I don't have many rules in my life, but one "good deed" I live by is this: When I give my children or grandchildren a gift, I attach no strings. No rules about how the gift--be it financial, a tangible good or a service--should be used. If I don't trust them to use the gift responsibly, I don't give it.
There's another kind of string some of us may attach to a gift. We may want the gift acknowledged on a regular basis. That is, our kids can't thank us often enough for whatever it is we gave them. Or as a variation on that theme, we may use the gift as blackmail for future favors or requests, as in "This favor is the least you can do for me since I gave you .....whatever."
I was reminded of this second version of "strings attached" by a Carolyn Hax column in which a reader wrote to complain that her in-laws, who had helped her and their son's family by babysitting their very young children--two under the age of four. The young couple couldn't afford child care and both needed to work. The in-laws stepped up, drove an hour each way to babysit the grandkids three days a week for a year. Now that the young mother and father are able to afford good, nearby child care, the in-laws "cannot seem to stop 'calling in' this old debt" even though "they are thanked regularly and graciously." That is, when the in-laws want the couple to visit with their children--during Covid this meant driving 50 miles to stand outside their house and wave--they pressure the young family to make the visit by reminding them of the gift of babysitting for a year. "This has led me to realize that whenever my in-laws want something," the daughter-in-law writes, "they default to reminding us (subtly or not-so-subtly) about that period when we were entirely dependent on them to keep our family running."
Hax's advice to the writer was for her and her husband to remind the parents "that you are both grateful beyond your ability to express for the year of child care." But then "tune out the guilt noise and make your own decisions for your own reasons."
I read this vignette and it reminds me how attaching strings to gifts engenders ill will. The reason I refuse to turn my gifts into debts is totally selfish: I do it to preserve a positive relationship with my children. No one likes a blackmailer, even if the bounty is only an emotional one.
painting: Cezanne, Still Life with Basket