Giving Gifts to Ungrateful Grown-ups Gets Old

By Wendy Belzberg

Published September 05, 2003, issue of September 05, 2003.
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How long are relatives expected to give gifts to grown children? I have a nephew, 26, and a niece, 23, to whom I have given gifts on every birthday and major holiday. They have never acknowledged my gifts. What is correct now that they are adults?

— Unacknowledged auntie

Any obligation you may have felt to send gifts to your undeserving niece and nephew expired long ago. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, the gift is in the giving. And there is little if any pleasure in giving when your gift is never acknowledged. Your niece and nephew are guilty of more than just bad manners. They have taken advantage of your thoughtfulness, generosity and timely devotion. In the worst-case scenario: They both fail to notice when their annual gifts stop arriving. Best case: They call to inquire about their wayward gifts and you have the opportunity to tell them how you feel after two decades.

* * *

Both my husband and I have large extended families. We are limited by the number of people our synagogue can accommodate and are trying to figure out how to edit our bar mitzvah list. We are considering not inviting my son’s non-Jewish classmates. A bar mitzvah is a religious ceremony that will not be meaningful to a non-Jew. Of course we would invite his entire class to the evening party.

— Red-pen reductionist

Tread carefully. There is a word to describe the exclusion of individuals based on their religion. And as a Jew you should know what that word is. If size is a factor, I suggest inviting to the synagogue only those friends in your son’s inner circle. Being Jewish is no guarantee that a hormonal teenager, even if he or she is Jewish, will appreciate the weight of the ceremony. Any cluster of teens in one place can transform the most meaningful event into a social free-for-all.

The religious significance of the ceremony may indeed be lost on your son’s non-Jewish friends, but the amount of time he spent preparing for this day and the love in the room will not be. Then, too, there is that slight chance that to one of them you may help to demystify, or explain, Judaism. And enlightenment is never a bad idea. You may consider adding a special booklet to the siddur explaining the meaning of various parts of the ceremony. Unless you were thinking of saving space by excluding all secular and non-Jews, your son’s friends are not the only ones who would benefit from a bar-mitzvah primer.

* * *

My husband died a year and a half ago. My children and grandchildren have asked on several occasions, “You wouldn’t ever date again, would you, Mom?” I am 53, lonely, and I don’t want to stop living. At the same time, I feel that to date would be disloyal to my husband’s memory and to my children and grandchildren.

— A widow’s window

Clearly children can do numbers on parents just as parents can do numbers on children. Yours are to be commended for doing their utmost to preserve the world as they know it — and locking in the weekend baby-sitter. I assume you raised them to live their own lives and to fulfill their own dreams. The table has now turned. Your age is irrelevant when it comes to love, friendship and companionship. No one wants to be alone. As for your husband’s memory, not only won’t he know, but it is the supreme compliment that you were happy as part of a couple to believe a relationship possible and worth engaging in again. You owe your children and grandchildren no explanations for the choices you make in your life. I suggest that the next time one of your children asks about your dating intentions, you tell them what you are really thinking. That will shut them up.

Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at

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