Ungrateful Parents: How To Deal

A grandmother's frustration with her grandchildren's parents boils over.

By Susan Stiffelman

Am I unreasonable to expect my daughter-in-law to keep the clothing and toys I give my granddaughters for a while before she gets rid of them? It seems like everything I purchase or make for the girls is given away or "lost" after a short time. It upsets me to the point of tears. Do I even bother finishing the dresses I've started sewing for the girls? I've put a lot of time and love into making them and I would hate to see them on eBay or in a bag for Goodwill two days after I give them to the girls. Please help me understand this generation that doesn't seem to care about sentiment.

Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.

I was touched by your question; it's easy to pick up the hurt behind your words, as well as the love behind the generous gifts you give your granddaughters.

But at the same time, I can't help but feel a sense of confusion about why you would put yourself in front of the firing squad over and over. I wonder what would motivate you to continue making such lovely gifts when the outcome is so likely to be painful.

Your son and daughter-in-law may not be grateful recipients of your thoughtful gifts, but they are predictable. You say they consistently lose or give away the presents you bring their daughters, which begs the question: Why torture yourself by putting this kind of effort into gifts you know are not going to be appreciated or cared for?

I know that you'd like me to offer reasons for their lack of thoughtfulness and consideration, but the truth is I don't know any. Maybe they don't care for the style of dresses that you make. Maybe they don't understand how much effort you put into shopping for fabric and patterns, and then spending long hours at the sewing machine. Maybe your son and his wife are simply careless and disorganized, and don't do a good job keeping track of their girls' possessions.

We don't know why your son and daughter-in-law treat your gifts carelessly. We simply know that this is what they do.

Which reminds me of another of my favorite quotes, from Byron Katie: "When you argue with reality, you lose. But only 100 percent of the time!" The reality of your situation is this: Your son and daughter-in-law lose, lend, or give away the gifts you buy or make for your granddaughters. That is how it is. Are you unreasonable for being hurt by their actions? Of course not! I would be upset, too.

But if someone consistently lost, lent, or gave away gifts that I put great effort into making or buying, I would start bringing gifts that cost me a lot less in time and money!

A gift is only a gift if it's given with absolutely no strings attached. I know that's easier said than done, but as long as you expect your son and daughter-in-law to cherish your gifts, you're setting yourself up for disappointment whenever presents are exchanged. I imagine the situation creates a lot of tension at family gatherings when you just want to enjoy one another's company.

Do yourself a favor. Accept this particular shortcoming in your son and daughter-in-law and adjust your gift-giving accordingly. You don't have to put so much effort into making or buying wonderful presents. Make a cute book of coupons for the girls, filled with things like, "This entitles the bearer to an ice-cream outing with Grandma." Or buy them art supplies or a new doll — affordable things that you won't feel angry about if you don't see them on display at your next visit.

Be kind to yourself this season, and let this one go.

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