How to stop caring about this?
April 28, 2019 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I got married late last year. My sibling didn’t get me a gift. It’s upsetting me that it’s still upsetting me and I feel petty and stupid. What’s the best way to get over this?

I first got married over a decade ago. My sister never got me a gift. It upset me at the time but the marriage ended a few years later so I resolved it in my head by telling myself it was one less person to feel guilty about buying me a gift for a marriage that didn’t last. She kept saying she would get us something but just...never did. She said she’d get us some vouchers and I said what I’d find useful but they just didn’t materialise. I felt hurt especially because when she got married a few years previously I’d asked her what she wanted and she said a specific item for her house which at that time (10+ years ago) was 250. My ex and I bought it for them and it was a lot of money for us at the time. So it felt odd to having nothing in return but so it went.

Fast forward to last year when I got remarried, and the same thing. I think. She gave me an empty card on the day and when my Mother asked her afterwards what she got us for a gift she apparently said “I’ll get them something later.” She made no mention of a gift to me then or afterwards. Then at Christmas she gave us a Christmas card with a 50 voucher for a restaurant but she didn’t mention the wedding, she said “That’s for being so good to the kids.” So I was left wondering was that supposed to be the wedding gift? But how are you supposed to ask without sounding rude or grasping or something? Plus we are good to the kids, regularly babysitting and having them for weekends, helping out at short notice if they’re stuck, plus I look after them one evening every week. So it was conceivable that it was a thank you for that although she’s never got us a Christmas gift before. So I was confused, but she definitely said nothing at all about it being a wedding gift. If I knew it was I could let it go.

Why it upsets me:
I have provided free childcare for her kids at least one day a week for 10 years. I adore the kids so I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I have saved them a ton of money plus I’m very generous to the kids at Christmas and birthdays and throughout the year. I’ve no kids and never ask her for anything so it feels very unbalanced. But not even the money, just a small token as some kind of “hey you’re a good sister to me and my kids and you’re having an event so let me mark that” would have felt nice.

All value aside, not getting your sibling a wedding gift seems such an odd thing to do. I just feel hurt and rejected in some way because, like, that’s just not what you do! I see people here all the time asking for advice on thoughtful gifts and I feel like she just didn’t care and that just eats at me.

My wedding didn’t cost them anything. It was a low key affair very close to their home, no overnight stay, a cheap taxi journey, the kids were there, and we supplied a lot of food and drink. I know they’ve spent lots and lots more going to other family weddings and given generous gifts on top, so again it hurts that she will put herself out for other people but I just didn’t warrant the effort.

They have money so it’s not that. Just before the wedding they spent multiple thousands on a bespoke piece of furniture for their home. Completely their decision and I swear I do not begrudge it! I just mean this is not a case of she couldn’t afford it, they are much better off than us. A few weeks later her husband was telling me how he had spent multiple hundreds on just the “alcohol shop” for Christmas. But more than money, they, and particularly he, are very much into appearances. The places they go, clubs they belong to, etc. Where I live there’s an accepted standard of 100 cash as a wedding gift. Even if the 50 voucher was our present, there is no way on earth they would go to a wedding of one of their friends and a)hand over an empty card on the day, then b)give a 50 voucher to a restaurant a couple of months later without mentioning it. It just wouldn’t be the done thing. So I feel hurt that they feel it’s ok to do that to me because I’m not as important, or what I feel isn’t as important, or something.

Why I really need to get over this:
I know that looking over this it looks like it’s all about money and I hate feeling petty and selfish and material. I’m really not and I don’t want to be. We have enough, and a gift from her would only have been a bonus. I hate thinking in terms of value. But honestly if she’d handed me a 20 in the card on the day it would have made me happy because it would have been “here’s a gift, I bothered to think of you”. rather than “I couldn’t be bothered to even go to the ATM for you before today, I’ll figure something out later”. Or 10 towards a hobby of ours or something cheap but personal to us instead of to a random restaurant. It was being treated differently than everyone else, and treated as an afterthought, or not at all, that upsets me. I swear it’s that I feel uncared for, not defrauded or something, that’s really bothering me, like it really eats me up that she showed no thought for us.

I don’t even know if she got me something or not! I keep saying well the voucher was it. But she didn’t say and I hate the uncertainty. But I can’t ask, especially not months later, because if it wasn’t that puts us both in an awkward position and our relationship can be a bit fragile at times. That in itself is part of the hurt, because we had a big heart to heart months before the wedding and resolved a lot of issues and I thought we were a lot closer. I don’t feel I can risk angering her or embarrassing her by bringing this up so I need to let it go.

My relationship is fantastic, the wedding day was beautiful, gifts are irrelevant, and I don’t want to always feel a little sad when I think of our day because linked to that is the thought “my sister didn’t care enough about me to get us a little something” because her thinking so much less of me than other people feels hurtful and embarrassing especially given what I do for her and her kids and I really, really don’t want to feel that way. It’s pointless and pathetic and I need to grow up.

Way TL;DR: my sister didn’t get me a wedding gift - I don’t think - and I feel hurt, but feeling that way makes me feel greedy and petty and I want to just get over it. How can I do that? What can I think to move on and let it go? How can I stop feeling hurt when I see AskMes from people looking for advice on how to give thoughtful gifts? How can I stop being so damn stupid over something so unimportant??
posted by socksually active to Human Relations (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you familiar with the five love languages? Is it possible that your primary love language is giving and receiving gifts? Is this how you show love? In that case, not getting a gift might feel like she’s telling you she doesn’t love you, even though she’s expressing love in different ways.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:42 AM on April 28, 2019 [23 favorites]

As they say, it's the thought that counts, and clearly, your sister gave this no thought and so it sends a message that you count for very little.

Do you have the sort of relationship where you can talk about tough issues with your sister without things spiraling out of hand? If so, I would find a time to talk with her about this. I think you can use a version of what you've written here.

"Hey Sis, there's something that's been weighing on my mind and I'd like to clear the air. Mr. Socksually and me didn't get a wedding gift or other kind of acknowledgment from you and your hubby and we were wondering why?

Then see what she says. Maybe she'll have an explanation that satisfies you. Maybe she won't and you can explain how her actions made you feel slighted. I would absolutely not bring up the childcare. Gift giving/favors shouldn't be transactional (I'm giving you this in the expectation that you'll give me something in return). Of course, it's nice to get something in return, but that kind of gift/favor scorekeeping really undercuts the value/meaning of the gift.

I think you have to be prepared for you sister to get defensive and not get sucked into that. So make sure you can control your reactions. Don't go into the conversation expecting an apology because there's a good chance you won't get one. See this as a chance for you to express your feelings and get them out in the open. Sometimes just getting to express your feelings and not hold onto them can help you let go.
posted by brookeb at 11:52 AM on April 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

This might help: if I don’t care about someone, I buy them something off their registry. On my phone. While pooping.

ONLY IF I CARE ABOUT SOMEONE do I bother with the eyeroll situation that is buying a wedding card. God, I hate shopping for wedding cards.

She got you a card. That is harder and more annoying to do than getting you a present. Perhaps there is some solace to be had there.
posted by suncages at 11:52 AM on April 28, 2019 [13 favorites]

Maybe it is just me but I think that some people feel like wedding or baby gifts are more for distant friends and relatives and that immediate family don't give gifts on such occasions because of the regular flow of resources (babysitting, money, cooking, and on top of that other holidays whereby immediate family are the only ones exchanging). Thinking back, I didn't get my sister a formal gift when she had a baby but I bought all sorts of small things. And I definitely didn't get anything from her on my wedding.
posted by k8t at 11:54 AM on April 28, 2019 [42 favorites]

I think she doesn’t care about you as much as you care about her. You’re family and she just thinks you’ll be there forever. If it was me, I wouldn’t necessarily act on this. But I would face the truth about it to myself. Sometimes that’s just the way it is. Sometimes someone means more to you than you mean to them.
posted by gt2 at 12:05 PM on April 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you want to get over it but you can't, maybe looking into treatments for intrusive thoughts would help. Therapy or self help resources. Sometimes your head just gets stuck on something and there's no talking it out of it.
posted by bleep at 12:14 PM on April 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have been known to be paralyzed by trying to choose a wedding gift for people who are very important to me. What on earth could I possibly get for the friend who has been by my side for decades? Butter knives? A picture frame? So then it becomes an issue of trying to find something impossibly special and delightful that reflects the nature of our relationship and shows how much they mean to me...and that thing really doesn’t exist. Maybe your sister is caught up in a gift spiral like that? I find it much easier to buy wedding presents for people I am less close to.
posted by corey flood at 12:16 PM on April 28, 2019 [28 favorites]

Listen to k8t. To me it would seem a little cold and stiff to expect immediate family members to abide by the code of wedding etiquette and cough up a hundred bucks to go to your wedding. Not everyone enjoys or is any good at coming up with thoughtful gifts. I’m super close to my siblings and haven’t bought either of them so much as a birthday present in decades. If you resent proving free childcare, that’s worth discussing, but I think you need to drop this.
posted by cakelite at 12:19 PM on April 28, 2019 [19 favorites]

Maybe you could try to reframe this? Contrary to what other posters have suggested, I don't think her not buying you a gift really has to 'mean' something about your relationship. When I got married (in front of 12 people at the registry), I only received a gift from my mother, not my brother or sister. That was ok with me, because I just wanted them to be there on the day to see me get married.

I guess I should put the caveat here that I think wedding gifts are kind of archaic. I mean, the original intention of the wedding gift was to help the young newlyweds set up home. If they aren't young newlyweds but rather older newlyweds with an established home, I don't particularly see the point of gifts. I also dislike the pressure around gift giving. I give cards at weddings and try to write something really meaningful in them.

Anyway I guess my point is that different people view the importance of gifts differently. It doesn't mean that your sister and you have a terrible relationship, it means that she doesn't think this is as important as you do. Maybe you could talk to her about this but I think it should be from the perspective of explaining why you are hurt/why you care rather than that she is wrong.
posted by thereader at 12:25 PM on April 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

It doesn't seem like this is a relationship where you can expect 1) For them to follow through with what they say and 2) That there will be equality or balance in gestures, money, or gifts between what you do for them and even what they do for others.

You can either free yourself by accepting that this is the dynamic with this person and adjust your expectations, or you can manage your boundaries with them to avoid exposing yourself to it.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:27 PM on April 28, 2019 [19 favorites]

Ugh. I have a similar situation with a sibling who failed to acknowledge a milestone birthday a while back, despite my ongoing generosity to them and their children. In my case, this behavior forced me to finally recognize the pattern of callous behavior that has existed between us for many years. I have had to accept that this person is just not who I wish they were, and that they simply don’t have what I want.

You don’t say much about your overall relationship, but unless she demonstrates caring in other ways, you might benefit from thinking about it that way. In my case, it has been quite liberating, as I am now free to do exactly and only as I please with them, knowing that it makes no difference to the relationship. I choose to be kind because that’s me, but reciprocity is not an issue anymore.
posted by rpfields at 12:29 PM on April 28, 2019 [28 favorites]

Ouch ouch ouch. I can absolutely relate here.

Most of my immediate family didn’t get around to getting me a card or gift for my wedding day. Nearly six years later, I’ve let it go for every single person save one- my dad. And really the only reason why this still needles me is because he begged and demanded that we change our ceremony so he could give me away.

It’s really this transactional thing that gets to me- and it feels like getting taken advantage of. “I did X, and you couldn’t be assed to grab a card? Buy a couple plates?” I’m able to ignore the rest of the family being a little flakey because they do other things that display their love. I can get behind that- but not skipping the basic etiquette gifting rules and doing zero else.

I think the trick is recognizing that the source is a perceived transaction, and looking for your sister’s contribution in other ways (other love languages? Whatever). If you can’t find any examples of her trying to contribute to the relationship, you’re going to need to cut back or reframe your own contributions. You’re not going to be able to change her behaviors.

For example- If you want to keep helping out with the kids, it has to be a gift to them or to yourself instead of to your sister. If you cant, it’s time to stop providing it. This is the kind of stuff that eats you up and will destroy any kind of relationship.
posted by Blisterlips at 1:02 PM on April 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

Sounds to me like she has some primordial grievance against you such that nothing you are ever able to do for her will be enough — watching her kids one night a week for ten years? give me a break! — to make up for.

Did you by any chance displace her from being the baby of the family when you came along? And have you been trying without much success to please her for as long as you can remember?
posted by jamjam at 1:11 PM on April 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't think whether someone buys you a wedding gift has any correlation whatsoever to how much they care about you. Gifts are optional. If you don't like buying gifts for people who don't reciprocate with similar gifts, don't buy your sister gifts in the future; show your love for her in other ways and expect her to do the same.
posted by waffleriot at 1:17 PM on April 28, 2019 [14 favorites]

I can't believe all of the people coming on here and saying that you shouldn't expect a gift from a family member. I don't know where these people are coming from but in my family, gifts are not option for an event like this. In fact, for family members, you buy bigger more expensive gifts simply because these people are very closed loved ones and family members. (Even if they're extended family members you don't care as much about, they're still family, and you still come up with a significant gift.)

Look I know that "gifts" are things that people give willingly without strings or ties or expectations, but there are also traditional cultural practices that come into play here, and a big one is that for a wedding, you give a gift (if only to offset the cost of the meal, which I think is a lousy way of looking at it, but I've heard it repeated enough to know that people think about it in those terms).

I can perfectly understand where you're coming from socksually. I'd be holding a grudge if my sibling ever behaved in the way yours has. I know that's not very mature, but it's who I am and how I think I'd react in that type of situation.

Look, I realize that the prevailing attitude here on Ask is that everybody is supposed to be emotionally mature and perfect beings who never harbour grudges or feel upset by petty slights, and who never lose their tempers or say the wrong things. In a perfect world, it would be wonderful if people could actually act that way, but the world isn't perfect, people are flawed and emotions are complicated. I think it's perfectly natural for you to have a mix of competing emotions (being upset that your sister didn't think you worthy of getting you a gift, wanting to be there for your sister and your nieces and nephews, not wanting material things, but having a desire for acknowledgment, not wanting to be taken advantage of by a person who doesn't seem very good at recognizing or appreciating what you're doing for them, etc.).

I don't know if I have any good advice for you. In fact I probably don't. Depending on my mood, I might either have a talk with my mother (as she is already aware of the situation and commented on it when you received the empty card) and ask her to find out exactly what's going on, or I'd confront my sibling directly and say that I'm hurt by the fact that she put so little thought into the situation and let the chips fall where they may. I realize that would likely end if a big, ugly blow-up, but sometimes the air just needs to be cleared. After that then you can re-evaluate whether or not you want to continue providing childcare. (I'm pretty sure that you'll still want to do this, if only because you love your nieces and nephews and want the best for them and love spending time with them), but please know that you are under no obligation to do so (despite what you may think about being there for family).

Overall, I just want you to know that at least one person on the Internet doesn't believe you're being silly or irrational or overly dramatic, or whatever negative label you want to attach to these feelings. You're hurt and upset, with what I believe is a pretty decent reason to be experiencing those feelings. I hope somebody here has some better suggestions than I do for how to resolve the situation, because you don't sound like the kind of person who deserves to be treated the way you have been by a sibling.
posted by sardonyx at 1:48 PM on April 28, 2019 [44 favorites]

Your sister asks you for expensive gifts, accepts free childcare from you, allows you to give to her children generously at gift-giving time, knows that gifts are expected of her because she gives a plausible-sounding excuse when confronted about it...but doesn’t give you more than token gifts, and not always even that much. But she and her husband have scads of money to blow on themselves.

Your sister is selfish and shallow.

If I were you, I would dial the giving waaaaaay back until you are giving in kind. There’s nothing wrong with being generous, but if it’s breeding resentment and you’re feeling taken advantage of, then for the sake of the relationship, it’s time to dial back how much you do for them. If they have that much money, they can hire a babysitter.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:13 PM on April 28, 2019 [31 favorites]

Regardless of whether she doesn't see big formal gifts as a thing to do with family, she knows that you gave her a big gift for her wedding, which is a decent sign that you do see gifts that way.

Do you feel underappreciated or taken advantage of in general? If so, that might be something to bring up in conversation one day - not necessarily as an angry thing, and not specifically about the wedding gift, but more as a general heads up, what are your thoughts kind of thing.

If you don't feel underappreciated by her in general, then you could either talk about it with her or let it go. Does she ever get you birthday gifts, or wish you happy anniversaries and so forth? Does she teach her kids to do so? Do you do such things for her? If there's an overall imbalance and you'd rather let it go than talk about it, you could stop doing things for her and see how it feels. If neither of you really celebrates the other regularly, then maybe that does put more weight on the "treating family differently" theory, and the fact that you got her a wedding gift was sufficiently long enough ago that the more ingrained habit of not gifting won out.

Finally, just to make sure - there isn't any chance she didn't get your wedding gift to her, is there?
posted by trig at 2:23 PM on April 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also in general - how was her behavior around the wedding beyond the gift issue? Was she interested or excited? Did she offer to help with anything? Did she participate actively in any parts of it? In other words, did she make you feel supported and loved other than with respect to the gift?
posted by trig at 2:27 PM on April 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could be my wife, down to the free childcare and post-wedding conspicuous consumption. My wife actually said something to her sister at the time; the response was that the gift was "in the mail". We've dealt with the situation by turning it into a joke: "Gosh, the mail must be awfully delayed!" (It's been five years.) For me, I've long understood that her family in general is unreliable, so this doesn't bother me much. I know it does still bother my wife, though. I assume the humor helps take the edge off, but other than that, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:04 PM on April 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

All value aside, not getting your sibling a wedding gift seems such an odd thing to do.

To you, obviously, but this is not a universal thing. Neither of my sisters got us a wedding gift. It would have been weird to me if they had.

But I don't think that is the actual issue here; I think the wedding gift symbolizes every inequality in your relationship with your sister. And that you should really, really deal with that or let it go.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:08 PM on April 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I think you have a one sided relationship, you feel taken advantage of and this gift thing is really just symbolic as the tipping point that has made you realise this fact. I don’t blame you for feeling hurt either. If it would make you feel better to have resolution, I’d consider bringing this up with her.

You’re in the ‘power position’ if you will, your sister needs you for babysitting etc more than you need her so chances are she’ll want to keep you on side even if it’s just for that. And yes, it’s gross and transactional to think of your relationship in those terms but sadly that’s how she’s treating you. I’d bring it up and if she doesn’t bother to apologise or make things better, I’d consider scaling back how much you do for her because she’s shown you how she is and it’s actively hurting you. I’m sorry, I have a sibling a bit like this too.
posted by Jubey at 3:23 PM on April 28, 2019

I share the surprise that a sibling might give a wedding gift (I hadn't actually noticed my brother didn't get me one until I read this question!), but litigating whether Miss Manners calls for a gift in the general case is not relevant to this question IMO.

OP's sister said she was going to get a gift. She clearly thought a gift was appropriate in this situation (or was at least grudgingly aware of the family convention). She didn't follow through.
posted by caek at 3:27 PM on April 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

feel upset by petty slights

I don't even think this is a petty slight. I'm all for challenging cultural expectations where they've grown outmoded, or inappropriate, or are being exploited in bad faith, but sometimes Mefi likes to act like they don't even exist, which makes no sense. They are the context from which our actions take considerable meaning. Outside of a situation where it's financially impossible (and sometimes it truly is), a guest at a wedding in the U.S. gives a gift, and the closer you are, the more significant--whether that be financially or sentimentally--it should be. Choosing not to do so is a statement of disregard.

That said, it does look as if you have two choices here: to completely reframe your expectations, or to speak to her about it. From the way you've described her, I'm not optimistic about the latter, but if we want to maintain relationships long-term, we have to at least give people a chance to correct the errors they've made, and that means letting them know, in as calm a manner as possible. If the former, I suggest pulling back on the gestures you make that are clearly not valued by her and which make you feel resentful. Continuing to give without feeling reciprocity is only going to continue to build your resentment. You need to get to a level where you feel that you're not being taken advantage of.
posted by praemunire at 3:35 PM on April 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

To be fair, she didn’t tell you she was getting you a gift, she told your mom.

As others have pointed out, this isn’t really about the gift. I can tell especially because you’ve provided a ton of context and background. If you feel taken advantage of by your sister, make plans to change that. Stop watching her kids for free every week. Don’t buy her any more gifts. Maybe stop spending so much time with her until you feel a little more control of your own feelings.

When I’m feeling taken advantage of/taken for granted by someone, I just tend to my own side of the street, as they say, till I’m feeling strong enough to deal with those people again.
posted by lyssabee at 3:36 PM on April 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I come from a family of terrible gift givers and never got any gifts from my siblings when I got married (despite flying to their destination weddings and giving them gifts). It is part of a pattern in my family, my mother taught my siblings that I was not a worthwhile person. It hurt at the time, but now it doesn't. What helped was cutting off all contact with the sibling who treated me the worst, and then forgiving the other sibling, recognizing that they had been raised by the same terrible parents I had and they struggled too.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:40 PM on April 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Everyone has opinions on weddings. Personally, I'm not big on buying wedding gifts. People used to marry young and needed help setting up a new household. Most people I know getting married now are adults who have lived on their own or with their spouse before marriage, often for years. I don't really feel an obligation to buy grownups an InstaPot or KitchenAid or whatever because they got married.

But it is bad form to promise a gift and renege.
posted by shoesietart at 3:43 PM on April 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

You should tell her this bothers you, and if your relationship ruptures over it, you should stop watching her kids.

Honestly, she should have the chance to make it right---if she's truly interested in repairing things, she'd want to know that this was bothering you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:54 PM on April 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your question asks how you can get over this and stop caring about it, but, paradoxically, I have found that when I try to avoid or deny a feeling, it doesn't go away, it only gets stronger.

I think that rather than try to *stop* caring about this, you instead need to accept that you *do* care. Give your sadness over this some time to breathe. It is actually really normal to be upset about this, because your sister not giving you a gift is signaling to you that she doesn't love you and value you as much as you do her. And that especially hurts because you are doing some major caring for her by taking care of her kids.

So go ahead and be sad about it. Wallow in the sad for a little while.
[I venture that acknowledging your own sadness over this won't ruin your memories of your wedding day any more than it already is.]

There's an expression "A feeling truly felt is fleeting," and while I don't know if this sadness will pass for you, I do guess that once you've allowed yourself to feel the way you feel over this, you will be ready to take some action.

The actions that seem realistic to me in this scenario are to talk to your sister and tell her how much it bothered you, to forgive her, or to decide that you want to change the boundaries and parameters of your relationship with her. Or some combination of those. But only you can decide what will feel right to you.
posted by mai at 4:06 PM on April 28, 2019 [11 favorites]

Outside of a situation where it's financially impossible (and sometimes it truly is), a guest at a wedding in the U.S. gives a gift, and the closer you are, the more significant--whether that be financially or sentimentally--it should be.

This is absolutely untrue. The U.S. is an enormous country with a million different subcultures that have very different attitudes about whether any wedding guests, and if so which ones, are obligated to give gifts, as demonstrated in this very thread.

I say this as an American who is planning a wedding right now, and would be horrified and frankly insulted to learn that any guests thought gifts were obligatory, especially guests who were close to me.

If you're from a subculture with different expectations, that's fine! But it's worth understanding that those expectations are not universal. It's totally valid to enjoy receiving gifts as a sign of love and feel sad if you don't get one at a time when you expected to. But it's also important to understand that many people show love for those close to them in other ways, even at a time like a wedding. OP's sister may or may not be one of them.
posted by waffleriot at 4:21 PM on April 28, 2019 [13 favorites]

put the gift thing aside for a moment. Look at the way your sister behaves towards you overall.

Is she thoughtful, generous, kind? Does she host you, help you, advise you, etc? If so, then you can just think to yourself "my sister is cheap/thoughtless when it comes to gifts, but she loves me and shows it in other ways."

Or is she thoughtless, does she your childcare work for granted, is she fundamentally uninterested in your life and well-being? Then you can start coming to terms with the fact that your sister is a thoughtless person and you're low on her priority list, and the gift thing is just one manifestation of her self involvement.

Either way the gift thing is a red herring.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:28 PM on April 28, 2019 [25 favorites]

Ouch -- I would feel very hurt as well - on preview I do really like fingersandtoes' questions!

Is caring for your sister's kids something you are doing as a favor to your sister, or is it something you are doing because these kids are your family members and you are forging a lifelong bond with them?

If it's something you don't enjoy, and you're just providing care out of obligation, it sounds like you are not being appreciated and you should find something else to do (or at least pull way back).

BUT if it's something that is serving YOU and your need for connection, and you have close relationships with these kids, it might be worth ignoring the fact that you are (clearly) providing a huge gift to your sister, and reframing it as something you're doing for YOU. You have relationships with them that are independent of your sister. (It definitely sounds like the kids could benefit from a caring, supportive adult family member role model!) That way, if you're not appreciated, who cares? Don't let her appreciation or lack thereof define the value of your interaction with your nieces/nephews.

Also re: childcare -- like you I don't have kids, and I do think sometimes there are weird ways that I'm perceived when it comes to childcare. Some family members/friends think that I hate kids and don't want to babysit (not true). Others think that I am a lonely shriveled shell of a woman whose only pleasure in life is taking care of their kids because I don't have my own (uh, definitely not true). Their (frequently completely wrong) perceptions of me affect how they value my involvement with their kids, whether it's time, gifts or letters. I try to choose how and when I interact with their kids in terms of my own joy and relationships with them, otherwise I'll get all tangled up in anger and/or feeling misunderstood.
posted by rogerroger at 4:49 PM on April 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’m not a person who is capable of buying gifts. It sucks and I hate it and it took me a really really long time to accept. During that period I did a lot of telling people that I would get them a present and that I was working on it and making excuses and oh it was just horrible for everyone. It was horrible for me to live with so much shame and horrible for everyone to feel that I didn’t care for them.

I finally told people not to get me presents because I can’t reciprocate, but it took a long time to get there. I look put together in most of my life, and I think from the outside there’s no way to see that I can’t do this very normal thing.

I’m not saying that’s what is up with your sister. I’m just saying I recognize myself in your question, and if it helps to think of this as a way she Just Can’t, perhaps that is a way you can extend her some benefit of the doubt. If she shows you that she cares in other ways, maybe just chalk this up to human failing and not take it personally. I really sincerely doubt that this is about you, and you seem to have a close relationship in other ways.

It sounds like things feel very imbalanced to you. I would spend some time thinking about how things could feel more in balance. Think about this with a spirit of generosity and unconditional love - for yourself, for your sister and for your nephews. Think about each of these relationships individually and collectively and how your needs could be met in them. The wedding present is symbolic to you of an imbalance that didn’t get addressed in your big conversation with your sister. Are you giving her enough information about your needs so that she can meet them in the way that you’re meeting hers?
posted by stoneweaver at 4:54 PM on April 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I think you need to have this out with your sister. I've got siblings and, like many, I have complicated relationships with them. Gift-giving seems to be especially fraught, where it seems like we're always misjudging what to get each other (noticeably over- or under-spending in comparison to the others on a regular, ridiculously cyclical basis). I do love my siblings, but I honestly don't think I got them presents for their weddings. Neither of them needed anything that I felt I could actually afford to get them, and I'm in the camp who fundamentally feels ridiculous buying, like, a set of towels when they had already been co-habitating with their partners (and thus full up on towels) for YEARS before actually getting hitched. Weddings and all of the moden expecations around spending are, to me, kinda toxic. Who knows what your sister thinks. We know it bothers you; I think you'll never be able to really gain closure on this until you have a better sense of where your sister really stands.
posted by TwoStride at 5:17 PM on April 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m kind of “wtf” at most of the answers here— you’re giving a lot in this relationship, and it’s not about wedding etiquette or whatever else. The fact that it’s a wedding gift doesn’t mean your sister is just a radfem fighting the system by giving you a crappy half-promise and a so-so card. The more likely explanation is that she is either unthoughtful or doesn’t understand your needs. Not everyone gets wedding gifts for family, but... you got them a wedding gift, so either she forgot or doesn’t think it merits reciprocation, for whatever reason. I think the best two options are

1) tell her you’re hurt in a way that isn’t about the money or what she owes you. It will probably take some careful framing, which a therapist or likewise could help you with. Make it about the fact that you felt hurt, explain where those feelings are coming from (you didn’t feel seen during a major life event), and listen sincerely to her reply.

2) stop doing so much for her, if it is in fact the case that you’re giving 200% and she’s giving 20%. It’s a recipe for resentment. I know how incredibly painful it is when family doesn’t value you as much as you value them, but ideally you can funnel your generosity into a much more mutually satisfying relationship.

Additionally, it’s not the kids’ fault (as I’m sure you know). You can set boundaries with the parents while still being there for the kids, and if you love them that’s the best option.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:39 PM on April 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Missed fingersandtoes comment on first read but agree 100%.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:42 PM on April 28, 2019

Honestly, I think your only option is to say something to her because you've had years to find a way to get over this and you haven't, so you're either going to quietly resent her forever or you can say something and hear her side of it. Forcing this discussion may not change anything so you may just resent her forever anyway, but it's possible you may gain a new perspective and it at least gives you a chance to move on.

Maybe she has a moral opposition to wedding gifts i.e. people don't get gifts for staying single and not marrying the wrong person, and people don't get gifts when they get divorced, which is when they'd surely need a gift more. Or maybe she just didn't think it was important. Or maybe she doesn't care about you. Or maybe she hasn't approved of the people you married. Whatever it is, getting an answer may at least give you some closure.

I do think this isn't something worth being upset about (I think my mom put my name on a big gift she got for my brother - I literally didn't think about it) but that's the whole point - people view stuff like this differently and you won't know until you bring it up to her. You feel how you feel and there's no changing it. So I would talk to her and I would stress to her it's not about wanting stuff and being greedy, but it's the thought that counts and it hurts that she didn't put any thought into it and kept blowing it off.
posted by AppleTurnover at 5:48 PM on April 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm currently estranged from my sister, after she stopped acknowledging my birthday one year, very abruptly, and gave some lame excuse. She also used me as a babysitter for years, never thanking me, and then she up and moved out of state, and I only found out because she called and said she had a used sewing machine that was her kid's from sewing class, and did I want it?

Years of no contact, when her kids graduated HS, my other family members were invited, but not me due to "not enough tickets," and they were invited to her new home with a swimming pool, but not me, because apparently I didn't make the grade, not rich enough, I guess. She wanted me to become a programmer like her, and I didn't like it, so I dropped out of it. Who knows? Her husband is a dick and he has brought out the uber-dick in her. I never did find out why she dropped me like a hot potato, all I can think of is she didn't need a free babysitter anymore.

Then when my parents died, all of a sudden she wanted to be my best friend again and go on about how horrible my Dad was for dying and leaving an old house with stuff that she had to deal with, how horrible my brother was who lived at home (he died 2 years later, and my first thought was how happy she'd be to have him gone, she was that mean). I frankly don't care to be around anyone who is so thoughtless.

What I *can* tell you is that it's not you: it's her. She might mean to get a gift, money might be tight, she is ashamed of buying a poor gift, her husband might be tight with money, there could be any number of reasons. You ever see that Oprah show where people were revealing how rich they looked, but they were in debt up to the hilt? It could be that. Or she could just be absentminded, with good intentions, and flakes out at the last minute.

You have a right to be upset, sure, I'd be upset too. But try and suss it out, maybe from a family member, etc. Chances are you might find something out, or maybe there's some hidden jealousy in there, who knows? Maybe she resents having to raise kids and you are child free, so figures you have less expenses. My sister can't STAND the fact that I don't work full-time, although I pick up freelance work here and there, every time she used to call me, the first question would be, "so, do you have a JOB yet?" I'd try to explain that we have one car, I have anxiety (not a real disorder in her mind), and I could literally feel her rolling her eyes at me over the phone. I'd try and talk to her about a cousin who was ill, and she'd say, "who's that? I don't remember any of those people," even tho' we spent a lot of time with them when we were kids, and she really did know who they were. It was hella weird.

As long as you have a good relationship with her otherwise, put it down to a quirk or moths flying out of her wallet or hidden jealousy, or general flakiness. Always assume the best, until you have other information.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:21 PM on April 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think this has been fairly well covered, but I'm another person from a family where formal gifts are what you give to others, whereas the closer you are to someone, the more you just help them get what they need whenever they happen to need it. That said, I suspect you would've mentioned it if she was just generous with you whenever opportune moments arose, so maybe this is so hard to get over because the larger pattern is highly unbalanced.
posted by salvia at 8:13 PM on April 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

My dad and sister didn't get me wedding gifts either. They're kind of thoughtless and selfish people (my father is a narcissist and my sister probably is too - she claims she is, anyway). Nor do they get me birthday gifts. I choose to have a relationship with them anyway despite this and many, many other much worse behaviours BUT I only give what I feel like giving to those relationships. I stopped buying birthday gifts and fathers day gifts a long time ago for example. I am guessing you are giving too much to your sister and that is part of what you resent. Can you give less without affecting your relationship with the children?

We can't change people, we can only change our own attitudes and behaviours towards them. People "should" do all sorts of things but they don't and it's not worth our energy dwelling on it. All we can do is decide whether we want a relationship with a person who behaves a certain way, and how we want to conduct that relationship given their behaviour.
posted by hazyjane at 10:44 PM on April 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Some thoughts:
- I think in formal etiquette, they have a year from the wedding to get you a gift.
- My brothers and I all agreed not to get each other gifts for our weddings, but we did all go away for a weekend (not the bachelor party) together and whomever was getting married didn't pay that weekend.
- Once I got married, my wife gladly took charge of giving gifts to my family as well as her family and everyone we knew. I am not a good gift giver (nor receiver). I do not care if anyone ever gives me a gift.
- Having said that, your sister should have given you some gift. To me, a well thought out one rather than an expensive one would be best.
- How to get over it? Not much you can do. Flag it and move on. Know that your sister is this way and that nothing you do will change it. Be the better person (I hated when my mother said that to me so apologies) and ignore it, BUT take it into consideration when you are dealing with her.

A small aside. I have a very very wealthy friend. More money than you could imagine. I have never been able to pick up a tab when I go out with him. He has paid for 30 of us to fly to Europe for the weekend. Yots and yots of money. Anyway, for my wedding he gave me the best gift of anyone. It may have cost him $50 (at most). He took some pictures of me and him, me, my wife and him and framed them and wrote a two page letter saying how much he valued our friendship and how he thought me and my wife were a great couple and great people. I think if he had given us everything on our registry or something like 12 complete place settings, or anything really expensive, it would have been ho hum because he could afford to give us a Rolls Royce. Instead he gave something way more valuable, his love and friendship.

Write your sister a note telling her how much you appreciate her, how much you love spending time with her kids and simply end it with a thanks. You'll feel better, you might get a note back from your sister or maybe even a gift. Regardless, you are the one that understands that appearances, wealth or gifts are so much less meaningful that positive thoughts and love.
posted by AugustWest at 11:07 PM on April 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think we nth know it has nothing to do with a gift per se, but with the fact that your sister, to whom you give A LOT and often, could not be bothered to give you anything.
It’s a very imbalanced relationship and you have the right the feel hurt about that.

Other things you have the absolute right to do:
-not cover for missing babysitter even when you technically can. It’s her responsibility to find another one. Not your problem.
-decide that next week you have a thing*, therefore won’t be able to make it to night with kids (*doesn’t have to be important but I recommend doing something different so you won’t feel guilty/lonely)
-say, “sorry, I can’t” or “nope, sorry, that won’t work for me” if she asks for your help.

You do not owe your sister your time and assistance. They are not constants that she is entitled to; they are variables which you, out of the kindness of your heart, choose to provide. She needs to become aware of and acknowledge that.
posted by Neekee at 4:13 AM on April 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think your strong feeling about the lack of a present is your body’s way of telling you that this relationship is out of balance and that you are not asserting boundaries with your sister that you actually want to assert. Which makes sense, because from the sound of it, I would feel taken advantage of in your situation too.

So I think you should start figuring out where you want to redraw your boundaries with her. You don’t have to cut her kids out of your life, but consider things like refusing to be a last-minute babysitter, dialing way back on presents for her and her family (holidays only and nothing extravagant), not discussing your sister’s problems with your mom, not giving your sister the emotional labor of (say) listening to her talk over her problems is she doesn’t listen to yours. I don’t know if you do any of those things; they’re just examples of things you could do that don’t cut off your relationship with her kids.

If you do change your boundaries with her, expect her to kick up some kind of fuss, since the current situation usually suits the boundary-stomping person pretty well so they don’t want it to change.
posted by colfax at 7:00 AM on April 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

You're spending a lot of mental energy on scorekeeping here - you’re keeping track of the gifts that she’s given other people, the things that she’s bought for herself, and what you have given her in terms of gifts and childcare. How long do you want to keep this mental scorekeeping going on for?

At some point you just have to let go of all of that and see the relationship with your sister for what it is. This really isn’t about a wedding gift or lack thereof - I think it has more to do with feeling taken advantage of and not being treated the way you want to be treated, and gift giving just happens to be the lens you’re using to look at this. I don’t know if this is a different love language thing (I’ve never read the book and I should!) but I do think you feel that she is thoughtless and that you don’t mean much to her. And that’s a hard thing to come to grips with (if it's true from her end), especially when you thought you had gotten closer. She may not feel the same as you about you and your relationship. Also, I don't know your history with each other. It may be she has just no idea how to thank you for all that you do for her? I mean, how do you really say thank you to your sister for taking your kids once a week for a long period of time? What's a "good enough" gift? Maybe a $50 voucher for a restaurant is good enough for you (is it?) but maybe she's thinking, "ugh, I want to do something for OP, this is all I can think of, it's really not enough but I can't think of anything else because of our history."

So I have an unorthodox suggestion/thought experiment. Why not tell her exactly what you want/need and let the discussion flow from there, however it may? "hey sis, I know my wedding’s passed, but it would really mean a lot to me if you got something for me on the occasion of my wedding. Just to show that you care about me and that I mean something to you. What do you think?” Are you feeling terrified about being that vulnerable with her? Because I would be too! Maybe her response will be something like, “Oh, ok, I’ll get you something, what would you like?” And you tell her and she gets it for you, even if it was begrudgingly, would that fix everything for you? Or, maybe she’ll brush you off or be dismissive, and then you have to figure out how you’ll respond to that. Do childcare for her less often? Help her out less, etc.? Either way, this will definitely open up a discussion with her about where you stand with each other, and on the expectations for gift giving, like would there be an expectation to exchange gifts on other occasions? (your birthdays, Christmas, gifts for the kids, etc…)
posted by foxjacket at 9:21 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Either way the gift thing is a red herring.

This is a really good point. When a certain action or lapse gets me super upset, it's usually because there is an imbalance somewhere, or a gap between how I see the relationship and how the other person does, or how it really is. It's harder when it's family because you can't simply say, "I care way too much about this, I'll end the relationship." But you can, at any time, decide to invest less. At one point I realized, with somewhat similar family members, that I can allow myself a lot more choice about how the relationship is going to be. So I thought, how would I like the relationship to be, in a perfect world? How much of that is actually realistic? What can I do to achieve those parts that are important me?

My mother was a frequent breaker of promises. This stopped hurting me so much when I stopped idealizing her. I had looked up to her so much that it it would seem like some kind of judgment on me that she was acting that way. It now seems to me that breaking promises was not just a foible with her; she needed to be doing it for some reason. I still don't know what, precisely, the reason was but it was about her, not about me.

I would guess that your sister likes to be withholding in some areas because it gives her power. Or it may be something else entirely. But if you take care of this issue, like by talking it out, I suspect she will find some other way to accomplish the same thing.

Rather than try to fix it, you may just have to ignore this part of her personality. Less may be more in terms of this relationship.
posted by BibiRose at 10:20 AM on April 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Do you have any other siblings, or how is your relationship with your mom? In my family, I might mention this in a "bummed, confused, is she mad at me?" way to my mom or sister, and they would probably (without telling me), mention it to her. And then she would buy a gift, out of obligation. Technically some people think you have a year from the wedding to send a gift.

Would that make you feel better? I'd probably still feel shitty.
posted by amaire at 2:53 PM on April 29, 2019

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