Each year, my grandmother gets me and my wife an exorbitantly expensive gift, usually something way out of her budget. One year, she managed to procure a small library of Kurt Vonnegut novels all signed and with individual notes inside in his handwriting. Another year, she managed to find me several pounds of fresh imported truffles. Another year, she bought us apartment decorations from Turkey and Belarus done in an Eastern Orthodox Christianity theme.
I am continually blown away by the creativity and generosity of this woman. She lives on Social Security and saves up throughout the year to do this for us. She’s a quiet old lady who lives with her disabled son. She doesn’t have internet access and mostly spends her time reading and such. We talk on the phone each week and I make a strong effort to make sure she sees her great grandchildren each month.
Because of her relative poverty, I feel a strong sense of guilt when I receive her Christmas gift. She’s really the only person whose gifts I feel guilty receiving, because everyone else is spending at least somewhat within their means.
She puts a tremendous amount of thought into the gifts, and it’s one of the high points of her year when she sees me sit there in almost stunned silence, appreciating the gift. And I do appreciate it – more than perhaps any gift I receive in a given year, her gifts come with a lot of love packaged with them.
At the same time, I am aware of the challenges she faces in her life. I know she has difficulty paying her bills sometimes, and I know that the financial burden placed on her by her son’s situation makes things very tight at times for her.
I’ve found, from talking to many people, that there are a lot of us out there who are in a similar situation with someone in their life. A friend, an older relative, someone who showers us with overabundant generosity to their own detriment. We often receive their care with great appreciation, but also with a sense of guilt and confusion about what the appropriate response is.
After some discussion and thought about it, this is how my wife and I have decided to handle it.
We will accept the gift gracefully and happily. The gift is very important to my grandmother to give – it’s something that makes her quite happy. If she chooses to spend her money in this way, so be it.
We won’t compete with her in terms of gifts. Some people might decide to try to make a “gift race” out of it. All that does is encourage consumerism. We’ll continue to get her appropriate gifts, but we won’t turn it into a gifting arms race.
We will offer her help in other ways. I keep in contact with her throughout the year and, if she runs into trouble with her bills or something else, I’ll help her out. Similarly, I continue to make an effort to keep her as a part of my life – she’s my grandmother, and she’s been wonderful to me since the day I was born.
We don’t feel confrontation or a request to cut it down would really help. First of all, it creates a sense of hard feeling that doesn’t need to be there. Second, she’s far too stubborn and would likely ignore us anyway. This is something we’ve actually gone back and forth on, but we finally decided that the downsides of discussing it and encouraging her to stop isn’t worth the joy she gets out of the gift giving.
How do you handle this situation in your own life? Please speak up in the comments.