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    Miss Conduct

    Advice on Yankee swaps

    Plus, hurt feelings from a Facebook photo album.

    Illustration by Lucy Truman

    >My brother-in-law has decided that now that his two children are grown he would like to “save everyone a little money” and do a Yankee swap for Christmas. His mother agrees. I think they are being very selfish, as they both can afford to buy something — even just $10 — so my preteen daughter gets the excitement of opening gifts. Am I being selfish?

    L.C. / Salem  

    If I were your only child, I would have died a thousand deaths rather than be excluded from the Yankee swap, and thereby from honorary adulthood. At age 14, I would have happily forgone a pony if it came with the stigma of Childhood Status. About the only thing that would have made me die even harder — and, pace Bruce Willis, no one can die harder than a 14-year-old girl — would have been if my mother had fought for my inclusion at the Children’s Gift Table.

    What does your husband think? They’re his family, after all, and one should never go up against in-laws without full spousal approval, support, and tactical/strategic assistance. And, frankly, one never demands gifts. That’s the bottom line: Granny Grinch and Uncle Scrooge can’t very well be forced to be more generous than they feel like being. Your only decision is how to make the time with them as delightful and meaningful to your daughter as possible. You can either fill her with resentment over missed gifts or honor her inclusion in the sophisticated company of the adult Yankee swappers.



    >My sister-in-law is from a small family and has navigated our crazy, loud, loving, and large family with grace and humor. About a year ago, she created a Facebook album titled “Family’’ with pictures of her own relatives. I wanted to ask, “Hey, where are we?’’ She and my brother recently had a beautiful baby, and still the “Family’’ album contains no photos of the rest of us. I am torn up as to why this affects me so much. Do I tell her? New-mother hormones scare me!

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    C.S. / Andover

    You’re upset about how your sister-in-law titles a Facebook album and you’re afraid of her hormones? I hope you can enjoy the irony of that.

    Don’t bring this up with your sister-in-law. She has enough to cope with right now, and she’ll think you’re a far more high-maintenance, self-absorbed person than you really are. Instead, dig around a little — maybe journaling, maybe talking to a friend — about why the word “Family’’ and this whole situation is so loaded for you.

    You say your own clan is large and hers small, so probably keeping an album separate for her own family of origin is merely an efficiency. Would it have bothered you if she titled the album “My Family’’ instead of just “Family’’? This may be closer to her intent. Or — let’s face that fear, shall we? — maybe she doesn’t consider you family. Is it acceptable if “family’’ doesn’t mean to her what it does to you? For some of us (and I include myself in this group) “family’’ means “folks I grew up with.’’ “Family’’ is about your past, about where you came from. And if you want her to be happy and comfortable where she is right now, in your family — then just keep the F word out of it for a while.

    Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

    NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP?Write to her at And read her blog at