Ask Amy: Curated Christmas list leads to white elephants

Dear Amy: Every year, I spend time carefully curating a list of Christmas wishes for me, my husband, and our children. I know what we like and need.

In turn, his family gives me their list.

When it’s time for presents, my in-laws happily open the gifts for which they asked. They love them!

We open our gifts, and do not receive a single thing from our list. My children receive toys they don’t need and clothes I will not let them wear.

Some things are regifted, while others just take up space in my house.

It actually hurts that after 12 years of being part of this family, they still don’t know me at all.

We spend a generous amount of money on our family at Christmas, but I’m disappointed and frustrated by their lack of consideration.

Last year, I told my husband that I would only buy gifts for the children of the family going forward; I have not told the in-laws yet.

The downside is that one of the siblings is childless, so they would receive nothing from us.

Should I hold firm and kindly let the family know that children should be the focus of Christmas from here on out, or should I make overt hints to stick to the list and hope for the best, even if I’m disappointed (again)?

— Disappointed

Dear Disappointed: Abandon the list. It’s not working. It also subverts the idea of Christmas giving.

You might segue to a non-material gift for adults — donating to a charity on their behalf or giving a subscription or membership to a local museum or cultural institution. If you don’t want to give any gifts to adults, in place of your list you can state: “I’m trying to cut way back on the overabundance, and so I’m going to only give gifts to the kids. Enjoying our time together is the only gift I want.”

Regardless of how you frame your own wishes, you cannot control what other people give to you.

Dear Amy: I have been estranged from my brother for several years.

I think a lot of our estrangement is based on jealousy. I believe that my brother resents my good fortune.

Our parents worked hard all their lives and left both my brother and me a pretty good nest egg.

Since retiring, I have been able to travel, do volunteer work, and make a lot of my dreams come true.

I admit that I have fewer responsibilities than my brother. Not all of his dreams have come true.

Every year at Christmas, I send out a letter describing how my year has gone, and my brother is on my mailing list.

This year has been quite successful for me.

I have taken a couple of trips, obtained a new kitten, and celebrated some milestones.

I am afraid that if my brother reads those things in a letter, he will think I am rubbing salt into a wound.

Even though he wants nothing to do with me, I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

Should I send him a letter?

— Estranged Sibling

Dear Estranged: If you are estranged from your brother, then why do you send him this one thing each year? Do you want to try to create something of a dialogue with him?

And if you never hear from him, you may not know whether “all of his dreams have come true.”

If you simply want to remind him that you exist, and that you are enjoying your life and privileges, then you might as well send this letter.

If you do want to build a bridge with him, there are probably better ways to do it.

Generally, boastful holiday letters are less in the holiday spirit than letters that show a level of humble awareness of the writer’s relative good fortune, expressed along with a genuine hope that others are also enjoying life’s blessings.

You might include a handwritten note to your brother at the bottom of this Christmas letter, reminding him of a happy memory that you two share, and wishing him well in the coming year.

Dear Amy: “Bothered” lived next door to an unsafe daycare provider, whose children wandered into neighbors’ front yards and into the street.

Although Bothered was obviously more worried about the kids bothering her dogs than about the children themselves, I appreciated your sense of alarm about this extremely unsafe situation.

I’d hate to have my children at this place.

— Worried

Dear Worried: “Bothered’s” dogs were more closely supervised than these children.

(You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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