Dear Miriam,

You will probably think that this is the very definition of a “first world problem”. But I’d appreciate your thoughts.

I recently had a significant “roundy” birthday. I did not want any party or great fuss, just a nice dinner out with my husband and our three children. Anyway, towards the end of the evening, they told me that they had a special gift for me… and presented me with a very expensive hoover. I won’t say what brand, but you can guess which one.

Miriam, this was not a jokey present or anything like that. I think they genuinely believed that they were getting me something thoughtful. And of course, it is a very practical gift. But to be given a hoover by your family for a special birthday; what does that say about how they see me?

I tried to look happy, but it was hard to hide the disappointment. I have not even taken it out of its box. It’s not that I actually wanted anything expensive or fancy. I would have been delighted with even a piece of costume jewellery or a nice scarf.

I know they say that it’s the thought that counts; but what does the thought behind this present really say? Your readers will probably think that I am completely ungrateful. But it just makes me feel like they see me as little more than a skivvy.


Dear Anne,

First of all, can I wish you a happy birthday? I hope at least that the family dinner was exactly what you wanted and that your husband and children made a little bit of a fuss over you; which I’m sure you deserve.

Regarding the hoover - I can probably guess the brand! Yes, it is an expensive one and I’m sure that the gift was chosen with the very best of intentions. But I completely understand where you are coming from and what you feel it represents. In this case, it is the thought that counts; and not the price tag.

But as luck has it, it’s still in the box! Is there a gift receipt or option to return it for a refund? I know that goes against what we are usually told: to just be grateful, no matter what we get. But what is the point of an expensive gift if it is just going to be a source of resentment?

Maybe you could explain to your family that while you appreciate that the gift was well-intentioned, it made you feel a little bit like the household maid rather than the birthday girl; even though you know that they would never have intended that. So, in that case, maybe it would be best for them (or for you) to exchange it for something else that you would prefer or is “more you”.

I understand that saying these words might be uncomfortable. I’m sure you don’t want to hurt their feelings either. But I’m guessing that your children are growing up to adulthood, and your husband is certainly mature. Maybe they need to take a closer look at how they view you and your role in the home. Yes, you are a wife and a mother: but you are also an individual. It could be enlightening for them.

That is my tuppence, but readers might also be willing to share their experience. Again, wishing you a happy birthday and all the best for the year ahead.

Reader writes

Dear Miriam,

In response to Mary from Munster (“My sister wants to be cremated, but I don’t agree”), I can understand how upset she is over her sister and I am praying that all turns out well for her. Our family had a similar experience when my sister-in-law died in the United States and was cremated there.

Her ashes were sent home to be scattered in the fields, but our parish priest explained that that is not a Christian burial and that she (her ashes) should be placed in her parents’ grave. I think that that would have pleased my sister-in-law if it had been explained to her.

Hoping that her sister-in-law will recover.

Mary, Leinster

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