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by Abigail Van Buren

Ski Trip Tradition Begins to Wear on Weary Hostess

DEAR ABBY: My parents are in their 70s. Both are generous and loving. Over the years Mom has refused to accept any act of generosity or gift, large or small, from any of her children. This includes birthdays, their anniversary and all major holidays. In the past, she would return our gifts to the mall.

In recent years we have resorted to giving her and Dad gift cards or food because they can't be returned. Each time we do we get a lecture from her in a reprimanding tone, telling us we "spent too much." (We're a practical clan; we do not spend a lot of money or buy anything lavish.) Following the reprimand, Mother then passes out large checks to each of us and our children.

Aside from the holidays, Mom will not accept a dinner invitation at my home. When one of us hosts a family party, she insists on writing a check to cover the cost of the food. When we're out for an occasional lunch or dinner, she grabs the check and becomes upset if one of us tries to pay for it.

We're all mature adults with good incomes. This quirk of hers has become frustrating and embarrassing. Does Mom have low self-esteem and can't accept an act of generosity, or is she a control freak? If we eliminated the gift-giving, she would still continue doling out the checks. What can we do? -- OVER IT IN RACINE, WIS.

DEAR OVER IT: Your mother is obviously well-fixed. She sees her role as matriarch of your family, and part of that role is being a provider. On some level, she may feel that anything you spend on her would be better spent on yourselves and your children.

The IRS allows a certain amount of money to be given as a gift every year, tax-free. The checks your mother is handing out may be her way of trying to transfer wealth within the family.

My advice is to graciously accept her generosity. At this point you're not going to change your mother. You can, however, change the way you are reacting to her and love her, quirk and all.