Carolyn Hax: Childless couple isn’t playing by her rules

12/10/2013 12:00 AM

12/09/2013 12:24 PM

DEAR CAROLYN: On our side of the family there are four siblings and five nieces and nephews. Three years ago we decided that the Christmas gift exchange had gotten to be too much so we agreed that gifts among the siblings and grandparents would be given only to the children. It worked beautifully and everyone had a blast (we thought) watching the kids with their toys.

Last week, my brother “Ted” informed me that he and his wife “Lisa,” are bowing out of the afternoon gift exchange and will only show for dinner in the evening because, as the only childless couple, they’re “not really a part of it.” Meaning, because they don’t get any presents they’re not going to give any!

I was shocked at such stinginess considering that, even though none of us is hurting for money, they’re by far the wealthiest.

It hurts even more considering the fact that they provide a veritable waterfall of presents for Lisa’s goddaughter and every year they buy a ton of toys for the “giving tree” at their church!

As oldest, I’ve been elected to talk to Ted about this and to get him to reconsider.

– Scrooge’s Sibling

DEAR SIBLING: Yikes. You might be a lovely person and protective parent, but I can’t think of a worse message, or worse spokesperson to deliver it.

You want to “get him” to reconsider? How is it possibly your place to tell your brother how he should spend his money? And it’s inconceivable to me that you’d hit upon “their uncle and aunt don’t think enough of” the kids, and then quit your search for any other possible explanation.

I get that it looks bad for Ted and Lisa to opt out of gifts for kids, and create the appearance of stomping off because there’s nothing in this for them. Maybe yours is the accurate read.

But it’s neither the only possibility nor a persuasive one to me. If Ted and Lisa have long been the non-parents at child-centric family events, then their choice might be a coping mechanism for them – especially if they want to be parents but keep hitting obstacles.

Maybe, too, they never enjoyed the kid frenzy and prefer seeing their nieces and nephews one family at a time. Even some parents would opt out of child-centric events if they could.

Consider this one also: With four siblings and grandparents, plural, among the adults, all affluent, and with only five kids receiving gifts, it’s not hard for me to whomp up a mental image of Christmas day excess.

And for the love of molded plastic, say nothing to your kids except this, and only if they ask: “Uncle Ted is focusing on the needy – good for him. Why don’t we shop for the ‘giving tree’ too?”

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