“Should I Give My Friend’s Parents a Gift?”

I have a friend whose parents fly out to visit him about twice a year. I’ve met them twice, and both times they have been wonderful. They’re your typical Midwestern parents and I feel like part of the family when I’m with them. They’ve invited me (and others in our friend group) to dinners, brunches, jazz concerts, and general nights on the town. I am well aware that they have spent quite a large sum of money on me at this point. And, of course, they refuse to take any money from me, the broke college student, to help pay for any of this. I know this isn’t an issue for them — they are financially secure and love spending time with their son and his friends.

Here is my question: would it be appropriate for me to send them each a small gift for Christmas? My friend and I do not exchange gifts (it just isn’t our style and we don’t have a ton of money), so I’m wondering if that would make things weird. But I feel as though I get to show my friend that I appreciate his awesomeness on a regular basis, whereas I don’t have that opportunity with his parents, so is a small token of appreciation for them acceptable, even though I won’t be exchanging gifts with their son? — Gift Horse

This nice thing about this situation is you basically can’t go wrong. A gift, as long as it isn’t expensive or too sentimental, which I can’t imagine it would be, is most likely going to be appreciated. That said, the person you should probably be asking this question to is your friend. If he’s weirded out by the idea of you sending his parents a small token of thanks for the nice things they’ve included you in — which would be weird in itself, but I digress — send a card instead (with a thoughtful, hand-written message inside). If your friend’s cool with it, then a small box of chocolates, some Christmas cookies, and pretty ornament, or some holiday-scented candles should get the job done. Just be aware that if you do decide to send a gift, you’ll probably forever be that young lady your friend’s parents wish he’d settled down with already (and don’t think they won’t be asking about you all the time. Five years from now, they’ll be all, “What happened to that nice girl who sent us those cinnamon candles one year? Is she still single?”).

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.


  1. Addie Pray says:

    Even before I read Wendy’s response I thought: run it by your friend and then send a nice card! [A little game I like to play with myself is “see if I can guess Wendy’s response”; I feel so proud when I come close, like I’m making progress in learning how to handle relationships…. but I digress.]

    LW, you are secretly in love with this friend of yours, aren’t you? Maybe a little bit? Deep down, you want to have his babies one day, maybe? The “his parents adore me” zone can be a death trap. So proceed with caution!

    1. I already told you on another thread, but a bit late, I love how chirpy you have been since you made your decision. 🙂

      1. Addie Pray says:

        Thanks, JK!

      2. So my soul-crushing job has left me a bit behind on DW…I take it you decided to quit your job?

      3. Addie Pray says:

        But p.s., I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am scared shitless at the same time.

      4. I think all the best things we do in life makes us scared before they happen.

      5. Yes! My philosophy is that if you aren’t scared shitless in life sometimes, you’re doing it wrong 🙂

      6. Change is scary – but I’ve found that the bigger the risks I’ve taken the BIGGER the rewards. I left a big firm too – only I left to start my own firm – Best. Decision. Ever. Don’t let someone else’s files take years off of your life. You seem to have a great spirit – do something that doesn’t kill it.

    2. yeah I suspect this is a girl crushing hard on the guy. i can’t imagine a bro would be wringing his hands and fretting about sending his co-bro’s parents a gift. and i think that an inter-gender friendship between straight people that is mutually platonic isn’t really a thing. i guess it doesn’t really matter, aint nothin wrong with crushing hard.

      but anyway i would say food is good or maybe candles, something cheap and temporary but still conveys the thought.

      1. LW could be crushing on the guy but it’s also a very strong possibility that this is just how her family/those close to her handled things when she was growing up: someone does something nice for you, you get them a small gift in return. She may have just discovered as she got older, went to college, etc., that what may be normal to her and those around her may not seem so normal to others. Not saying that what I think she wants to do is wrong (I actually think it’s very nice and thoughtful) but I think it’s worth taking into consideration she could have mentioned this to someone and they said something along the lines of ‘are you sure that’s such a good idea? I’ve never heard of someone doing that for this situation before.’

    3. “LW, you are secretly in love with this friend of yours, aren’t you? Maybe a little bit? Deep down, you want to have his babies one day, maybe? The “his parents adore me” zone can be a death trap. So proceed with caution!”

      I didn’t read your comment before I made mine below, but this is what I think the message might be if she sends them a gift. Whether or not that is true, she doesn’t want to seem like she’s “trying too hard”.

      1. Addie Pray says:

        I agree. I think a card would be perfect. And nothing else is necessary. This is nice all around, like KD said below.

    4. Gift Horse says:

      LW here… My friend is actually gay, so I don’t think anyone’s going to expect us to settle down and have babies. And I’m pretty sure we’re not secretly in love with each other. At the very least, I know I’m not HIS type, and I tend to go for guys who are actually interested in people of my gender.

      1. That last sentence sets you apart from at least one previous LW so congrats! 🙂

  2. I agree with the card. Getting used to writing thank you notes is a classy habit to be in. Every time they invite you somewhere, it would be nice to write a note afterwards. Selfishly, people are very generous to people that are grateful. Run it by your friend when you ask for the address.

    Also, if you send a small gift, you make sure that they know it is a thank you as well so they don’t feel obligated to send a gift back. You are young so you might not know the “Hostess gift” tradition, but a small token gift is a nice response to an invitation. It is a candle, flowers, stationary, wine or a dessert. This is a great sentiment.

    1. You are so right about cards being a classy habit to be in. People don’t do it as much anymore, but it’s ALWAYS appreciated. Speaking of, I’m going to right my Aunt a thank you card right now for letting me stay with her over the weekend.

    2. True that. You can never go wrong with a Yankee Candle! (unless someone has allerigies or something…??)

  3. I think a card with a nice, personal message in it expressing your gratitude to them would be very thoughtful and well received.
    If you’re short on cash, you can always give them something personal that takes time…like making cookies and sending it to them, to show your appreciation.
    And I agree with Wendy that it would be nice to mention it to your friend so he’s aware that you’re sending his parents a token of thanks.
    Happy Holidays!!

  4. Most definitely send them a card.

    Or, if you bake, you can always make some cookies or squares and take them over… or even (if you have time and can afford to) have them over to your house, or your friend’s house, for a homemade meal.

    People appreciate thank-you notes and always appreciate homemade food. 🙂

    1. TheOtherMe says:

      Agreed. I think the actual gift is not really the issue here but mostly showing them gratitude for all that they have done for you. Gratitude goes a long way !

  5. Aw, this is nice all around. You could send them some baked goods, a nice but cheap option for broke college students!

    1. It’s true – this is a nice problem to read about.

  6. I’m a Midwestern parent, and even though my kids aren’t nearly old enough to be in college yet, it’s the norm to pay for their friends when we all go somewhere. Likewise, when another parent takes one of my kids, they do the same. I’m not sure if that’s just limited to Midwestern parents, but that’s the only frame of reference I have.

    Anyway, don’t send a gift…I wouldn’t even send baked goods, because it sends a bit of a message. Also, they might feel obligated to then send you a gift or baked goods in return. Your goal is to express your gratitude, and they know you are a poor college student, so send a note or a card and thank them for including you in their plans. However, it would have been more appropriate if you did that after they visited. It’s not really a “holiday thing”, but I think they’d appreciate hearing it, if you didn’t previously send a card/note to thank them. But truly, nothing more is necessary than just that.

    1. Same here. It is the norm amongst my family and friends to pay for the young ones or less fortunate and I’m from the Midwest as well.

    2. GatorGirl says:

      In my experian, in Pennsylvania, the parent always paid for the friends of their child when they invited them some where. It’s sort of rude to invite someone say bowling and then ask then to pay for their shoe rental.

      The only exception I’ve ever seen is when I was younger, I was invited on a yearly vacation to FL with a friend, with the expectation that my family would pay for my airfare and I would bring some spending money (for trinkets and such) and the friends family would pay for everything else. But this discussion was held way ahead of the event.

      1. GatorGirl says:

        * experiance (it’s too early)

      2. experience 🙂 (sorry)

      3. GatorGirl says:

        haha, thanks. I also can not spell to save my life.

      4. Haha, I wouldn’t normally be anal enough to correct a spelling error, but thought it was too obvious not to correct your correction.

    3. Jess of CityGirlsWorld.com says:

      I think this is a really good point about the timing AND the card.

      A card sent each time they’ve taken her out –might be the more appropriate and precise form of gratitude here.

      The more I think on it, the more I can see that sending a Christmas gift might be more than needed. Although as Wendy said, I still say it can’t hurt.

      1. Yes, you are right. But I don’t think it is innappropriate to send a letter saying, “During the holidays, I realized just how wonderful you have been to invite me so many times throughout the year.”

        She can’t go back in time so the note and a tin of cookies is a very nice gesture.

    4. SpaceySteph says:

      I have very non-Midwestern parents who always always paid for my friends when they took us out in college. To a lesser extent they still do now when they come to visit me as a “grown-up” with a job.
      I also agree with not sending a gift. I think it would weird my parents out if someone sent them an actual gift. But thank you notes are always appreciated!

    5. I live in Texas and I would get invited out a lot with friends’ families and they would pay for me. Likewise, if my mom brought any of my friends with us anywhere, she would pay for us.


      I don’t know anymore.

  7. Other good gift ideas (from other LWs) might include a list of 101 reasons why you love them (totally platonic, of course), or a holiday threesome. 😀

    Joking aside, I completely agree with Wendy´s advice.

    1. TaraMonster says:

      You know you read too much DW when… Lol.

      I got a nice chuckle out of this!

      1. Definitely too much DW!!! I usually read the latest comments when the baby is breastfeeding, since she´s fussy from teething that´s pretty much every hour or so!!!

      2. TaraMonster says:

        I have no fussy infant! I’m just addicted! But of all the things to be addicted to, I think DW is probably the healthiest. 🙂

  8. A “thank you” note all the way!

  9. If this guy is just a platonic friend of yours, a Holiday gift or card seems completely over-the-top. The correct and appropriate thing is for you to make sure you thank the parents eye-to-eye when they do come into town and provide for you as one of his friends. Shortly after they have left town, write a thank-you note that you and all of the friends who were invited can sign; send that thank-you card.

    If this guy is something possibly more than a platonic friend, or you really want him to be more than just a platonic friend, then just take the leap and ask him out.

    1. TaraMonster says:

      I’m sure I’m just being cynical but I’m also wondering if there’s another motive for sending his parents a gift. If she’s romantically interested in him then I think giving a gift is inappropriate. And if this guy has a girlfriend already then it’s doubly inappropriate.

      This is complete conjecture and I’m fully aware my own experience is making me raise my eyebrows- I could be totally wrong. My boyfriend’s ex did things like this for years after they broke up- mother’s day cards, Christmas cards, flowers, etc. They only dated for like 3 or 4 months and she met my MIL one time. It didn’t stop until she met the guy she’s married to now. My MIL thought it was really weird too. I knew his ex and she was not a fan of yours truly. I’m not even going to pretend it didn’t piss me off at first- which was probably her intent.

      Anyway, LW- don’t be that girl. Be honest with yourself about why you want to send them something. And if it’s really just to thank them, then just send a card.

      1. Addie Pray says:

        Oh, that’s a qood quesiton that I don’t think anyone has asked – does the friend have a girlfriend and would it make her/them feel awkward? If yes, then definitely keep it simple. A simple card that says “Happy holidays! And a much overdo ‘thanks’ for including me in your plans when you come to town – it’s always such a treat!” would do.

      2. Gift Horse says:

        Assumptions, assumptions! Clearly I should have said “My GAY friend WHO IS COMPLETELY GAY AND NOT INTERESTED IN WOMEN. AT ALL.”

      3. lets_be_honest says:

        Haha! A true DW follower would’ve known the commenters assume A LOT 😉
        Totally send a small gift or card.

      4. Agreed, and we all assume it has to do with sex, in one way or another!!!

        Just kidding…maybe…

      5. Addie Pray says:

        But it would be no fun without assumptions! I think your plan to send a card or something is very sweet and nice of you. The parents will appreciate it a ton!

      6. TaraMonster says:

        I did say I was being cynical! 🙂

  10. You can NEVER go wrong with a Thank You card. Never. So send them a nice card telling them that you appreciate all they do for you (and your other friends), and how you enjoy the time you spend with them and hope they have a great holiday season. You’ll come off as classy and with good manners.

    Also, as I’ve gotten older, I tend to notice who sends thank you’s and who doesn’t. I try to ALWAYS send them now.

  11. GatorGirl says:

    I think it would be appropriet to send a Holiday card to show your appreciation. Make sure you include a personal note that mentions a specific event or good memory you had with them. It really would be better to do this after every time they take you somewhere, but they can’t get mad at you showing you appreciation! I would skip the gift or baked goods, they may feel they should send something in return.

    As a few other commenters mentioned, the Host/Hostess Gift is a great tradition that is being forgotten. I had no idea it exsisted untill I moved to the South. I am going to make a point to teach my children to bring a small token (cookies, candle, wine when they are older) when they are invited into someone’s home.

  12. I second the holiday parental threesome suggestion – only then can you ask their son out.

  13. Wow, srsly? A person wants to buy a Christmas gift for folks she sees as practically-family and everyone reads this as YOU MUST WANT TO BONE THEIR SON!! ???

    I must be living under the biggest rock in the world. LW, I can’t see why a small, sincere token of your appreciation of them would be misconstrued, or why the son/friend would have an issue with this. But then again, I do appear to be the crazy person (judging by the comments).

    1. I think people are just pointing out that, in the spirit of the giving season, she should probably – in addition to getting his parents a gift or a card – wrap her wreath around his Yule log or hang a mistletoe above his candy cane. And that is a gift that keeps giving the entire year. Those who understand the true meaning of Christmas know that there is nothing more special than seeing two turtle doves caroling Joy To The World as he plants a gift in her pear tree.

    2. Yeah, that is kind of strange to me, too. Sometimes a card is just a card. I have a (married, male) friend whose sister and husband let me stay with them whenever I am in town, whether my friend is around or not. They are generous people and this is how their family operates. Thank you cards and hostess gifts are nice traditions that shouldn’t die out. I can’t imagine anyone being offended or confused by a thank you.

    3. Thank You!! I was thinking the same thing. Why does everyone need to assume that she likes him? I had TONS of platonic guy friends in college!

      1. moonflowers says:

        Seconded! Lots of platonic guy friends whom I’m sure only think of me as a bro and are also straight. It’s definitely not impossible.

    4. lets_be_honest says:

      I hear where you’re coming from, but if its really no big deal, why is she writing a whole letter to a relationship advice site about something so minor as sending a thank you/holiday gift? And if they were such great only-friends, why wouldn’t she just have said ‘hey, sending ur ‘rents a gift since they were so nice. what’s the plans for this weekend?’
      She’s kind of take the Its Just a Gift thing out of the equation by being (for lack of a better word) dramatic about the whole thing.

      1. OR, maybe she thinks he may jump to the same conclusions many people on this site did, and want to see if she was being cray-cray…just a thought 🙂

      2. lets_be_honest says:

        Why wouldn’t she just ask her close friend though? That’s what seems weird to me. If I was so close with a friend that I would consider sending their parents a gift, I would assume I’d be comfortable enough to just ask the friend.
        (PS I’m all for gift-giving and thanking people for their kindness, nothing weird about that)

      3. I think it depends on the friendship. I communicate with my friend’s sister all the time, and I don’t tell him about it. I plan to send her a small gift for Xmas this year, something i came across that I think she’d like, and I don’t plan to tell him. I just don’t think it’s that big a deal.

      4. Probably just because she trusts Wendy’s opinion on etiquette. It doesn’t sound like she’s being dramatic, just that she doesn’t know if it’s what people do or not.

  14. silver_dragon_girl says:

    This is such a nice change from baby daddy/ex-boyfriend/terrible roommate drama letters!

    Anyway, I second the “just send a card” sentiment. Send a holiday card and include a short, handwritten note thanking them for all their generosity over the past year. Then, the next time they visit and take you guys out, just send a thank-you note immediately afterwards. I don’t think a small token gift would be *horribly* inappropriate, but it’s completely unnecessary.

    1. Most gifts are unnecessary, that’s what makes them so special.

    2. But the other type of letters are so much more entertaining!! 🙂

      1. silver_dragon_girl says:

        Haha, true. But occasionally I need my faith in humanity restored 😉

  15. i think a letter is also the best way to go. and if you want to get them something small, perhaps if they invite you to their home for any of these events you could bring a small hostess gift? doesn’t have to be anything big and would definitely be appropriate.

  16. I am also a Midwestern girl and my parents have always been generous with my friends (especially feeding them dinner, both my sister and I had friends in high school who always seemed to show up around dinner time). There is nothing my mother would love more than a hand written thank you note – she’d prefer that to a generic gift of say a candle or an ornament (my parents don’t put up a Christmas tree and they are both particular on scents). However if there is something small and not too expensive that you know they would love (perhaps a bottle of their favorite type of wine or something else that you have heard them mention) that would be a lovely token either during Christmas or the next time you see them. If they are heavily involved in a charity then a contribution in their name would be much appreciated (my mom runs a nonprofit and gets super excited anytime one of my friends purchases one of her cookbooks).

    1. The charity is a great idea. Since the LW still lives in a dorm, I don’t think she is old enough to give wine.

    2. opppositeofzen says:

      I agree. The charity idea is brilliant!

    3. I actually disagree with giving in someone else’s name and calling it a gift. It isn’t a gift. A remembrance or honorarium, yes (as in the case of a recently deceased) but not a gift. Also, some charities are emotionally charged–even if you think it’s “safe”. I’d stick with a card. Also, next time I was out with friend and family, I’d bring a small “token” gift, like a flip book of photos from the day or a box of truffles or something similar.

      1. If was a gift for me then why did you give it to someone else amiright!

      2. It sounds like you’re assuming some pretty nasty, selfish motives. If so, that’s hardly fair. For my part, if I were the parents, a thank-you card would mean a great deal. However, I prefer to donate to my own preferred charities, and that adds nothing to the card. If LW wants to donate to a charity, she should do so, but it’s a separate thing entirely.

      3. Not exactly. I can’t put it into words very well. It just seems like, if your purpose is to thank someone you should do that. If you want to give to charity, do that on your own. Just like when people say at their wedding that instead of almonds or whatever, they’re giving to charity. I don’t ask the couple to give me anything for their wedding, and announcing a charitable donations seems a little…I don’t know…maybe a bit self-righteous? I’m afraid this sounds a little more harsh than I intend. Thank-yous and donations just aren’t the same thing.

    4. I love it when someone gives in my name. My friends and I generally do this now for each other for Christmas since we don’t really need anything ourselves… whereas so many others do. It’s a pay it forward kind of gift.

  17. ele4phant says:

    Things are nice, but taking the time to write out a thank you note expressing your gratitude is never a bad move.

  18. AndreaMarie says:

    Some of these comments seem a little off to me. I think people are looking way too far into the relationship between LW and the son and over dramatazing the significance of the thank you gift. I say send a Holiday card with a little note thanking them for all the wonderful times you’ve shared. I send out tons of Holiday cards. Many to people I don’t see that much of throughought the year. It’s a nice “I’m thinking of you during this speacial time” kind of thing. I couldn’t imagine for the life of me how either the friend or the parents would be taken aback by receiving a thoughtful holiday card during the holidays.

  19. 6napkinburger says:

    Having had the benefit of knowing that the friend is gay, here is my advice.

    I think the holidays are a perfect time to say thank you and i totally agree with the baked good idea; I wouldn’t send anything purchased. You can write a thoughtful card expressing your thanks for their generosity through the year and that you wish them a merry christmas and a happy and healthy new year, with only butterflies and rainbows.

    I disagree with the people who think that the holidays are a weird time to send a thank you; I think its perfect. Lots of people send people things during the holiday season, for no reason and you have a nice reason. Christmas cards anyone? So its not a weird time to be receiving things nor is a weird time to get unsolicited little presents. (I sometimes get cookies from a roommate of mine in college who i barely ever speak to. but it isn’t weird; its just the holidays.)

    I would tell your gay platonic nonbabydaddy friend you are planning on sending his parents a card and cookies, and ask for the address, and gauge the reaction. If he looks weirded out, then maybe don’t do it. If he thinks its normal and happily gives you the address, go for it. I wouldn’t “ask” though, because if he’s as polite as his parents, he’ll tell you “no, there’s no need, they don’t expect anything” even if it wouldn’t be weird, and you won’t be able to gauge his reaction, because you’ll be forced to argue with it (“no no but i really want to!”).

  20. Always ask the friend first. Period. I’ve got a friend who’s mom I’ve only met in person twice. We live in the same town. We’ve got mutual friends that go way back. The thing is though, this woman has given me things. Old furniture, toys, bedding, dishes, etc. She was going to give them away, and decided that because I had four kids (like she did), that maybe I’d want them instead and asked her son.
    She has benefited from her son’s friendship with me. Free crab, free halibut, cod, rockfish, free moose, goat cheese, veggies, berries (I have a few fishing buddies, and a friend with a goat farm that I help, and my boys and I berry pick anyways). Her son borrows my suburban on occasion to do dump runs for her (they both have small vehicles).
    Every year, she does get a Christmas card from us. She also gets a birthday card and a Mother’s Day card. We may not talk, we may not see each other, but we do have a mutually beneficial relationship.

    Again – ask the friend. It is never a bad idea to reciprocate and THANK someone for their generocity. A card at the very least.

  21. I have a similar situation. i am still friends with my ex boyfriend’s mom…. we dated in high school. lol. we are really close- we email all the time, go out to lunch when we can, birthday gifts, christmas gifts, i make her cakes, whatever. it might be awkward for my ex to still have us be friends, but i want to show my gratitude for the things that she has done for me- and continues to do, even after her son and I broke up.

    i think that no matter what, if you feel the need to express your gratitude in a physical way, then do it! personally, if i was in your situation, i would send them a nice card and have some flowers delivered to their house. its not weird. its especially not weird because they do stuff for you all the time. it may be a little weird if this was out of the blue… but if they are generous people, then i see no reason for you not to be generous back to them. thats all what christmas is about, anyway, right?

  22. Sending a gift/card is never bad!

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