It’s Not OK to Teach Kids There’s Such Thing as a Gift that Isn’t ‘Good Enough’
It’s natural for children to be greedy or selfish from time to time. They’re kids! Part of dealing with kids is understanding that you’re going to have to be “fair” about whose turn it is to push the elevator button, or who gets to eat out of the pink bowl. Sometimes you’re going to have to deal with meltdowns because one kid’s order of fries has three more fries than the other kid’s does. This is behavior we expect from children, but not from adults. But these adults exist, and someday you might encounter another parent who actually gets bent out of shape about the value of gifts given to children at birthday parties.
Today a woman actually wrote into Ask Amy to ask what to do about a small child who had given her children a birthday present that is “not good enough,” and she was completely convinced that the advice columnist would be on her side.
The mother wrote that she always makes sure her twin boys give gifts worth $15 each or one gift that costs about $30 whenever they are invited to a birthday party. Somehow, she appears to think that this is an etiquette rule, and not just a guideline she has worked out for how to run her own household. Then one of her children’s good friends–whose mother was out of a job–came to the twins’ party but did not bring a gift. One would not think that would be an emergency. This is a middle-class woman with twins. Is she not already up to her ears in $15 plastic cars and Pokemon already?
But then the woman describes the real affront: Later, this small child had the unabashed temerity to give her twins a video game purchased from the “Used Games” section of the store. The game disc was fine and functional, but the case was cracked. It sounds like she actually confronted the kid about his gift, because he told her that he had played it and thought her boys would enjoy it.
Now one would think that a grown-ass woman would say something like, “Oh, how kind! He put a lot of thought into giving you boys something he thought you would really enjoy.” But not this letter writer! Instead, she called the other mother and let her have it, telling the other woman that it was inappropriate to let her child give a used game as a gift, and “I let her know that I thought that, as a parent, she should be teaching children what is appropriate (giving a new, unbroken item) and what is NOT appropriate (giving a used, broken item as a gift).”
One of the most astounding things about advice columns is when people write in with truly bizarre “rules” of etiquette that they have clearly made up themselves, but that somehow they believe are universal social mores. This lady takes the cake. She even says she sat her kids down and gave them a serious talk about how “inappropriate this family’s choices were.”
The only thing inappropriate about this transaction is the letter-writer’s reaction. I don’t care if your kid gave his friend a $15 present and got a cool stick in return, the only appropriate response is, “Thank you!”