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Dear Annie: Back down, Mama Bear

Dear Annie: Every December, my ex-mother-in-law organizes a holiday party for all of the women from her side of the family. It’s a fancy dinner, and they have a $15 Secret Santa gift exchange.

As a rule, all attendees must be 16, and my daughter was thrilled that she was able to attend for the first time. She asked that I bring her to an upscale gift store so she could buy (with her own money, I might add) a really nice gift.

After hours of browsing, she wound up purchasing an array of lovely smaller gifts, which totaled slightly more than $15. She came home and wrapped it so beautifully; she was so proud of herself as she headed off to the party with her present in hand. I couldn’t help but think about how much she reminds me of my ex-mother-in-law, who is also very artistic and crafty and takes great pride in her gift-giving as well. My daughter is the definition of a chip off the old block.

When my daughter returned from the party, she said she had a nice time but that her gift was not well-received. Apparently, a few of the ladies were making fun of it.

According to my daughter, everyone was asking whose it was, but my daughter didn’t speak up. At the time, we laughed about it and didn’t really think of it as a big deal, until six months later.

My daughter comes home from a visit with the ex-in-laws and tells me that my ex-mother-in-law, and a few other family members, figured out that the gift from the party was from my daughter, and, while at a family gathering in front of everyone, came right out and accused my daughter of “regifting” her gift.

They had the audacity to accuse her of picking random stuff from her own bedroom, wrapping them up and regifting them. The whole family joined in and made a joke of it, and my daughter was crushed and extremely embarrassed.

My daughter put a ton of thought and effort into her gifts and really felt that whoever got it would love them. Instead, she was humiliated and shamed into not wanting to be around that side of her family anymore.

Clearly, my ex-mother-in-law is in the wrong, and I desperately want to give her a piece of my mind. But my daughter has forbidden me from addressing it and said she just won’t go to the annual party any more.

This isn’t OK with me. I am Mom. I am supposed to protect my kids and stand up for them, but my daughter doesn’t want me to, and I want to respect her wishes. However, it’s harder than I thought, and I feel like I really should stick up for her.

Annie, should I ignore my daughter’s wishes and confront my ex-mother-in-law about the regifting (with the receipt from the store), or should I just let it go? — Feeling Useless in CT

Dear Feeling Useless in CT: Wanting to protect our children and stand up for them is a natural motherly instinct. But the real gift you can give your daughter is to help her develop her own ability to protect herself and stand up for herself. Encourage your daughter to talk with your ex-mother-in-law about how her accusations of “regifting” were hurtful. I doubt your ex-mother-in-law would have participated in the teasing if she knew that her granddaughter would be so pained.

If your ex-mother-in-law is still nasty about it to your daughter, remind your daughter that she knows in her heart that she did the right thing. It’s her reaction to others, not what they say or do, that’s important and how she’ll find self-esteem and peace of mind.

“Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie” is out now. Annie Lane’s debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Go to http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send questions for Annie Lane to dearannie@creators.com.

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