DEAR AMY: I am an only child and recently married. My husband has a sister who has two children. One is a toddler and the other is in elementary school.
My husband and I agree that the Christmas spending tradition has been overblown and that even though we are financially stable we do not want to participate in gift exchanges with family and friends. We've also agreed that when we have children gift-giving will not be a part of our holiday celebrations.
Recently, we communicated our decision to family and friends. We explained that while we want to celebrate the holiday with everyone, in lieu of gifts we will be making additional donations to charity. My sister-in-law vehemently disagrees with our stand. She complains that we are "ruining Christmas" for everyone, in particular her children (to whom my husband previously gave gifts each year).
My husband says we should make an exception for children (even though he agrees that if we had our own children it would be OK not to give them gifts). Do you have any advice on how to respond to my sister-in-law or how to persuade my husband to hold firm to our otherwise agreed-upon beliefs?
— Not A Scrooge!
DEAR NOT: You and your husband are from small families, so even if you chose to give gifts, the burden would not be too great. But I get it — it's the principle of the thing.
I like your idea of taking the materialism out of the holiday, though you do sound like a humorless Scrooge. Your sister-in-law is wrong to accuse you of "ruining" anything, although you are forcing the family to adjust to your style. And what if your husband decides to continue to give gifts to these children? Will you permit him?
One way to celebrate without giving material gifts would be to start a tradition involving the extended family. You could host a wintertime bonfire with skating or sledding, or treat the kids to a holiday concert or a production of "A Christmas Carol."
If you decide to have children, it will be challenging to continue your vise grip on this issue. What you are learning here is that you cannot control other people, especially about something as emotionally loaded as gift-giving.
DEAR AMY: Almost three years ago, I started seeing a man who was separated from his wife. At one point, we broke up but got back together when he said he would file for divorce. That was a year ago. We've since gone on trips to visit members of his family, and in every case, he has introduced me as his girlfriend.
All five of his grown children and grandchildren accept me graciously. He finally got divorced four days ago. Hooray! Now he says he's embarrassed to say we're "in a relationship" on Facebook because he just got divorced.
The only people who know his divorce date also have known me for a year and know we are seeing each other. Am I crazy to be hurt? Is he just avoiding commitment? I'm old enough to be a grandmother for goodness' sake! What should I do?
DEAR CONFUSED: Your guy is embarrassed to reveal to the world that he has bounced quickly into another relationship. He may even feel that to reveal this would be embarrassing to you. You obviously don't feel embarrassed in the slightest, and so the answer is for you to post your own status as "in a relationship" and let him do so when he's ready.
DEAR AMY: "Concerned" didn't want people giving her 5-year-old daughter Barbie or Bratz dolls. I'd like to reassure her. I grew up playing with these dolls and am now an avid reader, expect to graduate near the top of my class and have a very healthy self-image.
— Better Than Barbie
DEAR BETTER: Thank you for pointing out that these dolls might not be as "dangerous" as this mother thinks.
Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.