Monday, April 22, 2024

A sister-in-law suggests an expensive technology gift for her child. Hax readers give advice.

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We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best answers are below.

Hi Carolyne: I’m fortunate to be quite well off and generally in a better position than most of my family. I don’t have children and the rest of my siblings do. I have always been very generous with their children and I like to select gifts for them.

A child’s birthday is coming up and my sister-in-law contacted me via text to suggest a very expensive technology gift. That’s about double what I would normally spend. Personally, I also think, even though I know it’s not my place and I never express this opinion, that all of my siblings’ children spend way too much time on technology to the detriment of every meeting of family. I admit that this suggestion put me off and I did not respond.

I’m at a loss. Should I proceed normally or give up and get the requested gift? I can afford it. Maybe they’re pointing out an area where I could be helpful, and my past gifts aren’t seen that way. This feels weird to me and I don’t know what to do.

Birthday present: Maybe this is the year to answer: “I was thinking of an experiment for [Kid] this birthday. Do you think they would like that? and name one or two fun activities that coincidentally have lower prices than the tech gift. If you live nearby, this experience could be a day between you and your children; otherwise, a parent could take them, or (depending on the price) it could be for Kid and his best friend. Telling your SIL what you had in mind gives them a price range, but asking their opinion leaves room to answer whether the technology element is that important. It might be the one and only thing Kid has talked about all year, and if you’re feeling generous, then you tell him it’s a birthday and Hanukkah/Christmas gift rolled into one.

I had an equally well-off aunt growing up, and although I loved the toys she sent me, today I mostly remember her visits. Her children were grown and she had a lot of time and patience for me. I saw my first play and went to my first really nice restaurant with her. She coached me on everything I needed to know before my first international trip. I hope your nieces and nephews remember not only the gifts you gave them, but also the thought and care that went into selecting them.

Birthday present: Move on to giving cash gifts to each sweetheart and nephew, allowing them to use it however they wish. This way, it’s fair and you don’t have to make judgments about whether the gift you’re giving is appropriate. Also, yes, we all use technology way too much these days, but as a non-parent, I hope you consider how difficult it is to be a parent in this tech-obsessed climate and that you will refuse to pass judgment in the future.

Birthday present: Your sister-in-law may have several reasons to suggest this gift. Maybe Kiddo begged for it and she wants to help you look like a hero. Maybe your siblings can’t afford it this year. Maybe your gifts generally go unused. Maybe they thought you’d like a break from having to guess what to buy. Who knows (without asking)?

If the gift makes you uncomfortable – whether because of its price or its nature – don’t buy it! You don’t have to buy a gift just because someone suggests it. If you choose not to purchase this gift, this might be a good time to ask your siblings for alternative suggestions. There are probably one or two other ways to become a birthday hero (if that’s your goal). Good luck and happy birthday to the child!

— Aunt of 9 years, mother of my dog

Birthday present: Whether kids are spending too much time on technology is a question parents need to address. So I would take that question off the table and consider the financial question. Honestly tell SIL that you prefer to keep gift spending below X amount. You would be happy to contribute that amount (in the form of a gift card, perhaps) toward the purchase of the item, and maybe the parents could handle the rest? Depending on how many nieces and nephews you have, spending the entire amount could set a very expensive precedent. How are you going to refuse to spend so much on others?

Each week we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s episode here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a submission deadline on Monday. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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