Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom.
A reader writes: My daughter-in-law is a generous woman. She sends us a huge box of assorted goodies on every possible occasion. Trouble is, we have everything we need, very little storage space and a strong desire to pare back even more. We suggested donating to charity in lieu of gifts, and we are doing that, but the boxes keep coming – now it's "joke" gifts, plus oceans of sweets. Nothing is less funny to us, or more depressing, than made-in-China plastic gewgaws. And when we do indulge our sweet tooth, we prefer our own choice. How can I stop the flow without alienating the giver?
I sympathize. I dealt with my situation by coming to an agreement to cease exchanging gifts. It doesn't seem like this could be a successful strategy in your case. Perhaps when you receive your next gift, you could ask if your daughter-in-law would object if you regifted her gifts. You could send the goodies on to a hospital or seniors home. She will either get the message that she should stop or at least slow down the flow, or you can, in all good conscience, get rid of the unwanted goodies.
– Maureen Mark, Ottawa
Start your own collection
The daughter-in-law's problem may be that she doesn't really know what to give you, so she comes up with a grab bag – and she's having fun browsing through dollar stores to put these boxes together for you, so she brushes off your entreaties. Look on the bright side – at least she's thinking of you!
Figure out something enjoyable and useful and, most importantly, small, that you could collect – souvenir pens and pencils, perhaps? – and ask your daughter-in-law to help you out. Who knows, you might actually start to like it when her gifts arrive.
– Cathie Fornssler, Saskatoon
Stand your ground
Persistence in behaviour, which the receiver has requested stop, is disrespectful of their feelings as well as their boundaries. The daughter-in-law is fulfilling a need of her own rather than one of her in-laws. I would suggest they make another attempt at communicating, reminding her they have made this request before and want the "goodie" boxes to stop – no more! Follow the conversation up with a card, thanking her for her generosity and thanking her for respecting their request.
If the boxes continue, I do not think they have any other option but to not receive them at the door or at the post office.
– Sharon Charboneau, Sechelt, B.C.
THE FINAL WORD
There are many benefits to writing this column, but the most salutary aspect of grappling with other people's interpersonal struggles is that it forces me to confront the elements of my own personality that cause, and sometimes escalate, my own relationship issues. Often, for example, I end up doing battle with a personal demon known as Passivity. In certain demonic realms, he goes by his other moniker: Mordock, Avoider of Conflict.
Occasionally, chewing over some random letter writer's dilemma, I'll find myself imagining scenarios where the problem could be sidestepped by an innocent fib or series of evasive manoeuvres. Then, I slap myself on the wrist. "Get thee behind me, Mordock," I'll incant, and get on with the business of offering straightforward advice that doesn't preclude ruthless honesty, straight talk and even hurt feelings.
But in this case the problem is that someone is giving you presents because she likes you so much. Is straight talk, like what Maureen suggests – to wit, "I think I'll regift all this crap" – really what's required? What about the ruthlessly honest action Sharon recommends – slamming the door on the packages, sending them back with a stamp that reads (or will be read by your daughter- in-law at least as) "SHOVE IT"?
I certainly agree with my friends above that your daughter-in-law isn't hearing or respecting your wishes. But I mostly agree with Cathie – clearly it gives her a great deal of pleasure to shop for, and proffer, these minor tokens. Why not let her have her fun and do what Cathie suggests – say the candy and geegaws are great, but the former doesn't get eaten and there's no shelf space for the latter. What you could really use, now, is (fill in the blank). Maybe we can let Mordock in just this once in the name of avoiding a conflict that simply doesn't need to happen.
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION
I have been dating my boyfriend for seven years, but in secret because he is of Indian Sikh culture and cannot be with me because I am Caucasian. I have spent the last seven years trying to understand if I am wasting my time, but I find my heart to be empty without him. I am so lost about what I should do with this relationship. He tells me there is no chance, but then says things that make me think there could be. How do I get him to realize how good he has it with me and that people won't make it as big of a deal as he hasis? I have tried converting to his religion and learning his language, I even offered to study in India for a year to learn about his culture. Nothing seems to be enough because I cannot change the colour of my skin. Help me, please.
Lynn Coady is the author of novels The Antagonist, Mean Boy and Strange Heaven.
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