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Grandma Gives Thoughtless Gifts

Dear Carolyn: My mother is generous with gifts to my teenage daughter, but only with gifts she personally likes, instead of gifts my daughter likes.

My daughter mostly wishes experiences — math camp, music lessons, concerts, etc., however my mom won’t spend money on that even when my daughter asks for it for her birthday or Christmas. My mom says that’s no fun for her. Therefore in place of what my daughter wants, she normally buys her useless, meetly things that end up cluttering her room and closet, such as pretty knickknacks, jewelry, purses, and fancy clothes.

This is upsetting my daughter more and more as she gets older and is making an attempt at saving for college. My daughter has cried when she’s opened up her closet to hundreds of dollars’ worth of clothes she has never worn, and realized they could have paid for the school trip she couldn’t afford.

She has tried talking to my mom about it, but my mom’s response is that it’s her money and she can choose to spend it how she wants. My mom acts like we’re ingrates if my daughter asks for money for a trip, camp or lessons.

Grandma Gives Thoughtless Gifts Should she be grateful to get anything, even the wrong thing, or should she assert herself more? Should she say, “No, thank you” to these gifts, accept them grudgingly, or accept them and try to sell them?

On the one hand, I consider it’s presumptuous for us to tell my mom what to spend her money on, but on the other hand, it’s highly hurtful for my daughter’s wishes to be repeatedly disregarded. How do you recommend we handle this?

Forcing relationship with grandmother is hurting kids

Your mom, in fact, is not generous, not by any definition I’d aspire to. She’s giving purely to please herself.

That said, certainly, no gift should ever be assumed or expected — and you’re right that it’s fundamentally presumptuous to tell others how to spend their money.

Combine all these, and here’s where I end up: Sell it. Every sequin of it for every cent it can fetch.

Since gift-giving is, presumably, about the joy of bringing joy to another, there’s room for a recipient to indicate politely what she likes. Only a purist would be comfortable with the idea of letting someone spend bundles on gifts that are painful to receive.

However since your mom has employed a purist’s technicalities to promote her own interests over your daughter’s, there doesn’t appear to be any practical purpose in trying to socially re-engineer her giving habits.

Luckily, the “It’s my money” rule has a corresponding rule: “Once given, a gift is mine to use as I please.” Not only should your daughter cash these gifts in, but she also needn’t feel one bit of guilt.

As regards the should-she-be-grateful question, the answer is, people should be grateful when others think of them,despite the result is off-target. In this case, your mother is thinking only of herself, thus while your daughter does need to mind her manners and say thank you, she can be forgiven for not feeling grateful for these uniquely thoughtless gifts.

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