On the Spot

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Help me please with a reciprocal gift-giving question. In high school
our son was a shy nerd. He did not date at all, even though his best
friend/almost brother tried to fix him up on numerous occasions. He
went off to college and after a while got a girlfriend, and now, three
years in, they are both graduating with engineering degrees. She’s a
nice enough girl but she is his first, and I think he could do better with
more experience. Needless to say he is reluctant to risk having no one.
Her parents, who exploit him mercilessly with chores for their home
and business whenever he visits there on holidays and vacations, gave
David $200 as a gift. Our family tends to not give gifts at all, and
never gifts of cash or gift cards. We give flowers and food from our
garden, and personal notes. I feel like they owe him much more in
back wages and do not want to be shamed into giving her a gift just to
show we can keep up. She, btw, will make $30K more in her first job
out of school than I will after five teaching English as a second
language. It’s more than the money but it matters too. What should I

On the Spot

Dear On the Spot:

I know people who only give cash or gift cards and others who never
do. It’s a matter of convenience, but there’s also the nasty issue of
dollars as some measure of affection. I come from the give-
something-meaningful school. In this case, I think money would not be
the right message, but I think zero gift given is almost an insult, so
unless you actively want to help end this relationship, you need to gift
something more than a polite card. Next time she visits you, have a
bouquet for her, and a swag bag of homemade items. You could
include a lovely wooden spoon/ladle/spatula set, something she can
use in her own kitchen. You can send her a note saying that her gifts
await upon her next visit, but that you are very proud of her


Sit down with your son and talk to him about your dilemma and
decision. Explain you don’t want to be part of a battle of keep-up- with
the-not- yet-in- laws, and use the talk as a chance to probe what his
intentions are. The next big step for both of them will be job hunting.
Living in different cities may solve the problem. If they do move in
together things will escalate to better or worse. You’ll need to make
your peace with his choice, even if it isn’t yours.