Hey Captain Awkward!
First off, I hope you’ve had a lovely holiday season so far! Hopefully it’s been less stressful than mine.
I wasn’t able to quite find an answer to my situation (and I admit, it’s sorta weird). Basically, shopping for the holidays has become quite an event. Maybe it’s because my family’s Asian, but I feel like often times the value of the gifts is measured by how much or how little is spent.
I’ll give you an example. My mom’s birthday is on the 19th, so having a birthday and Christmas close to one another means double-trouble for gifts. My mom says she doesn’t care about “expensive” things, just so long as there is “effort” put into the gift. Last year I had purchased her a bunch of succulents and a terrarium set for her birthday and a fair trade sculpture of a church building for Christmas. She loved them both, but demanded the price for each. The birthday gift was around $40 and the sculpture was $15. Hearing the price, she was immensely pleased with the sculpture and loved it more but said that the succulents/terrarium lost “value” because they cost “way more than she was willing to pay for them.” What? She appears to be the worst at this, followed by my brother (who seems to have picked up her habit). My dad seems to be the complete opposite and in the same boat as me (aka: stressed out about buying gifts because the price is scrutinized).
So this year – thanks to the fact that I have a job and am making a decent amount of money – I got her a custom wooden bowl thanks to a close woodworking friend of mine (it’s super fancy with carvings and copper inlay) for her birthday (a $120 value, but my friend only charged me $60 despite my insistence that I pay him more for it) and an iPad Mini 4 split between my brother and I.
The iPad Mini has its own separate issue – I had purchased it from the Apple Store for $400 (adding in the case it totaled to $440). When I had messaged my brother the cost, he flipped out. Said it was way too much money for an iPad Mini and chastised me for not going online and buying it from Best Buy (where it said it would cost $300). He told me that the value of the gift had been lost because I was “wasteful with money,” “was giving away $100 for free,” and that “Mom won’t like it because you spent way too much.” Kept going on about how he’s right and I’m wrong, and even threw in a weird analogy (I quote, verbatim): “Say it’s your friend’s birthday. You wanna get him or her a pencil. You find two pencils exactly the same. One is 1 dollar. The other is 101 dollars. Which one do you buy?” Um, what?
I ended up returning the iPad Mini and purchasing it and a case online (for $340, and yes, we saved $100). But I didn’t expect to get shat on for the $100 difference. Sure, I’m wrong in that I should’ve bought it for less, but I didn’t expect to be berated by my younger brother about how I’m being reckless with money when I really only spend money on friends/family the holiday season!
I feel like I put a lot of thought and effort into finding something that my mom wants/likes/needs. The same goes for my brother (he’s getting a shirt, a phone holder for his car, and a pair of Nike running shoes). Yet I feel like worrying about the “value” of things has almost ruined the spirit of Christmas (though my brother said I have ruined the holiday spirit and am using this as an excuse to recklessly spend).
I’m getting incredibly anxious for when Christmas happens, and I guess my question is: how do I handle the potential “tsk tsk” when Christmas gifts are exchanged and opened? I feel like if this Christmas turns out to be a dud, I’m just going to stop investing in giving them certain things, but then I know I’ll be chastised for not caring enough in giving them something of value. How do I handle the awkward situations when they arise? My dad will probably keep quiet and agree with whatever my mom says, but this whole thing is driving me crazy!
Gift$ or $hit
This is a weird, scripted game your mom (& now brother) are playing, where you will always spend “too much” or “not enough” for their tastes so that they have an excuse to judge you. You do not have to play the game anymore. In fact, I can see one pretty direct way out of it:
Do not tell your mom how much her gifts cost, ever, ever again. Ever.
Her: “How much did you spend on this?”
You: “Not important, Mom. I’m glad you enjoy it, though.”
Her: “No really, how much did you spend?”
You: “What a strange question. Do you like it/Does it fit/Is it the color you wanted?”
Her: “Come on, just tell me.”
Her: “Why, are you embarrassed? You probably paid too much/not enough again.”
You: “Maybe so! Glad you enjoy the gift, though.”
Her: “But why won’t you tell me? Just tell me!”
You: “Because you are being so weird about it, to be honest. I can afford it, and if you like it, then I am happy.”
Warning: It will get super weird. Your brother and dad might join in. She might not stop haranguing you. It might bring up all this weird adjacent judge-y stuff about money and etiquette and what kind of daughter you are. She is probably not used to being told “No,” straight out, by you. It’s never too late to learn! Hold the line and let the weirdness happen. Let it get as uncomfortable as it needs to get for them to learn that you don’t give that information out anymore.
No more joint presents with your bro, either, probably, or only joint gifts where he does all the work of getting it and picking it out and you pass him some cash. If anyone says ONE WORD about the “Christmas Spirit,” may I suggest a script of “Hey, we’re all adults, so let’s bag the whole Christmas gift-giving thing next year except for the little kids in the family and just focus on birthdays.”
You have been brought up to think that you must tell your mom the answer to these questions, and she expects you to tell her the answer, but you don’t have to tell her. If not knowing the dollar value makes her appreciate the gift less, that’s on her. Your job isn’t to get her to feel a different way or even behave a different way –That’s out of your hands, just like the gift is, the second you hand it over.