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Advice: Coping with the holiday gift gap

What to do when a relative gives kids lots more gifts than you do. Plus, problems with pairing off.

I have a sister who visits from overseas during the holidays. My husband and kids love having her and her family with us. However, she gives her daughters LOTS of presents from Santa; mine receive modest gifts. Last year, I told her that we wanted Christmas Eve/morning to be just for us, and she was disappointed. Do I tell her the truth about not wanting to keep up or continue using the reason I gave last year?

R.R. / Easton

If I were your sister, I'd rather find out about an easily fixable problem than to think that you didn't want me around! Why not ask your sister if she'd be comfortable leaving some of the yuletide booty at home for opening, rather than doing it all at your place? This would be a win all around. You don't feel uncomfortable about a gift gap, your sister doesn't have to schlep sacks of gifts over the ocean, and your nieces get the fun of several gift-opening events, which is scientifically shown to engender more happiness than opening everything at once. Easy peasy.

But am I being overly psychoanalytic to wonder if there was a grain of truth in last year's excuse? You say your husband and children enjoy your sister's visit, not that you do. Maybe it's nothing, maybe it's something. Either way, make a decision soon. If you choose to spend Christmas with your sister — it sounds as if that would make everyone happiest — you should come clean and apologize for not addressing the situation straightforwardly last year.

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As an only child who is both Jewish and childless by choice, I decided to consult with more experienced folk to find out how families manage present-related peer pressure (PRPP). Overwhelmingly, parents who did a minimal Christmas said that it only works if the parents are 100 percent comfortable with how they do things. If they feel guilty or embarrassed about a small Christmas, kids will pick up on that and feel correspondingly gift-deprived. When parents are straightforward and link "small Christmas" with other family values, like "spending time outdoors" or "making things ourselves," kids generally go along with the program.

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I'm a single woman and am friends with a couple who invite couples or singles (not both) when they entertain. I was friends with the husband before he was married, and we have many friends (couples) whom I would enjoy seeing at these "pairs only" events. (The "singles" are two women whose company I don't enjoy.) I've told him that I feel hurt being excluded, but he says that's how his wife likes to do things and that in relationships people compromise. Any ideas?

R.L. / Cambridge

Noah's ark-style socializing is a bit ridiculous in this day and age, so your frustration is understandable. But choosing a guest list is the prerogative of the host. A good guest doesn't put in requests for her own preferred coterie of party attendees — and a good friend most certainly doesn't try to start a fight between a married couple.

Fortunately, you have options. You aren't obligated to go to the dismal "singles" nights if you don't like the company on offer. And you can see any group of friends in any configuration you like by hosting your own parties! Why not plan one for mid-January, when the winter blues have taken hold and the crush of holiday events has passed?

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


WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS DO THAT YOU NEED HELP MAKING SENSE OF? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.