Dear Emuna,

My husband and I give wedding gifts to anyone who invites us to their simcha. However, we rarely receive a thank you acknowledgment. We are not wealthy and I'm at a point where I tired of giving these gifts. If I know the couple, I will ask their parents if they at least received it. Sheepishly, a note will arrive a year later. Maybe. But checks are cashed, dishes are used, and not one word. I want to stop giving gifts. My husband says we have to continue. I say let's stop going to weddings of couples we really don't know well. He says, either way, we still need to give a nice gift. Thoughts? – Done With It

Dear Done With It,

I totally understand your frustration. When we give it a gift, we like to know it’s appreciated – not because we want a pat on the back necessarily but because part of the pleasure of giving is knowing that the recipient enjoyed it. Wedding gifts are more complicated than birthdays or showers. Frequently on those occasions we get to see the present opened and watch the reaction. Weddings offer none of that and so we need to just give because we want to, because it’s a chesed (a kindness) to help a bride and groom start off their life, because we remember what it’s like to start with nothing, because giving is its own reward.

Whether the recipient writes a timely thank you note or even one at all should not influence our giving. That has to do with their character, not ours. So I don’t believe you should stop giving gifts. Depending on your financial circumstances, it may be appropriate to reduce the size of the gifts, in which case perhaps you would feel less resentful.

You raise another issue as well – should you stop going to the weddings of couples you don’t really know? The answer is – it depends! Will your attendance add to their joy? Then you should probably go. Was your invitation just an obligation (as are those invitations to community rabbis)? Perhaps not. But how do you know? Maybe, having you there would add consequence to the occasion. Only you can make these types of calculations and evaluations, including what else would you do with the time, do you have young children that would suffer if you went and what are your expectations when you make a simcha. There is no hard, fast rule here. However, I don’t think the obligation of gift giving should factor into your decision. And I don’t believe that not attending absolves you of the responsibility to give a gift, although I am not Emily Post and we are not talking about responsibilities under Jewish law.

As I’ve said many, many times, we can either be a giver or taker in life. And all giving, of presents, of time, of charitable donations, of meals should be done with no expectation of anything in return, including thank you. This is the best and only way to eliminate resentment and free you to make a practical decision and not an emotional or bitter one.

No Time to Visit Divorced Parents and In-Laws

Dear Emuna,

My husband and I live far from our parents – it's been over a year since we got together with family. We want to fly out to see everyone over the upcoming holidays... and planning the itinerary hasn't been simple. My parents are divorced and live quite a distance from each other. Even as a kid, I split my vacations between two places and it's hard to imagine breaking our short break into three (my in-laws, my mom and my father). Thankfully, my in-laws are very understanding and told us that they'd be glad to see us for whatever time we can mange. The real crux of the difficulty is this: my mother has already expressed to me her desire that we forgo visiting my father to spend as much time with her as possible. Are her expectations reasonable? Even if they aren't, do I need to respect them?

Torn in two

Dear Torn,

In a word, no and no. You should not skip visiting your father to spend more time with your mother. It’s important to distinguish between desires, expectations and what’s actually the correct way to behave. That your mother desires to have you all to herself we can understand. Not only is sharing with ex-spouses difficult but recognizing that you now have in-laws who also have a demand on your time is an additional challenge. Most parents would certainly prefer to have their children to themselves. But most (emotionally) healthy parents recognize the difference between their desires and their expectations.

It should go without saying (but apparently it doesn’t) that your parents have to share your time with your husband’s parents. This is a reasonable, logical and common expectation. Your mother’s expectation that you should do otherwise is completely inappropriate and unreasonable. I’m sorry to sound harsh but I want to be very clear. They do not take precedence over the needs of your husband and his parents. And, if I wasn’t clear enough yet, this means that would not be the correct way to behave and you therefore do not need to respect her wishes.

This is different from whether you need to respect her. You still need to treat your mother with dignity and honor and try to explain to her in a calm and gentle manner why her wishes cannot be satisfied. We can hope that she will respond in kind but, given the outrageous nature of her demands, chances are good she will not. She will beg and cajole or get angry and attack; she will make you feel badly about your decision. This constitutes manipulation and should be ignored with the same love and gentleness.

You need to do what’s right and behave like a mensch. So does she. But you can only be responsible for your behavior. Don’t get pulled into her web of rationalizations. Stay firm in your position and establish your boundaries now. This will benefit you, your mother and your marriage for the rest of your life.