Should I get either of my step-siblings baby-warming gifts?
April 22, 2007 8:22 PM   Subscribe

My two stepsisters each recently gave birth. Should I get either of them a gift? It gets a little complicated.

Background: I have two “stepsisters”, daughters of my father’s long-term girlfriend. One gave birth to a boy last summer, and the other gave birth to a little girl last week. I’m not particularly close to either of them, and although we are fairly close in age (all in our mid- to late- twenties) we’ve never spent much time together and don’t know each other particularly well. I now live across the country from them, and the last time I saw either was about two years ago, though I spoke to both on the phone recently (but don’t regularly).

I’ve always felt like they think of me as a bit of a snob because I tended not to spend a lot of time with them when we were teenagers even when we had weekends or holidays together, and also, primarily, because our lives have taken different paths - they are now both single mothers at low-paying jobs, but previously have had problems with drug use, abusive relationships, and various illegal activities. I’m currently working at a fairly well-paying job, in grad school across the country, and I travel a lot; this part of my family (including my father and his girlfriend) have, I think, generally gotten the impression (probably because I don’t visit often) that I somehow feel that I’m better than them. I don’t, I love them all, but I’m having trouble convincing them otherwise (I’ve made a few missteps, like getting them Christmas gifts from a trip overseas, which I think was interpreted as rubbing their faces in my ‘lifestyle’, if that makes sense. I truly felt like I was getting them nice gifts that showed I was thinking of them. Also, I don’t visit as often as I probably should.)

Anyway, stepsister 1 gave birth last summer and I didn’t get her any sort of “congratulations” gift because I was still feeling bad about how my Christmas gifts were received, wasn’t sure what to get her, and was very aware of the fact that she was (and is) a below-the-poverty-line single mom, and anything beyond essentials might be interpreted as frivolous, while essentials are kind of hard to gift from across the country. I didn’t even send a card or anything, which I feel pretty guilty about. I don’t know how my lack of gift/card was received, or if it was even noticed.

However, stepsister 2 gave birth last week, and I hadn’t planned on doing much beyond sending a card until I received an email from my father that casually mentioned that the baby was given my name. I have no idea why my stepsister would have done this (beyond just liking the name, but the email gave the impression that it was done with me in mind. My name is, while not unusual, not terribly common, so I doubt it was a coincidence).

Now I feel like I should get her something beyond a card. Should I? And if I do, should I get something for stepsister 1, too? Or should I just keep it simple, and maybe send them each a card? Do I need to acknowledge that the baby and I have the same name? If I do get either of them a gift, what should it be (keeping in mind that I don’t want them to think I’m showing off)? The next time I could conceivably see either of them would be next September, but I could always send something in the mail. I’m sure I’m over thinking this, but I’d like to try to smooth things over and not offend anyone.
posted by drycleanonly to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get them both small gifts. Perhaps books, which many people of limited means often do not have in their homes. For the namesake, you could choose a book that has your name in it. Books don't have to be expensive and you could order online.

Don't mention that you didn't send a gift to the first baby earlier. Just send a gift, as a thoughtful notion. If anyone asks, mumble something about being strapped last time and having more money now.
posted by acoutu at 8:36 PM on April 22, 2007

I think if you send a gift to the second stepsister, send something to the first one as well.

I think you should go and pick out cute outfits and send those along with a nice card. An outfit is a nice gesture, and it isn't anything too lavish. Don't go out and spend $50 on an outfit, but get something cute at Old Navy or Target. Show you care, but aren't trying to make them feel bad by giving their child an outfit from a store that they won't be able to afford other clothes from.

I just think you should send a nice little card with each of the outfits. Tell them you can't wait to see the babies and you wish you could make it there sooner to see them. Don't try to be too apologetic, because it doesn't sounds like you've done anything wrong. I wouldn't overthink this too much. Just send your well wishes and don't worry about it.
posted by Becko at 8:38 PM on April 22, 2007

You are definitely overthinking things -- just send each of them your best wishes and a modest gift. A baby outfit (nothing fancy -- you can go to Target or Baby Gap or whatever), along with a cute board book or something similar would be perfectly nice. Don't wait till September; put a package in the mail.
posted by scody at 8:38 PM on April 22, 2007

Send them both a card, and if you'd like to send a gift as well, something like a cute cotton onesie would be nice, inexpensive, and not frivolous. You can get these at places like Target. I definintely think that you should not send one a card and/or gift without doing the same for the other sister.

As far as acknowledging the name, you could just say something like, "I think you chose a great name for the baby!" In stepsister 1's card, you might say something like, "This is long overdue. I hope you and baby are doing well" if you want to acknoweledge the lateness of the card/gift.
posted by kitty teeth at 8:39 PM on April 22, 2007

Would it be at all possible to visit them this time? Claim a long-overdue visit and bring both small gifts with you, so you can write off not having given the other one a gift to wanting to do so face-to-face.

Maybe everything does not have to be malicious. Maybe rather than (or on top of) thinking you a bit snob-ish, there is a bit of genuine admiration for how well you have your life together, and a desire for their offspring to do the same - hence the namesake. I know you feel badly about the Christmas present, but ignoring them because you felt hurt over their reaction to a gift-choice isn't going to help their mental image of you being 'better than them' - as though everything you choose has to be liked since you would know better.

There's nothing wrong with visiting and bringing small gifts, if only to up the goodwill meter.
posted by Phire at 8:40 PM on April 22, 2007

If you can afford it, buy them both a gift. Good manners aside, weird or not, this is your extended family and as such you’ve a responsibility to reach out on such occasions. As you have written, even if you’re not able to be extravagant, new mothers need all sorts of gear, it's something that they both could probably use (even if it’s baby toys). Be sure it’s something they can exchange should they need to (sometimes duplicates are duplicates, and you’re likely not to know what they already have). Be sincere in the card you address to the first birthed sister. Tell her simply in the card that you were very happy about her addition to the family and it was inexcusable to have not sent the gift sooner. For the second, you only need to congratulate her on her expanding family.

(I'd suggest

Aside from this being a joyous event, so be the stand-up guy regardless of your history. Anyway, If it were me, you’re likely to suffer from guilt in the future if you don’t (else, I think it wouldn’t have struck you to ask on Ask Mefi).
posted by eatdonuts at 8:44 PM on April 22, 2007

Sorry, I mean to suggest a diaper genie for the newly birthed mother, I'm told this is a must-have. As for the year old, toys are appropriate.
posted by eatdonuts at 8:47 PM on April 22, 2007

How about a phone call to stepsister 2--just something chatty: congratulations, mention the email, tell her you're honoured, or whatever, to have a namesake. Ask her if there's anything she needs. Her naming the baby after you might mean that she wants a closer relationship, so hearing from you might be really nice.

Also, if it's been a year since the first birth, send a 1st birthday present, and don't bring up anything about not sending anything last year.
posted by carmen at 8:52 PM on April 22, 2007

I would get them both the same thing. A card, maybe with a gift card to Target or Wal-Mart or Babies R Us. I think a gift card to a major store like that will let them decide if they want to use your gift for essentials or something frivolous, which takes the burden of that decision off you. I would keep the amount fairly low if you're concerned about offending them. Maybe $25? Or suck it up and pay to ship some essentials that are still a little gifty. On preview: I like the books idea too.

You'll probably also be fine with a simple card and no special message. However, if you wanted, you could go with heartfelt with both cards. Perhaps say to #1 that you are sorry you didn't get to celebrate the birth of her son earlier (I think even if you don't say anything about your reaction at the time, she certainly noticed your silence). For #2, I would say congrats and that you were excited to learn you'd be sharing a name with the newest addition to the family. For both, you could even say that you're thinking of them and would like for the two of you to be closer (if that's true). If you really felt daring, you could say that you sense a gulf between you and you're sorry for any actions on your part that may have led to that (and hope that this new birth signifies a new beginning, etc). You know better than us what is appropriate in these cases. Personally, I think you're fine with a "lighter" message, but you sound pretty guilty so maybe you want to go for the whole shebang.

Why don't you ask your father and his girlfriend? That will show them that you care and they may know best how the two sisters will react and what you should do.
posted by ml98tu at 8:52 PM on April 22, 2007

A person with class receives all gifts, which could possibly have been chosen by a well-meaning person in good faith, with graciousness.

Never confuse "poor" with "lacking class". There are poor people with and without class. There are rich people with and without class.

If they were not poor, would you have excused their classlessness over and over? I don't see why these ladies, who caused you heartache when you gave them gifts before, deserve more gifts from you. It sounds like they treat you badly in other ways too, maybe even treating you with prejudice because of your financial status. That goes both ways, you know. It's no more acceptable when a poor person does it.

I think you should definitely send cards with a congratulatory note.
posted by putril at 9:07 PM on April 22, 2007

My policy with family is to give generously on important occasions. If you are not sure what to get them, get them gift certificates to places you know (or can find out) that they enjoy. Give them money, if you like - new moms can use it. If you don't give them something on the birth of a child, of all times, you're only perpetuating them seeing you as distant and uncaring (which will, along with you having more money or a better career, reconfirm to them that you are snobby).

Send them both gifts they can use, preferably money or money equivalent, along with congratulations, and acknowledge that your dad mentioned one of them gave the child your name, and how touching that is. Ask your dad or own judgment for tips on the amount you'll give them.
posted by lorrer at 9:29 PM on April 22, 2007

Best answer: I disagree with the people suggesting money or gift cards. Sure, those are great things to get, especially as a new mom, but that risks them being offended.

Getting them something small and inexpensive like an outfit or books (I liked that idea), is something useful, but not something flaunting how much you spent. If you give them a gift card or money, they know how much you spent, and what you may not see as too much money, they may view as offensive because they might take it to mean you think they can't afford to care for their child.
posted by Becko at 9:44 PM on April 22, 2007

Best answer: Mother's Day is coming, and for both, it'll be a FIRST Mother's Day. If you're looking for a reason to give gifts to them both, there's one.
posted by houseofdanie at 12:47 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

It is nice to have a special relationship with a child, and it is good for a child to have a special relationship with an adult who doesn't have to treat their siblings etc equally as parents, grandparents, etc do . So I would pick up on the child with your name and plan to make a fuss of her. At the same time, I don't think it is a good idea to leave baby1 out in the cold entirely -- make overtures there too.
I would ring mother2 and say you are touched to hear that the baby has your name. Chat and ask "Is there anything you need?" If her request is too expensive say so -- admitting you are strapped for cash may help her feel better -- and negotiate something suitable. Starting with an offer may help her to recognise the price band.

I would also ring mother1 and say "Arrgh, I realize that I still haven't given baby1 a gift, what would be appropriate?" Talking on the phone makes it much easier to get your feelings across without misunderstanding.

We were hard up when our kids were small, and always dressing them in other people's choices was depressing -- it sounds good to me to offer gift certificates so that they can pick their own fancies. (I come from a culture where you give the baby a gift, not the parent - adapt this if it wouldn't do in yours.)
posted by Idcoytco at 4:26 AM on April 23, 2007

Why don't you just do whatever you want to do? It's not a matter of etiqueete unless you choose to see it as such.
posted by ascullion at 6:18 AM on April 23, 2007

send cards and gift certificates for mother's day. it never hurts to be gracious. and in the future, don't overthink this: these women live hard lives and now have small children. they probably don't have a lot of spare time to judge you.

and remember the kids on their birthdays in the future. cards and gift certificates are fine. even if you don't have much of a relationship with your stepsisters, if they're chaotic people then the kids will need a little more support.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:52 AM on April 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you everybody for your suggestions. I will probably send them each a light-hearted card for mother's day (I hadn't thought of mother's day before, but I think it would be a good opportunity to congratulate them both without making it seem like I'm favouring one over the other because she got a timely gift) where I'll mention that I can't wait to meet the babies, etc., and then bring some small gifts when I visit in September (I'm not so sure about the gift card idea for the same reasons Becko mentioned).

I don't think I'll mention the namesake thing beyond "she has a beautiful name", or something along those lines, and maybe wait and see if my stepsister herself says anything about it, because I worry about appearing kind of presumptuous.
posted by drycleanonly at 9:06 AM on April 23, 2007

Don't forget the broader idea that you can make it so much more valuable in non-financial terms by making it personal. For example, what about giving them both a copy of your favorite book from when you were a baby or toddler, with a note saying it was your favorite?
posted by allterrainbrain at 6:11 PM on April 23, 2007

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