Life Advice



Ask Amy: Both giving and receiving bring trouble

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: After many years of exchanging gifts with my brother-in-law and his wife, my husband and I decided we didn’t want to do it anymore.

We are trying to get rid of things. We have too much stuff!

The gifts were getting more extravagant and some we didn’t even like or use (and gifts we had given them ended up in their garage sale, so this was mutual). It was sucking the joy out of the holidays.

After politely telling them we no longer wanted to exchange gifts for holidays or birthdays, they ignored our request.

The first year, we were given Christmas presents and had nothing for them. I was embarrassed and reiterated that we didn’t want to do this anymore and that their gifts made me uncomfortable.

The next time my birthday gift arrived with a card that said it was from their dog, so technically it wasn’t from them. Ha-ha.

And still it continues. I even stopped writing thank you notes.

I fluctuate between feeling like the Grinch and feeling angry because I feel disrespected.

How should we handle this?

– Not Gifted

Dear Not: The negative spin on this is that your in-laws are being deliberately disrespectful.

Another way to see this is that they are as filled with anxiety about gift-giving (or their perceptions of cultural or family pressure) as you are about receiving – and they can’t seem to find a way to stop.

The clue that they have received and understand your message and intent — but may not be able to stop themselves — is when they sent a gift “from” their dog. That’s just sad.

Because your very reasonable and direct communication has not been respected, you might get some headway by giving them a specific directive: “We understand your desire to be generous gift givers, even though as we’ve said, we really don’t want to continue to receive. So, in the future, can we ask you to direct your giving to [a favorite local charity] on our behalf? That would mean a lot to us.”

If – despite all this — you continue to receive material gifts, very quickly donate them and … let it go.

I’m sure readers will want to weigh in.

Dear Amy: My kids are now in their 40s and have children of their own.

In the past, I've enjoyed selecting "just the right gift" for each grandchild and mailing it. I liked to visualize delight in the child's eyes receiving a wrapped gift in the mail from their grandparents.

On occasion, we'll get a thank you note back, but more often than not – nothing.

Before Christmas last year, we receiving a formal letter typed on my son's business letterhead telling us that their child "doesn't need any more of your toys and clothes.” This letter demanded instead that we send money directly to the child's new bank account. Deposit slips were enclosed.


We were shocked. While perhaps they should get points for being practical, the kids are very young, and I find this directive offensive.

My husband threw it in the trash.

What to do?

– Grandma in AZ

Dear Grandma: This letter regarding your gift-giving was particularly cold and unkind.

That having been said, many young and prosperous families do complain about their children receiving an overabundance of gifts.

You might choose to accept their directive, with a slight twist.

You could let this family know that for future gift-giving occasions, you will send the child a card, and if you choose to give money to the child, you will place the funds into an account that you will set up, turning the money over to the child at some future date.

I hope you will turn your material generosity toward children who really value it, donating gifts to your local “Toys for Tots” campaign, or your local children’s hospital’s holiday appeal.

Dear Amy: “Dreamer” was dreaming about contacting her first love.

My advice? Let it go. Don't do it. Get help and get past it. Nothing good will come of it and the repercussions will last a lifetime.

After 22 happy years, my husband and I hit a rough patch and I had an emotional affair with my first love — my high school boyfriend.

It broke something in our marriage. Five years later, my husband had an affair.

It ruined our marriage and our business, wounded our daughter deeply, and our son is still a mess.

– Regret it Daily

Dear Regret It: What a tough lesson. I’m sorry.


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

©2022 Amy Dickinson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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