Size XL, he likes them baggy
October 9, 2012 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I recently travelled 8,000 miles home to visit family and see my sick grandad for possibly the last time. I brought $150s worth of gifts across for them from Montreal, Toronto, Paris, Lorraine, and Iceland. Now my mum is demanding an extra, more expensive gift that I post to my brother because his car broke down after he'd given me a lift to the airport. Reasonable or unreasonable? How would you navigate this?


I recently (within the last year and a half), moved from London (England) to Vancouver. Because of the expensive airfare, going home isn't going to be possible very often. My grandad recently suffered a series of strokes that left his memory/cognitive abilities very impaired and also mean he's physically challenged (he's fallen and hit his head four times in the past three months). He's 90. As he was the one who looked after me after my parents became too abusive to do it, I wanted to go home and see him before it was too late.So me and husband booked a trip. It was cheaper for us to fly to Montreal and Toronto and go back to Europe from there, so we had two days in each, before going to visit his family in France. He then flew home for work, but also because he's uncomfortable around my parents who are racist (he's half Polish, they hate Polish people, among others). I went onto the UK alone.

I get home and give family all the gifts in my suitcase, everything is lovely, they remark how much of it there is and I didn't need to do that, etc. I've brought so many things across I don't really have any clothes, so I take the opportunity to go to Primark (where a dress is £6-8) and Tesco (supermarket that sells clothes almost as cheaply). I find lovely things at prices not available in Van, where everything is super expensive. I buy loads of tights at £1.50 each, underwear, a coat, a blouse, a pair of shoes. Yay for me, I have tons of clothes for about £50!
The visit is as good as it can be, at the end they offer to pay for a taxi to the airport or have my brother run me there. This is unprecedented! They would never normally do such a generous thing, I am touched. In the end it's agreed my brother will take me, if they pay him as much as the cab fare would have cost. All good, right?

He takes me to the airport, all goes to plan. EXCEPT - 10 mins after he drops me off his car breaks down. He waits an hour for the AA guy to get there. Mum emails me to tell me about this twice, and then gets my dad to do it. I commiserate. I get a fourth email in which instructs me to buy a t shirt for for brother as a thank you because his car broke down. She tells me his size and preferred fit. It is not a request.

Problems I have with this:

A) He was paid by my parents to take me to the airport, which is the only reason he agreed to do it. He was NOT doing me a favour. He barely spoke to me for the entire half hour journey. (We do not get on).

B) I already carried $130's worth of gifts and food across Canada/Europe, which means I filled it up to the limit, crossed customs with it, dragged it across London on the bus, the Paris metro and lots of other places where it pissed me and others off. He got a bagful of gifts from me, which are already sitting in his house. Now he needs an extra gift worth more than everyone elses, on top of what he already has?

C) Shipping from Canada is expensive. A 150g packet of cookies cost me $25 to send home, and that was by land. It took 3 months to arrive. By air is $15 more. So a t shirt would be $50-60 to buy and send.

D) I'm not working, so actually, my husband would be buying my brother a t shirt. Demanding that he do this is weird.

E)He has physically threatened my sister twice now (last time she had to call the police), so buying extra gifts for him isn't something I really want to do, I'd rather not give him anything at all but that would cause rifts in the family.

E) Something is really sticking in my craw about being commanded to buy gifts. FWIW I'm 32 and haven't lived with, or anywhere near them for 17 years. So it's not like we have a relationship where they order me about and I comply.


- They send me packages delivered to their address (I buy and cover postage, but they still go to the post office and send it), as it saves on corporate shipping rates for me. They offered to do this for me but it's still an imposition and I am grateful for it.

- They see me travelling a lot (got married this year and did a US west coast tour, just come across from Toronto, visited France etc). They see it as very extravagant even though I use rideshare and hostels etc to achieve it, and it is. I'm very lucky to be able to do these things now.

- They know my husband earns a good wage and we're about to buy a house to rent out before we move to LA/SF/wherever work is. So they see it as our duty as richer members of the family to provide for poorer members. I can see this.

Do I suck it up and give him the gift he deserves? Am I being an arsehole for not wanting to do it? How do you cope, as an adult, with a parent that commands you to do things?

Thank you in advance for your advice.
posted by everydayanewday to Human Relations (64 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
People don't get to demand presents. Your brother "deserves" nothing; cars break down. This is one of those times when "That won't be possible" is acceptable. You don't have to say anything more.

That your mother would request a gift, much less demand one, is pretty outrageous.
posted by punchtothehead at 2:15 PM on October 9, 2012 [46 favorites]

How do you cope, as an adult, with a parent that commands you to do things?

Say "no"?
posted by HuronBob at 2:16 PM on October 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

Why does he "deserve" a gift again? On top of the pay he was getting for taking you to the airport?

The thing is, if more shit will fly if you *don't* send him the damn thing, and it's shit up with which you do not want to put, then you may decide it's worth the peace of mind to send it. But if you don't care about the flying family shit, then don't.

Also - threatened your sister? Fuck no.

There are reasons you moved 8000 miles away; perhaps this is one? Remember that and do what you need to.
posted by rtha at 2:17 PM on October 9, 2012 [13 favorites]

"Mum, I gave him a bunch of gifts. I don't have an extra $50 just to send a tee shirt right now, I'm sorry he broke down, but I know you have him some $ to bring me to the airport. I'll try and bring a tee shirt next time I come down."

Then refuse to talk about it anymore. Period.
posted by edgeways at 2:18 PM on October 9, 2012 [14 favorites]

This is ridiculous. Your family continues to be abusive. Also, in the circumstances, I don't understand why you didn't just take a cab. Next time, take a cab.
posted by Dasein at 2:20 PM on October 9, 2012 [15 favorites]

Eventually you have to put your foot down with this type of demand. If not this time, then it will happen again. Unfortunately, whether now or later, it will probably create ill feelings on you Mum's part.

I am in the camp of being firm with a "no". Brother has a car for whatever he needs to have a car for and it is just coincidence that it broke down on your trip. It could have happened at any time and a new shirt ain't going to make that engine run any better.

So yeah, hit her with the "no" and expect the probable scowl via telephone or email. Next time, it will hopefully be better.
posted by lampshade at 2:23 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

All of this is weird. Do not buy your brother a t-shirt. It is especially strange that this is all for a t-shirt, a piece of clothing so mundane and ordinary that the first aliens to Earth will probably recognize them and wear them as a sign of friendship. Edgeway's script is a good one.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:24 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

No. Hell No if you want to be specific.

Don't have packages sent to them anymore. Suck it up on that account. Why do you want to owe these people ANYTHING?

Just because you have more money does not mean that you have to provide for poorer members of that family. (Again, see Hell No!)

Your family is messed up. You know this. Do not buy into the crazy.

You deserve to have a great husband, to travel and to be happy in this life.

Learn to say no. Practice it with your mom. Now.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:24 PM on October 9, 2012 [23 favorites]

How bizarre for her to request a tee shirt of all things because his car broke down? That doesn't make any sense to me. If she asked you to help with the repair or buy him a AAA membership, that would make more sense - it would still be rude and something you shouldn't do - but it would make more sense.

If the cab driver's cab had broken down after he dropped you off, that's not your problem and for all intents and purposes, your brother was your cab driver.

Good luck with saying no.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:27 PM on October 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

So they see it as our duty as richer members of the family to provide for poorer members. I can see this.

What? Your parents were somewhat abusive, you haven't lived near them in 17 years and they still see you as the goose that lays the golden eggs?

I think you have two options. One, the one I would choose, would be to send your mum the amount of the t-shirt if she purchased it in London and let her go get it for your brother. I would also inform them that as you are trying to save for your own house and clothes and food, you will not be visiting for a while nor will you be able to send gifts at Christmas or birthdays. Of course, you expect that they will not be able to send you gifts either. The other choice is to send the shirt and a note that says in essence, have a nice life, see ya.

The third and probably most rational choice is to simply tell your mum this won't be possible, but next time you come, you will certainly consider the situation if you are bringing gifts.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:27 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

You must realize at some point that you will never be able to make your parents happy. F them. F your brother. Say no, disengage and be thankful you got out of there.
posted by monkey!knife!fight! at 2:28 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

If he hadn't taken you to the airport, his car would have broken down the next time he drove his car. His car and its maintenance is not your responsibility. Learn to draw boundaries and say no.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:32 PM on October 9, 2012

His car broke down, and t's not your fault. ESPECIALLY since he wasn't even doing you a favour.

Tell your mom to apologize on your behalf if she feels so compelled.
posted by Kololo at 2:35 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gosh, I would take this one step further and put them on a special "can only see the very few posts I specifically want them to see" list on FB, so they don't see all your travel photos and plans and whatnot and you actually limit them to the distance you want them to be held out. They live across the planet. Don't let technology let them invade your space.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:36 PM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

Say no. You can say it in exactly one word, or you can say it using edgeways' (perfectly fine) script. But here's the thing to understand: 1) there's not any way you can say it that will control how your mother will respond, and 2) that's not your fault. She will almost certainly push back. She doesn't want to hear "no"; she's no doubt been pushing your buttons for all these years precisely so that you won't say no (to whatever the demand is).

When you say no, you are starting to change the dynamic between you and your mother (and family). Her impulse will be to make you stop this new thing you're doing and revert back to the old dynamic. You can't control that. But what you can control will be your response -- which is to hold your ground.

In this way, the second no will actually be even more important from the first. And then you end the discussion -- you change the subject if you're on the phone (or chat, or skype, or whatever), or you stop replying to the topic if it's email, or you end the conversation if she won't drop it. This is how you begin to draw boundaries, so that even from 8000 miles away they don't keep bullying you into complying with their demands. They won't stop doing this spontaneously, so you'll have to put a stop to it yourself.

I know it may sound hard to do and possibly even scary just to contemplate. But if you could move halfway around the world, you can do this, too. Good luck!
posted by scody at 2:37 PM on October 9, 2012 [14 favorites]

How do you cope, as an adult, with a parent that commands you to do things?

Surprised laughter followed by refusal.
posted by elizardbits at 2:41 PM on October 9, 2012 [18 favorites]

Here is what's wonderful. You made the trip to see your dear Grandfather, who looked after you when your parents were abusive. You saw him. Now you never have to see or contact your shitty, racist, manipulative parents again. Seriously. No need. Say no and be done with it.
posted by kate blank at 2:46 PM on October 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

I have a not-awful relationship with my family. (Not super awesome, strained with some members, but not terrible.)

If someone makes a request of me that I think is unreasonable, I simply say, "yeah, that's not going to happen" and leave it at that.

I don't get into the reasons why--that gives them points to rebut against like it's a negotiation. It's not a negotiation. I'm just flat out not going to do it.

Being direct with them has helped my sanity a lot.
posted by phunniemee at 2:47 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wanted to add that the way your family is behaving is not the way a generally healthy family behaves. It is out of the norm. It might seem not-that-weird to anyone who grew up in it, but abusive or threatening behavior or demanding of presents (or, really, anything else) is really not okay. You don't have to put up with this.

Nthing that you block/curate what they can see of your life online.
posted by rtha at 2:47 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with the folks who say that your mother's request is way out of line. I also think it's interesting that you frame the question with a lot of (seemingly) irrelevant information about the things that you bought on the trip, the money your husband makes, the trips you take, etc. Logically speaking, those things don't have anything to do with your mother's rude demands. Emotionally, though, I wonder -- does your family resent you for your successes and achievements? Do they think you owe them something to make up for doing better than them / differently than them? In my experience, these kinds of ideas can be a continuation of abusive patterns -- they're tripwires hidden in your head that give your family some control over you even though you've done a good job of getting yourself out of physical proximity to them.

If any of that seems valid to you, I'd suggest that you do what you can to examine and uproot those ideas, either by yourself or with help from a therapist. I have a suspicion that you'll be much freer and happier without them.
posted by ourobouros at 2:51 PM on October 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

I agree with the folks who say that your mother's request is way out of line. I also think it's interesting that you frame the question with a lot of (seemingly) irrelevant information about the things that you bought on the trip, the money your husband makes, the trips you take, etc.

Hit the nail on the head. This stuff will totally not be irrelevant to my mother, who I'm sure when I push back on the extra gift sending will say a variation of 'But you splash your money around on lots of other unneccessary frivolities. And you have so much of it to spend. What's $50 for your brother - your BROTHER?'

She will not get the irony of having to pay my brother to do a favour for me, then demanding extra gifts as a thank you, at all.
posted by everydayanewday at 2:57 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Say no, that won't be possible.

Stop sharing information about trips, investments, and your financial life with them. They are not entitled to a cut of your money. It is not your duty to give money to poorer family members, especially those who either abused you or stood by while you were being abused. They certainly aren't entitled to a cut of your husbands wages, especially when they can't even be decent to him due to their bigotry.

Find another way to get your packages shipped. Either enlist a friend, hire someone, or pay the extra to ship to Canada.

If you feel you MUST do something to appease your Mother. Send her enough to buy him an affordable t-shirt from Tesco or Primark. After all, that was good enough for you to buy for yourself. Make it the last time you indulge her and cut her off from information about your life and don't allow her or your family to do any more favors for you. You'll always have to pay for them in one way or another.

Enjoy your life.
posted by quince at 3:04 PM on October 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

I would actually likely do exactly what your mom desires, and that would then have been the very last straw.
posted by Namlit at 3:13 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

they see it as our duty as richer members of the family to provide for poorer members. I can see this.

You're expected to provide gifts on demand--not necessities, but gifts--just because you have a higher level of income. That's unfair to you. You're choosing not to spend your money on stuff your brother doesn't actually need. There are all sorts of complicated situations in which paying your brother's expenses would or wouldn't be smart, be reasonable, help him etc. In some families, paying a relative's expenses makes sense, in others it enables irresponsible behavior. Your current situation is pretty cut-and-dry, though: your brother doesn't need the tee shirt, and you don't want to buy it for him.

I suggest that you take the "just take a cab next time" advice and apply it liberally throughout your interactions with family--don't accept favors that are going to turn out to be gift-grabs. Be judicious in what information you share about your income and spending. Learn to say, "I can't do that right now," and to leave it at that regardless of how your mother responds. So:

Mom: Give your brother XYZ because he deserves it.
You: I'm sorry, I can't do that right now.
Mom: What's $50 to you? You spend more than that on frivolous stuff all the time!
You: I'm sorry, it's just not possible. I'll call him this week to see how he's doing.
Mom: But you can afford it!
You: Mom, we're not getting anywhere with this. Do you want to talk about something else or should we just talk later?

And then end conversations as needed if she keeps arguing. "Sorry Mom, I have to go now. Talk to you soon! Bye!" You don't owe your brother a tee shirt and you don't owe your mom patiently listening to her berating you. You owe them love and respect, and you owe yourself healthy boundaries.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:22 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd rather not give him anything at all but that would cause rifts in the family.

You already have rifts in the family. So just ignore this ridiculous demand.
posted by lollusc at 3:25 PM on October 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

'But you splash your money around on lots of other unneccessary frivolities. And you have so much of it to spend. What's $50 for your brother - your BROTHER?'

When she pulls this, do not actually get drawn into answering the question; she has set it up so you will lose, no matter what you say. Instead, think of this as the moment to pivot -- either you change the subject ("sorry, mum, it's not possible. So, tell me about [the cat/the neighbor's new baby/the weather/you get the idea]") or you end the conversation ("sorry, mum, it's not possible. I have to go now, so will chat with you next week as usual. Bye!"). This is how you send the message that the dynamic has changed. And note that I say "has changed," and not "you would like it to change." All by yourself, you can change this dynamic.

Additionally, as others have said, change your privacy settings on Facebook and in your own conversations. They aren't happy for you traveling or for your husband earning good money in and of themselves -- they only use these facts against you. So don't give them any further ammunition. They don't get to see the travel pics, or the status updates, or your new dress, or whatever. This is their loss (and their fault), not yours.
posted by scody at 3:31 PM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has replied. When I initially received her email I was SO angry and ridiculously affronted, and then uncomfortable 'What if I'm just being a spoilt, tight asshole and refusing to do a decent thing for my brother?' thoughts started to creep in.

The family are very controlling, manipulative and mentally unhealthy in a whole catalogue of ways, and though I do better and better every year, I've had a lot of unlearning to do. Still some way to go, obviously.

I suspect the shit will properly hit the fan when I drop the NO on her, but I'm 8,000 miles away now and what's the worst that could happen.
posted by everydayanewday at 3:39 PM on October 9, 2012 [14 favorites]

If you say no this time, it will only start to get easier for you to say no the next time they ask for something so ridiculous.
posted by OsoMeaty at 3:45 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Good for you.

One thing you may want to expect (and I'm probably not telling you anything here you don't already know) is that once you've said no and stood your ground, she may enlist other family members into trying to bully you into sending the damn shirt. So be prepared for this, so it doesn't catch you too off-guard when the other emails/phone calls/FB messages start coming, and so that you have a plan in place as to what you'll say to them (which should be some variation on the same "sorry, not possible, how's the cat?" message you give your mom).
posted by scody at 3:47 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

What a bunch of jerks, if they had to *pay* your brother (for anything above the cost of gas money) to take his own sister to the airport.

I've taken and picked up friends (not even family members) from the airport, on the other side of Houston, for nothing more than a "thank you"...
posted by mrbill at 3:48 PM on October 9, 2012 [12 favorites]

Good for you! You know how anthropologists study gift-giving customs in other cultures and it seems so complicated to us? So things like Japanese gift giving or potlatch has layers of meaning beyond 'here is a small token of my appreciation'. You mum is from a foreign culture when it comes to gifts (and other human interactions obviously). Part of gift-giving to her is that various things incur the gift-giving obligation. She probably believes that obligation exists from various things both historical and current (I changed your nappy, I send you packages at your cost). But she actually broke her own gift-giving code first by abusing you. You could spend the rest of your days trying to decode her dysfunctional worldview or you can just say "fuck it, I'll live my life for me and YOU have to adapt if you want a relationship". I would recommend the latter. I would also strongly encourage you to break any chains of obligation as she views them as currency. Don't let her be the sole source of information about your extended family, have your sister send you the packages (unless she lives at home and thus your mum will claim ownership over her actions by proxy), don't give her information she can be judgmental over and as others have said, refuse to even discuss gifts/obligations.

She is going to be negatively judgemental of you regardless, she will most likely always think you are selfish for not spending 'enough' on your mum's priorities; let her think of you as the selfish daughter that prefers to spend her own money on her nuclear family. It is the only win-win for both of you.
posted by saucysault at 4:15 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a bit of a Henry Kissinger in my family (by which I mean negotiator, not providing support for terrible dictators and killing thousands of innocent South Americans), and sometimes I hold my ground, but sometimes cause I'm just tired or whatever, rather than have to dig up a trench, lay the mortars etc, pressgang recruits etc, I'll just pretend.

By which I mean to say, I'll just say, "That's a nice idea; we're super busy this week or month, but I'll get around to it in next week/in November".

Then, when November comes and I'm pestered about it, I'll be all like, "Oh, I totally forgot! Thanks for the reminder. We're going to the mall on Saturday so I'll pick it up then."

Then, after Saturday, when I'm pestered again, I'll be like "Oh we didn't end up getting to the shops that weekend, we'll pick it up next weekend." Then the next weekend, I'll be like, "it's so close to Christmas, we'll just bundle it with the gifts." Then, after Christmas, "Oh when we got it home we realised it was the wrong size, waiting to take it back". It's unlikely to get that far.

Passive aggressive? I suppose so. But the beauty is, all the time you're ostensibly agreeing with your parent, so there's nothing for them to really fight about and diverting the conversation to more profitable topics is very very easy. Eventually they'll either forget, or get the message and stop asking, except to bring it up when you have fights. At that point the old "lost in the mail" routine is a good one.

Your brother sounds like an arsehole. The other thing I do in family situations like that is move heaven and earth to ensure I'm not indebted to any member that could possibly hold anything over my head. Does it cost more in the long run? Sometimes, but that peace of mind and my smug confidence that I owe them nothing is priceless, I tell ya.
posted by smoke at 4:51 PM on October 9, 2012 [7 favorites]

It could be argued that your brother owes you a gift. He chose bill his parents the same price as a taxi for shuttling to the airport. His car was not road-worthy (obviously) and if it had broken down on the way to the airport you would have missed your flight, incurring penalties and other costs, and seriously inconveniencing you.

Since your mom negotiated this whole deal, and apparently your brother is low on cash anyway, your mom should buy the gift on his behalf and then ship it to you ASAP. I'd tell her to get on it right away.
posted by Houstonian at 5:00 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Regarding the car issue: It would be one thing if you insisted that his car make an unsafe trip and it then broke down, but even then you'd only be expected to cover a certain portion of the repairs. If this was truly a catastrophic car failure and your brother really doesn't have the money to fix it, he would need money, not a T-shirt.

Regarding the other stuff: It sounds as though there is a lot of resentment on both sides-- sure, they resent you for your travels, but you resent them for having to carry their gifts on the metro, etc. Maybe it's time to take a break and stop doing favors for one another. This means sending packages to their address, as well. When people do favors for you they feel entitled to certain things in exchange, which just doesn't sound healthy in your case.
posted by acidic at 5:09 PM on October 9, 2012

If the mail forwarding is worth it to you, go ahead and send him a shirt. I would think it would be cheaper to order a shirt online from a UK site and have it sent directly there. Here, for example.
posted by Yorrick at 5:11 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I suggest that you take the "just take a cab next time" advice and apply it liberally throughout your interactions with family--don't accept favors that are going to turn out to be gift-grabs. Be judicious in what information you share about your income and spending.

I've noticed that there's a dynamic in some families where less independent/capable family members will constantly offer/impose themselves to do "favors" for the more successful members in the hopes that this will place them in their debt. That seems to be the case with the taxi ride offer and the car ride from your brother and the shipping thing your parents take care of for you. At a certain point, these "favors" of nominal value end up being brought up ("but you're always the first person I tell when there's a great party going on!") in an attempt to blackmail the more independent/successful family member into providing goods or services of serious financial or emotional value ("what do you mean I can't crash on your couch for another 8 weeks? I've done my best to contribute around here!").
posted by deanc at 5:14 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]

Hang on....your mother had to pay your brother to take you to the airport? Your brother didn't do you a favor. You mother hired him to do a job. You aren't responsible for his crappy car. If you do what your mother asks, will she still be pissed that she had to ask you to do it?

Maybe you could get him a custom T-shirt:

"I drove my sister to the airport and
all I got was this crummy T-shirt.
posted by mule98J at 5:19 PM on October 9, 2012 [18 favorites]

Yes, even if I do this, she will be able to say she had to email me about it FOUR times and even then I didn't have the decency to offer something myself.

posted by everydayanewday at 5:26 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

sure, they resent you for your travels, but you resent them for having to carry their gifts on the metro, etc.

I am honestly happy to drag whatever across wherever if it means it makes them happy and they like the stuff I bring. But to then demand more gifts, which mean I need to expend more time shopping and posting this stuff, as well as spending more money that isn't even my own? I'm not cool with that.
posted by everydayanewday at 5:42 PM on October 9, 2012

Sounds like they're not appreciating anything, they're just taking it for granted. Taking YOU for granted.
posted by mrbill at 5:47 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do I suck it up and give him the gift he deserves?

Yes - Fuck all. Deserves? He "deserves" a kick to the curb and your mother apparently won't deliver it. Your turn.

Seriously? Plenty of others have already pointed this out, but - Time to say "no" to mom, and stand up for what family you do actually respect.

everydayanewday : Yes, even if I do this, she will be able to say she had to email me about it FOUR times and even then I didn't have the decency to offer something myself. Lose/lose.

Then that would seem to make your choice clear - Just don't do it. When "damned if you do, damned if you don't", you might as well earn it.
posted by pla at 5:50 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, if it wasn't for your grandfather's poor health, I'd have to recommend cutting off contact with the whole bunch. However, unfortunately you're likely to have to attend his funeral soon, and you'll be thrown in among them: so you really don't want to start a war right now; at least until after you get home from that, you need to keep the peace. Sorry.

For now, even though I agree that your mother is completely in the wrong here (and so is your brother), yeah, go ahead and send him the damn t-shirt; if you can stomach it, also write a nice thank-you note.

Find another way to get your packages: get your business totally out of their hands NOW. Sure, it may cost you more money, but it'll save you a LOT of irritation. Basically, stop giving them things to hold over you --- and that includes things like taking a cab instead of accepting a "free" ride from them or staying in their house rather than a hotel..... the convienence ain't worth it! If you're friends with them on facebook, unfriend them all NOW, so they can't keep tabs on you that way; don't let them know anything about your travels or purchases, no matter what you buy or where you go: reduce the things they can snipe at you about.

Try, try, TRY to keep the peace, at least until AFTER your grandfather's funeral. Then? Then you can feel free to cut them out of your life if you want to, or merely reduce all contact with your family to the occasional email or Christmas card. (Not even phone calls: it's way too easy to push someone's buttons via the phone, and harder to do via email or letter.)
posted by easily confused at 5:55 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you positive his car even broke down? From the description of events and your family, would it be so shocking if none of that happened, or that he might have had a very minor incident that was inflated into a good story to try to extort you for gifts?

For future savings, instead of spending tons on postage just go to a local online store, like You can even get them to gift wrap it.

If you ever feel like sending them presents after this blows over that is.
posted by Dynex at 6:02 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

A big HELL YES to smoke's suggestion.

(Normally I wouldn't encourage that kind of thing with family, but if they're racist to the point that your bf doesn't even feel welcome in their house, well...)
posted by mannequito at 6:20 PM on October 9, 2012

Are you positive his car even broke down? From the description of events and your family, would it be so shocking if none of that happened, or that he might have had a very minor incident that was inflated into a good story to try to extort you for gifts?

Not super sure if it happened the way she keeps saying it did, and yes she could easily be playing it up. She made a lot of the fact that he was apparently charged £180 for the repair. I think in her mind, because he was doing a favour for me it was my fault, like it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't given me a lift (I know this is completely illogical, and that someone needs to be blamed and compensate the other for it isn't something I can really get into the headspace of, in this case). She said in two seperate messages, 'no good deed goes unpunished' and made a lot of how he waited in the cold and dark for an hour and how terrible it was. So now in her head, I owe this selfless person who braved the dark and cold for and paid so much money because of me.

I have suspected for a while she may have some sort of undiagnosed mental health condition. but there is a logic and reasonableness to it if your self esteem is low enough, which because of the abuse, it still kind of is. (I'm in therapy).

The racist jokes consisted of my dad/brother showing them mobile phone picture of a down's syndrome boy wearing a 'At Least I'm Not a N****r' T shirt, and some text jokes about Pakistanis and Polish people. It went on for about half an hour. Now he won't visit my family, and I don't blame him.
posted by everydayanewday at 6:24 PM on October 9, 2012

"The joke's on my brother, because he wasn't doing a good deed, he was using me to earn some extra cash, and he got punished anyway! Maybe next time he'll do it out of the goodness of his heart and then his car will carry him all the way home as a reward. But I doubt it."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:47 PM on October 9, 2012 [8 favorites]

Does your brother even want a t-shirt?! Or want anything at all? Or is just your mother that's doing all the demanding?
posted by Sassyfras at 7:23 PM on October 9, 2012

E)He has physically threatened my sister twice now (last time she had to call the police), so buying extra gifts for him isn't something I really want to do, I'd rather not give him anything at all but that would cause rifts in the family.

He's causing rifts by physically threatening people. In comparison to that, not buying a "gift" is laughably irrelevant.

The sooner you realize that their behavior is NOT a function of your behavior or personal qualities, but instead a function of their bad personalities and/or mental illnesses, the happier you'll be. That means you have to stop feeling touched or complimented or appreciated when they do nice things, because that comes from the same logic as feeling guilty and shitty when they do cruel and manipulative things.

They are interacting with a projection of their own twisted psyches either way; they're not interacting with you.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:31 PM on October 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

Also, that might have come across as short or impatient--I totally understand and sympathize with your position. You want to get along with them and to love them and be loved by them. You have experienced good, kind, mutually loving relationships with your grandfather, husband, and others and you want that for your immediate family. It is completely understandable! At the same time, you will be able to be much happier if you can emotionally detach from that expectation, because nothing you do (or don't do) can cause them to be normal, healthy people. Likewise, nothing you can do can cause them to be abusive or shitty. They are responsible for their behavior at all times, no matter what.

If you let go of some of that mental habit of feeling like you are responsible for their emotions/behavior, you'll feel so much more free to set appropriate boundaries and protect yourself.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:40 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

Look, I live in the UK. Next time you need a package sent? I'll send it to you. Get it delivered to me, I'll ship it and you can paypal me the shipping costs. It would be no trouble at all and I'd love to do something nice for you. You really deserve kindness and if you can't get it from your family you can get it from a stranger. Memail me. There are good people out there, I promise. But your parents, whatever their positive qualities may be (not that you've mentioned any) are not being good to you.

If I were you, I'd stop being so damn nice to these people. Reply to your mum "Hahahahahah..... no." Let them see they're not going to be able to push you around anymore. Let the shit hit the fan. They're holding the possibility of them being outright nasty over your head and scaring you with it. Just let it happen. Then they won't have anything to hold over you anymore and you'll be free.
posted by hazyjane at 10:33 PM on October 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

Sounds like you've said your last good bye's. Why are you still talking to these people on this level?

OP, the mental gymnastics your mom will engage in are not relevant, and having that argument with us, now, in lieu of having it again with your mom in the future will not help you.

Figure out a way to severly limit their contact with you in the future and put it into action. It doesn't even sound as though they love you or know you, you're just a potential source of goodies and revenue for them, the favors they do for you are like payment for keeping your emotional and potential financial spiggot open for them.


No family EVER gets paid for taking anyone to the airport, especially on an international visit. Fullstop. I force my FRIENDS occassionally to accept rides to the airport if I have the time to take them if I hear they are traveling, because the nicest thing ever is having someone who cares for you see you off, IMHO.

Walk away from this whole mess with as little comment as possible. Just drop the subject like it was never raised. Ignore it from here on out, and anyone with the temerity to push the issue as well. Limit their contact, don't pick up all calls, return at your leisure, set a 5 minute timer and get off the phone on time. Just restructure the whole thing.

The way you are dealing with them is not reflective of your healthy life. Don't let this crap creep in and take over. It is stealing time, energy, well being, and money from your current existence.

Close that spiggot now and for good.

posted by jbenben at 10:42 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with everything that the above posters have said about your family being manipulative, greedy, and abusive, etc. My advice would almost certainly be just to refuse to buy the shirt. That said, I wonder whether the following would work. I'm just throwing it out there:

What if you sent a very kind thank-you card both to your brother and to your parents? In the one to your brother, totally don't mention the fact that he had to be paid to do you a favor. Just something like: "Dear Brother, It was wonderful to see you after so long, and I wanted to say how kind it was that you took me to the airport. Thank you! I heard you've subsequently been having car problems, and I'm keeping you and my car in my thoughts, and hoping it's resolved soon. Thanks so much for your thoughtfulness, Everydayanewday." The one to your parents could be similar. Absolutely kill them with kindness.

Then, when your mom brings up the topic, and tells you to buy your brother a t-shirt to compensate for the car repair (!!?), you can simply say that you decided to send him a card instead, because you found it to be a more fitting and personal response to his thoughtfulness (leaving aside completely the fact that he wasn't kind or thoughtful at all). If she pushes it (and she probably will), and says that you need to buy him a shirt, just keep repeating yourself to her: "Oh, I appreciate the suggestion, but I actually already sent him a thank-you note." And then, again: "I decided to write him a thank-you note instead: it seemed more personal." And again, if she insists: "Oh, but I already sent him a thank-you note". It's like the "That won't be possible" response, but has the added benefit that you're clearly on the moral high ground. Thank-you letters are the classic and very socially-acceptable response to a nice gesture, and plus, who can argue with a thoughtful, hand-written, and personalized thank-you in response to a good deed? "Oh, actually I already sent him a thank-you card." Just keep repeating it. Seriously.
posted by UniversityNomad at 12:02 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, "... you and your car in my thoughts..." (second paragraph). Need caffeine! :-)
posted by UniversityNomad at 12:25 AM on October 10, 2012

Maybe you could get him a custom T-shirt:

"I drove my sister to the airport and
all I got was this crummy T-shirt."

I thought of the custom shirt too, but you're a bigger person than I am. The shirt I'd give him would just say "Dickhead." To avoid any hurt feelings, I might throw one in for Mom, too.
posted by Rykey at 2:31 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

i like the idea of simply saying 'sure ill bring one next time i come"
posted by saraindc at 4:08 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although I absolutely agree that your family sound awful (sorry), I think there is an easier, non-confrontational solution to all this.

This isn't just you buying something for your brother; it sounds a little more complicated than that. Your mother has asked for something to give to your brother. She is the one who wants the gift; there is some internal family dynamic which needs to be appeased by your brother getting a gift. From your description I can imagine what it is like: your brother sounds loud and abusive; your mother is probably suffering the fallout from his car breaking down.

Can you explain to your mother that it's not practical for you to send something, but that you would like to help out. Ask her if she could help you out by buying something for him with money you send. (£6 seems ample)
Brother gets appeased, mother gets to give gift (which is what she really wants), you keep peace with your mother (who sounds like she's in a difficult situation).

Alternatively, this could be the opportunity for the break with your family that you may have been looking for.
posted by BadMiker at 4:35 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess I am a bad person, because I immediately saw the opportunity in this - emphasize how your husband is really the one earning the cash, and how kind of HIM it is to send this lovely shirt/check/giftcard to your bro. In other words, this is a chance to convey that they need to kiss Mr. Everyday's Polish ass to wring material goods out of you all.

Then I'd get a copy of Harriet Lerner's Dance of Intimacy.

Honestly, this is not the hill I'd choose to die on. I'd suck it up and buy the damn shirt and maintain a not-necessarily-close but civil relationship with these people. Practice your first boundary-setting later with something that you feel no emotion about.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:02 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Send a toddlers jumper. Preferably in pink with a tutu fringe and a tiara accessory.

It's perfect for anyone who refuses to pickup his blood-kin without being paid for the gig and then doesn't make civil conversation for a half-hour drive.

Seriously...? Seriously? It sounds like this relationship between your family is fairly one-way, with you being the giver and them being the takers. That's fine and dandy if they're appreciative and loving; however, pretty much all the data you've given us, pleasantries aside, show that's not the case.

-- They disrespect your husband, who you would most assuredly want welcomed into the family with open arms.
-- They refuse to pick you up after a journey unless compensated monetarily.
-- They demand gifts on top of the gifts you already brought because _____.

Find another dropshipper for your commercial shipping needs and make good friends at home because I see this relationship going downhill fast in the near to moderate future.

... I just re-read my comment and debated dialing it back but.. just can't. I have issues with my mother at times and she's had her mental inconsistencies and inordinately demanding behavior before as well and it wears on you. I understand that. I just think that if you're not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that there's probably a reason you're posting here and needing verification for simply telling your mother 'no, a demanded gift is not a gift, it is extortion'. You reap what you sow and if you continue to pander and coddle then you can only expect more and more of this type of thing.

Either way: good luck, I'm afraid you'll need it.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:27 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

And, as if it needed to be said, buying and shipping a t-shirt does not a 'providing for poorer members of the family' situation make. Helping out people, espicially family, when they're down on their luck is a wonderful thing.

This is not that thing.

posted by RolandOfEld at 7:30 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Part of this is the fact that you're now an expat and out of their circle of influence. You'll be receiving much long distance guilt that you're out and away from them. My parents (with whom I have the best relationship) do this to me on a regular basis from the obvious "We miss you" to the more roundabout "Did you call? I was just hanging the washing out and thought I heard the phone ring".

They're jealous that you're out and making something of your life. The advantage of being overseas is that you can make it work for you, both time zones from Vancouver to the UK and the sheer physical separation. Keep your mother at arms length and don't send the t-shirt as it's not your fault his car broke down (side note: who the hell needs payment to run family to the airport?). Maybe throw a t-shirt in your bag next time you head back to the UK, but nothing more. I help out my family when I can and finances permit as I've been lucky, but the notable difference is that they don't treat me badly.

Break the cycle. Don't let your mother hold anything over you, from the package receipt to any alleged favours. Get away from the idea of mailing presents, Amazon and the internet are your friend when you're living overseas.

Good luck!
posted by arcticseal at 11:41 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, welcome to Canada!
posted by arcticseal at 11:42 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Remember, you don't have to fight with her. You can agree with her, even exaggerating her remarks.

Her: 'But you splash your money around on lots of other unnecessary frivolities. And you have so much of it to spend. What's $50 for your brother - your BROTHER?'

You: "I know, I'm a terrible person. Sometimes I can't believe what a selfish, self-centered brat I am."

It can be tempting to make your agreement sound ironic and get into justifying yourself by talking about all you've done, but if you go this route, I suggest you not do that. Just keep it simple and clear. If you voice agreement, and reflect her accurately, she'll stop, because she doesn't have to convince you anymore. You already agree with her.

Think of it as a spiffy martial arts type move.
posted by jasper411 at 1:43 PM on October 10, 2012

I don't really understand the logic that says you have to compensate a sibling because his car broke down. It wasn't your fault the car broke. You didn't break it.
Also, I doubt it was the very road to the airport that broke his car.
And, he got paid a handsome fee for doing so, if your folks really gave him as much as a cab would charge!
I'm in the UK by the way – and yay to Primark, well done you!
I'd just refuse and leave it at that.
You're narked because your mother is being weird.
What does your brother have to say in all of this anyway? Does he not have the ability to speak or make requests, if he sees the need, for himself?
posted by MonkeySoprano at 6:02 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why are you even buying gifts for them?

>> I am honestly happy to drag whatever across wherever if it means it makes them happy and they like the stuff I bring. But to then demand more gifts, which mean I need to expend more time shopping and posting this stuff, as well as spending more money that isn't even my own? I'm not cool with that.

I think you need to figure out what you want to do.
posted by bbyboi at 1:06 AM on October 29, 2012

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