DEAR MISS MANNERS: If everyone could be so lucky as to have the problem I do. My husband is in medical school, and I am a graduate student. I am paid a stipend that is adequate to cover our living expenses and my tuition is paid for by a fellowship, but medical school is a different matter. My in-laws offered to pay for the entire cost of their son's education, over $100,000.
I understand that one should graciously accept all well-meaning gifts, but we could not bring ourselves to accept this. I believe they truly imagined there were no strings attached, but even with the best of intentions, they were not about to simply write us a check for $100, 000 and forget about it.
In declining, we said how appreciative we were of the very generous offer and did our best to provide no precise reasons for declining because we really didn't want to debate the issue. We told them simply that our financial independence was important to us and that our education would be all the more valuable if we were able to achieve it on our own.
They said they didn't think we could handle the responsibility of such a large debt and that our relationship would suffer under the strain of financial worries. It got kind of ugly and caused some hard feelings. I'm sure they still can't understand why we would have declined this gift, but providing reasons would have certainly made the whole thing even uglier.
Their response was to send us a check for a few hundred dollars. We didn't cash the check, explaining that we wished they would respect our decision to support ourselves. After about a year they began sending money again and the frequency of such gifts has only been increasing. Since that first check, we've accepted the money because it seems so rude to continue to reject their gifts, and I'm afraid we were wrong to have ever done so.
The truth is, though, we really don't want their money. Is there any rule that I've missed which would allow us to (somehow graciously) refuse money from them? Does it matter if it's enclosed in a birthday card? If it's $20 left on our desk? Should we have accepted their original offer and donated it to our favorite charity?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners certainly feels lucky to get this problem. It is not often that she receives a letter asking how to refuse money graciously, instead of how to extort it successfully.
Still, there is more to this than your admirable desire to pay your own way. These are your husband's parents, and considering his education their responsibility is also admirable. Horrid as it is for children to seem eager to get their hands on family money, renouncing what is freely (if now somewhat crudely) offered comes dangerously close to rejecting the family.
Fortunately, Miss Manners can tell you how to accept and reject it at the same time. She feels positively Solomonic.
Thank them profusely, and put all those birthday enclosures, tips left around the house, whatever, into a special nest-egg account. That way, you can tell them that although it is a point of pride with you to prove that you can support yourselves, you are mighty happy to know that a cushion is available, should anyone encounter job problems or become ill. Add that if all goes well, you plan to use it for their grandchildren's education -- unless, of course, your children tell you they will pay their own way through nursery school, thank you very much.