Sunday, December 20, 2009

I'm Dreaming of a Equitable Christmas

Okay, how do I vent about this without coming across as a petty whiner who has no perspective on the true meaning of Christmas? I am not sure, but let me say up front that I am keenly aware of the true spirit of Christmas - that's it's not about materialism and consumerism. In fact, I've been the one in my family to push for cutting back on the consumerism and focus more on the non-material aspects of the holiday. Sadly, my attempts at getting my family to agree to do a pollyanna fell on deaf ears.

Okay, now that I've cleared that up, there is something about the consumerist side of Christmas that annoys me and feels lopsided in favor of people with kids.

When hubby and I buy gifts for our families, we buy for our siblings and their kids. Every person gets their own gift, so for example, for my youngest brother and his family, we purchase 5 gifts - a gift for him, a gift for his wife and a gift for each of the 3 kids. When they buy for us, we each get one gift - from the entire family. So they buy us 2 gifts and we buy them 5.

If things were not lopsided in favor of people with kids, rules of fairness would dictate that since we bought each of their kids a gift, we should receive a gift from each of the kids. Now, we know that kids don't have money to purchase gifts, but the kids have parents who can give the kids money to purchase gifts for their aunt and uncle. Unreasonable? I don't think so. I have noticed that each of those kids "buys" a gift for their parents on their birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day and I am pretty sure it was the other parent who footed the bill.

To be clear, it's not about the gifts - we don't need more stuff and can certainly buy whatever we need. It's the principle of the thing. It's about people with kids always getting more than they give and living a life of entitlement. It extends beyond Christmas to every facet of their lives. They get more because they reproduced. They give less because they reproduced. It's all about them and their kids and their life of entitlement. It is not only accepted, it's expected. It's the perpetual parental subsidy - the never ending meal ticket.

People like to say that Christmas is for "the children". This is really just an excuse to shortchange the grownups.


firefly said...

Hear, hear. When we were growing up, even though two of my mother's three sisters, and their three kids each, lived within a few blocks of each other, gift-giving was confined to within each family -- and this was suburban NJ in the 60s, so nobody was starving. I think they all just recognized what a nightmare it would be exchanging gifts among all those uncles, aunts, and cousins.

My bf's family goes way overboard every Christmas (partly, I think, because the rest of the year they clearly can't stand each other), but I have established a spending limit, and that extends to my bf's nephew, his wife of 2 years, and their 11-month-old son. I now spend the same amount I used to spend on the nephew on a gift for all three of them -- especially since we got a photo Christmas card this year that was two pictures of the baby and no one else.

I've done this for years with all of the members of bf's family because it's like an arms race, the way they overspend. And there is no way in hell I am saving in advance for Christmas.

M said...

I am in total agreement!! It's not fair at all. We also had to buy them wedding and shower gifts (for each child!) so really, where's our payback??

sara star said...

I think it would be fair if the kids like made you something, like a card or a picture, but seriously, I am childfree myself and I know that people with kids still only have one or two incomes, they probably can get you nicer presents because they only got you two. If they had to get you five presents, I bet they would suck, like dollar store status.

CFVixen said...

You already know that I 100% agree with you on this. We have 32 nieces / newphews / great-nieces / nephews. It's insane. We are obligated to buy for each graduation, wedding shower, wedding, baby shower, etc. We drew the line on birthdays. When examining the "who gives what and how much," it's very clear this is far from equitable. There is one family on DH's side (his sister) with five kids. Two of those kids produced five more. We completely stopped giving when it came to the "greats." Still, do they ever stop to think how much we shelled out for their offspring? There certainly is no reciprocation.

JennPez said...

I hear you. In our family, the adults don't typically exchange gifts. The kids get gifts. DH and I (the only CF family) buy gifts for the 8 nieces and nephews. We don't get any gifts. It is really unfair. But since we don't have kids, we have the money and energy to buy ourselves whatever we want. And our lives don't suck, like a lot of theirs do. :-)

Anonymous said...


"We have 32 nieces / newphews / great-nieces / nephews."

Wow. Just wow. I once met a grandma of 13. She said she spent all year buying toys for birthdays, and Christmas was the rough period. I think it's sad that this woman on a fixed income was obligated to "spoil" all of these children. If I were that nana, my grands would be getting tube socks and school supplies for Christmas. Maybe even some home-baked goodies. That's just ridiculous.

There is definitely a lopsided effect. Those of us without children and those of us without "enough" do get screwed. I say this after exchanging gifts with a family of four. Our give-receive ratio is just as off as yours, Childfreee. I know I always come on here and whine about the only child thing, but I really do think CF'ers and parents of onlies have a lot in common in some aspects. I know a mom of three who admitted that our society is just made up for families of four. Period. That's the magic number or something. She said after the third child, they found it difficult to even be seated in restaurants comfortably because of their odd number.

MMG said...

I agree with you that it's silly to buy for ALL those people. My husband has a small immediate family--and we draw names for the adults. So each adult buys one nice gift for one other adult ($25 limit--we all have comfortable lifestyles--there's nothing we "need") and then we all buy stuff for the kids. This doesn't really bother me since we have two nephews and a niece and they are the only ones we will ever have (I'm an only child, hubby only has one sister who has the three kids). I think I would be more annoyed if I had 4+ kids to buy for :)

Gumby said...

I say get one gift for the entire family. Period. Maybe a gift card with enough on it to pay for a movie for all (two parents and two kids, whatever) and maybe a large drink and/or popcorn - depending on how much the tickets themselves cost and how much money you can spend. That way each family is getting one gift and giving one gift.

I'm sure there will still be some inequity in the values of the gifts, but at least it will reign things in a bit!

Or you could push for what my mom's side does (perhaps by informing family that this is the only type of gift exchange in which you will be participate in for future). We have a gift bingo or dice game exchange.

Basically, anyone who wants to be a part of the gift thing buys a gift (for a man/woman/teen and worth approx. $15 or $20, etc.) and then those who bought a gift do the thing where you roll the dice and when you get doubles, you pick a gift until everyone has one. And then you can do the thing where you can "steal" (swap) gifts. Same basic idea for the bingo thing - but with bingo cards.

You bring 1 gift and you leave with 1 gift. Or you don't participate in the gift exchange. Simple.

degece said...

Wow...what a topic. I read this blog from time to time, but have never felt the need to comment. However, this topic really hits home. Difficult to talk about, yet oh so true. My husband and I have had unequitable holidays for years...but this year something even more ridiculous was proposed. We have 9 nieces and nephews and another currently on the way. Six of these are on my side and my brother and sister have been 'kind enough' to say don't give them gifts, just buy for the kids. Well, that's nice...but we still buy 6 gifts and get 2. Unequitable? You bet. It's even worse on my husband's side where we give gifts to everyone and, of course, never get gifts from the children. Last year the family with children even had the nerve to give us a donation in our name to their favorite religious charity while we bought 5 gifts for their family. Blah! That's how it's always been...very unfair in my opinion, but what can you do? This year takes the cake, though. I suggested to my mother that we do a name drawing instead of everyone having to buy gifts for everyone else. Seems totally fair to me...everyone gives and gets 1 gift. My mom totally agreed and suggested a $100 limit. That sounded good to me, my husband and I would spend $200 on 2 gifts instead of something like $400 or so on 8 gifts. Of course, this meant that my brother and sister could now possibly be spending more than years past because their children would now each have to give a gift (with the parents paying...naturally). So, my mom and my sister talk and the solution they came up with? There are 14 people in the $1400 worth of gifts total. They wanted to split this total amongst the 4 families...each family would bring their share ($350) to Thanksgiving dinner, where each person would draw a name and then take $100. So, my husband and I would bring $350 and leave with $200!! They created a system where my husband and I & my mom and dad would subsidize the people with children! And they thought this was a good idea...crazy! I basically had to put my foot down and say no...and then, of course, was treated like I was being unfair or unreasonable or whatever by both my sister and my mom. Am I crazy or is this one of the most ridiculous things you've ever heard? I actually kind of resent that after years of being in just the unequitable position that now I was put in the position to have to point out how unfair that was and just say no! So, after my insistance that this plan was a total no-go, we settled on a $50 limit for the gifts to keep the cost down for the folks with kids. That's fine by me, but my mom still feels bad that my sister is going to have to spend $300.

Childfreeeee said...

WOW degece! My jaw is just hanging open reading your story. YOUR story should have been the blog post that we all comment on. Holy smokes. That is just unreal!!! So your mom is really worried about how the new system will overburden your sister, but does not see how inconvenienced YOU were all those years when the roles were reversed? What did she say when you pointed that out? (I assume you did)...or was it the usual matter of people assuming that childfree folks are rich hedonists who have tons of money to blow?

flamencokitty said...

"I've been the one in my family to push for cutting back on the consumerism and focus more on the non-material aspects of the holiday. Sadly, my attempts at getting my family to agree to do a pollyanna fell on deaf ears."

Same here, same here...

degece said...


Ha! I'm glad you see my side of this, it doesn't seem like many people I know understand where I'm coming from. Actually, my sister is the one that presented the idea to me and when I told her I thought that was crazy, she said 'Yeah, I told mom I was fine with it, but I told her I didn't think you'd go for it'. Um, well OF COURSE she was fine with it, her family would be getting subsidized $250! Who wouldn't be fine with that? And of course, her comment also implied that I'm cheap or selfish or something, don't you think? My sister and I are pretty close, we work out of the same office and see each other several times a that comment really bothered me. My sister does a lot for me throughout the year (she keeps our animals frequently when we travel, as she is always home because of the kids (her words) ), so I really don't mind if there is some inequity at the holidays...I just thought this particular scenario was outrageous.

When I spoke to my mom about it, she was fairly obviously trying to avoid the converstation, so I didn't bother bringing up the fact that the situation has been unequitable for years. I honestly think she's just trying to look out for my sister without even realizing that it would present an unfair burden on my husband and I. I think she really felt like the most equitable scenario would be to split the financial cost amongst the four 'families' regardless of who has children and who doesn't. I also think she sees the situation a little in reverse from what we well we're the ones who chose not to have kids, so it's our problem we don't have them for people to buy gifts for. I really don't know since she wouldn't discuss it, but that's kind of the vibe I've gotten over the years. I totally understand where she's coming from in regards to my sister, but the fact is my sister chose to have four children (and all the associated responsibility), the way I see it there is no reason for us to completely work things to her advantage only. Plus, I know that my sister is buying each of her kids some fancy iPod gadget(among other things) for the holidays so she obviously isn't too strapped for money. All four families are fairly comfortable financially, so it isn't like one of us is on the verge of not being able to pay bills or anything. In fact, if we really counted, my husband and I probably make the least money (and I'm sure my mother knows this)...but we make plenty and of course don't have children to support. I think the solution we settled on really is the most equitable (and I think everyone is fine with it in general) I just hate that somehow I came out looking like the grinch because I didn't feel it was fair to subsidize the holidays for the childed.

L4UR4 said...

Maybe I'm looking at this from a different angle, but it seems like the current system isn't that unfair.

Right now, your husband and you (as 1 family unit) buy a present for each person in their family.

They, in turn, (as 1 family unit) buy a present for each person in your family.

If you really wanted to "be fair", you would buy 5 presents, your husband would buy 5 presents, and then each person in their family would buy 2 - 1 for you, 1 for your hubby. This would be 10 presents going each way between families.

Good luck getting them to go for that, though!

L4UR4 said...

Maybe I'm looking at this from a different angle, but it seems like the current system isn't that unfair.

Right now, your husband and you (as 1 family unit) buy a present for each person in their family.

They, in turn, (as 1 family unit) buy a present for each person in your family.

If you really wanted to "be fair", you would buy 5 presents, your husband would buy 5 presents; and then each person in their family would buy 2 - 1 for you, 1 for your hubby. This would be 10 presents going each way between families.

Good luck getting them to go for that, though!

khh1138 said...

This post really hit home for me. As an only child of recently deceased parents, I am adjusting to the idea that in my immediate family, it is just me and my family. "I am a family of one!" if I were an Army slogan. :)

Yesterday, we packed up all the presents for my husband's family to be shipped off. Of COURSE we are expected to get presents for all of the nieces, although we don't get presents from them or even thank yous. Hauling home all the presents, I couldn't help but burst out with "GOD you have a big family."

Getting ready to wrap, I laid out all the presents in separate piles -- and there were NINE piles for his family -- and I know we will probably receive one present in return. Weird and wrong but that's how it has always been and that's how it always will be, I'm sure. Unless we both lose our jobs, or something.

khh1138 said...

Weird typo. That is to say, "it's just me in my family" or "it's just me and my husband in my family"...a very small family lives in my house. No kids. No one else but us chickens!

Anyway, It's quality, not quantity that counts. Given the weird kind of presents we usually get from the inlaws, I think I'll pass on any extra presents. For example:
- MIL has bought me unreturnable size XL shirts/sweaters for Christmas since she has known me (20 years). I'm a size 8. She does the same thing to my husband. He wears a M. She has known him his whole life.
- SIL gives us wine-related presents, when she does give us a present. One year, a plastic caddy to hold wine glasses. Another year, wine-themed notepaper. We don't drink.
- Most of the time, the gifts from my husband's brother and sister consist of a family photo of the kids. Does that count as a present?

pamelli said...

My husband and I usually travel abroad or somewhere different and far away ( like the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Florida...) during the X-mas holidays.
THERE's a good solution to this problem! :-)
No one will expect you to give them presents if you're not spending X-mas with them and then you can spend THAT money with some nice and romantic travel/vacation à deux !
However, we DO send everyone in the family a gift by post - not because we feel we have to, but because we want to.

And by the way, what's SOOOOO bad about being childfree, hedonistic and having some extra money to spend ?
( I'm perfectly happy to be childfree AND hedonistic. I'm even proud of myself for it :-)
I just wish we had MORE money to

redwings19 said...


DITTO! I also made it a rule recently: no family at the holidays. I will visit (or they can visit - yeah right! - during the rest of the year. And I get to sleep in, drink memosas until it's time to open the wine, and in general actually ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS).

In addition I've come up with a great way to escape the whole "buying for the kids" thing. I send my sister money and she buys my gifts and puts my name on them. I have a 50/50 shot of being cool that year regardless of if I buy or if she does it, and I miss out on the headache of wrapping, shopping, shipping, etc. She's shopping for her litter-o-kids, anyway, why not pick up another gift from "crazy aunt mary"?

familyof2 said...

Author of Families of Two here...You sure hit home when you make the point about parents and kids' sense of entitlement and how it extends beyond Christmas to every facet of their lives. So often parents go about the gift thing in a way that sends the message to their kids to expect to receive more than give. It is tough to watch parents who teach their kids this kind of sense of entitlement. It does such a disservice to the kids, and ultimately to our society...Laura Carroll

loribeth said...

Oh, I am so with you on this point. Dh has a large extended family, & although we don't buy Christmas gifts for his cousins' kids (although his brother does for some), we get invited to umpteen baby showers, birthday parties (especially first birthdays), first communions, etc., & one of these days soon, I am sure, we will start with the next generation of weddings (including engagement parties, bridal showersm bachelor parties, etc.). I feel like I am forever shelling out & never getting anything in return (not even a thank you much of the time, as someone said above). Not that we need more stuff, but as you said, it's the principle of the thing that rankles.

Corrinne said...

Oh my, I know this only because of my fiance's family. My side of the family has always had a policy that aunts and uncles don't buy us gifts. On my mom's side I have 13 cousins!! Yeah, no lol. I was fine as a kid not getting presents from them.

My fiance's family though... He has one nephew from his one sister. This year we got him a used 4 wheeler (he is only 5, it was a small one that needed some work, but a great deal) and I alone ended up spending $200. It was supposed to be a present from everyone, except NO ONE has given us any money back yet. Yeah. Cool.

We also bought his sister and her boyfriend presents. On top of THAT, my fiance wrote off the $100 she owed us (I was actually very pissed about that). What did we get in return? A hutch (like, with glass door cabinets, drawers) that they already had and were trying to sell. No one bought it. They didn't spend a penny on it, it was given down to them.

I did win one big battle this year! We have been together for 5 years and gone to his parents every Christmas morning to watch this kid open his presents. One of the years I got because it was his first Christmas he really got what was going on. But after that?? No, sorry, really don't care. We would get a call at a random time at the crack of dawn to hurry up and get there so we could watch him open presents.

I won this year. I said NO it is ridiculous and he finally agreed.

Fanboy Wife said...

Can’t you just draw names? My mother’s family did that because each family had different numbers of children. Each person gets one name and buys one present with a price limit. If you have 5 people in your family, you get 5 names and buy 5 gifts. If you have 2 people in your family, you only buy 2 gifts. Yeah, people with bigger families won’t like it, but it was their decision to have all the kids in the first place.

Kara said...

Hm... Are my husband and myself the only ones who do "family" gifts?

Between the two of our families there are quite a number of nieces/nephews, none of whom get individual presents from us. Each family unit (regardless of the size of the family) gets a gift basket that (hopefully) generally matches their interests. For instance, my brother, his wife, and their three kids...get a couple of board games. My BIL and SIL... get a bottle of nice wine.

If anyone doesn't like our system, they haven't had the guts to tell us so.

Really, I think that the only way to win the present arms race is to opt out altogether.

Danetha said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I'm going to comment anyway. In my family, we always exchanged gifts with my mom's brother, his wife and his two daughters. Since his oldest daughter is married and has one child (and another on the way), she did nothing but complain about how many gifts she had to buy at Christmas. She had to buy a gift for my mom, dad, sister and myself. On the other hand, I had to buy for her, her husband, her daughter, her sister and her mom and dad. So that's a total of 4 gifts she had to buy and a total of 6 that I had to buy. And, I am single (engaged) and living on one income.

So, her proposal was that the adults draw names and we buy for the kids. Well, that leaves me still buying three gifts and only getting one. I know that sounds selfish, but it really bothers me. She cites the cost of childcare as a reason, yet she drives a car that is 8 years newer than mine, owns a home and buys outrageous amounts of toys for her child (who is only two and unable to fully appreciate anything she receives). I don't know what we'll do next year, but I can assure you that her children will be not be receiving any type of toy from me. If I have to buy them a gift, it will be something they can use, like clothing.