Commonsense Advice for the Holidays

Jeanne Marie Laskas is not a shrink, but she does have uncommon advice. Here, a collection of queries on giving gifts and getting along, just in time for the holidays.

1. You sister does not thank you for a gift

Rude people don't take well to scolding, so try something even better: the guilt trip! Tell her how it felt to have your generosity go unrecognized. It hurt, right? So say, "Ouch." Sometimes the gentlest cry can jolt the rudeness right out of a person.

2. What's the appropriate amount to spend on family, friends, or the children of friends you rarely see?

Sorry, there are no easy rules for giving other than this one: Don't forget the point of the whole deal. A gift is a symbol that shows someone you care. A symbol! As the giver, you get to choose what to give. Doling out more cash than you can afford, or because you think you have to, builds resentment and defeats the purpose. Give what you want (or can afford), to whomever you want, trusting that everybody knows that times are tough. A handmade card or thoughtful note can say more than cash.

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3. My daughter takes my gifts away as punishment. What can a grandmother do?

Not very much. Your opinions are irrelevant to whatever parenting techniques your daughter employs (as long as she is not harming her children). Your daughter may be stressed-out by the demands of having four kids. An offer to help may go a lot further toward your grandchildren's well-being than any gift you could give them.

4. I know my younger step-daughter is just adding her name to the card and not contributing. Should I thank her?

Lighten up! Your older stepdaughter is a considerate and generous sister who covers for and protects her younger sibling. Good for her! The girls' relationship is between them. As for your role, you can't punish anyone into being thoughtful. You can, however, model thoughtful behavior. Go spend some time with her, and get to know her.

5. My lonely neighbor drops by at all hours on every holiday. How do I break the cycle without breaking her heart?

The poor soul! She's desperately lonely and has adopted you. See if she has any family nearby and alert them to her neediness. Look into local senior citizen centers and encourage her to join and sign up for activities. Help her broaden her world so it is bigger than your living room. Tell her gently that your family needs time together. Make a gift of an engagement calendar, and then schedule "special visits" with her.

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6. My son's teacher refuses my gift of perfume. Shouldn't a person just politely accept?

The school may have rules about gifts because accepting one may result in favoritism. Anyhow, the teacher said "no thanks," so that's the end of it.

7. A friend I give gifts to never give me one. I am I not valued?

If it bugs you not to get stuff in return, then stop giving this person presents. Plenty of people agree to friendships that exclude obligatory gift-giving. But if you are truly feeling not valued as a friend, then why do you value this friendship?

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