Should I be gifting my nieces and nephews or not?
December 9, 2011 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Should I still be giving these kids gifts?

My sister has two kids, 8 and 10, who live 1000 miles away. Nice kids however neither of them, nor my sister, have ever so much as mentioned any gift (cash, cards, birthday/xmas presents, etc) that we (their Aunt and Uncle) have ever gotten them. I realize the joy is supposed to be in the giving however it gets my goat when, even with us right there, in the room, not one word has ever been said (literally - open gift, set box down, walk away).

After years of this my wife and I decided not to send any more gifts.

The issue now is that my brother lives near my sister and just married a woman with a 9 year old who is very nice, polite, and called us to thank us for the one present we sent.

So, it seems like we can't very well continue sending the 9 year old gifts and not send anything to the 8 and 10, correct? The three of them literally live next door to each other.

posted by Cosine to Human Relations (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Of course you can. If anyone asks about it, you can quite honestly say that it seemed like little X and Y just weren't interested in the gifts you gave them.
posted by kate blank at 3:24 PM on December 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think giving the 9-year-old gifts is a completely separate question. Perhaps the other children will notice she got a gift, realize it's from you, and actually ask why - at which point you can say something like "oh, well, we didn't think you liked any of the things we picked out before, so we've stopped trying."

I think the odds that the other two kids will actually notice are remote. I have a hunch they're not hurting for gifts in general.
posted by SMPA at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2011 [12 favorites]

send a card to the manners-challenged set and a gift to the polite child. I'd say it's a kind way to learn a lesson on how society works, if it's noticed at all.
posted by batmonkey at 3:27 PM on December 9, 2011 [22 favorites]

hmm i dunno if it was right or wrong but i was always very close to my grandmother and got lots of presents from her when other grandchildren got some but relatively few. but i was the one with the real relationship with her. maybe continue to rarely send the other ones token gifts but send with your normal frequency gifts to the 9 year old
posted by saraindc at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2011

I think the issue is not so much with the 8 and 10 year, it is with their parents. They never taught good manners and never even acknowledged the gifts on their kid's behalf. Not sure that I would punish the kids although I am not sure how to send the message without it affecting them.

The 9 year gets whatever full treatment you think you would want to give.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2011 [27 favorites]

At eight and ten, it's their parents' fault they're behaving this way. I agree it's pretty gross, but I think a long term strategy is to buy gifts on the cheaper side without expending a ton of energy picking them out, take a deep breath, and keep on keeping on.

I'm not sure if this is the coward's way out or simple pragmatism. Both, probably.

I think the Miss Manners response would be to call (obviously, when you weren't there for the gift opening) and say, 'I just wanted to make sure you got X, because I didn't hear from you' but to me, the amount of energy I'd want to spend on someone else's impolite children is pretty negligible.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Send the 9-year-old, well-mannered child a gift. Send the others boy's and girl's thank you stationery.
posted by shoesietart at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2011 [27 favorites]

This is a parent problem not a kid problem. Please continue to at least send gifts to the 9yr old but it is up to you whether to continue to send gifts to the others. Maybe call your sister up before the holiday and as least passive-aggressively as possible say "what things would your children be interested in for the holidays this year, I was worried since I hadn't heard from you about the past gifts we'd sent your kids that we were just cluttering up the house with things that werent fun for them". Maybe this will be a wake up call maybe it won't.
posted by boobjob at 3:37 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Consider carefully the repercussions the new step-cousin will feel if he or she gets a present and the blood relatives don't. It is, as noted above, a parent problem, not a child problem, so I would do as suggested above, give the 9 year old a gift and send the others cards but give your sister some sort of heads up as to why.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:42 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I could have written this as as my sisters' nor their kids' (of similar ages) acknowledge so much as receiving the packages we send to them for holidays or birthdays.

With that, I agree with what others have said in that it is the parent's fault. And then it is MY parents fault for not teaching my sisters to send even so much as a "Got your package" text. Regardless, I will always send gifts, cards, stickers, whatever but I think it is mostly because I feel bad for not really being a part of their lives living far away and i don't want them to forget that they have an Aunt far away who does think about them.

Talk to your sister about it and do so a way in which that is not completely confrontational, but please don't be passive aggressive - i can see that turning ugly/not doing anything as well.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 3:49 PM on December 9, 2011

I agree with those who say this is a parent problem. Bring this up with your sister and I would continue to buy gifts for all 3 children.
posted by kishky at 3:58 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above posters about it being a parent problem.

Send all the children gifts anyway, because maybe some day when they are older, they will remember always having received gifts from you and your wife and whether they've grown up to be sufficiently gracious adults or not, they will remember. I'd like to think that your gestures will be appreciated at a later point in their lives and you'll be glad to be remembered that way.
posted by loquat at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most parents I know that do not insist on thank-yous from their kids are also the type that will make a very big deal over their little ones being excluded from receiving those gifts. Family drama will ensue if you leave their kids out, I can almost guarantee it. I would send the nice kid a nice gift, and not spend much time or money on the gifts you give the other two. I think parents are quick to jump to their kid's defense when they are completely left out, but are much more reluctant to whine about someone getting something better or more expensive.
posted by raisingsand at 4:01 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your question hits home for me. My parents never, ever, once in their lives saw fit to offer me simple advice like "wow, you should send a thank-you card for that great gift!" and I have trouble with these sorts of simple social niceties to this day. Please, please don't just leave these kids out. If you can, find a way to provide them the social guidance that their parents are apparently failing to give them. Since I am generally lacking in social graces, I don't have any ideas as to the tactful way to achieve that goal, but I absolutely guarantee that the kids will eventually thank you for it if you can find a way.
posted by dialetheia at 4:06 PM on December 9, 2011 [22 favorites]

My brother's family doesn't acknowledge the gifts we send either and when the younger kid turned 18 I stopped sending gifts to the kids. I send one generic food gift to the family now. I still send gifts to my other nieces and nephews, but I also see them more often and tend to give them their gifts in person.

I guess that means I agree with everyone who say that you shouldn't necessarily punish the kids for a parent problem. Keep sending them gifts for now.
posted by cabingirl at 4:07 PM on December 9, 2011

My son is 8 and I thoroughly agree with you not gifting the non-thankers. If the family asks why, explain why truthfully.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:08 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you let your sister know that you've reached the point of disappointment and frustration where you were thinking about not sending gifts, that you are going to anyway, but you'd really appreciate it if you heard back from the kids? You'll be doing your niece and nephew a favor much bigger than any of their gifts if out of this they learn the value of a simple thank you.
posted by meinvt at 4:19 PM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

even with us right there, in the room, not one word has ever been said (literally - open gift, set box down, walk away).

Wow. That's a parent problem and a kid problem. It's one thing if they've never been taught to say thank you, it's another if they display no physical or verbal awareness, however awkward, of just being given a present! I say they don't need any more gifts. Cards are fine, if you feel like it, and an honest explanation that you could see they didn't like getting presents, if the parents ask.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:19 PM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Then again, you could gift them a box of Thank You cards.

I am not seriously suggesting you do this. But if you're a ballsier person than me (not hard!) a certain sort of person might do this. Although, I think that sort of person might be entirely fictional.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:21 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you tried just being straightforward? I'd start with something along the lines of "Hey, sis, we adore your kids, but I have to admit that it's really starting to grate on us that they don't acknowledge or express appreciation for the gifts we get them. I want to give you a head's up that this'll be the last year we put forth the effort with gifts unless they put forth the effort of thanking us." To me, it would be far more insulting to hear the patently transparent line that's been suggested of "oh, we're just sooo worried you didn't receive our gifts.".

Unequal gifting, with great stuff for polite girl and blah cheapies for the rude pair? Sure. But no gift for the rude kids without explanation (or only explaining when asked - and you will be asked) means you'll be the ones who look like impolite, dramatic, passive-aggressive asses; at the very least, you won't be anyone's model of impeccable comportment.

In short: inform honestly; offer one last chance for kids to learn; apply appropriate consequences.
posted by amelioration at 4:21 PM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I like the idea of sending the non-thankers some cute personalized thank you stationery. If the family doesn't get the hint, and don't even thank you for that, next time just send them a card. And if they ever bother asking why you stopped giving presents, just tell them you thought they didn't like them because they never thanked you for them. When I was a kid, I was so awkward about sending thank you notes and would never have done it without my mom making me do it. Clearly these kids aren't getting that.
posted by wondermouse at 4:22 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, so it was seriously like, yesterday when I opined that gifts that improve a person aren't really classy. But I'll allow that these kids have probably been failed by their parents. So, why not give them books like How to Behave and Why or Dude That's Rude?

Another solution would be a stream of supplies like clip-on ties, nail clippers, etc.

Don't do this if you think your sister will freak out. I could get away with this with my family - my sisters would think it hilarious and would probably encourage me to send even more stuff like that for the birthdays, etc., but your mileage may vary. My family would also hound the kids like crazy if they didn't say thank you for gifts, so. I even had to thank my step-grandma for the promotional Teddy Ruxpin video [as in the video was an ad for Teddy Ruxpin products] she considered an appropriate gift for me at the age of 9.
posted by SMPA at 4:24 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

But also, yeah, why not bring this up to your sister next time they don't thank you for a gift? It is something that kids need to be taught to do.
posted by wondermouse at 4:25 PM on December 9, 2011

When I was that age, I hated sending thank-you cards, even if I loved the gifts. I still did it, because my parents made me do it, but it was sort of a robotic how-are-you-I-am-fine thing. If my parents hadn't enforced the rule, I probably wouldn't ever have sent cards. A lot of kids see politeness as another boring old set of rules, not something that truly makes people feel better and more comfortable; your sisters' kids might be clueless rather than ungrateful.

Anyway, talk to your sister about this. Tell her that the lack of thank-you notes makes you think your gifts are unappreciated, and politely request that they send them from now on, or else you'll assume they don't need or want your gifts. Don't do this passive-aggressively through the kids' gifts; it might not even be their fault, and instead of learning the lesson you want them to learn, they might think you're rude or you play favorites.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:35 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

My grandmother was in the habit of giving me personalized "kid" stationary such as thank you cards and cute notepaper. She also gave me a book, "Manners that Matter," that I still have, and in fact recently read and learned some things from.

It would be very productive for you to take that approach, and give stationary and perhaps a manners book.
posted by jayder at 4:41 PM on December 9, 2011

You know, I think there's a fairly graceful way to address this if you're talking to or emailing with your sister soon. "So we're sending Dick some foo and Jane a set of woohoo this year. Do you think the kids are old enough now to be sending thank you notes? Because we were also going to send some cute notecards for them."
posted by DarlingBri at 4:45 PM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am a thank you note Nazi, so this would make me crazy, too, but what would make me crazier is that they DON'T THANK YOU IN PERSON, EITHER?! How do you refrain from saying, "YOU'RE WELCOME" to them? I don't think I would be able to control myself. I don't advise that, by the way. I like DarlingBri's suggestion.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:48 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you straight-out TOLD your sister this bothers you? (And by the way, I agree they should be saying thanks; this kind of thing bothers me, too.)

For the polite 9-year-old: full gifts. What a lovely kid your brother has added to the family!

For the 8- and 10-year-olds AND your sister: send each child a gift, then next birthday/Christmas/whatever send a lesser gift, and a still lesser gift the time after that, and so on. (I doubt switching to gift cards would really help.) PLUS: send all gifts to them with a requirement for the recipient's signature AND do followup phone calls AND emails asking "did x arrive yet?"

Even if they never get the hint, you can have passive agressive fun bugging them.....
posted by easily confused at 4:56 PM on December 9, 2011

when i was a kid, i always sent a thank you card or called someone to thank them for the gifts i got, because i thought that it was simply what one did when they received a nice thing that showed someone was thinking about them. my brother simply could not be bothered to do so, unless my mother harangued him about it. eventually, she got tired of constantly bugging him about it and let him suffer the consequences of his lack of social graces. (sadly, this amounted to no consequences, because my parents/family/people couldn't very well send me something and him nothing, it just wasn't fair. i call bullshit, but whatever.)

i agree this is a parent problem, but some kids also just can't be bothered because there's no real consequence if they don't do the action - they'll still get something because of the guilt. i say the cards for them/present for the appreciative child seems like the way to go here, but that could be my childhood hand cramps talking.
posted by koroshiya at 5:22 PM on December 9, 2011

Don't set a bad example through passive aggression. If you weren't related to these kids the proper thing to do would be to stop sending gifts since you gave no evidence that they want them. You can call to find out if they received them, but that's likely to get you a blunt "yes" at most. I usually send gifts special delivery because although calling to check if something was received is technically correct it feels demeaning to have to do it nearly every time.

However, you are related so you have some duty to instruct them. I like DarlingBri's suggestion; I doubt a book will make an impression if it contradicts their reality. If that doesn't work I'd send bigger gifts to them as thanks and lumps of coal to them as wasn't dragged up proper. The kids may not actually care about the size of the gifts but I agree the parents sound just the type.
posted by tel3path at 5:41 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Send the children's style thank you cards to your sister for Christmas!

(I mean, along with other gifts. But yeah, your sister needs a clue here:)
posted by jbenben at 6:55 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, why not give them books like How to Behave and Why or Dude That's Rude?

This seems rather pass-ag to me. Same with thank-you cards (anyway, nice people do not use cards that say "thank you" on them; they just use stationery - if you wanted to send them nice personalized stationery, that would be a lovely gift that would not send such a snarky message). And indeed, this is the parents' fault. My parents were sticklers about thank-yous after Christmas and birthdays, and also about thanking people in person, but I'm not sure how I would have learned it if they hadn't taught me. As I've grown older, I've realized how annoying the lack of a thank you is (how do I know someone even received the present?), but as a kid thank you notes definitely always felt awkward and forced and I hated writing them. I agree that these children are being rude, but it's understandable if they haven't been taught otherwise, and it doesn't excuse rudeness on your part. I think that the polite thing for you to do is to raise the issue with your sister.
posted by naoko at 7:05 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Since they live next door to one another, have you considered getting a gift for "the cousins" as a group? They are 8, 9, and 10 - a DIY cookie kit, science set, art supplies, or a special Christmas DVD they can all share together is a surefire way for the two kids who don't routinely thank to watch the one who does in action. A card that says, "Please call me when you get this, and let me know how you like it!" will elicit a swift call from the polite niece, I bet, and should prove to be educational for all.
posted by juniperesque at 7:47 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

No gifts for the 8 and 10 year old kids and you need to tell them why. There's no reason to expend your effort or money giving gifts that aren't appreciated. I could excuse the children for not writing thank you notes - that's really a parenting issue. The fact that they don't say thank you is inexcusable. Really, what 8 year old doesn't know to say thank you.

My grandmother stopped giving gifts to one of my cousins for exactly this reason.
posted by 26.2 at 9:33 PM on December 9, 2011

When my sister and I were around that age we never sent thank you cards for our gifts. We were too busy avoiding getting beat up by our alcoholic mom, trying to find food, and staying out of the way of her drug addict boyfriend and their wild parties. I mean, where were we even going to get stamps?

I'm pretty sure we said thank you for the gifts we were given when the giver was present, though I don't remember. But if someone had sent us thank you stationery instead of a gift, I would have been so hurt and would probably remain so to this day.

All I'm saying is, don't blame the kids for not sending cards. At that age it's the parents responsibility. Sending thank you stationery as a gift to the kids is passive aggressive and nasty and would probably hurt their feelings. If you must, send real gifts to the kids and thank you stationery with your address on and with stamps to the parents, along with a note saying "we noticed you were really busy lately so we thought we'd make this chore easier for you." In other words shame the parents if you have to, not the kids.
posted by hazyjane at 12:06 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and also, I don't agree with adults who sit there trying to reconcile gifts they've given to kids with thank you notes received - like they're checking things off on a balance sheet or something and getting upset when things don't match up. Send gifts for the joy of giving, not for the recognition you expect to get out of it. When I send a gift to a kid, all I expect is some sort of acknowledgment from the parent, such as a quick facebook message or email. I think sending thank you cards by children is, while charming, an old-fashioned thing that should be a bonus, not expected by rote.

Not getting a verbal "thank you" when you're right there is another matter. Frankly it probably means they didn't like the gift and were disappointed with it. Their parents should have taught them better manners than this but for whatever reason they didn't.

If you're absolutely sure the kids are just spoiled and have too much of everything including the love of their parents and other relatives then by all means stop sending gifts. If not, err on the side of making the kids feel good. And try to figure out what they actually want or need so that a thank you when you're there and they open the present is a natural expression of joy and appreciation.
posted by hazyjane at 12:47 AM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Minority voice here: send them all gifts. And to the 8- and 10-year-old, good ones, not passive-aggressive ones like thank-you stationery or manners books or crappy things you know they won't like. If you send them passive-aggressive gifts, you teach them that it is acceptable to be passive-aggressive. Is that the example you want to set?

As for the lack of acknowledgement, ask yourself this: have you been sending them gifts because you like them, or because you want them to like you?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:56 AM on December 10, 2011

Gift giving is not the venue to be passive-aggressive about communicating that you're pissed off because no one thanks you for your gifts. Either address it directly with the parents, or carry on as usual and get everyone a gift and concentrate on the spirit of giving.

Giving a gift with expectations--even "just" a thank you--is going to make you concentrate on what you're getting from the experience of giving.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:11 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't suggest sending thank-you cards and manners books as a form of passive aggression; I suggest it as a valuable and productive way to get the kids thinking about these things, because clearly the parents are not.

However, several commenters have made a good point:

Why not just say to the children's parents, "I love your kids very much, but it hurts my feelings that none of my gifts are acknowledged, even verbally. It makes me feel as though the gifts are unwanted and unappreciated. Can you have the kids acknowledge the gifts from now on?"

That is a courteous, above-board and productive way of addressing the problem, which will help the kids.
posted by jayder at 12:53 PM on December 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Give money to your favorite charity in their name. That's the gift.
posted by iviken at 4:04 PM on December 10, 2011

'Giving a gift with expectations--even "just" a thank you--is going to make you concentrate on what you're getting from the experience of giving.'

Giving a gift is usually done to build a relationship. If the gift isn't acknowledged, then it's reduced to a materialistic exchange.

I know how much people love the idea that gift-giving should be a purely selfless act, but even Jesus was disappointed when he healed ten people and only one of them even bothered to thank Him. I'm pretty sure He wasn't being selfish or giving to get; rather, He was there to build a relationship with humanity, which can be awfully trying.

Anyway, the fact is that these are children who are closely related to you, so I don't think that bringing it up with the parents directly is out of line in this case. In fact it may be your best choice.
posted by tel3path at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

It took a few years, but I gave up sending gifts to my nieces, nephew and brothers because of the lack of response. I never knew if they even received the gift or card. They were all raised to say thank you (yes, even the next generation because they lived with me and I taught them to be polite). There wasn't even a response to the lack of gifts/cards. That told me how much it meant to them.

My mother, on the other hand, continues sending things to them. She finally stopped sending individual items and sends a food gift ordered online. She hates that she doesn't get any thanks, but can't bring herself to totally stop sending things.
posted by deborah at 9:41 PM on December 11, 2011

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