DEAR MISS MANNERS: My mother-in-law made some horrible financial decisions. While we cannot fix her mistakes, we give her gifts at any and all occasions and holidays, in order to help her without treating her as a charity case. We also try to provide a few pleasant extras that she cannot afford. We neither expect nor want gifts in return.
Though not shy about handing out wish lists, she was never a gift-giver, so the one-sided dynamic is not new. What makes it hurtful is the way she tells us that she was going to pick us up a card or something, but she “didn’t feel like it.” And she can be counted on to say that our gift is not enough and that we owe her more.
We do not want to be disrespectful, and we do not want her to be hungry or miserable, but resentment is growing after many years of these insults. Is there a polite way to make it clear that all she needs to say is “thank you,” without it coming down to a fight?
GENTLE READER: Prolonged bad behavior by near relatives is painful and unpleasant. The mildest response is to say, “I’m sorry you are disappointed” -- with a delivery that, without being rude or aggressive, makes it clear that your sorrow does not run deep -- and then change the subject.
Not responding to your mother-in-law’s bait may, by taking the fun out of it for her, cause her to modify her behavior. But it may not. If the behavior is not irksome enough for you to be willing to cause a breach, then Miss Manners urges you to consider your forbearance a good deed that you are infrequently called upon to repeat. And take comfort from your spouse, who has had to put up with her for much longer.