Ask Abbie: Of gifts and tastes

Published 8:55 am Saturday, December 28, 2013

by Abbie Long

Question: My sister-in-law gave me a Christmas present this year that is really not my taste. It is a decoration for my house. She has already asked me where I’m going to display it and told me she can’t wait to see what I do with it. It’s not like I can just put it out on display when I know she is coming because she likes to pop up unannounced. I know this shouldn’t be a big deal, but quite frankly the decoration is just really ugly and will be an eyesore if I put it anywhere other than out of sight. Do you think I should just be honest with her and tell her I don’t like it? I don’t really want to hurt her feelings. Do you have a better suggestion?

Answer: After letting yourself in as usual, you find your aging mother sitting comfortably in her new chair. Making sure she is cared for now is even more important to you since your father’s recent passing. She greeted you with the usual “Hey honey. I’m so glad to see you. Thank you for coming.” Today, however, her face displayed an unusual emotion, one with a slight hint of mischief and a teary eye. She immediately reached underneath the blanket draped across her lap and retrieved a small box. Before you could say anything, she spoke, “I got Jane to take me to the store so I could get this for you.” You recognized this outing as the first one for her in a month; you felt very honored. You walked over to her, kissed her cheek and knelt beside her.

As you began to open the gift, you heard her say, “I have been waiting a very long time to get this for you. I hope you like it.” You opened the box and looked inside. Your mother immediately asked, “Do you like it? Do you think you will use it?” You respond immediately, “Mom, it is such a wonderful expression of your heart. I love it. I certainly will find the perfect use for it.” The actual gift meant nothing to you, yet the spirit in which it was given meant everything.

Everyone, whether a family member or not, is a person. This alone provides sufficient justification for the principle that you should treat every person, regardless of physical attribute, attitude or spirit, with an equal amount of respect and kindness. Accordingly, your response to your sister-in-law’s gift should be the same as the response you would give to your mother as illustrated in the previous scenario. You wouldn’t tell your mother you didn’t like her gift and you wouldn’t be using it, nor should you say that to your sister-in-law.

One way to help you find additional peace with regard to your current predicament is to find a very non-obvious yet special way to use your new gift. If your sister-in-law asks, let her know you put it in a special place rather than in clear visibility because there is no place out in the open that is as special to you as the less obvious one you selected. Assuming her motives for giving you the gift are pure, she will be in full support of your decision because she will want you to put it wherever you receive the most enjoyment. If not, realize the spirit in which the gift was given and respond with an “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I am going to leave it where I will receive the most enjoyment. Thank you.”

With regard to any potential dissenting visitors who may tour your house, remember your attitude and response to their comments will determine their responses and reactions. For instance, if you respond to verbal or non-verbal declarations of the new gift’s ugliness with a positive response such as “My sister-in-law gave me what she thought was the most beautiful gift and her sentiment really touched my heart…” the subject will more than likely be dropped.

If, however, you respond to them with a negative response such as, “My sister-in law gave it to me. I feel like I have no other choice than to display it, or I will never hear the end of it…” the subject will likely develop into a non-productive, frustration elevating conversation.

Accept your sister-in-law’s gift with a gracious spirit in order to suffocate the potential for any fire of negativity associated with the gift giving to come between you. Make your mother proud.

ABBIE LONG is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to