We’ve agreed that this is a standard amount to spend and that it makes sense to get gifts for all of these family members, but now he wants to buy gifts for cousins and their kids. Right now that includes two cousins and three of their kids, so $110 more each year, or a total of $500 each year. Since we already buy so many gifts, and since we already spend nearly $400 on gifts (before gifts for us or our kids), and since no one else in his family is buying gifts for those cousins or their kids (and we don’t expect gifts from them), I suggested we don’t buy the gifts. But he insists that it is “standard” for people to buy gifts for their cousins and for their cousins’ children.
I’m sure some families do it that way, but my sense is that the majority of families do not do it that way and that most people buy gifts only for immediate family (parents, siblings, in-laws, nieces/nephews). He says I’m being unfair and unreasonable, but I don’t think I am. One of the cousins lives across the country and we have only seen the family four times in the past nine years, and the other cousin is closer to our family but we usually only see that cousin two to three times a year. On top of that, the fact that they are cousins and not immediate family, plus the fact that no one else in the family is getting them gifts, plus the fact that we already spend so much, makes me think it is fair to not buy them gifts.
For me, the bottom line is that I am uncomfortable spending more money especially when we already spend so much for gifts, and I would hope my husband would respect that I am uncomfortable with it, but he doesn’t. Is my husband right? Am I being unreasonable or unfair? I don’t think I am, but maybe we need an outside perspective. — Enough Gifts Already
I’m so confused — and I’m sure you are, too — why your husband wants to suddenly buy gifts for family members you haven’t bought gifts for before. He says it’s “standard” that people buy gifts for their cousins and their cousins’ kids — and that’s arguable at best — but it hasn’t been standard for you guys, so why the change now? What’s the impetus for it? If you expect to see the cousins at a family Christmas gathering, that’s one thing, and it makes sense that for this year you might have a few token gifts to exchange. Even then, spending as much on the cousins and their kids as you do on your siblings and your parents isn’t necessary. I’d give one small token gift to the grown-ups — a bottle of wine; some fancy hot chocolate mix; an ornament — and very small gifts to each kids, like coloring books and some crayons, a $5 board book, some cute gloves (kids can always use spare gloves in the winter!).
It sounds like you need to discuss the expectations and boundaries of holiday gift-giving again with your husband. Find out why it’s suddenly important to him to give gifts to people you’ve never exchanged gifts with before, and re-iterate what you think your holiday gift budget should be. Does he agree with the total amount? And when you divide the amount by the number of people you already give to, does the per-person amount seem appropriate? Is there room to cut back on individual amounts to increase the number of people you gift to? And, again, why would doing that be important to your husband? What would you each think about giving gifts only to the children in your lives (your own kids, your nieces/nephews)? Some families draw names for the adults, so that you give a gift to only one adult in the family and not all the siblings and parents/grandparents. It’s ok if this hasn’t been “standard” practice in your families – as family structures (and budgets!) change, standards can change and new traditions can develop and shift.
Finally, this is also an opportunity for you and your husband to re-visit expectations of gift-giving to each other. Is it important and meaningful to each of you to exchange gifts? Maybe it would be more meaningful to spend your budget on a shared experience together, or to save the money since you feel like you already spend so much on gifts, in general. Or maybe put the money toward a therapy appointment if it turns out the gift-giving issue is one you need additional help with in finding compromise!
I am recently remarried to a good man who tried to put Natalie’s boyfriend to work, but he just kept getting mouthy and disrespectful so it didn’t work out. Every time my husband bought her a new cell phone her boyfriend would smash it. Natalie became pregnant and I barely heard from her. When I did, we would argue because she stated that my husband would not be allowed around my grandchild ever and her decision was final. Then I received a message from my sister that Natalie had had the baby. I drove two hours and saw my grandson.
I have tried to talk to her since then about why she is cutting ties with my husband and she won’t talk about it. Then I confronted her boyfriend on it and he said that my husband should have treated him better and that next time he will remember who he is talking to. My husband confronted her boyfriend about his drug use and gave him the “party is over and someone handed you the check” talk. That was all he did. Natalie’s boyfriend once told me that he will have nothing to with his child if Natalie doesn’t stay with him. He only gets along with Natalie’s father, who is also an addict and alcoholic. And of course my ex-husband encourages bad feelings towards my new husband. Meanwhile, my entire family and friends love my new husband. He has been a very positive addition to our family.
Natalie and her boyfriend now live three hours away with no phone or any way to contact her except Facebook, but I fear her boyfriend erases my messages. My heart is broken. My daughter and I used to have such a strong bond. What do I do? — Worried Mom
When someone you love is in a relationship with someone controlling who works to alienate her and isolate her from her support system, the worst thing you can do is give that controlling person ammunition to use against you. You and your husband, although so well-intentioned, did just that when you argued with her about her husband, when you made any negative comments about him to her, and when your husband gave him the “party is over” conversation. All of that made it very easy for him to convince Natalie that you’re not on his side, and since she loves him, if you aren’t on his side, then you aren’t on her side either. He has manipulated her to believe that there are now two sides – you and your husband against her and her boyfriend. You cannot win as long as she is on his side, and you cannot get her off his side by saying or doing anything that reflects negative feelings against him. She will only leave her boyfriend’s side when and if she comes to the conclusion herself that he’s bad news and only if she has a clear path away from him.
Your job right now is to provide the clear path away from him. All that means is keeping in touch with her enough to let her know you love her. Of course, that is challenged by your limited way to be in touch with her, which is exactly what her boyfriend is hoping. I’m not sure why Facebook is the only way you can reach out to Natalie. If she has access to Facebook, doesn’t she have access to email? If you know a mailing address, can you write letters to her? Keep in mind that any letter she receives will likely be read by her boyfriend, so don’t say anything bad about him! Keep the letters short – tell her you love her and were thinking about her and hope she’s doing well. Let her know you’d welcome hearing from her but don’t put any pressure on her. Even if you don’t hear back from her, keep sending mail to her regularly – even postcards will suffice. Always keep the messages short and just continually reiterate that you love her. The notes will serve to create a pathway for her. And as the path away from her boyfriend builds – through the love you will express to Natalie — the ultimate hope is that she will take the path all the way back to you. Barring that ultimate outcome, you can hope that, at the very least, a two-way line of communication will begin to open and that Natalie will let you back into her life, giving room for a relationship between you to grow again. If you are so lucky for that to happen, please resist the temptation to pull her toward you and away from her boyfriend. I promise he will be on the other side, ready to yank her back, and she, weakened from however many years of being manipulated by him, will lack the strength to fight him.
This is a battle that will be very hard, if not impossible, for you to win. But if you can extend your hand into the battle and give it a wave every once in a while, your daughter will see it there should she ever decide to grab hold.