Hi Team Awkward
After a couple of years, my sister ‘Kate’ is sadly divorcing her husband ‘Adam’. This is sad and difficult for them both, but ultimately she realised she was no longer in love with him because she still has feelings for an ex (a total Darth unfortunately, this bit is not for the best, but would be a whole other question and not for me to ask). I grew to like Adam a lot, though I can see why he is no longer a good match for my sister.
My mother has emailed me asking what to get him for christmas this year. Aside from the fact that it’s still only October (argh, why) – is this a lovely-gesture-go-ahead situation or very-kind-but-not-appropriate one?
In her email my mother said ‘after all he is still my son-in-law and I’d like to get him something’ along with neutral suggestions for gift cards in places I doubt he shops. Mentioned that she knows Kate is who she ‘should’ ask but also not, because it would obviously be a sore point.
Kate and Adam are not yet divorced, I am unsure about timeline here – surely isn’t the issue though – the fact that they are ending their relationship is. Technically he may be her son-in-law…but? I don’t know. I’m not sure what my ‘but’ actually is.
‘I’m sorry I don’t know what the best thing to do it – up to you’ – this feels like a cop-out – and he might end up with unwanted gift.
‘Yes that sounds kind and lovely – but get him a voucher for (shop I know he likes) instead’
Because myself and partner had a good relationship with them (hung out as a 4 a few times), we sent them both a graphic novel each and a short note saying we love/care for you etc.
Sister loved hers, but no reply from Adam. I realise that he has many other things on his mind and no acknowledgement is absolutely fine – just made me think even more about the etiquette and if perhaps sending a gift (meant as kindness/distraction) was in fact not appropriate for the situation?
Also – they have no kids. Presumably if they did he would be much more likely to be involved with our family still post-divorce. As that is not the case – what is the etiquette here?
Any help so much appreciated!
Etiquette is hard!
Family feelings and relationships don’t dissolve the second divorce attorneys enter the picture, but I can’t help thinking that your mom is using the imagined ‘need’ to figure out Adam’s holiday gift as a device to get you on Team Let’s All Be Very Concerned About Kate & Adam’s Dying Marriage. She knows she’s not supposed to bug Kate or Adam about it, but she’s fretting about the whole matter, and this Holiday Etiquette Question Trojan Horse is a convenient vehicle to carry all of her feelings up to your ramparts. You do not have to open the gates.
I think some variation of “Mom, that’s a nice gesture but I have no earthly clue” or “If I remember correctly he likes to shop at [store]” or “I know everything is awkward right now and you are nice to think of him. Wish I could help but I just don’t know,” is fine. This isn’t really your issue, your mom is going to fret about it no matter what you say or do, Kate and Adam are going to have weird feelings no matter what your mom does (because divorce is a time of weird feelings and holidays just make everything weirder and more feelings-y). In my opinion it’s 100% okay to dodge a deeper discussion here, and it’s my guess that your mom will send Adam a holiday card and maybe some sort of gift-card for a few years both as a kindness to him and as a passive-aggressive reprimand of Kate and then their relationship will naturally peter out if he does not acknowledge or reciprocate or find some kind of vague family/acquaintance equilibrium if he does. Not knowing the dude, I don’t know how to predict how he’ll react to receiving something from your mom this year, and one person’s kind gesture is another person’s awkward and painful reminder.
Say “not my circus, not my monkeys” and “once a gift is given it’s gone” to your reflection eleven times or until you stop worrying about this.