about gratitude. He may be a child, but 6 is not too young to begin to understand that all gifts are cause for thanks — even if we dislike them. If I were you, I’d get on this issue ASAP.

Now, as for the price differential between the families’ gifts, I see two options: Continue giving, as before, but spend less if it makes you feel better. Or tell your in-laws, without a hint of criticism, that you’d like to stop exchanging gifts. There’s no need to give a reason, and busy parents will likely be happy to oblige.

We invited my husband’s friend, who is in his 60s, to stay with us for a few days. At nearly every meal, he brought his smartphone or iPad to the table. He would check facts that came up in conversation on one of his devices in real time — annoying! — and he would monitor and respond to texts and email messages during meals. I don’t feel that I should have to tell an adult to power off his technology at the dinner table! Our kids and grandkids know we don’t permit devices during meals. I’ve overheard them calling us “mean” for this, but I don’t see it that way. Your sage advice?

STEPHANIE

As a boy, I was often amazed that my mother let guests slide on issues that would have been big no-no’s for my brothers and me (chewing with mouths open, for instance, or slouching at the table). Her philosophy of hosting, though, was to make guests feel comfortable — not to correct their table manners. You could think of your friend’s devices in this vein.

On the other hand, it’s your home. If you and your husband believe his friend’s devices are impeding conversation, have a private word with him before your next meal. “We discourage technology at the table. It distracts us from each other. OK?” (As for your children and grandchildren, stick to your rule. Without devices pulling their attention, you may all get to know each other better.)

I recently discovered that my boyfriend of five years cheated on me, breaking our agreement to be monogamous. He swears it was a one-time thing. I don’t want to be naïve, but based on his track record of honesty, I tend to believe him. We’ve discussed the issue at length, and I feel prepared to forgive him and move on. Do you think I’m nuts?

BOYFRIEND

The only two people who really know what’s going on in your relationship — much less your bedroom — are you and your boyfriend. So, I’m prepared to trust your instincts more than anyone else’s. I have only one question: Do you really believe your boyfriend, or do you really want to believe him? As long as you are comfortable forgiving him and moving on, no one else’s opinion matters.

Several months ago, a colleague who has referred a great deal of work to me — he is an attorney, and I am a professional fiduciary — told me his daughter was getting married and asked me to save a specific date. That date is now less than three weeks away, and I have not received an invitation. I continue to work with him. Should I bring up the wedding? (Personally, I would be relieved not to attend. I’ve never met anyone in his family.)

S.

I think it’s safe to keep quiet in this instance. We don’t know exactly what happened here, but the fact is: You haven’t received an invitation. And it’s not incumbent on you to ask for one, even if he mentioned saving the date in conversation.

If your colleague raises the subject later, explain that no invitation came. And if you worry that this may jeopardize future referrals, a wedding gift (later) may calm the waters.


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.