Sunday, July 03, 2011

It's not the gift, it's the equity that counts

"I need your advice," a reader from Southern California, writes.

Since my reader raised her two stepchildren from the time they were 7 and 5 years old, she considers them her kids. "So I am grandmother to seven and great-grandma to five."

One of her granddaughters has three children and, after the first of the year, is planning to marry a man with three children of his own. For the past five years, while her granddaughter has been going to school, my reader has been helping to support her and her children.

"I have been Santa to them also," she writes. She gives her granddaughter's three teenage children $200 and a gift at Christmas.

Her granddaughter's fiance's three children are about the same age, but she has only seen them four times since they live about 100 miles away from her.

"My question is: Should I give them the same $200?"

If not, she wants to know if she should give it to them after her granddaughter's marriage early next year.

"I have tried to keep things even with my grandchildren and great grandchildren unless there is a special need," she writes. She always asks the parents of the kids if it is OK for her to give a gift of any sort.

Clearly, my reader is quite generous to her granddaughter and her granddaughter's children. What's also clear is that, from early on, she hasn't made a distinction between children and stepchildren. So it would be in keeping with the way she's led her parental life to treat her granddaughter's stepchildren just as she does her granddaughter's children.

For my reader to start drawing a distinction now between stepchildren and biological children when it comes to gift giving would seem to fly in the face of how hard she seems to have tried to avoid such distinctions in the past.

There is no reason that she must start giving the same types of gifts to her granddaughter's fiance's children until after the wedding. Of course, children talk, so it would be understandable if my reader wanted to avoid any awkwardness around gift-giving time. While it's her call, if she does decide to give such sizeable gifts to her granddaughter's fiance's children, my reader might want to clear it with their father, just as she clears such things with the parents of her own grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Even after the marriage, while she may be committed to treating all the children equally, there is no reason that she must continue to give each of the kids $200. How much she decides to give, or whether she decides to gives gifts instead of cash, is totally up to her.

In the past, I've made clear that I believe there is nothing inherently unethical about a parent doing more for one child than for another if the parent believes it appropriate to do so. Such decisions are totally at the discretion of the parent.

But to my reader, "keeping things even" is an expressed goal. The right thing is for my reader to be true to her convictions and not draw any distinction among her great grandchildren.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, it is heartwarming to read about a person like the subject of today's column who "bends so far over backwards" to treat all the children in her life equally in the "gift department". We sadly usually read about people who do just the opposite and look for ways to favor blood kin and shortchange step-kin. This must be a very good person in her heart, it is so good to hear about this type of loving person!

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Is employer responsible for expense if I might leave?

Every couple of years, Lil (not her real name, but let's call her "Lil") has to renew her professional license with her s...