How to do a gift exchange for a large family.
December 21, 2013 9:01 PM   Subscribe

One parent doesn't "play by the rules" in our family gift exchange and therefore one of the grandchildren gets two presents while all the rest only get one. As grandma/step-grandma to the other eleven kids, this aggravates me every year. Is there a better way to do gift exchange in a large family?

For the last ten years or so, our blended family, which consists of his and hers kids, kids' spouses, and all the 12 grandkids have joined in an annual holiday party and gift exchange. Due to the large size of the group, we have long quit buying presents for everyone. Now we have two separate exchanges. The younger children exchange names and purchase a present for the cousin whose name they drew, and the adults do a table gift exchange game. Once the kids get to be 14 years old or so, they are given the choice of which exchange in which to participate.

This has worked very well and to everyone's satisfaction with one exception. The parent of one of the grandchildren always manipulates it so that child participates in both exchanges. So that child then gets two gifts while the other eleven grandchildren get one gift. We have tried several ways to get her to stop doing this. Her own brother has told her to cut it out. We've had different people manage the name drawing or host the party but that doesn't seem to help. This has happened the last seven or eight years.

He was clearly asked this year and indicated he wanted to participate in the children's exchange. Mom was involved in this conversation as well. He is 15 years old. This is not unusual as there is another cousin the same age that chooses to participate in the children's exchange. Yet when they arrived tonight for the party, the mother once again announced to the assembled group that he would do both. When some in the group protested, he said to his mother, "But I thought you said this way I could get two presents." So it's clearly something that had been discussed between them.

I know this seems petty and truly in years past, I may have grumbled under my breath about it and let it go, but now the younger grandchildren are old enough to realize what is going on. Is there a better way to handle this? How does your large family do gift exchanges? Maybe we should just not do it at all but that doesn't seem fair to the little ones who go all the way down to age four and every age in between. As the grandma/step grandma to all, what is the best way for me to handle this? The party is usually at my home. Ideas anyone?
posted by tamitang to Human Relations (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you tell us why you can't just say "sorry, everyone is just participating in one this year so it's fair" and then enforce it? He can sit at the table if he wants, but you don't have to involve him in the presents.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 9:09 PM on December 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

If all the adults are truly unable to tell this mom and kid that they can't keep pulling this nonsense, I would just kill the adult gift exchange. Maybe make the cutoff 16 or 18, and after that it's up to the individual families to get presents within their small groups. That way mom can get her kid all the presents he wants.

Though honestly I would tell them that neither of them get to participate until they agree to knock it off, but I get very grumpy about this type of thing.
posted by brilliantine at 9:12 PM on December 21, 2013 [26 favorites]

New rule beginning 2014, which is announced before drawing names: The grand kids can be in ONE gift exchange - adults OR children.
posted by Linnee at 9:12 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

When they turn 14, I'd make it mandatory for them to join the adult game, period. No more kid exchange.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:12 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

It might be made equitable if he were responsible for choosing and purchasing 2 presents?
posted by bleep at 9:12 PM on December 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Instead of doing an adult gift exchange game, have the adults make donations to charities of their choosing in the amount they would have spent on the gift. Then you can all share why that particular charity was your choice, and only the kids get physical gifts.

Silver lining: income tax deductions!
posted by ambrosia at 9:19 PM on December 21, 2013 [7 favorites]

Option One: The person running the game firmly announces "Nobody gets to be in both gift exchanges"—vocally supported by the rest of the family. If mom tries to press the issue, the game comes to a halt until she backs down.

Option Two: You let the kid have two presents, figuring that with a mom like that, the kid needs all the family support he can get.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:39 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Perhaps a private conversation in, say, February, with the mom.

"Hey, Becky, I've been thinking about Christmas. Is there something going on around the gift exchange? Any hard feelings I should know about? I mean, everyone's really confused about why you insist that Junior participate in both the kid and adult exchanges. What are your feelings about it?"

Who KNOWS? Is the kid fatherless, does she have a low income? Does she feel they've been snubbed in some way? Speculation will get you nowhere, you might as well ask the mom. But from the perspective that she has a reasonable reason. She must justify it in her mind somehow.

I'm saying February because sometimes it works well to talk about highly charged things when the charge is gone .
posted by vitabellosi at 9:45 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am confused how he was allowed to participate in the adult gift exchange at seven years old. As host, you enforce the rules: one exchange only as he agreed previously and if he brought two gifts the adult gift is donated to a local charity. Someone has to be the adult since his mother clearly isn't.
posted by saucysault at 9:48 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not intending to threadsit but in answer to some of the questions...

The kid comes from a two-parent middle class family and gets lots of other gifts from parents, other grandparents, etc.

Mom made up several excuses (he couldn't make up his mind which one to do, he was at school when asked, etc) none of these were true as she was asked several times weeks ahead of time what his choice was, and he was asked as well.

It really seems to be more of a controlling, passive-aggressive move on mom's part than anything.

I like the idea of charity donations for the adults. Maybe rotate the charity? Thanks for the ideas so far.
posted by tamitang at 9:51 PM on December 21, 2013

Oh, I just caught the blended part, it sounds like this is your partner's daughter? He needs to step up as parent himself (hmm, I can see how there might be a pattern of favouritism running through the generations there) and if he is unwilling to say anything I would just cancel the adult exchange.
posted by saucysault at 9:52 PM on December 21, 2013

Well, the first couple of years it was just really awkward and everyone else just grumbled about it later. Actually I secretly fumed but that's another story. As each year has gone by, it has been addressed in one way or another and we think it has been solved until the event rolls around again and bop, there it is again. I announced in front of the group tonight that he would definitely have to pick next year.
posted by tamitang at 9:55 PM on December 21, 2013

Yes partner's daughter. Although partner's son and family are just as perturbed about it. I'll quit now.
posted by tamitang at 9:56 PM on December 21, 2013

I announced in front of the group tonight that he would definitely have to pick next year.

Why announce it next year? Announce it, enforce it, now. "Becky, we have this conversation every year that people can only participate in one. Billy is doing it in the kids one this year. It's not fair on the other children. People can take the extra present home and regift them next year. If you want Billy to have an extra present than every other child you can give it to him yourself." Basically, do it in front of everyone, so she has to fight it and be ridiculous when everyone's against her. Highlight the injustice with regards to the other children.

Bias: I absolutely hate this kind of shit where people ignore both equity and repeated requests regarding presents. Me and my siblings had to have repeated fights with my parents because of this kind of carry-on with the grandchildren (who are showered with gifts as is).
posted by smoke at 10:03 PM on December 21, 2013 [29 favorites]

Whichever adult picks his name should coordinate with the child that gets his name and get one present. This kid and his mother have clear issues that will not be overcome by simply saying no. It is like saying no to a cat.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:20 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Obviously, talking to Becky is the way to go.

But if you want to change up the game as well, how about merging the two exchanges into one and making a big event out of it?
Like this:
No more drawing names. Everyone is bringing one present (of specified value or category) and puts it in a big box/bag for their mystery giftee upon arrival.

During the gift exchange event, everyone sits together around the box/bag. Every person (children and adults) then walks up to the box/bag and takes out one gift. They do not open it yet. [In the event that there are too many gifts because Becky did bring two or whatever, it just remains in the box/bag, which is put aside].

So, at this point it is fair and everyone has one gift. To turn it into a fun event you'll need some music (think musical chairs). So when the music stops EVERYONE has to give their gift to their left hand neighbor. Play music again, people can shake and examine their new gifts but not unwrap them yet. When the music stops again everyone (if they choose to) can walk up to someone else and they have to exchange their gifts. And so on.

A lot of laughter, mingling, fun and the message that gifts are not that important after all later everyone can finally unwrap their little gift and present it to the others. If people want to exchange the unwrapped gifts at this point, they could do so as well.
Hope this helps.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:35 PM on December 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree that you need to have a conversation, and then enforce it.

"Look, it's not fair that Johnny gets two presents while all the other kids get one. You are welcome to get Johnny as many presents as you'd like on your own time, but not during our gift exchange. Johnny will need to pick either the adult table or the kids' table this year. Whatever present he doesn't pick will be donated to charity."

Then be done with it, and donate whatever he doesn't get to the appropriate charity. Same goes for anyone else who tries to scam the system. Christmas is about giving and family, not trying to get the most presents. (I'm also in favor of changing the system entirely as others have suggested.)
posted by Crystalinne at 11:24 PM on December 21, 2013

This year inaugurate a new tradition: each kid gets a special second gift - except for the one who already gets two. No need to break the bank, just give the other kids each a little wrapped treat that they get to open and enjoy after dinner, while this woman and her child watch.

Alternatively, the grandchild who picks this cousin in the kids' exchange should get him a lump of coal.

Then let his mother start a conversation about what's fair.
posted by nicwolff at 12:04 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yet when they arrived tonight for the party, the mother once again announced to the assembled group that he would do both.

You are the hostess. You say, "Sorry, Mary, but Johnny has to choose, just like all the other kids!" and you smile and shut your mouth -- no explanations, no excuses. And you just keep repeating it if she objects.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:14 AM on December 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

Here's our rule: kiddos get individual gifts until they reach 17 y/o, then they shift over to the adult program, which is that anonymous Kris Kringle exchange. And, man, it seems once in their teen years, the kids can't wait to move to the adult game, which is hilarious. But, no, no double-dipping. The offending group has to know that they come across as avaricious and rather icky?!
posted by Lornalulu at 4:24 AM on December 22, 2013

I agree with the suggestion that you just make 14 the cutoff where all kids join the adult table. Why complicate the coordination?
posted by Kriesa at 4:59 AM on December 22, 2013

I don't understand how she is managing this -- there's not some outside force, is there? Can you just not put his name in the basket for the adult gift exchange or something? Just tell them "no, I'm afraid that won't be happening" and then don't do it. Everyone is on your side and I am 100% positive that you are not the only one filled with resentment (as you say, it's not about the presents, it's about this woman's ludicrous entitlement). If she wants to make a big scene that's her issue. He can't FORCE someone to buy him a present! Just make sure he only gets assigned one Santa.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:29 AM on December 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

Three ways to go here:
1. Charity gifts only for the adult group. I like this one, especially if you can coordinate it with the other adults (but not Johnny or his mom) beforehand..... picture their faces when they find out Johnny's second gift is a donation to the local food bank!
2. Go strictly by the current rules, starting now. Say you do the kid's exchange first; then when you later do the adult exchange, if Johnny tries to join tell him "no, you already participated in the kid's exchange". Then hold tight to that: don't let Johnny or his mom walk all over you.
3. Place a strict age cutoff on the two exchanges: no more you-can-choose middle ground, a simple 'once you hit 15 you cannot participate in the kid's group'.

Alternatively, if you're feeling tough enough and think you'll have enough backup: hold a second kid's exchange this year, for all the kids except Johnny. When Becky bitches and Johnny whines "it's unfair!", as they surely will, just keep repeating that this way all the kids, not just Johnny, get two goodies. Then go to strict adhearance to the rules for next year.
posted by easily confused at 5:49 AM on December 22, 2013

If you're doing a table game for the adults, just don't let him put one in if a child has already gotten his name. Tell him to put it back in the car, he made his choice to participate in the kids' game and stick to it. He's old enough to get it.
posted by checkitnice at 5:50 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

"oh whoops you have two gifts, that's not how it is supposed to work! I know, let's donate one of those to Toys for Tots. I already have a bag with another gift I'm going to donate."

take gift, put in bag, donate.
posted by sciencegeek at 6:03 AM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

On my mom's side of the family, there are 11 siblings (my aunts and uncles) each married with 2-4 children and 1-10 grandchildren, so...a LOT of people. We did the kids exchanging names and adults doing a gift game thing for many many years. When there got to be too many adults (my generation growing up), we cut out the adult gift game all together. The kids exchange is now a visit from Santa (one of my uncles dresses up; the parent of the kid brings the gift for their own kid, Santa hands them out as the kids come up to pose/sit on lap). It's really just for the young kids (10 and under), as most kids stop wanting to do it once they realize Santa isn't real and their parents are just buying the gifts. And since there's a middleman (i.e. Santa), you can sift out any multiple gifts -- that is, some parent buys/brings several gifts for their kid Santa can just not put those in his bag before 'coming down the chimney.'

I'd advise cutting out the adult game or switching it to a charity donation or a white elephant game. You can also just make it 15+ has to participate in the adult game (or just opt out of gifts all together) and don't put his name into the kids gift exchange.
posted by melissasaurus at 6:46 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't understand how this works - if everyone brings only one present, how does he even end up with two presents? Doesn't everyone pick a name, either from the adult group or the child group? If you control the picking of the names, then I don't understand how he gets two presents. Especially if he only brings one present to the party.
posted by barnoley at 7:08 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Because it sounds like everyone involved gets other gifts, and no one is getting the gift from this party as their only holiday gift, it's time to change the rules, not change the game. I'd recommend setting a yearly theme for the exchanges, making it funny, and giving a prize to the top GIFTER in the adults and kids category.

I totally stole this idea from a coworker, who does it every year with her rapidly expanding family (currently three generations and about 20 people). This year, their theme was "oversized things" and their family gift limit was $25. The exchange was last night and her facebook updates were hilarious. Someone got a giant gummy bear. Someone got an pack of 10,000 star-stickers. Someone got a bobblehead doll. Someone got Twin-XL sheets for college. Everyone voted for the best thing that fit the theme, and the winner got to take home an extra batch of cookies. In previous years, themes have been space, orange, and endangered species. (I think they let the winner pick next year's theme?)
posted by juniperesque at 7:09 AM on December 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

To Mom, beforehand: Cut it out. This causes bad feelings, and it's not okay
posted by theora55 at 7:13 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The younger children exchange names and purchase a present for the cousin whose name they drew, and the adults do a table gift exchange game.

Is there any reason you can't leave him out of the children's name exchange? Just have whoever is running the exchange treat it as though he has already elected the adult table exchange (which he effectively has, given that he's participated in it for a number of years). If he's not in the children's exchange there will be no way for him to finagle another gift last-minute at the party, because no one will have drawn his name.
posted by payoto at 7:28 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The younger children exchange names and purchase a present for the cousin whose name they drew, and the adults do a table gift exchange game.

Since someone at the kid table already pulled his name and bought for him, let him stay in the kid exchange, but put the gift he presumably also brought for the adult game aside so he'll be out of the game. Use the beloved "That won't be possible - one gift per person is our rule" line over and over. Then send the adult gift he bought home with him and his mother.

In the future, no more choice. Kid exchange until you are 16/17/18 (choose one). Then you're an adult. No need to alter the adults' fun (this is from my POV, I hate White Elephant games and I hate when people give to a charity they support in my name) in order to control a child.
posted by kimberussell at 7:50 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it isn't clear how this works that he manages to get into both exchanges. Do you draw names for both in advance?
posted by jeather at 8:35 AM on December 22, 2013

OK, so as I understand it, the kids' gift exchange is done by drawing names and purchasing something for that specific kid. That seems necessary, because it'd be really difficult to find something that would be appropriate for a child anywhere from 4 to 15.

Then, the adult table game is just a matter of putting all the gifts in a pile and playing some sort of game to match each to a recipient.

So he is at least bringing two gifts in exchange for two, which is probably why they think their arrangement is fair. Maybe if you could explain to them (both of them--15 year olds are mature enough to understand these things) that having a much older child getting these benefits is going to be hurtful to the younger children, and that as kids, their contributions don't come from them, but from the parents, so in the end, it really does mean that he is getting more stuff than the other kids.

Then, just bar him from the kids' exchange next time, on the assumption he's going to pull this next year as well. I don't think it'd really be fair to make it a rule for everyone, since everyone else has understood and complied with the rules. That'd be sort of uncomfortably Christmas-ruining, and some people would likely be justifiably mad that they were being punished for something someone else did, as the children's exchange is probably a tetch better because the gifts are chosen personally.

Or make up a new rule that once you've participated in the adult version, you're ineligible for the children's exchange; and the fact that (I assume) he's the only one it applies to is just a coincidence.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:39 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the replies. Lots of good ideas here. Yes, we draw names for the kids' exchange due to the disparities in ages, and then play what we call "dirty Santa" for the adults where you select a gift from the pile and then the others can select an unopened gift or steal one that's already been opened. I'd hate to cancel this part as everyone enjoys the game. I think the easiest solution will be just to not even include him in the kid exchange from now on and just put him in the adult one only. If mom asks about it, I'll just tell her the truth that since son couldn't decide, it was decided for him.
posted by tamitang at 9:19 AM on December 22, 2013 [9 favorites]

Passive Aggressive Answer:

If you have not pulled names, I suggest at the adult table just letting the adults know if you get kiddo, then just draw another name and throw his name out, he is participating in the children's exchange only. When he comes up with one gift play dumb.

Honestly, I think you should enforce the rules NOW. He is 15 years old. He is perfectly capable of understanding. And if he argues the "my mom said...", be honest that his mom is trying to scam the gift exchange in his favor. This is fair for everyone. If your mom wants to give you another gift later, she can. But here in this house there are no exceptions.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:21 AM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

(It may be unfair to penalize the 15 year old for the choices of his mother.)

If I were the parent of the other children, I would tell them that sometimes other people do not play by the rules and sometimes things work out unfairly as in that person is getting two gifts instead of one but that is not how we operate, etc., learning lesson.
posted by RoadScholar at 11:01 AM on December 22, 2013

There are two other things that you could try (there is something about your description of this whole thing, OP, that rings bulldozer from the mother that I suspect she may try to get him to still get 2 presents. I also think that your group should do the game that you have always done because why should one person who just wants more ruin and guide the actions of everyone else?

I would try to have an adult one-on-one conversation with junior if you have the opportunity. Not as an attack, but more to get his perspective and to get him to realize the consequence of an action like this.My concern is that if his mother just sees prizes and finds a way to shove and manipulates rules so that junior gets more, is this happening in other places and what will be the consequences for junior in the long run? Anyway, for the conversation, you could open it (not now, a month or two from now) with the comment, "Jr, I've noticed that you seem to always end up doing action X the last few years. I've wondered why - I thought that it could be [insert negative possibility, scrooge/greedy} or another possibility could be {you don't get any gifts at home, Y or Z ). So I wonder why...." Then be silent. Most people fill in the silence. Add another observation or comment if he doesn't fill it in. But there may be some reason that may shed light on this whole action. The other thing is at the end of the conversation, thank him for sharing, but also mention how it affects the way other people feel and see the action. I think that he is old enough to speak to his motivation and reflect on an action for the future. Again, it is not as an attack, but more to help you understand and to help him understand.

The other that you could do next yr, especially if all the older kids are in the adult group by default and/or choice and you have people who will squawk/complain, just make a comment along the lines of "Really? This is the children's table? You want to be in the children's table?" "Hmmmm, all the older kids, Bob, Jane, and Billy seem to want to be at the adult table. They seem to have outgrown wanting to be at the children's table." Since other people have complained about this behavior, another adult saying one of the comments besides just you should drive it home. Don't let the groups start until he decides, but my guess is if it is pointed out as a maturity type action/how he may stand out by not doing it, he may comply.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 12:25 PM on December 22, 2013

Each family unit gets the same number of gifts as there are people. If a family unit is a mom, dad, and kid, then they get 3 presents. It's ok if all 3 go to one person in the unit, but there will only be 3 total.

Alternatively, do the adults really need gifts? After a certain age, you get to a point where it's not really important -- maybe all the adults have reached that point by now? As someone in a family who stopped giving gifts several years ago (we're all adults), I've got to say it's really a liberating experience. I'd recommend it to any adult.
posted by Houstonian at 12:53 PM on December 22, 2013

One thought that just occurred to me-if he is putting two gifts into the system, maybe it really isn't that big a deal. Is it?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:31 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wonder what do the other kids think about their cousin's behavior? If they fuss at him directly, maybe he might feel a little more ashamed of playing the system, or, alternately, feel more responsible about the poor example he's setting for the little ones.
posted by desuetude at 2:10 PM on December 22, 2013

A thought for next year. For many years, my extended family did the pool by generations. There was a "parent" generation pool, and then there was a "child" generation pool.
posted by oceano at 6:38 PM on December 22, 2013

I'm all for making the kids exchange cut off age 14. From 15 on, it's "Dirty Santa, Yankee Gift Exchange, etc." I agree, that game is hella fun!

I'd call the Mom now. "Is Jason participating in "Dirty Santa" or is he doing the kids exchange?" You can head this off at the pass before she hits the door. If she hems and haws, you can be direct, "Mona, we're not playing that this year. One or the other, not both."

If he's already drawn for his cousins exchange, then that's it. No "Dirty Santa" for him. If he brought a gift for it, just say, "Jason, you opted to exchange with the kids this year. Why don't you keep your "Dirty Santa" gift or give it to your Mom tomorrow?"

I get that 15 is a rough age, you may not be ready to leave the kids table, but what the adults are doing looks like a lot of fun and you don't want to miss out on anything. But 15 is old enough not to have special rules and to understand that if you're being asked to make a decision, that you should make it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:57 AM on December 23, 2013

1. Get some very unusual wrapping paper.

2. Get one trustworthy adult to write everyone in the family's name, young and old, on the back of that paper. Leave enough space around each name so that you can fold the paper a couple times and conceal the name.

3. Get two hats. Gather everyone in the family and give them each the one piece of paper with their name on it. Adults put their names in one hat, kids in another. Tweens get to choose.

4. Everybody pick a name from the hat they put their own name in. If they pick themselves, they put it back and pick again.

5. Gloat at jerk mom.

The digital equivalent of this is to set up two gift exchanges on elfster. Have a trusted adult handle it. If jerk mom tries to enter her kid in both, call the kid, ask him to pick, delete him from whichever exchange he didn't pick.

All of that said, really, as many people have said above, the real solution is to confront jerk mom and refuse to back down no matter what she says, and to monitor the exchange and prevent her kids name from being available to draw twice. If you have to be patient and persistent, so be it. If you have to be confrontational and condemning, and you think that will work, it's OK to do that too. She's being a total jerk.

One more thought: email a link to this page to every adult in the family, including jerk mom.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 7:37 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

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