What are these people thinking? Not only did these poor parents have to have a heartfelt talk with their kids, but they also had to confront the strange relative or friend about throwing all logic out the window when finding a present. It makes me very suspicious of how these bizarre gift-givers function in the rest of their life. Content has been edited for clarity.
Forgiveness Is Never Easy
“A Kleenex box. Earlier this year, my mother-in-law brought gifts for her grandkids for some obscure holiday. She happily pulled out gifts for my niece (10) and nephew (7), including chocolates and toys. My daughter (10) was given a small set of doll accessories. For my son (12), my MIL pulled out an empty, dirty, used Star Wars-themed popcorn box from the movie theater, and a small Star Wars-themed box of Kleenex. To his credit, my son did his best to hide his disappointment. He thanked his grandmother, but it was a difficult ride home to be sure. My mother-in-law isn’t that old, by the way. She’s not even 65 years old yet. I can’t even make an excuse for her. She does the same thing with my sister-in-law and my husband. She’ll shower my sister-in-law with expensive concert tickets and ‘puppy grams’, despite being on a very tight fixed income. Meanwhile, she’ll give my husband a pair of mismatched socks covered in dog hair that are two sizes too small for his birthday (when she remembers).
We have done nothing but support my mother-in-law in the past. We saved her house, renovated it, and even cooked her dinners. After 6-9 months of this with no thanks from her, we realized she just expected this from us while going out to ‘play’ and have fun with my sister-in-law. We slowly scaled back our efforts. When it comes to her grandkids, she feels she needs to spoil my niece and nephew. That’s what grandmas do, but I’ve never seen someone do it in such an unbalanced fashion. My kids noticed a few years ago, and there would usually be a lot of tears on the way home from her house.
One time, my daughter gently asked her why she would give her other grandkids unlimited candy and toys, while not doing it for her (and her brother).
My mother-in-law told her, ‘You have a daddy. They don’t.’
Sigh. It’s a terrible reasoning to give a child, especially when my former brother-in-law has partial custody of his kids. We had a huge blow-up not long after that conversation (for a variety of reasons), and the relationship between our family and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law has never really recovered. I suppose we should be happy that she at least knew my son loves Star Wars. It was also a good way to begin teaching our kids that life isn’t fair, forgiveness isn’t easy, and sometimes people confuse material things with love.”
“Is This What They Really Think Of Me?”
“The present wasn’t sent to my child, but to my nephew. I was highly offended, and he was quite clearly distraught when he realized what the present was. My nephew came to live with me at 16, after being beaten by his father. As it turned out, this was not the first time he’d been hit, but this was the first time my husband witnessed it, and he immediately removed the boy from the home, at the boy’s request by the way. After about six months, my nephew decided to make contact again with his family. His father, my brother, never apologized for the beatings, But his mother seemed to be trying to build a bridge. Christmas came soon thereafter, and we received a large parcel addressed to my nephew.
The parcel was full of a number of small wrapped gifts, and I use the word gifts very loosely. I suspect that she had simply cleaned out what was underneath the sink in her bathroom because the gifts were things like scented soaps, a used razor, shampoo, deodorant, a book of spiritual poems with a floral design on the cover, a broken tape measure, and several other items of a similar nature. Most of the items had been used or at least opened. At first, my nephew was so excited because he thought that this was their way of making amends. But as he opened each individual gift and saw yet another used piece of trash, he became more and more withdrawn and upset. He actually looked at me at one point and said, ‘Is this what they really think of me?’
After a while, I made him stop opening the gifts because it was just clearly too upsetting for him. At that point he didn’t even want to open the gifts that we had purchased for him. He went to bed on Christmas Day at about 6 p.m. I’ve never seen him so depressed. It was a year before I allowed my brother and his wife to contact him again, and I gave them a piece of my mind about their idea of a gift. They continued to deny that any of the items were used or re-gifted, but given that many of the items were suitable only for a female, even if they hadn’t been re-purposed, they were thoughtlessly purchased.”
Her Plan Was Forever Ruined
“When my daughter was born (in the late 80s), I made up my mind that she was going to be subjected to as little as possible of the gender stereotyping that was already a feature of toy aisles, nursery school practices, and advertising on children’s television. She was going to build with primary colored Legos, not pink and purple. She would pretend to be an astronaut, not a hair-stylist, and there would be NO DOLLS (despite my recollections of my own large collection of much-loved dolls, with whom I spent many happy hours).
The first two efforts went fine. There was very little pastel in her life, and space-ships, trucks, and the like took up a fair amount of space in the toy chest. But then my mother arrived for my child’s second Christmas, wearing a nervous yet knowing smile, with a lovely, cuddly baby doll whose eyes opened and shut. I growled at it and at her, but then found myself assisting as she finished off the tiny cable-knit sweater she was making to supplement the doll’s outfit. And come Christmas morning, my traitorous child, of course, deemed the doll by far her favorite present that year.
It took only that to convert me. There were several more dolls over the next few years, for whom my mother and I made many more clothes, including a set of school uniforms for the entire collection when kid was in first grade. No Barbies (no one in the family had any problem adhering to that stipulation), but Rachel, Belinda, Brittany, Emily, Eric, Ryan, and at least two or three more whose names I forget. My kid still grew up a feminist. It was fine. She came by the other day to sort through the collection of dolls, doll clothes, doll furniture, and stuffed animals as she and her boyfriend prepare to serve as foster parents. They took several bags full of stuff, but I don’t yet have permission to dispose of the rest. It’s okay, I can wait.”
Rubber Chicken Ruined The Family
“I was the one to give the inappropriate gift and the scene that followed left me in tears and ruined Christmas for me. My youngest brother asked me to commit to caring for his three-year-old daughter because he and his wife wanted to enroll her in a pre-school program near where I live, but they had no care for her before and after her daycare center, which ran from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. I was thrilled to do it. I adore her, so it came to be that every weekday he dropped her at my home early in the morning. I fed her breakfast, we hung out until 8:20 a.m., and I drove her to preschool, where she had a blast until I picked her up at 1 p.m. and kept her with me until 5 p.m., when he picked her back up to go home for the night. Naturally, she did everything with me and shared all kinds of regular activities with me each afternoon. We shopped, went to library story time, and played at the park.
It was December, Christmas was just around the corner, and we were busy with a shopping list filled with the names of loved ones that we wanted to buy little gifts for. She listed her pet dog as top priority for a present, so off we went to the pet store. I told her to pick out the perfect gift and I would buy it. She led me to the dog toy aisle where she preceded to test out the possibilities. After thoroughly looking, she chose a plastic chicken shaped like a bowling pin that had a bikini on it, squeaked when she squeezed it, and danced to a chicken song. She picked it, I paid, and the store wrapped it. She could hardly wait to give her pet the gift.
Fast-forward, her Dad picked her up that evening, and they put the pet gift under the tree to save for Christmas morning. So far, so good. We are full of the gift of giving, which seemed like a nice thing to encourage in a young child. My brother called me Christmas afternoon to let me know that the bikini-clad chicken pet chew toy was highly offensive, totally inappropriate, and had been opened in front of mixed company. This was embarrassing him and everyone else. He went on about what the heck was I thinking and berated me with comments to the effect that I am a bad influence on his daughter, and the toy had been promptly dispensed into the garbage pail. I have to say, I felt like garbage and started to cry. He hung up. My Christmas was spent worrying about the whole thing, which ruined it for me.
The following days I asked everyone I knew if they thought I made a poor judgement call, including the clerks at the pet store. The only responses were ones of disbelief that the chicken was in poor taste. I did apologize to said brother, and we moved on back to our regular routine, though I still (to this day three years later) feel bad about the whole thing. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that he’s the one who should have felt bad.”
“It’s more of how my mother-in-law treats my 3 kids differently that bothers me, and that is reflected in her gifts to them. I have 3 kids, 2 boys and a girl in the middle of the 2 boys. My mother-in-law is a bitter, self-absorbed person who cares about no one but herself and her own 3 children. She is wealthy (family money), and has never worked a day in her life. She also has 2 boys and a girl. She favors the middle son and younger daughter, and takes every opportunity to belittle my husband, the oldest. It has been like this his entire life. She especially spoiled her daughter. My husband and his brother both are wonderful, hard-working people, well-liked and respected in their communities and job fields. My husband has had to fend for himself his entire life, and shielded his younger siblings from his mother’s behavior up until he left for college.
When I came into the picture, I was his first girlfriend, his brother and sister had never had a partner either, so I was pretty much the first to ‘enter’ the family. I was met with hostility, of course. When my husband introduced me to his mother, she stared at me for a moment before turning to my husband and saying, ‘Why do you bother? She’s a college freshman, she’s going to lose interest in you and leave you for the first thin, good-looking guy that comes along.’
We’ve been together 14 years now, and I love my husband, big belly and all. It didn’t help that I am part Native American, and she has used colorful terms to describe that part of me, which she uses when she ‘thinks’ my husband and I aren’t watching. Also, I come from a ‘lower-class’ family. My boys have my coloring: dark hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. My daughter is blonde, fair-skinned, and blue-eyed. She favors my daughter ENORMOUSLY.
She gives my daughter lavish, age-inappropriate gifts, like a huge, fancy dollhouse that’s more suited for an 8-year-old than a 2-year-old. That dollhouse was destroyed in 6 months, just because a 2-year-old, even a gentle one like my daughter, is not going to understand the limits of fragile items. Not to mention we do not have the space for big, fancy toys. My mother-in-law is aware of this and takes the time to make jabs about how we need to stop living like serfs and get a bigger house. The boys? She often ‘forgets’ to give them gifts. When she does remember, it’s usually used clothes (which we don’t mind because we get thrift store clothes for the kids already, but it just goes to show the difference in gifts for the boys and my daughter) or cheap, already-broken toys. My oldest son (5 years old) is a sweet, gentle kid who loves cars, animals, dolls, dollhouses, and the colors pink, purple, and green. My mother-in-law takes every opportunity to try and ‘make him into a real boy’. He overheard her say this once and was upset because he thought he was a ‘real boy’ already, and didn’t understand why Nana said he wasn’t. He is also old enough to notice the discrepancy in the gifts Nana gives him and our youngest son, and the gifts she gives our daughter. It hurts his feelings, so we’ve started to hide and check Nana’s gifts for our daughter, so we can get gifts for the boys that’s as good as what our daughter gets.
I hate this. I’m perfectly fine with cutting the woman out of our lives, because there is nothing that benefits us in continuing this. But my husband doesn’t want to. I think a small part of him believes and hopes that she will have a change of heart. Not to mention, in the 14 years my husband and I have been together, she has never once remembered my birthday. For the first 5 years of our lives together, she would misspell my first and last name, even giving me entirely new names on occasion. For Christmas, she will give my husband a gift and say it is for both of us when it’s clearly for him, or clearly used to make a jab at me. Once, she gave us used cleaning tools and said that it was so he could try to help me keep the house clean.
Last year, she gave ME a gift. It was only because my brother-in-law had his first serious girlfriend and she was spending Christmas with them. My mother-in-law likes her. She’s thin, beautiful, and comes from a well-to-do family (please don’t get me wrong, I love my brother-in-law’s girlfriend, it’s just how my mother-in-law sees things). So, my mother-in-law got her a gift, a really nice, expensive gift. She knew my brother-in-law would have chewed her out if she didn’t get me a gift too, so she got me one. I opened it, and it was a stack of dirty old magazines. Not ‘dirty’ in subject, but dirty as in she pulled them out of the garbage bin. I burst out in uncontrollable laughter, because this was creative and took her a lot of EFFORT. She had collected magazines that were all related to how to decorate houses, how to design and stage luxury homes, and how to keep homes clean. I just feel so, so bad for my husband because he’s the sweetest person and to have endured the emotional and mental abuse his mother put him through growing up seems like far too much.
I have learned to turn my anger towards my mother-in-law into pity. We have a wonderful, happy family and she misses out on this. She’s dying (cancer), and while her children do their ‘duty’ as her kids, they don’t do it out of love. My husband doesn’t mourn or fear her passing like he did when his father died. That’s just so sad.”
Absolute Jaw Dropper
“My son’s birthday is between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. When he was younger, and to a certain degree still now, the UK pretty much shuts up shop in that period of time, unless you’re a shop having a sale. Nowhere was open to booking a kid’s birthday party, like nowhere. Wacky Warehouse, Pizza Hut, even McDonald’s weren’t sold on the idea. And as every kid knows, having a birthday in a school holiday tends to mean you get a bit forgotten about. If you live more than 10 minutes away from the school you attend, you may as well vanish off the face of the earth for the duration of the holidays too. So with that thinking, and thankfully living in what can only be described as a HUGE Victorian basement flat, I always held birthday parties for him at home. Always enjoyed them, had crowds of people, loads of food, great games and good times all round, but the presents he got. Yikes.
Now I’ll add right here and now, my child is not materialistic in the least. The best part for him was having a houseful of his mates and a party going on, he didn’t care if there were gifts or not. Me, I loved seeing my child enjoy himself, I loved having the place full of laughter and fun, I loved catering it, setting it up, just the whole buzz of the day was great. Bring a gift or don’t, we invited you because we wanted to share the day, the celebration, with you. Each child always went home with cake and a party bag, and if I knew the parents, then cake for them too! But the presents my kid was gifted.
You know those shoddy afterthought gifts your kids get from distant relative, like one step up from a gumball machine gift? Or even the opened on Christmas Day and broken the day after gifts? Yeah, those are the kind of things my child regularly received. Sometimes it was still in the original Christmas paper the giver had received it in! The inside tag wishing someone a merry Christmas is a bit of a give away!
He received obviously pre-watched DVD’s or console games, pre-read books, games missing pieces with crumbs of Christmas Cake in the box, and countless broken toys. I hope I don’t sound ungrateful here, I’m a huge fan of recycling and using second hand/charity shops, but I just found this to be so rude. Now I think it was sad. I know the people who did that to him, and I knew each of them, without exception, to be much better off financially than we ever were. It wasn’t the money, it was the lack of thought. We’d send out invites a month in advance, the majority of the time the parents would stay awhile too, have a drink, something to eat, and chat whilst their kids spent a minimum of four hours eating, screaming, and burning off Christmas energy at my place. The absolute jaw dropper was the mother who gave my child his birthday present – wrapped in Christmas paper – whilst handing me the receipt, telling me her own child had received it for Christmas and promptly broken it, but if I wanted to return it and get a replacement I could! Gee, thanks.
I appreciate that it’s Christmas and money is tight, but really, please please don’t recycle your kids used and unwanted Christmas gifts on the next kid to have a birthday after the day!”
“My son was maybe 2, and my mom absolutely doted on him. She had just survived her first cancer battle and he was her entire life. I think she knew that there were many circumstances that, had they been slightly different, would have resulted in her not being in his life. Those exact circumstances somehow aligned later on, and she lost her second battle with cancer when my daughter was 4 weeks old. Knowing that she may have never had a chance to be in my son’s life, I had no rules when it came to her relationship with him. Even more so during my second pregnancy, when she knew it was just a matter of time. I didn’t want to interfere in any way with their relationship, the memories they made together, or to control the time they had together in any way. She was an amazing mother and even better grandmother. If she wanted to spoil him in the ways only grandparents can, and that I had no hope of even getting close to as a single mom, I was all for it. We also lived with her for the majority of the time between his birth and her death just before my son turned 4. He’s 8 now, and he still has great memories of her. I really do cherish the time they had together, and I honestly think that their relationship is a big reason why she managed to live twice as long as doctors expected once she was in Stage IV.
That being said, she spoiled him. I worked at Babies R’ Us at the time, and she would often bring him to visit during my weekend lunch breaks. She always left with some kind of new toy to occupy him while I worked. This time, it was this little zoo themed musical toy with buttons and all kinds of sounds. God was that thing obnoxious. Everyone in the house hated it and the incessant noise it produced. But my son LOVED it. We didn’t give my mom a hard time for buying it, it really did keep him busy for longer periods of time than any other toy.
While I think that toy is in the top 3 most annoying toys my kids have ever had, it reminded me of my mom. As much as I hated it, I loved seeing the years of use it got, the smiles it put on my kids’ faces, and knowing that even though she was no longer with us, she had managed to make my daughter happy with something she had purchased so many years before, never once considering how annoying it was to adults, because it made my kids happy.”
“Normally when one thinks of a present being given to a child that bothers the parents, we think that maybe the toy is inappropriate in some way. But, there’s another way this could apply. We had received a toy for our child that actively bothered us. This was about a dozen years ago, and this thing is not a simple talking plushy with buttons and speakers. It possesses its own agency, and it’s creepy. It actually went out of its way to bother and disturb us. It’s sold on the market as a Fisher-Price Laugh and Learn Smart Stages Puppy, but we called it Possessed Puppy.
What it was supposed to do was respond to buttons being pushed on its body. If you pushed the hand, it would say one thing. If you pushed its foot, another. And if you pushed its belly, it would say ‘Hug me!’
But, on more than one occasion it would spontaneously ask for hug and possibly other inappropriate touching without anyone being near it. That’s how it earned its nickname. On one occasion, I was coming back late from work. I opened the front door, and the house was dark. Everyone was already asleep. Suddenly, from the corner of the room, I heard the high-pitched ‘Hug me!’
I jumped out of my skin. For a split second, I thought it was an intruder. I caught my breath once I realized what it was. ‘I’m sorry, I just don’t feel that way about you, Possessed Puppy.’
It wasn’t much longer before it was put into the bag of items to give away. A bother to be sure, but we all still get a laugh out of it to this day.”
They Hit Rock Bottom
“There are two times I was really bothered by gifts given to my kids. One I think just about anyone will agree with a legit issue, the other, well, it’s a gray area. The first, was shortly after my ex got married. My parents had, around the same time as the wedding (I don’t remember exactly when, but that same winter) taken us to court trying to get custody of my older kids (for the first time) and ended up with visitation. I’m pretty sure they were trying to buy the kids affections, because EVERY TIME they came back from visitation, they would have 2 or 3 or 4 new toys. Sometimes they came in with entire bags of new toys. In and of itself, this wouldn’t have bothered me worth anything. But when my ex got married, my kids got step siblings. My kids coming home with loads of new toys all the time caused HUGE issues between my kids and their new siblings, just as they were learning to live together.
My parents didn’t care. They wanted to give the kids toys, so they were going to give the kids toys. It was the kind of self-absorbed thoughtlessness I’d come to expect from them. My kids’ stepmother tried talking to my mom about it. The next time we were in court, my mom was able to claim that stepmother tried to insist that mom buy toys for step kids too.
The other time that bothers me, was when my family (me, younger son, and partner) were homeless. We ended up in a shelter that was supported by a number of local churches. Let me be clear that I truly, deeply, appreciate everything those wonderful people did for us while we with them. Being in that shelter was the first step to getting out of the downward spiral and back on our feet. But we were there over Christmas. And we’re Jewish. Now, the whole time we were in the shelter, we were dealing with VERY religious Christians. I understand that their religion was the main driver in them helping us. But by the time Christmas rolled around, I was kinda rubbed raw with the in-your-face religiosity. And being in a shelter is really stressful, not just because you are homeless, but also because you have no control. Imagine moving back in with your parents at 30 years old and needing to abide by the rules they set. No matter how grateful you are for the roof over your head, having a curfew is going to rub you wrong.
So Christmas was very much salt on the wounds. No one asked the shelter residents if we wanted a Christmas tree or Christmas decorations (if they did, I’m sure the other residents would have wanted them, and that’s okay, but no one asked, it was just assumed). No one asked us if we wanted to participate in a Christmas celebration. It just happened. They did ask what stuff we’d like for Christmas gifts. I don’t remember everything we asked for, but I remember gritting my teeth when my son unwrapped the Christmas-themed coloring books. The shelter knew we were Jewish. We’d celebrated Hanukkah while we were there and made sufganiyot to share with the staff and residents. To this day we have those coloring books, because years of not having anything and making due makes me resist throwing anything out if it can possibly still be of use. And they are just about the only coloring books we have.
My daughter scribbles in them sometimes. And I encourage her to because she doesn’t know Christmas or Santa, she just knows crayons make pretty colors. But I still grit my teeth every time I see them.”
Uncle Tony’s Birthday Surprise
“Everyone’s got a weird uncle, and my buddy (we’ll call him ‘Lenny’) received the strangest present I’ve ever witnessed. Lenny’s mom was certainly not too pleased about it. It was Lenny’s 16th birthday party, and his house was filled with food, family and friends. Me, Lenny, and a group of us guys were hanging out on the couch when this really big Italian guy with a ridiculously full head of black slicked back hair came walking up to us. He was sporting commando boots and a leather trench coat, and he was carrying a cardboard box under his arm. Lenny stood up, and with some hesitance, introduced the man as his uncle (we’ll call him ‘Tony’).
Lenny: ‘Hey guys, uh, this is my Uncle Tony.’
Tony: ‘Hey fellas, how ya’ doin’?’
He vigorously shook all our hands and then put his arm around Lenny.
Tony: ‘So, Lenny, I’ve got something I want to give you. Do you got a cassette player or somethin’?’
Lenny thought for a moment.
Lenny: ‘Like, a boombox?’
Tony: ‘Yea, that’ll work. A nice boombox. C’mon, I’ve got something to show you.’
Lenny was visibly uncomfortable, so he asked if we could all join, which made Uncle Tony nervous.
Tony: ‘I don’t know, I’d rather not have a lot of people hanging around. How about just one of you guys comes along?’
None of us wanted to go, so we all waited, and by luck of the draw, Lenny called me out to join. I looked back at everyone else as I trailed behind them up the stairs and down the hall to Lenny’s room. Lenny and I sat on his bed as his Uncle opened the box.
Tony: ‘You two are in for something really rare. By the way, I’m not actually giving this to you Lenny, but if you want to make copies and give them out to your friends then that’s fine. For the time being, you can hold onto this box, and copy anything that you like, and I’ll come back for it next week.’
After rustling through the box, his uncle pulled out a stack of cassette tapes, which he then sorted through until he found the one he wanted. He inserted it in the dusty old boombox, and pressed play. The tape started off with (definitely) Hitler giving a really passionate speech. It then cut to really aggressive sludgy guitars, heavy drums, and a singer who really didn’t care for melody or Jewish people. This was Neo-Nazi music. And it was the worst thing I’d ever heard.
Lenny and I just kinda looked at each other in stunned amazement, as his uncle pulled out some ‘reading materials’ that he thought we’d like to thumb through as we listened. So, we were just sort of holding the magazines as he was giving them to us, not really doing anything with them when all of a sudden Lenny’s mom came walking in, and that’s when all heck broke loose. Everything after that happened in high-speed. Lenny’s mom was screaming at Uncle Tony while packing up his tapes, and telling us to leave, and I was in such a confused state that I left the room while still holding the magazines. When I realized I still had them, I really didn’t want to go back to the room, so I left it on the foot of the stairs and rejoined my friends on the couch.
I told my friends, ‘You guys don’t even want to know.’
Uncle Tony ran down the steps and through the front door after being chased by Lenny’s mom, who then picked up the magazines I’d left behind on the steps and threw them out after him and slammed the door shut. It was a very memorable party, that nobody ever talks about now.”