Tamping down holiday excess

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  December 22, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara

I would love to hear your thoughts on managing the excesses of the holidays. I read your blog religiously and love your practical approach. This holiday season I have implemented advice that you give over and over - keep routines the same, don't make a big deal out of things, recognize that kids have a different sense of time, focus on the traditions and not the "stuff," etc.

However, I don't know what to do about the things/people that are out of my control. I have given grandparents and other family members lists of reasonable and useful things (slippers, games etc.) and in some cases actually asked people to not give gifts to my kids (3.5 years old and 18 months old). But there are already several boxes that have been shipped to my house and 3/4 grandparents will be visiting us for Christmas. My mother in particular is well known for her excessive generosity. She got mad at me on Thanksgiving (and really ruined the rest of the holiday with her resulting attitude) when I asked her to not give the kids games and other toys she had brought with her. I mentioned that I had already given the particular game idea to the other grandmother and that Christmas was only 4 weeks away.

We love having our family join us at the holidays - they all live at least 5 hours away by car, but the excesses that I can't get a handle on are making it very difficult for me to enjoy the holidays. I look forward to your ideas and also those from the other readers.

Thanks so much!

From: Michelle, Medford

Dear Michelle (and thanks so much for your kind words about the blog!),

Asking family to respect your wishes takes some serious training. Some relatives get very competitive about gift-giving and, let's be blunt here, it's more about them than it is about the kids. Sure, sometimes they are competing for the kids' attention but these grandparents mostly are playing a game of one-upmanship with each other. Sometimes all it takes is getting one set of grandparents on board for the competition to stop, but it's not easy.

Rather than struggle with this every year, here's another way:

Explain to your family that less is more for young children because they get overwhelmed by too many choices. Give them a list of what you have in mind for your kids; here's my favorite toy gift guide by TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Childrens Entertainment). Tell your family that you are going to screen the gifts by pre-opening what they send. If a gift seems excessive or inappropriate, you're going to put it away and save it, either for another time (Christmas in April?); to re-gift; to exchange; or to give to a Christmas toy drive of your choice. You will, of course, make sure each relative is appropriately represented under the tree and you will rewrap the gifts as beautifully as they were originally.

There's a chance they will be horrified. (One way to avoid the angry initial reactions is to do this by letter.) They will also see that you are serious and I bet they will take your advice about gift-giving much more to heart.

That children develop serious cases of "the gimmes," by the way, is partly a reaction to what they see around them, both in the culture and in other families, and partly how parents handle it. Of course kids want everything! They're kids. One way to handle this? Grant them their wishes in fantasy: "Boy, it would be so fun if you could get a pony! What would you name it!" They know it's not really happening.

But whether you have a limited budget or you're exercising common sense, your attitude is critical. If you're feeling sorry or sad for what you can't do/give, not only does that spoil your enjoyment, but it rubs off on them. If you make the most of what you have/can give, they will, too. If you ask me, that's giving them the best gift of all, and it's a gift that will last a lifetime.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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24 comments so far...
  1. Michelle, my mother is a lot like yours, and lives 800 miles away. What worked with her was to say "Mom, the kids have so much stuff that stuff is no longer special to them. I really appreciate your generous nature, and was hoping you could channel it into something really meaningful - some kind of special outing or excursion, either one on one or with both kids." The first year she went completely overboard, taking each kid separately for a 5-day trip, but it's turned into weekends away together, usually at an indoor waterpark. She still gets them a few small gifts, but it's cut down a LOT on the random stuff. You might also suggest that she give the gift of a museum membership, a session of Gymboree, etc. That also worked when my kids were smaller, like yours. Good luck!

    Posted by akmom December 22, 10 06:37 AM
  1. akmom, what a terrific idea! Grandma gets serious one on one time with the kids, the kids get a really fun outing, you get a little break from them, and everyone is happy. You are a smart woman!

    Posted by JBar December 22, 10 08:13 AM
  1. What about a small gift or two + a contribution to a college fund? The kids won't appreciate it when they're very young, but they certainly will when they don't have to pay off student loans later!

    Posted by JD December 22, 10 08:26 AM
  1. I'm so glad to find I'm not the only one who deals with this! My mother and childless sister go crazy at birthdays and holidays. I wish they could see that their generousity deprives ME of the opportunity to give to my children. I deliberately skimp on gifts for my kids, because I know there will be a ton waiting for them at Grandma's.

    Love the idea of the weekends away.

    Posted by Holly December 22, 10 09:39 AM
  1. akmom: We got a NE Aquarium membership from my mom this year and it's been wonderful! I know our 2.5 y/o will have a few things under the tree, but thankfully, my family has never been prone to these excesses.

    JD: We have tried that SO many times. It's our friends who are the culprits here, not our families. Sadly, requests for "Nothing" or a college fund contribution have resulted in...a playroom full of crap. : (

    Seriously? the only items we've bought her in her playroom were the small table and chairs, the easel, and the play-doh. Everything else has been a hand-me-down or a gift. Grrr...

    Posted by Phe December 22, 10 09:49 AM
  1. The proliferation of cheap chinese junk does not help. Our family sees this as an opportunity for 'great deals' and buys stuff that makes you wonder if it it laced with lead or other toxins. Having made requests that we would like 'made in USA' gifts or at least not china has met much resistance. Does anyone bother to check countries of origin labels anymore? Buying a non-chinese toy is next to impossible. The quality of the gifts is what we struggle with and many gifts find their way into donation bins as a result. One might view this as a political rant, but it is much about the safety of the products as anything else.

    We stopped buying gifts that could not be consumed rather than a durable good for my hoarding parents a long time ago. Tickets to a play, wine or a food basket (without the basket) have been nice alternatives to just accumulating stuff. I wish folks would do the same thing for us in return.

    Posted by dw December 22, 10 10:23 AM
  1. My sister-in-laws started a tradition many, many years ago for birthdays and Christmas where aunts, uncles, and grandparents give kids in the family a $25 savings bond plus a small present to open (less than $10). I admit I didn't quite understand it until I had kids, but now I realize it has done wonders to minimize the amount of things the kids receive while still allowing family members to pick something special (but small!) for the kids now. Once kids are 10 years old, we've switched to gift cards or money instead of the savings bond. Still, grandparents have wanted to do more so they have done special things like paying for 1st birthday photos or buying a play table and chairs, etc.

    Love the idea of grandparents doing special outings or museum memberships.

    Posted by jean s December 22, 10 10:35 AM
  1. I'm slightly taken aback by the refusal of a gift already purchased. Remember that a gift giver is using their time and money to show love to your child and family, and even if you see it as stuff accumulation, they see it as love.

    I know a family who uses holidays and birthdays as a time to teach their kids about charity. When new toys come in, they are opened and used. In the following days, the kids select some of their 'old' toys that are too young or that they don't use as much and make a donation to a shelter or goodwill store. The kids to the selecting, boxing, and delivering of the toys, and are very proud to help other kids have fun.

    Nobody offended, and kids learn a valuable lesson. It's a win-win!

    Posted by No name December 22, 10 11:07 AM
  1. I concur with so much of what has already been said and would offer just one or two more thoughts.
    Grandparents, like children, need to be told what TO do not what NOT TO do. Would it be possible to tell them what would be really special?
    My parents were old and I wanted them to give my children something that would be very special, the first dollhouse, the first train, the American Girl doll...something I knew would be cherished..for generations.
    I think a book is another possibility. Tell them that you would read the book every night and would remind the children that it was a book from Grandma. And books don't take up so much space.
    Also, don't give all the presents to your children on Christmas day. Save some for January 6, the day the Wise Men came. That will double the pleasure of Christmas and start a new tradition. Maybe you can even say that grandparent gifts are for the one day and parent gifts are for the other.
    It is better to give than to receive and the grandparents know it.
    And you will get great pride in rasing children who can graciously accept as well as give.

    Posted by Hope December 22, 10 11:50 AM
  1. How about asking the grandparents to give one gift and one gift card per child? I ask each set of grandparents for one specific gift and, luckily, they comply. I have heard dissatisfied grumblings, but I would rather have a happy kid than a happy grandparent. I control the gift giving so that my son receives what he wants and what he can use. The gift cards are great because they allow us to buy clothes and toys later in year.

    Posted by anonymous December 22, 10 12:52 PM
  1. No name, I have never refused a purchased gift, but often try to have "the talk" with my mom & sister in September, before they begin holiday shopping.

    Posted by Holly December 22, 10 02:34 PM
  1. We ran into a similar problem with holidays. Our three children were walking into a room so full of toys and other gifts that they could barely move. Over the past 2 Christmases we have instituted a one toy per child rule. It was met with understanding from one set of parents and rage from the other. Both sets of grandparents were told that if they chose to not follow our rule, we would donate any additional toys to charity. We have one exception to the rule, books do not have a limit.

    Good luck with reining your family in. Just be firm and do not let them "bully" you.

    Posted by plksmcz December 22, 10 02:46 PM
  1. @dw, I'm puzzled as to why you think it's OK to donate low-quality, unsafe toys to poor children. If they're not safe enough for your kids, they're not safe enough for someone else's kids, either.

    One thing my sister did when her kids were young was put away half the new Christmas toys when her family took the tree down. 5 or 6 months later, she'd swap out the toys her kids rarely played with and bring out the Christmas toys they hadn't seen for all those months.

    Posted by Finn December 22, 10 02:51 PM
  1. Great answer from Barbara and from the comments. Luckily we no longer have this problem as our oldest of 4 is 13 so we've had many, many years of conditioning the relatives so that now, they give gifts that are truly used and appreciated. We are blessed to not have competitive gift givers to begin with, and the grandparents and our siblings are open to suggestions. One year all of the grandparents went in on a Wii and some games. Another year all four paid for a weekend at an indoor water park. It's such a delight to not have a houseful of unused toys.

    Regarding toys...many donation centers (St. Vincents, etc.) no longer take toy donations due to concerns about banned plastics, lead paint, etc. so unfortunately, just accepting toys that your kids don't really want or need with the intent of passing them along to charity is no longer a viable option. Safety concerns about toys now mean that many of them can't be passed on or recycled and will end up in a landfill. I still pass along toys that I think are high quality and safe on freecycle but it's not nearly as easy as dropping off donations used to be.

    Posted by Jen December 22, 10 04:37 PM
  1. I think it is important to teach our children to be kind to and respectful of their parents, and the best way to do this is to set the example by being kind to and respectful of our own parents and in-laws. The letter writer describes refusing a gift that her mother bought for the grandchildren, for the reason that she asked a different grandparent to buy it. I don't blame the grandmother for being hurt. The mother could have graciously accepted the gifts, and allowed the grandmother the joy of seeing her grandchildren playing with them. After the holidays if there is too much stuff, the parents can sort which things will go to the attic, which to charity and which to the playroom, and then everyone is happy.

    Posted by lemontree December 22, 10 05:38 PM
  1. Some great suggestions here!
    No name, I really like the idea of donating some older toys to make space for the new ones... but it doesn't really solve the problem of family members going overboard.

    My poor sister-in-law goes through this with our husbands' side of the family. They buy so many gifts that she feels inadequate about what she can afford, the kid is spoiled, and I can never come up with anything because it has already been purchased. I'm expecting now and so lucky to be learning from her experience. It's teaching me to firmly say no to our mother-in-law!

    Posted by Fram December 22, 10 05:44 PM
  1. We don't have a play room. We have small house, no garage, basement, or attic storage. I have tired explaining to my family that we don't have the space for obnoxious gifts. Do we still get them? Yes. Some people would rather blow $200 every year on junk, then put it away for the child to use for something cool down the road. Like a car, a school trip, or college.
    As soon as our daughter stops playing with something, we either get rid of it, put it away for a bit.
    You will likely never stop an excessive present buyer. Its probably better to come up with a backup plan.

    Posted by lala December 22, 10 08:11 PM
  1. I really am sympathetic to the LW's plight. I also have a 3.5yo and a 15mo and long-distance grandparents who want to give "big" special gifts. While I would LOVE to control the gifts my kids are given, it seems beyond rude to me to refuse or insist upon certain toys. Believe me, I hate having a family room full of crap toys, books that make noise and aren't really books, etc., etc. But seriously - when did it become okay to dictate gift-giving?

    If asked, I'll give an opinion, and I always tell my parents that books are preferred over toys. In the end though, the deal I have made with the grandparents is that they may give the kids any toy (well, anything for that matter) that they want to give them, but I also tell them I can not promise that it will still be here the next time they visit. ;)

    Posted by Marriedmom December 22, 10 08:19 PM
  1. It's all about the quality of your problems. If your big holiday problem is that you have SO many relatives giving SO many gifts to your children...see where I'm going? Yes, it's a hassle, but a hassle that many would be happy to deal with. Do you read "Globe Santa"?

    On a side note, refusing the gift that the grandmother had brought to Thanksgiving was RUDE. Accept it, tell the kids not to announce that they already have it when other grandma gives it to them for Christmas, and return/exchange/donate the Xmas copy. A tiny bit of effort and a grandmother goes home from Thanksgiving happy. Geesh.

    Posted by formerbostongirl December 23, 10 12:36 AM
  1. I agree with most comments here. I am still wondering when it became okay to dictate gift giving? Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of Christmas presents? In my family we do what 'No Name' suggested, my daughter and I go through her toy box and throw away old broken toys and make a donation pile. It make space for the new toys coming in and teaches her a great lesson on giving. It's also nice to see her face light up when she finds a toy she hasn't seen in a while and was at one point looking for!! I also like the idea of a membership to a museum or a grandparents day. I think these are suggestions that any grandparent would be willing to go along with. I just don't see how anyone could justify controlling their child's Christmas and what he/she receives from someone who put time, money and thought into finding the perfect gift.

    Posted by tami December 23, 10 04:43 PM
  1. Our daughter is only 7 months old so this is our first Christmas of facing this and we are torn between setting the firm limits now or hurting the grandparents feelings. Like the previous poster with the 13 year old, I suspect this will take several years to figure out. We are playing it by ear this year and will address the excessive gifts if they show up tomorrow. If there is excess and after one reminder the following year, then we are going to be firm about refusing gifts. That's my plan anyway. Good advice though. I love the idea of the grandparents special day or saving some gifts for Jan 6th.

    Instead of donating old or broken toys to charity, I would donate the new but excessive toys. If its one of those ride on cars or something we have a duplicate of, the new one should go to charity. Maybe starting a tradition where the kids pick out of the toys they received and donating that to charity to teach them about charitable giving? Just a thought.

    Posted by New Mama December 24, 10 07:03 AM
  1. The catch I see to donating new toys is this:

    Grandma: Hi Jamie! Let's play that new game I gave you for Christmas!
    Jamie: I had too many toys, so we gave some to kids who don't have any.

    Grandma hears, "Other people got better toys than the one I gave, because Jamie got to keep their gifts but not mine. I need to buy bigger/better/earlier."

    I don't see any problem with donating used (not broken!) toys. In fact, I think the child would develop a more charitable sense with, "I love playing this toy, but I'm too old for it now. Another little boy would like it." as opposed to, "I have too many toys and I don't even get to play this one." To me, developing buy-in for generosity from the child is just as important as clearing space.

    I'm still stuck on the idea of 'training' gift givers, especially grandparents. The reason it's hard to 'train' them is that they trained you! I think it's completely appropriate to, in advance, make suggestions like, "Susy would love a day out with you as a gift! What about tickets to a show/museum and lunch?" or "We're really trying to steer John away from video games, so could you think along the lines of books/board games/bikes/etc.?" I don't think it's at all appropriate to "put your foot down" or "refuse" gifts. Graciously accept, and then set limits and donate to clear space. If someone is going out of their way to impress your child or show love to your child, that seems like a blessing to be managed rather than a problem to be strong-armed.

    Posted by No Name December 24, 10 11:54 AM
  1. I look forward to being a grandmother and buying presents for my grandchildren. I would very much resent my son and/or daughter-in-law telling me what I could give, or even worse, diverting it. Life gives us far more serious issues than what to do with some extra toys. I'd very politely ask to limit the number at any one time but that's it.

    Posted by ruth kepler December 27, 10 12:28 PM
  1. I'm late coming to the conversation but after dealing with 14 years of competitive grandparenting this topic hit a nerve. Sorry Ruth Kepler and others who think they should be able to give whatever they want - stop making it all about you. I have come to dread the holidays because my mother has made it perfectly clear to me that gift giving is truly all about her enjoyment and it is my duty to come up with a multitude of gift ideas that will bring wonder and joy to her grandchildren's faces when they open what Grandma bought them. The key word here is "open" which leaves out museum memberships and show tickets because Grandma isn't into special outings and a slip of paper saying here is your museum membership isn't going to bring the shrieks of joy on Christmas morning that a Barbie Camper would. This in turn leaves me with nothing special to give my own kids and gets my mother-in-law upset with me because I gave all the best ideas to my mother to get her off my back. Then MIL overcompensates with a truck load of cheap plastic crap. These are the same grandparents who will then visit and look around the toy filled playroom and say how spoiled my kids are. At birthdays and Christmas I would discreetly whisk away many of the toys before the package was damaged "so the pieces don't get lost" and then hide them for next year's toys for tots drive. The kids wouldn't even remember after a few days what they had received anyway. Please grandparents, be reasonable.

    Posted by Cordelia January 2, 11 09:41 PM
 
24 comments so far...
  1. Michelle, my mother is a lot like yours, and lives 800 miles away. What worked with her was to say "Mom, the kids have so much stuff that stuff is no longer special to them. I really appreciate your generous nature, and was hoping you could channel it into something really meaningful - some kind of special outing or excursion, either one on one or with both kids." The first year she went completely overboard, taking each kid separately for a 5-day trip, but it's turned into weekends away together, usually at an indoor waterpark. She still gets them a few small gifts, but it's cut down a LOT on the random stuff. You might also suggest that she give the gift of a museum membership, a session of Gymboree, etc. That also worked when my kids were smaller, like yours. Good luck!

    Posted by akmom December 22, 10 06:37 AM
  1. akmom, what a terrific idea! Grandma gets serious one on one time with the kids, the kids get a really fun outing, you get a little break from them, and everyone is happy. You are a smart woman!

    Posted by JBar December 22, 10 08:13 AM
  1. What about a small gift or two + a contribution to a college fund? The kids won't appreciate it when they're very young, but they certainly will when they don't have to pay off student loans later!

    Posted by JD December 22, 10 08:26 AM
  1. I'm so glad to find I'm not the only one who deals with this! My mother and childless sister go crazy at birthdays and holidays. I wish they could see that their generousity deprives ME of the opportunity to give to my children. I deliberately skimp on gifts for my kids, because I know there will be a ton waiting for them at Grandma's.

    Love the idea of the weekends away.

    Posted by Holly December 22, 10 09:39 AM
  1. akmom: We got a NE Aquarium membership from my mom this year and it's been wonderful! I know our 2.5 y/o will have a few things under the tree, but thankfully, my family has never been prone to these excesses.

    JD: We have tried that SO many times. It's our friends who are the culprits here, not our families. Sadly, requests for "Nothing" or a college fund contribution have resulted in...a playroom full of crap. : (

    Seriously? the only items we've bought her in her playroom were the small table and chairs, the easel, and the play-doh. Everything else has been a hand-me-down or a gift. Grrr...

    Posted by Phe December 22, 10 09:49 AM
  1. The proliferation of cheap chinese junk does not help. Our family sees this as an opportunity for 'great deals' and buys stuff that makes you wonder if it it laced with lead or other toxins. Having made requests that we would like 'made in USA' gifts or at least not china has met much resistance. Does anyone bother to check countries of origin labels anymore? Buying a non-chinese toy is next to impossible. The quality of the gifts is what we struggle with and many gifts find their way into donation bins as a result. One might view this as a political rant, but it is much about the safety of the products as anything else.

    We stopped buying gifts that could not be consumed rather than a durable good for my hoarding parents a long time ago. Tickets to a play, wine or a food basket (without the basket) have been nice alternatives to just accumulating stuff. I wish folks would do the same thing for us in return.

    Posted by dw December 22, 10 10:23 AM
  1. My sister-in-laws started a tradition many, many years ago for birthdays and Christmas where aunts, uncles, and grandparents give kids in the family a $25 savings bond plus a small present to open (less than $10). I admit I didn't quite understand it until I had kids, but now I realize it has done wonders to minimize the amount of things the kids receive while still allowing family members to pick something special (but small!) for the kids now. Once kids are 10 years old, we've switched to gift cards or money instead of the savings bond. Still, grandparents have wanted to do more so they have done special things like paying for 1st birthday photos or buying a play table and chairs, etc.

    Love the idea of grandparents doing special outings or museum memberships.

    Posted by jean s December 22, 10 10:35 AM
  1. I'm slightly taken aback by the refusal of a gift already purchased. Remember that a gift giver is using their time and money to show love to your child and family, and even if you see it as stuff accumulation, they see it as love.

    I know a family who uses holidays and birthdays as a time to teach their kids about charity. When new toys come in, they are opened and used. In the following days, the kids select some of their 'old' toys that are too young or that they don't use as much and make a donation to a shelter or goodwill store. The kids to the selecting, boxing, and delivering of the toys, and are very proud to help other kids have fun.

    Nobody offended, and kids learn a valuable lesson. It's a win-win!

    Posted by No name December 22, 10 11:07 AM
  1. I concur with so much of what has already been said and would offer just one or two more thoughts.
    Grandparents, like children, need to be told what TO do not what NOT TO do. Would it be possible to tell them what would be really special?
    My parents were old and I wanted them to give my children something that would be very special, the first dollhouse, the first train, the American Girl doll...something I knew would be cherished..for generations.
    I think a book is another possibility. Tell them that you would read the book every night and would remind the children that it was a book from Grandma. And books don't take up so much space.
    Also, don't give all the presents to your children on Christmas day. Save some for January 6, the day the Wise Men came. That will double the pleasure of Christmas and start a new tradition. Maybe you can even say that grandparent gifts are for the one day and parent gifts are for the other.
    It is better to give than to receive and the grandparents know it.
    And you will get great pride in rasing children who can graciously accept as well as give.

    Posted by Hope December 22, 10 11:50 AM
  1. How about asking the grandparents to give one gift and one gift card per child? I ask each set of grandparents for one specific gift and, luckily, they comply. I have heard dissatisfied grumblings, but I would rather have a happy kid than a happy grandparent. I control the gift giving so that my son receives what he wants and what he can use. The gift cards are great because they allow us to buy clothes and toys later in year.

    Posted by anonymous December 22, 10 12:52 PM
  1. No name, I have never refused a purchased gift, but often try to have "the talk" with my mom & sister in September, before they begin holiday shopping.

    Posted by Holly December 22, 10 02:34 PM
  1. We ran into a similar problem with holidays. Our three children were walking into a room so full of toys and other gifts that they could barely move. Over the past 2 Christmases we have instituted a one toy per child rule. It was met with understanding from one set of parents and rage from the other. Both sets of grandparents were told that if they chose to not follow our rule, we would donate any additional toys to charity. We have one exception to the rule, books do not have a limit.

    Good luck with reining your family in. Just be firm and do not let them "bully" you.

    Posted by plksmcz December 22, 10 02:46 PM
  1. @dw, I'm puzzled as to why you think it's OK to donate low-quality, unsafe toys to poor children. If they're not safe enough for your kids, they're not safe enough for someone else's kids, either.

    One thing my sister did when her kids were young was put away half the new Christmas toys when her family took the tree down. 5 or 6 months later, she'd swap out the toys her kids rarely played with and bring out the Christmas toys they hadn't seen for all those months.

    Posted by Finn December 22, 10 02:51 PM
  1. Great answer from Barbara and from the comments. Luckily we no longer have this problem as our oldest of 4 is 13 so we've had many, many years of conditioning the relatives so that now, they give gifts that are truly used and appreciated. We are blessed to not have competitive gift givers to begin with, and the grandparents and our siblings are open to suggestions. One year all of the grandparents went in on a Wii and some games. Another year all four paid for a weekend at an indoor water park. It's such a delight to not have a houseful of unused toys.

    Regarding toys...many donation centers (St. Vincents, etc.) no longer take toy donations due to concerns about banned plastics, lead paint, etc. so unfortunately, just accepting toys that your kids don't really want or need with the intent of passing them along to charity is no longer a viable option. Safety concerns about toys now mean that many of them can't be passed on or recycled and will end up in a landfill. I still pass along toys that I think are high quality and safe on freecycle but it's not nearly as easy as dropping off donations used to be.

    Posted by Jen December 22, 10 04:37 PM
  1. I think it is important to teach our children to be kind to and respectful of their parents, and the best way to do this is to set the example by being kind to and respectful of our own parents and in-laws. The letter writer describes refusing a gift that her mother bought for the grandchildren, for the reason that she asked a different grandparent to buy it. I don't blame the grandmother for being hurt. The mother could have graciously accepted the gifts, and allowed the grandmother the joy of seeing her grandchildren playing with them. After the holidays if there is too much stuff, the parents can sort which things will go to the attic, which to charity and which to the playroom, and then everyone is happy.

    Posted by lemontree December 22, 10 05:38 PM
  1. Some great suggestions here!
    No name, I really like the idea of donating some older toys to make space for the new ones... but it doesn't really solve the problem of family members going overboard.

    My poor sister-in-law goes through this with our husbands' side of the family. They buy so many gifts that she feels inadequate about what she can afford, the kid is spoiled, and I can never come up with anything because it has already been purchased. I'm expecting now and so lucky to be learning from her experience. It's teaching me to firmly say no to our mother-in-law!

    Posted by Fram December 22, 10 05:44 PM
  1. We don't have a play room. We have small house, no garage, basement, or attic storage. I have tired explaining to my family that we don't have the space for obnoxious gifts. Do we still get them? Yes. Some people would rather blow $200 every year on junk, then put it away for the child to use for something cool down the road. Like a car, a school trip, or college.
    As soon as our daughter stops playing with something, we either get rid of it, put it away for a bit.
    You will likely never stop an excessive present buyer. Its probably better to come up with a backup plan.

    Posted by lala December 22, 10 08:11 PM
  1. I really am sympathetic to the LW's plight. I also have a 3.5yo and a 15mo and long-distance grandparents who want to give "big" special gifts. While I would LOVE to control the gifts my kids are given, it seems beyond rude to me to refuse or insist upon certain toys. Believe me, I hate having a family room full of crap toys, books that make noise and aren't really books, etc., etc. But seriously - when did it become okay to dictate gift-giving?

    If asked, I'll give an opinion, and I always tell my parents that books are preferred over toys. In the end though, the deal I have made with the grandparents is that they may give the kids any toy (well, anything for that matter) that they want to give them, but I also tell them I can not promise that it will still be here the next time they visit. ;)

    Posted by Marriedmom December 22, 10 08:19 PM
  1. It's all about the quality of your problems. If your big holiday problem is that you have SO many relatives giving SO many gifts to your children...see where I'm going? Yes, it's a hassle, but a hassle that many would be happy to deal with. Do you read "Globe Santa"?

    On a side note, refusing the gift that the grandmother had brought to Thanksgiving was RUDE. Accept it, tell the kids not to announce that they already have it when other grandma gives it to them for Christmas, and return/exchange/donate the Xmas copy. A tiny bit of effort and a grandmother goes home from Thanksgiving happy. Geesh.

    Posted by formerbostongirl December 23, 10 12:36 AM
  1. I agree with most comments here. I am still wondering when it became okay to dictate gift giving? Doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of Christmas presents? In my family we do what 'No Name' suggested, my daughter and I go through her toy box and throw away old broken toys and make a donation pile. It make space for the new toys coming in and teaches her a great lesson on giving. It's also nice to see her face light up when she finds a toy she hasn't seen in a while and was at one point looking for!! I also like the idea of a membership to a museum or a grandparents day. I think these are suggestions that any grandparent would be willing to go along with. I just don't see how anyone could justify controlling their child's Christmas and what he/she receives from someone who put time, money and thought into finding the perfect gift.

    Posted by tami December 23, 10 04:43 PM
  1. Our daughter is only 7 months old so this is our first Christmas of facing this and we are torn between setting the firm limits now or hurting the grandparents feelings. Like the previous poster with the 13 year old, I suspect this will take several years to figure out. We are playing it by ear this year and will address the excessive gifts if they show up tomorrow. If there is excess and after one reminder the following year, then we are going to be firm about refusing gifts. That's my plan anyway. Good advice though. I love the idea of the grandparents special day or saving some gifts for Jan 6th.

    Instead of donating old or broken toys to charity, I would donate the new but excessive toys. If its one of those ride on cars or something we have a duplicate of, the new one should go to charity. Maybe starting a tradition where the kids pick out of the toys they received and donating that to charity to teach them about charitable giving? Just a thought.

    Posted by New Mama December 24, 10 07:03 AM
  1. The catch I see to donating new toys is this:

    Grandma: Hi Jamie! Let's play that new game I gave you for Christmas!
    Jamie: I had too many toys, so we gave some to kids who don't have any.

    Grandma hears, "Other people got better toys than the one I gave, because Jamie got to keep their gifts but not mine. I need to buy bigger/better/earlier."

    I don't see any problem with donating used (not broken!) toys. In fact, I think the child would develop a more charitable sense with, "I love playing this toy, but I'm too old for it now. Another little boy would like it." as opposed to, "I have too many toys and I don't even get to play this one." To me, developing buy-in for generosity from the child is just as important as clearing space.

    I'm still stuck on the idea of 'training' gift givers, especially grandparents. The reason it's hard to 'train' them is that they trained you! I think it's completely appropriate to, in advance, make suggestions like, "Susy would love a day out with you as a gift! What about tickets to a show/museum and lunch?" or "We're really trying to steer John away from video games, so could you think along the lines of books/board games/bikes/etc.?" I don't think it's at all appropriate to "put your foot down" or "refuse" gifts. Graciously accept, and then set limits and donate to clear space. If someone is going out of their way to impress your child or show love to your child, that seems like a blessing to be managed rather than a problem to be strong-armed.

    Posted by No Name December 24, 10 11:54 AM
  1. I look forward to being a grandmother and buying presents for my grandchildren. I would very much resent my son and/or daughter-in-law telling me what I could give, or even worse, diverting it. Life gives us far more serious issues than what to do with some extra toys. I'd very politely ask to limit the number at any one time but that's it.

    Posted by ruth kepler December 27, 10 12:28 PM
  1. I'm late coming to the conversation but after dealing with 14 years of competitive grandparenting this topic hit a nerve. Sorry Ruth Kepler and others who think they should be able to give whatever they want - stop making it all about you. I have come to dread the holidays because my mother has made it perfectly clear to me that gift giving is truly all about her enjoyment and it is my duty to come up with a multitude of gift ideas that will bring wonder and joy to her grandchildren's faces when they open what Grandma bought them. The key word here is "open" which leaves out museum memberships and show tickets because Grandma isn't into special outings and a slip of paper saying here is your museum membership isn't going to bring the shrieks of joy on Christmas morning that a Barbie Camper would. This in turn leaves me with nothing special to give my own kids and gets my mother-in-law upset with me because I gave all the best ideas to my mother to get her off my back. Then MIL overcompensates with a truck load of cheap plastic crap. These are the same grandparents who will then visit and look around the toy filled playroom and say how spoiled my kids are. At birthdays and Christmas I would discreetly whisk away many of the toys before the package was damaged "so the pieces don't get lost" and then hide them for next year's toys for tots drive. The kids wouldn't even remember after a few days what they had received anyway. Please grandparents, be reasonable.

    Posted by Cordelia January 2, 11 09:41 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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