Reader Case Study: The Case Of The Over-gifting In-Laws!
Welcome to this month’s Reader Case Study in which we’ll address Grace’s dilemma of her in-laws showering her kiddos with WAY too much stuff. Case studies are financial questions that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’d be you), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section (for an example, check out last month’s Case Study).
P.S. Another way to support each other on our financial journeys is by participating in my Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which we’ll be doing together in the month of January 2017! You can join over 2,700 fellow frugal sojourners who’ve already signed up for the Challenge.
I probably don’t even need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we all endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.
With that I’ll let Grace, this month’s case study subject, take it from here!
Hi! I’m Grace, mom to two boys aged 2 and 4 and wife to the best man I’ve ever known. We’re not Frugal Weirdos by any means (and I mean that in the most flattering way—we still have much to learn!) but we live considerably below our means here in the midwest.
Although we do buy things new (while getting the best value we can for our dollar) and get our hair cut by professionals (after The Great Bang Trimming Debacle of 1994, I refuse to put anyone else through the trauma that results from my wielding shears), like the Frugalwoods, we in-source most things and pride ourselves on adding more skills to our DIY arsenal. In short, we manage to live a life we love without debt (except for a modest mortgage), while putting away over 60% of our income each year.
Before There Was “Us”:
I come from a background where something’s cost was secondary to how it made you look and feel. Appearances were everything and consumerism was a one-size-fits-all solution to anything that ailed you. I watched the havoc this wreaked on my family financially and psychologically. Because of that, or perhaps in spite of it, I began working and saving at a very young age and am fastidious when it comes to my spending habits.
My husband, on the other hand, comes from a family that can best be described as in-sourcing frugalers. If an [insert any household appliance here] broke, they’d fix it themselves for as many years as possible until it finally gave out. However, his parents aren’t consistent in their frugality: for example, when a group of toys is touted as ‘each sold separately,’ his parents immediately buy the entire collection. The same for the accoutrements of any hobby he and his siblings expressed even a vague interest in… they’d buy everything even remotely related to the pastime.
In the meantime, his parents proudly used a vacuum held together by duct tape (a relic of the Carter administration-era) and refused to upgrade their Tupperware, which had nary a matching lid. Thus, my husband grew up financially secure with a wealth of DIY skills, but also with an excess of unnecessary possessions. While we both learned to value frugality, we acquired that mindset in very different ways.
Our Frugal Philosophy:
Based on our common values, my husband and I have decided to raise our children to value frugality—or at least our more lenient iteration thereof. We are trying to teach them to appreciate what they do have as opposed to constantly yearning for what they do not, and to understand that not having the latest toy/backpack/lunch box/Paw Patrol play set doesn’t mean they are suffering or going without.
We want them to understand that there are many ways of enjoying life without filling it with material possessions. It’s our hope that they come to realize that you cannot quantify love with possessions and expenditures. We want them to see that the acquisition of “stuff” is not a substitute for real emotions nor should it be used as a source of comfort. And, like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I refuse to be a pawn in the Carousel of Consumerism.
Suffice it to say, my in-laws have not changed much since raising my husband. There is always “stuff”… so, so, so much stuff. If one of my children casually mentions a book the class enjoyed in school, they run out and buy it… even if it’s out of print, they find it! If the other points to a TV commercial and says “I wan dis!,” we are the proud owners of “dis” by the next day. My in-laws cannot see my children without bringing them something: cookies, stuffed toys, an entire 12-DVD boxed set of a popular kids’ TV series—these are all real things given to my kids for reasons like “Well because it’s Thursday, silly!” And all of this while the 1978 Hoover is still in regular rotation. As we approach Christmas, I am dreading the overspending, over-indulgent, horribly excessive extravaganza that is the holidays. I should also mention that my in-laws live just 10 minutes from us, so we see them quite frequently–at least several times a week.
I’ve tried for years to get my in-laws to cut back, but to no avail. Because we value experiences over things, I’ve suggested lessons or memberships to museums and other local places of interest. Even when this advice is heeded, it’s done in addition to, as opposed to in lieu of, all the material “stuff” my kids are beginning to expect.
Ultimately, my in-laws’ refusal to respect the values we’re trying to impart on our children has caused a great deal of resentment: I resent them for over-indulging our children who we’re trying to raise as fiscally responsible young people who aren’t compelled to fill personal voids with “stuff”; My children are beginning to resent that my husband and I don’t buy them whatever they want whenever they want it; My husband resents being put in the position of having to decide between enforcing the values he believes are best for his children and inciting discord in an otherwise happy family. The “stuff” is not the issue—I’m happy to purge the house of non-necessities and then subsequently pretend I don’t know what happened to them. What bothers me most is that the values we want to instill in our kids are being sabotaged by a source that’s very close to home.
Grace’s Questions for You:
- What can I do to remedy the situation without causing a family rift, indignation, resentment and/or felonious assault?
- What strategies have worked for you when dealing with family members who disregard your commitment to frugality?
- Is there a way to raise my children to value frugality while surrounded by a constant stream of excess?
- Can anyone recommend a good vacuum cleaner, preferably one that was manufactured during this millennium?
- And for the love of all that is sacred, how do I keep the new Paw Patrol play set out of my house?!?
Thank you in advance for your wisdom!
Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations
I have to start by saying how impressed I am with Grace and her husband’s commitment to raising their sons frugally. It’s not the typical path and the pressure to buy more and more and more stuff for our kids can be overwhelming.
Since Grace has already tried discussing this issue with her in-laws, I’m wondering if she can start intercepting the gifts as they come into the house? Maybe this would be logistically complicated, but I wonder if she could ask her in-laws to give the gifts to her instead of directly to the kids? And then, the gifts could either be donated or saved and meted out on special occasions.
Failing that, I wonder if Grace’s husband should perhaps intervene and speak directly to his parents (assuming he hasn’t already had that conversation with them). I imagine the gifting will only increase as the kids get older, so figuring out a solution now seems wise. Since this isn’t something I’ve dealt with personally, I’m glad we can open it up to all of you for your advice!
Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Grace? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!
Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Send me your story via email (email@example.com) and we’ll talk.
May 28, 2017 Update From Grace:
Hi all! Grace here! First, thank you to everyone for their thoughtful answers and suggestions. I read and took each of them to heart. Ultimately, we took a decidedly direct approach and told my in-laws they needed to seriously rein in (basically stop) all the superfluous spending and gifts. It wasn’t jibing with the way we parent, our values and our lifestyle. Long story short, they have not listened. (This may be why when I casually mentioned the library book my kids were enjoying, the first 28 books of the series magically ended up in a shopping bag on my doorstep the very next day. You can’t make this stuff up.)
Since we can’t change them, we are changing how we deal with things and are being much more proactive with our approach to modeling our frugal values. We do not buy toys anymore (a single birthday present and holiday present aside). These days, each boy earns a modest allowance which he is learning to manage. Anything toy/game etc. they want, they are to buy themselves. If (when!) my in-laws offer to buy it, I cut them off and remind them that the boys have a sense of pride when they earn something themselves. If (when!) my in-laws buy them the item anyway, it’s put away for safekeeping until they earn the money for it. Not only is this instilling a sense of the value of a dollar, but it forces the boys to think about what they really want. Usually by the time they’ve saved up their quarters, they don’t want the item in question anymore. Now, instead of saying “can I have…”, they ask “can I save my money up for…” and we discuss it together, letting them draw their own conclusions, with the intent that these repeated conversations will serve as teachable moments.
We are still a work in progress here but I think we are moving in the right direction. I sincerely thank you all for your insight!
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.
Interesting dilemma, Grace! My parents are the exact same way with gifts. They are super generous people, which I appreciate, but I decided to go gift-free last Christmas and convincing them wasn’t easy. I framed it as something we could try together. They don’t necessarily need to cut back, but my father is retired now. And they will be living on a fixed income within 5 years. I also emphasized spending time together vs. gifts. Would your in laws be offended if you framed it as trying to be minimalist together? There’s a great minimalism film being released on Netflix this week. Family movie night? 🙂
Excellent idea! Thank you!
Kate, do you know the name of that film?
The film is called, “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” I believe it will be available on Netflix this Thursday, 15Dec2016 🙂
Kate, what is the name of the minimalist film being released on Netflix next week?
P.S. We’re in Nashville as well and I just found your blog last week!
I found one coming to the UK’s netflix on Dec. 15 called “Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things” but couldn’t find it on the United States Netflix.
It’s on US Netflix now: https://www.netflix.com/title/80114460
Ah! I have heard similar angst from lots of mom friends. I wrote it about last Christmas for Frugal Rules: http://www.frugalrules.com/over-gifting-christmas/ and have some suggestions there.
I absolutely agree that her husband should talk to his parents if he feels the same way. I think explaining it’s less about the stuff and more about the values might help. Perhaps they could explain Grace’s own struggle with over-valuing appearances. It will get harder as the kids get older and are more aware of which gifts are coming into the home so I really hope they can make some progress with the in-laws in this area!
Thank you! I agree, maybe delving into where my values stem from would be an effective strategy.
That’s a tricky situation. We experience this to a degree in our family now, and we’re DINKS. I can only imagine what would happen if kiddos were added to the mix. On one hand, I believe very firmly that we can’t tell people what to do with their money or their time. We can try…but gifts are generally given out of love, so it’s hard to tell people how to express that. We try really hard to point out all that we do have and suggest either shared experiences or giving to others on our behalf. A small scale example of this is the family grab bag I always get sucked into. It’s basically a bunch of grown ups swapping $40. So now my list is made up of books for my classroom library. I don’t take any more items into my house, and my students get something that they actually really need and want. It’s awesome that you want to handle the situation with such kindness while still staying true to your family values. Good luck and so glad you shared!
Thank you for your empathy! I’m glad someone else understands…the struggle is real!
I can relate to Penny. My husband and I don’t have children yet, and I have a family member who doesn’t hesitate to purchase an item as soon as interest is mentioned. This has caused a lot of frustration for me and I’ve learned to keep what I have to say about interests to a ‘minimum’. Over the years I’ve found myself preferring a minimal lifestyle, owning only what I need, having nothing in my home that doesn’t either serve a need or make me happy (and I think the latter list of items is small, like a few hobby craft projects and memorable keepsakes). I’m also not a collector and shy away from collectible sets of many sorts (games, figurines, books, etc). As I already have my own trouble with my family member who likes to gift stuff, I worry what it will be like when I have children. Will the struggle be greater? How do I get my family member to respect my viewpoint of “less is more”? I think, ideally, I would like to teach my future children my same philosophy using some tools I have learned from others: one friend has her children donate toys on their half-birthdays and they celebrate the day (example, a child born on January 1st has a ‘half-birthday’ celebration on June 1st and they donate their old toys). Another friend told me that when her adult children were younger, she would have them donate thier favorite toy to a child in need on Christmas. She said it was very difficult, but she wanted to teach her children that Christmas is about giving instead of giving. Now as adults, her children have told her that they felt it was a very hard and difficult request, but they appreciate that she had them do it and they are requesting their own children to do the same. I would hope that by practicing these ideas I can teach my children to value experiences over stuff and this will help to battle consumerism in our (future) family.
My best guess would be to try to limit the amount of times they get gifts. Gifts aren’t special if they’re given weekly. Maybe tell them, well, have your husband tell them that gifts need to be limited to holidays. Maybe specify the holidays, too. Tell them you want the kids to be excited to see them, not what’s in their hands.
I think at some point you have to just say no. You don’t have room, you don’t want to raise entitled kids… That they need to respect the way you are raising your kids.
My goodness, kudos to you. You’re trying. Keep suggesting experiences.. my parents take my kids to the neighborhood park often. The kids love it.
If nothing else, teach the kids about containers and limits… Book shelf full? Take one out to put a new one on.
I’ve been struggling with this situation with my mother, and I really love some of the points in your comment (I even screen shot it).
Kids will become more interested in the gifts than the people. I know mine did. It was tough since grandma was watching him while I worked and showered him with gifts, to the point where he started to demand a toy in every store we went into. I wish I’d had a few of these points to help drive it home when I asked her to stop.
As a grandparent myself, your line “…you want the kids to be excited to see them, not what’s in their hands” really hits home.
I love that…seeing them, not what’s in their hands. I KNOW that will hit home! Thank you!
Since Grace’s family is currently blessed to live so close to her in-laws, perhaps some of the gifts could find a home at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Based on my own parents’ generosity, I’m sure there are plenty of toys and goodies there already for the children to play with – but taking some more things over “so you can enjoy seeing the children with them here!” might be a way to help them see how excessive this has become.
I hate to say it, because I know in the trenches it feels like this is taking foreverrrr to resolve, but it may just take a little more time. Are these the first grandchildren? If they are, it will probably take a couple more years of work, compromise, and thankful but calm refusal to stem the tide of toys and gadgets coming in. Silly as this might sound, a reminder about the years when grandparents used to buy savings bonds and start up college funds might be of use. Years ago I paid for a car and half of college with savings bonds my grandparents faithfully purchased each birthday and Christmas! Maybe if you tell your family you’re examining college costs already and they seem so high, and you’d like everyone to consider putting cash into the kids’ 529s or into savings bonds, in lieu of gifts, they’ll consider doing so. Tack on that you hate to see them waste money on something that the kids play with for 5 minutes and then toss aside (hopefully appealing to their frugal-er sides), and remind them how very, very thankful you are that they are so generous and loving in person, not just with gifts. It sounds like their “love language” is giving gifts, so it will be hard to get the “in lieu of” through – but it can be done! 🙂
As for #3 – it’s not easy! I feel for you! Your two year old is a bit young, but the four year old is old enough to start having simple discussions about consumerism. We explained, briefly, to each of our kids that yes, the toys in that commercial looked like fun, but the point of a commercial is to get us to want things, so we’ll buy things. Instead, we could use that money to go to the zoo, have ice cream, *insert fun thing they want to do*, so that’s what our family chooses to do. Don’t be afraid to just say no; I know it might make you feel “mean” sometimes (it sure makes me feel that way!), but as the ones with the money and the final veto power, it’s up to us parents to be strong and say, “I understand you want ‘dis’ right now – but I am not buying it.” If Grandma and Grandpa Generous are around, it may mean that you have to give them The Look and say, “And Grandma and Grandpa are not buying it either. They have already given you many wonderful things. In fact, can you go find *insert latest wonderful thing purchased*? Let’s play with it together!” My mom jokingly asks “Will we be in trouble if we buy XYZ for so-and-so?” Luckily we are brutally honest in my family, and I say YES…. and they don’t buy it. Well… most of the time. Sometimes they still buy it…. but save it for something like a birthday, instead of a Thursday. (I *so* feel your pain there!!!) 😉 As the kids get older, they will see your consistency regarding consumer marketing and will come to understand that companies and their employees in marketing rely on us buying things – ALL THE THINGS – need them or not. Just keep treading water and stick to your values, hard as it can be sometimes.
All great points! Thank you!
I wish I could click “Like” on this like on Facebook. I have started to say, “It has to stay at Grandma’s house” or something similar. Or I will say, “You can have it here for a week, but then it goes back to Grandma’s house” (this was with stuffed animals that MIL had as decorations, which she let the kids bring home).
If your husband has had a private and personal conversation *without you there. He’s their son, he needs to address this in a non-accusatory but very straight way without you, however much they might love and cherish you* about this, explaining exactly what he does and does not want for HIS children and why, then the next step is to accept that there is going to be an argument. Yes. Very impolite and non-respectful. But here’s the thing. If you have discussed this with them directly and tried to be honest and been smilingly ignored, your wishes regarding your children are being flatly ignored. You are just background noise. That doesn’t work for me, especially if the perps, loving and generous though they clearly are, are around frequently. If it were only once a month or a couple of times a year, well, go along to get along, but this is undermining and it is deliberate. It’s kindly meant, but it is deliberate.
Why? I don’t know.
If your husband’s serious, private, scheduled conversation with them does not get results then you intercept them and explain that whatever they have brought to your home gets left in their car. Do this with a big smile. They will weep and wail and you will be Fun Police and the villain. Too bad, so sad. You are the parents and that is that. Of course grannies and grandpas spoil and treat and that is just wonderful, ever was it thus, but this is straying into ridiculous territory, particularly given your objections. If your objections don’t matter to them, what next? You don’t want them to do y and z with your boys but ”oh we will anyway”? Where does it end?
I hate to be harsh and mean, but this is a power struggle and you need to get out in front of it immediately, united with your husband. It will all calm down and when it does you can discuss in a kind way what would be ideal in terms of gifts, how things ARE going to work from now on re your children. Don’t leave it any longer and best of luck!
This is the best response! I agree with all of this. After you have tried, possibly repeatedly, to ask nicely and explain your goals, and after your husband takes them aside and asks that they stop, and they STILL aren’t responding, you will have to do as Caroline suggests. Take the presents and get rid of them. And I would explain to your in-laws that you’re grateful for these donations to charity because there are a lot of needy kids who really would love the presents. And feel no guilt sending the presents to a kids charity or goodwill or wherever.
Another idea, since they seem to like “buying” is to explain that your saving for a big trip, or a big purchase for the family (bikes maybe) and ask them to contribute to the kids piggy banks with dollar bills? So they’re giving something (which seems to be a thing for them) but it’s helpful?
My mom is bad about giving gifts all the time, and lives a mile down the road (and my daughter is one!). Finally I explained that she could spend her money however she liked, but we didn’t want or have room for all this “stuff” and anything she brings over goes into the donation pile as soon as she leaves. And that’s what I do. She has gotten a little better…
Lots of good luck to you!
I don’t see it as harsh or mean, just as direct and straightforward. I agree, we ought to be more assertive and this is the kick I needed! Thank you!
I reread what I wrote and I am glad I didn’t sound hateful or mean. Of course it is all done from love and wanting to spoil their grandchildren… it just becomes a bit of a power struggle and it’s very difficult, because you love and respect them… but you guys are in fact the bosses of this. Let us know what happens!
I have to agree. It only gets worse. I had the same situation 23 years ago (my kids are now 24 & 17). As much as we tried to be nice and not rock the boat, it eventually came to exactly what we were trying to avoid. It made it worse because the kids were older(10 & 3).
The best book I could recommend for you is called Boundaries. It is a great book that will help you and your husband to pull yourselves out of the situation and see it objectively.
I believe this comment demands a long and very heartfelt slow clap. I agree with it completely. Well said, Caroline.
My husband and I saw this very issue coming even before our first child was conceived, and we got in front of it the day we told them we were expecting. My parents are lovers of “stuff” and they get their thrills off of the high that comes with giving gifts. My husband and I are frugal weirdos. After 8 years of marriage, we still have the hand me down sofa that his parents had when they were at 8 years of marriage (last year they celebrated 52 years together) :). We have been blessed immensely with great jobs and saved strategically to use our money on things that really matter to us (adventurous world travels) and maximize our charitable giving. It was no question for us that if/when we had children, we would raise them in such a way that they were not slaves to things. We wanted them to enjoy greatly the relatively few toys they had rather than be overwhelmed and bored by the mountain of stuff that cluttered their bedrooms.
All that being said, it was not a simple process to ensure my parents were on board. The most critical piece to ensuring we were effective in protecting our children from hyper-consumerism, was that I acted as the primary voice when communicating our parenting philosophy. Your husband has to be the leader on this. They are his parents and no matter how much they may love you as a daughter, you will quickly become the bad guy if he is not supporting you openly with a shared message to them. I very clearly laid out my expectations with my parent (my mother especially) and indicated that she should not purchase a gift for my children without first checking with me. Thus far they have complied with my expectations. I made it clear that if they brought gifts into my house without my knowledge, they would be intercepted and donated. While to some this may sound hyper controlling and harsh…what with my robbing them of the joy of giving…to me, it is helping to cultivate a grateful heart in my children. The well-being of my children will always supersede any uncomfortable feelings that may be brought on my tough conversations with my parents.
Your in-laws will feel hurt, they will feel like you’re doing it wrong. That’s okay. The trick is that you cannot allow that to create doubts in your mind, such that you begin to BELIEVE you are doing it wrong. You and your husband have to get on the same page and he has to express that stance to his parents. After that, you both have to be the enforcers…stick to your guns. Grandparents can revert to toddler behaviors…they will test the boundaries…they will see how far they can push…they will downplay any disregard for your rules. But, these are your children and you are entitled to raise them how you guys determine will ultimately result in the best life for them. When your in-laws overstep, they are undermining your authority and their “disobedience” sends a message to your children that it’s okay to blow off what mom and dad say. As you’re already starting to see, it begins to create an entitled attitude in them.
It takes a united stance between you and your husband and an unrelenting resolve, but you can make it work. In the end, you’ll all be better off for it. Good Luck!
I don’t have much advice as my little one is quite little and we are learning to balance this. My parents stay reasonable because they have other grandkids to buy for. My in-laws have just my daughter and tend to shower her with presents. One thing I have noticed is that our parents’ all seem to share the “love language” of receiving gifts and therefore depart it on others. Of all the love languages, my husband and I put gifts at the bottom. So, I think it is a difference in how we receive love that we haven’t been quite able to express our differences effectively (my mom bought us Love Languages as an engagement present so she’d likely get it–my inlaws would think I had two heads).
My daughter also has a January birthday so we tend to hide presents and then bring them out later in the year to spread out the novelty. I know this won’t work when she’s older. While they are little, can you return some things and place the money in a 529 for them?
I look forward to hearing more experienced advice on how this goes with older kids.
Thank you! We have tried hiding gifts to dole out later but as the boys get older and because the presents are often given to them directly, it’s getting harder to do. I love the Love Languages reference! You make a good point!
Could Grandma/Grandpa spend some time making cards or writing letters to their grandsons? This would give them some*thing* to give, but would be more personal, and something to keep & cherish. So it qualifies as both an experience and a physical item.
Love this! Thank you!
This is an excellent suggestion. You might even kick it up a step and buy your in-laws memory books or scrapbooks that they and your kids fill with letters, pictures and love notes to each other — together. The idea being that each time they come over, they bring another note, photo, postcard, etc. for the boys, who then go sit with Grandma & Grandpa and put it in the book together. They get the fun of giving, the boys get a little present when Grandma and Grandpa come, and your sons have a wonderful memento of how much they are loved. And… it fits on a bookshelf.
Do you think they’d go for this?
We did this with souvenirs and my in-laws. My family never does souvenirs but my in-laws do and they are retired and travel a lot. The last thing I wanted was crap from every city they went to. So, we instituted that they should send a postcard and are making a book for our daughter. They still buy a STACK of t-shirts everywhere but at least those are useful and not a bunch of random junk.
This seems tricky or difficult…..but I do not think it is. In a loving, kind-but forceful-way you and your husband need to have a sit own. Lay out your rules (they aren’t guidelines, these are your kids) and make it clear they aren’t subject to negotiation. Have the same conversation, adjusted with your kids. The kids will complain for awhile but soon get over it. The in-law’s as well. You may have to return some gifts until they get the hint. Again, be loving but be forceful and don’t waiver. If you don’t establish this boundary you never will, and who knows what else they will meddle in. In an extreme case, you might spend a holiday with just you and your husband.
I like the tough love. You’re absolutely right…the direct approach may be warranted this time. Thank you!
While I know that Grace has already tried to talk to the in-laws, it seems to me there is a basic level of misunderstanding. It appears that her in-laws genuinely show their love through their gift giving – is there perhaps another way that this love can be expressed? It is a deeper conversation, and not one easily entered into, but I think that would be the best way to start. It’s hard for anyone to make a change, but understanding where everyone involved is coming from helps with overall understanding and can limit resentment…. just my 2 cents
Thank you! I agree, communication is key here.
I’m a little late to the dance here, but I agree with the suggestion that communication is key. Just as you wouldn’t stand by if the grandparents let the kids play too close to the road or allowed them to eat nothing but candy all day long, you will also have to have the difficult but necessary talk with them about your values.
I once met a woman at Jo-Ann Fabrics who asked me, rhetorically, what to get kids who have everything. Her granddaughters drop by regularly and she’d gotten in the habit of always having gifts for them. Small things, true, but ALWAYS. When I asked her if it had become stressful she said yes, adding “but they expect it.”
I went home and wrote a blog post that pointed out that expectations are MADE, not born — and that she was setting them up for some potential issues. For example, an early addiction to novelty could encourage an inability to be satisfied with anything for very long. I suggested 14 other ways to show love for kids that don’t involve huge expenditures of cash (or any money at all).
If it’s kosher to post the URL, here goes:
I feel for you, Grace! We have three kids and have had this same issue with my parents. Thankfully, they’re a six-hour drive away, so the flood happens mostly around birthdays and Christmas, but we do receive far too many packages in the mail full of random treasures for the kids. We kept talking to my parents about it for years (reiterating that the kids really just need one or two things and primarily time with their grandparents), and now that my oldest is almost 10, our pleas finally seem to be sinking in. The kids still get too much for Christmas, but it’s less than before. And we totally still take some of the items and say we’re only going to unwrap/open/get it out of the box at home and then stash things for rainy days or donating. It’s a hard line to walk, I know, between fully living your family’s values and honoring your extended family’s choices/values. You said you’ve already asked for experience gifts instead, with limited success. Do your husband’s parents respond well when you present them with research, sort of “Oh, I read the most fascinating thing the other day about kids playing better and having less stress when they have fewer toys/possessions, so we’re going to try to work on getting our kids fewer things and really culling what they do have”? I have tried a bit of that with my parents with some success. It’s hard, though, if that’s how they show their love to their grandchildren. *We* know our children value experiences and time with grandparents just as much if not more, but I’m still working on convincing my parents of that. Good luck!
I’ve never thought to pull out research! What a fantastic idea! Thank you!
I actually think there’s a way to turn this into an AND, rather than an OR situation. What if you gratefully accepted the gifts, but then used it as an opportunity to teach your kids about giving? When I was a child, we’d regularly go through my toys to figure out what to take the the orphanage. There was one nearby, and we’d visit the kids, and I’d learn about how lucky I was… I am guessing that there aren’t any orphanages near you, but maybe some other opportunities to collect toys and give them to other kids? Learning to receive abundance and share it is a wonderful lesson, and a great opportunity…
Another approach might be to teach your kids that we don’t play with gifts from grandma and grandpa right away, but we put them away and then play with them a little later on – teaching good self-control, etc. (google the mischel marshmallow study for more info on why this is good for them 🙂
In the end, your kids will learn your values either way – not to worry about that. It might feel less like it because they are young, but they are learning from you. AND – they’ll also be in a position to choose whether they want them or not, just like you chose whether or not you wanted your parents’ values.
I’ve often found, in the case of resentment, that the best way out of it isn’t figuring out how best to change the other person (an impossible codependent conundrum in the best of times) but rather, to look at what in ME is making this so hard. Are you afraid that accepting the gifts your in-laws provide will lead them to the empty, consumerism-based approach that you experienced growing up? Because that’s not necessarily the case… it might help to dig a little deeper into your ‘money story’ to see if this is actually an opportunity to learn more.
Anyway, sounds like you are doing a great job with your kids – good luck!
Also – we just got a dirt devil. It’s great!
I like the idea of periodically going through the toys with your kiddos and giving them the opportunity to part with some items. Perhaps if you do it frequently enough, even the new toys might become part of this. I worked in a Children’s Advocacy Center for several years, and many children in our community would host a birthday party where they would accept new gifts with the intent to donate them to the children we serve.
Grace, I don’t know you or your in-laws, but I think even if they never change, just know you have the power to influence your children toward generosity and away from entitlement by your messaging and what you do to keep them grounded in the knowledge that others have less than they have. Keep trumpeting those values. They will remember it in the long run…even if you have to deal with a few “gimmes” over the years. In all reality, kids do think they are the center of the universe (spoiling grandparents or not). It’s our job as parents to correct them and point them towards truth, generosity, compassion, etc.
Just my .02 as someone who has often fretted about how to manage grandparents.
I’ll suggest the Dirt Devil😂 And yes, I do worry my kids will end up like my folks, on this constant quest to “keep up” and the notion that retail therapy is a viable fix-all option. We do quite a bit of charity work and donating of new items but it involves my kids selecting goods at stores and giving them to other families. Perhaps your approach may be more personal and meaningful to them. Thank you!
I agree, Grace – those early years are so formative in terms of habits and perspectives. It really would make sense to reduce the flood of gifts coming in, so you can focus your limited time and energy on things other than stuff wrangling!
I have a vacuum cleaner suggestion: We bought a Dyson DC50 upright from Costco when our old unit from 1980 snapped in half with no replacement part available. We love how it cleans. Our rugs actually changed color, so much more dust was pulled out. Also, it is bag less, so no ongoing costs to use. We mostly have hard floors with area rugs, and the vacuum works well on the wood and tile, too.
I totally agree with the Dyson suggestion. I went through several vacuums that all died prematurely due in part (or completely) to the fact that I have two dogs and live in the country where dirt comes inside with them all the time. The Dyson is still plugging along doing miraculous work! It’s also compact which is nice for a small house like mine but it could easily handle a much larger space.
We have a Miele that we got on sale at Costco and it works miracles – way better than other vacuums we’ve used.
Needing a vaccum bag is a pain, though, for the ongoing costs.
Excellent! Thank you!
Casting my vote for the Shark Lift Away – $119 on sale @ Costco! It’s a copy of the Dyson. Owner of 2 large dogs with long hair so recommendation from a daily vacuum-er here.
I have this and love it! (I bought mine at Target on sale FWIW).
Great topic and so very timely. So glad to hear that others face these in-law spending challenges.
I hope to write more later but I want to at least share now a quick though on Question # 4 – good vacuum cleaner. Grace, watch the Hoover company site for clearance sales. They happen 2-3 times a year and this is one of the most common times. Look for a vacuum normally in the $125-175 range since it will very likely have the convenience features that we all love but avoids the high priced models with the fancy schmancy stuff we don’t need. During a Hoover clearance, I bought one normally $160 for only $85 with free shipping. Good luck finding a deal!
This is why I need this blog in my life! Great tip! Thanks!
Wow! What a situation! I don’t have any children of my own but last year my mom re-married and had a whole new step-family to contend with. Thankfully they are fairly good at listening and all of the adults (10 of us) pick out names and exchange with one person (gifts around $50). It gets to be too much and the 6 grandkids just get presents from my Mom and Step-Dad and they are all variations of the same things!
1. There needs to be a serious conversation about them undermining you as a parent. That is not cool. Plus what you’re trying to achieve is very admirable! Ask if instead of fufilling every.single.thing the child wants to maybe start contributing to a college fund? They won’t remember the toys when they are older but they will be very appreciative of help with school when that time rolls around.
2. I’ve stopped hanging out with family members. Haha-I’m not kidding! I have a cousin whose husband makes $$$ and they love to spend and several times I’ve found myself at very expensive restaurants, shocked at the prices of things. I’ve stopped hanging out with them and if I end up somehow making plans with them- I make sure to find somewhere I can afford.
3. Yes-spend time with them. Teach them the value of a dollar. When my brother and I got older my mom would take us on a vacation instead of buying us gifts for Christmas or birthdays-I loved it! Less of junk I didn’t want or need and great memories with family (much better use of money).
4. Dyson- I think most are bagless and they work great.
5. I don’t really know what that is but I would just say that they are no longer interested in it or you don’t have the room for it. I would make it clear that the toy isn’t welcome.
A vacation…now that is an idea I could get behind! As long as they don’t buy the kids any souvenirs! Great suggestions! Thank you!
Grace – we’ve done this for the past couple of years with great success. We ask grandparents and aunts/uncles to contribute however much money they’d spend on a gift, and we earmark it for something trip-related. Great-grammy paid for the ferry ride, for example, Uncle E paid for the NHL game tickets, and Auntie B gave both kids $30 to spend on wearable souvenirs (typically a warm hat with a university emblem on it, which satisfies our 9 year old’s craving for spending, while also being useful in that our whole family can benefit from it). The kids LOVE the road trips and while we’re still weaning the grandparents off *also* buying smaller gifts (“because they need something to OPEN on Christmas!” – grandmother), we really love that they’re contributing to experiences more than stuff.
I had a similar problem with my dad. I was able to tell him that maybe the money he was spending on gifts would be better suited for a savings account toward the kids college. At first he was disappointed but after I explained it was still a gift, just for the long term he was OK with it. He valued education and my decision for less ‘stuff’. After a while he would just give cash and the kids would go to the bank to deposit the money with him which was a fun experience too.
Of course he lived 1,000 miles away and only saw the kids a couple times a year, not a few miles down the road.
I hope you or your husband can convince the grandparents to help you. Good Luck
With college prices inflating faster than paychecks, I think this is a great idea. Thank you!
This is what my grandparents did for me when I was a kid, and it was one of my first introductions to saving/deferring happiness. Not to mention that it was amazing to have thousands of dollars sitting in the bank for me when I started university!
“We want them to understand that there are many ways of enjoying life without filling it with material possessions. It’s our hope that they come to realize that you cannot quantify love with possessions and expenditures. We want them to see that the acquisition of “stuff” is not a substitute for real emotions nor should it be used as a source of comfort.
Ultimately, my in-laws’ refusal to respect the values we’re trying to impart on our children has caused a great deal of resentment: I resent them for over-indulging our children who we’re trying to raise as fiscally responsible young people who aren’t compelled to fill personal voids with “stuff”; My children are beginning to resent that my husband and I don’t buy them whatever they want whenever they want it; My husband resents being put in the position of having to decide between enforcing the values he believes are best for his children and inciting discord in an otherwise happy family. The “stuff” is not the issue—I’m happy to purge the house of non-necessities and then subsequently pretend I don’t know what happened to them. What bothers me most is that the values we want to instill in our kids are being sabotaged by a source that’s very close to home.”
You have done a very good job of writing out your values, how you feel about the current situation, and how it is starting to negetively affect your family. Have you thought about sending this in a letter to your inlaws? Any conversation where we are asking people to do something different feels confrontational to people. As soon as people start feeling defensive, they stop listening. Letters are a fabulous way to communicate somthing that stirs up emotions, because it provides space. Space for you and your husband to write your words, then come back later to review them before sending. Space for your inlaws to read them alone, which usually feels safer to people. Space for them to deal with their emotions before responding.
Often times people do not really hear how deeply something is affecting another person, especially when they start crafting their defense right away (which is human nature). They need to know that this is affecting their relationship with thier grandchildren. They sound like they love them very much; if they really understood, there’s a good chance change will happen.
You might consider letting your husband add a note to this as well, expressing his support for your mutual decisions, frustration with their deliberate disregard of your parenting philosophy, and concern for your children’s ultimate well-being. I don’t know what your relationship with your in-laws is like, but mine need to hear things from their son (not just me) to really listen.
That is a fabulous suggestion with valid points. I will likely do this! Thank you!
Another vote for a letter. Some people process information differently when it is presented in written form. I find that folks in older generations especially appreciate letters. We have an only grandchild with three sets of generous grandparents, so I can definitely relate. Best of luck.
That’s a tough situation, Grace! I think that a straightforward conversation between your husband and his parents is the best way to go. Although no one parenting way is “right,” this is the way you want to do things and his parents should respect that.
It might help to tell them other outlets for their generosity that you would appreciate instead. Maybe you’d rather they take the kids out to the park or for a treat when they visit, instead of gifting toys.
I would LOVE if they took them to the park instead! Great suggestion! Thank you!
My husband and I are anticipating this same problem as soon as we have kids–currently we only have pets, and even they receive regular “care packages” in the mail from my parents. And I’m not sure I’ll try to stop it either: my mom absolutely loves to give gifts. She loves picking out the perfect present, and her excitement in watching you open it is a present in itself (it is pure childish delight). The parent who worries me most is my dad–he tests children’s apps for a living, so I just know iPads loaded with addictive games will land on our doorstep. We really would rather our kids spend their days outdoors, playing, than glued to screens.
However, I think there are ways to help your kids reject materialism while also receiving a rapid flow of presents. I grew up showered by excess–my parents bought me whatever I wanted. However, I remember constantly feeling vaguely sad that nothing was special–that when you have hundreds of stuffed animals, it’s hard to have one special one–or that I didn’t have one blanket that I loved. Talk about that with your kids–how not having a lot helps you value a little. My parents, despite spoiling us rotten, always talked about how the important things were family time, and how material goods weren’t important. When I wanted to buy a more expensive, name brand shirt, we had a conversation about why, and about how it didn’t fit into their budget (so I felt horribly guilty when my mom snuck back later and bought it).
As an adult, frugality comes easily to me, and my husband–who grew up in an incredibly frugal, experience/giving focused home–struggles with it. Knowing what it feels like to have a lot has helped me reject it as an adult. My husband doesn’t know how empty, guilt inducing and stressful it actually is, and so he finds it harder to turn down spending opportunities.
We haven’t been great about putting our foot down for the holidays and since our daughter is still young enough to hide gifts from after she opens it. But, we have been adamant about screen time. We use the American Academy of Pediatrics as our scapegoat and how screen time is unnecessary and potentially damaging. My mother-in-law keeps trying to get my daughter a tablet (uuuuggggghhh). I’ve told her it would go back to the store and my daughter would never touch it as it is in direct defiance of what we have asked. Our daughter is nearly 2 and if she sees a tablet (we only allow her to use to Skype with family and even then she isn’t supposed to touch it, just look), she has a meltdown when she can’t touch or when it goes away. When we tell my mother-in-law no, her next question is “when?” to which I reply when my daughter shows enough maturity to have it put away or be told no. Given how adults act when their phone isn’t around or their smartphone battery dies, I anticipate that being a very loooong time from now hehe
“when my daughter shows enough maturity to have it put away or be told no” OMG THIS IS KEY.
Our 2.5-year-old gets LIMITED ipad time (alphabet games or Daniel Tiger or BBC animal documentaries, mostly, and even then not every day and not more than 20 minutes at a time, but sometimes you just gotta go to the bathroom by yourself, so…) and even then the struggle of ‘and now we put it AWAY’ is real. And it’s necessary, because if you give in you’re totally screwed on the next fit they pitch.
A tablet can be a great tool for a kid. Seriously. But not until that particular issue can be handled, otherwise it’s not a tool, it’s a parent trap.
I like all these comments pointing out that excess toys become stressful, less enjoyable and have less meaning to the recipient. I will have to explain this to them. Thank you!
Sticky situation for sure. I think it is something your husband needs to handle it as it is his parents. He needs to lay down the law with them when it comes to your kids. He is their son, so they may get mad for a day or week, but they (hopefully) will get over it and act by his wishes. I don’t know them personally, but this is what I would do if my parents acted this way.
Agreed. Your husband really needs to manage this as they are his parents.
I think you’re right! I know he’s been firm in the past but hopefully this next time he can get through to them. Thank you!
Just have them read this column. Oh my. I do not believe your commitment to frugality is jeopardized by a grandparent’s good will.
Thank you! While it doesn’t threaten our frugality, it does conflict with our values, which is the bigger issue at play here. I appreciate your honesty!
Speaking as a frugal grandparent, we give our granddaughter a single gift on her birthday and at Christmas that us $50 or less and at the same time put a generous amount into an education fund for her. Then I send it give her when we are there things that we make: a photo album book starring her, a fabric chair cover that looks like a kitchen, a flannel board we made and felt pieces she can tell stories with. When I spend hours(and hours) making these things, it gives me joy to think of her and which color or what character she would like most.
This time spent making her gifts replaces the shopping high for me.
So could you request commercial gifts only on these special days and homemade the rest of the time? Be ready with examples!
My MIL is very crafty and would excel at this. Great idea! Thank you!
Having to say to a parent “I’m raising my child in this way because it didn’t work out so great for me when you did the opposite” is among the hardest conversations to have. Every parent wants to be validated for the way they raise their children… The in-laws included. And this situation is exactly the opposite. like the young woman who can’t acknowledge that “he’s just not that into her” they are probably finding all kinds of other reasons in their heads to dismiss this feedback that showering kids with stuff isn’t healthy. ( blame it on the daughter-in-law certainly comes to mind ) I imagine that rectifying the situation will take a lot of conversations, not just one and might resemble long-term therapy, because the in-laws arent just changing their behavior, they are coming to terms with their own imperfect parenting – and that’s bound to come with some hurt feelings. Look for other areas where your in-laws have shown personal growth and see if there are any lessons to be drawn from that. Try to mimic whatever works there. Have your husband center his conversations with them on his own personal growth and his own experiences with the stuff. Maybe have mom make an effort to demonstrate to the in-laws that the kids are so much happier with experiences rather than stuff… Sort of casually mention things like “they had so much fun on that hike the other day. It would be great to do more. Maybe you could join us next time.” But don’t get frustrated that the one conversation didn’t work. And be patient with the in-laws. It takes time.
You sound like you know what you’re talking about. Great guidance. Thank you!
Since they are generous and want to give, perhaps they could focus their gift on the future instead if the “present.” One material item per occasion and then any other money they would have spent put into a savings account or college fund for the child.
Future instead of present. I love this! Thank you!
I have 2 kids, same ages, the potential for similar inlaw issues. To your questions:
1. Not remedy-able without some indignation/ resentment. So you need to accept that you’re going to make the inlaws sad.
2. I told my inlaws that we have a small house and no space for more things. They’re welcome to buy the kids whatever they want but it stays at their house for the kids to use while they’re there. Then, when they don’t believe you, begin bringing that crap there and leaving it there. They buy way less when they have to store it. We also relentlessly purge unused kids toys and I make a big fuss about it offering it to my inlaws before donating. So they know exactly what we’re giving away and how frequently (at least 2x / yr). It discourages them from buying when they know it’s going away in 6 months.
3. No idea. I guess I’ll find out at the end of this raising children business?
4. Riccar Starbright. I paid about half of MSRP for it. It’s amazing, but we have dogs so we needed amazing. Probably overkill for a less filthy household.
5. See #2. Leave it at your inlaws house.
Thank you! All great suggestions!
I have a few ideas based on my similar situation which I’ve dealt with for over a decade. My kids are now 15 and 18. First, we decided early on that the grandparents (by far more HIS side of the family) could do the shopping and we wouldn’t spend much of our own money on presents at all. This worked beautifully when the kids were young and it still works well now. My kids will get one, maybe two, items from me and their dad, because we know what they really need or want. And this allows us to contribute to their 529 college savings accounts fully. Only with a consistent message from us that we don’t believe in giving a lot or gifts, but they are welcome to enjoy what their grandparents give them, were we able to set the expectation that they won’t be getting things from us.
Second, when my kids were young, we instituted a process where after each Christmas or birthday (and eventually at other times of the year), the kids went through their rooms to find all the items they were willing to give to kids that didn’t get nice things. We never made the kids give up something they didn’t want to give up. We also exposed them to situations in which they would see other kids that had need. As soon as they were school aged, this often shifted to efforts the school did around providing giving trees at the holidays, or book drives for the local library.
Another idea is to cull the items (like you say you’re doing) and hide them away and make a tax deductible donation to an organization of all those items. Then take the tax savings and put it into their 529 accounts or into a cash savings account for each kid. Eventually when they’re older you can show the kids how donations work and you can have them donate things and you can then contribute to their savings account so they see the benefit.
I understand how angry you’ve become about this. And I encourage you to find a solution that is not about changing your in-laws. I don’t think you will be able to get the in-laws to redirect their giving into, say, your kids’ 529 accounts INSTEAD of gift giving. Remember, your in-laws are getting some NEED met by doing all this giving of physical items, and that pattern started a very long time ago. Talking to them isn’t going to change that no matter how much you want it. They clearly have a driving need that is satisfied (temporarily) by giving gifts to your kids, and who’s to say their need is any less important than your own need to raise your kids how you see fit. Let them be and find a way within yourselves to have peace around this. Believe me, if you are consistent throughout your kids’ lives, they will see how you live and the benefits of that lifestyle to you and them. I absolutely guarantee it!
Love this comment from someone else who has lived through it and can see the other side. When the kids are little you can be more flexible with your values for them without doing long term damage. The older the get, the less exciting they get to buy for. 😂
All great suggestions! Thank you!
This is the approach we take to the holidays. We don’t buy anything for our kids and leave the gift giving to the grandparents. We both have small families and have the first grandkids. We give them suggestions about what they could use or would be a good present that will grow with them. Before the holiday season begins I go through the toys and clothes and purge what we don’t need or use. My girls are young, but as they grow older I will encourage them to do the same. I do want to add that I think most kids go through the stage of wanting everything they see and like. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to become materialistic adults. When I was little we always shopped at garage sales which taught me that I could either pay a little for the thing I wanted if I was willing to wait and have enough money to buy a few things I wanted or spend a lot of money on one thing just because I needed to have it immediately. As I grew up and was able to make my own money if I wanted something that was out of the budget I was required to buy it myself or pay a percentage. What’s important is you show your kids how you deal with money and why you may do it differently than your in laws.
We do the same thing with presents from us vs. grandparents and it seems to be working so far. My son is 4 and he might or might not get a single special (but usually not expensive) gift from me and my husband for his birthday or christmas, because I know he will be showered by the in-laws. And at almost 5 I haven’t had any trouble saying that this just fits in the “different families have different rules/plans/etc” (e.g. our couch in his play area is a jumping couch, but grandma’s couch is not… grandma buys a lot of gifts at Christmas but our family does a lot of activities together). I’m lucky in that my in-laws live 9 hours away, so we aren’t having this conversation very often, but my point is that I agree with other comments that your 4 year old is not too young to talk about this on different levels (e.g. the earlier comment about talking about how commercials make you feel). I also work hard to talk up the experience my son has with them with him in front of them (“I didn’t know your grandma was such a great baseball player!” And then he just takes off gushing about the experience of playing baseball with her at his birthday party instead of just all the stuff). I’m not doing that to try to influence her (ok, so I am a *little* bit) but more to help him see his gift experience through a lense that shows our family’s values.
I think Grace just needs to put her foot down. They are her kids, not her in-laws. She controls who gets to see them, when, and what gifts are allowed. Sometimes a little tough love is a good way to go.
She and her husband should be presenting the same united front, and start taking control. If the in-laws want to see your kids, they have to follow your rules.
Best reply, they are your kids and you are responsible, together you can manage this.
I agree some tough love may be in order. Thank you!
Do your children spend much time at the in-law’s house? Perhaps gifts could be restricted to their house. It wouldn’t solve the long term problem, but perhaps if they see how many toys are accumulating that they have to maneuver around with the not so nimble vacuum cleaner it might make an impression.
The do spend a fair amount of time there…I’m guessing your idea may hold water! Thanks!
I love buying for my grandchildren. I like to buy toys they want and games and toys we can play with together. I have pared down my gift giving a lot once I realized that my daughter- in- law “cleans” with a big black trashbag and I was still paying for stuff that is living in the landfill. I now make sure I can afford what I buy and they each get 2 or 3 gifts at Christmas. We shop with a price limit for birthdays (more one on one time) and I now keep toys or games at my house that we play together. Because when they are at my house I have the privilege to just play and everything else can go on the back burner. I understand your position, I just had no idea I could love anyone this much and want to do everything I can for them. of course I loved my boys too but this somehow is just different. So this is the other side. But no one ever told me not to buy things. That might have been easier and I would have respected their wishes. But truthfully I probably would have grumbled at first but then you just do what the parents want. They are raising your grandchildren.
Thank you for your valuable insight! It’s great to hear from the other side.
Oooh, this is a sticky situation. It’s more difficult when it’s the in-laws and not your own parents.
This is just my opinion, but I think having a frank discussion is in order. There’s no way to get out of this without describing your expectations and making sure the in-laws know why you live the way you do and what values you want to instill in your children. They’ll probably try to fight you on it, but stand your ground.
Worst case scenario, is it possible to limit contact with the grandparents a little bit? I know that sounds like an awful thing to say, but when someone is regularly violating your clear boundaries, they need to understand that has consequences–but they need to be crystal clear on the boundaries first and how it makes you feel.
I’d hate to do that but if they can’t get on board and respect boundaries, you are right. Thank you!
M’s suggestion above that this will be like long term therapy is so true! My brother and SIL have struggled for years with my mom’s gift giving tendencies. She doesn’t buy thoughtfully either… it’s stuff from the grocery store check out aisle or other such places times about 1,000. And she cannot afford to be spending the money she does on this junk. They have both spent years talking, intercepting, sighing and working hard to keep things civil because my nephew adores his Nana and it isn’t for the things she gives him. He loves the time spent with her reading comics, playing in the park and so much more. My mom refused to change her gifting ways and said so out loud repeatedly (it’s a grandparent’s right, he needs toys or he’ll feel deprived – i.e. parents are being needlessly stringent). The mistake was saying it to me. Aunties/Uncles/Outside Elements can help greatly in diverting some of the discomfort of the situation. After the parents had tried and tried I was able to reinforce their reasons for wishing her to slow the flow down. It took the pressure off my poor SIL and let me have a much more “tough love” type of talk with my mom based on the oft repeated reasons given by my nephew’s parents. She hasn’t stopped completely but she has definitely slowed down. Especially after they instituted a one in one out policy — that threw her into a conundrum! If she brings him a pile a pile has to go out and she knows deep down that it is her recent gifts that go. Plus she hates the idea that she is the cause of my nephew having to purge something. It has taken years and the talks are ongoing but progress has been made since the early days of bags and bags of presents at each weekly visit. Stand firm, be kind, enlist help from other family members and freely regift the excess. Good luck!
She hates knowing she’s the reason he has to purge something…great thought! Thank you!
Tricky, tricky. It is obvious that their love for your children is overwhelming. As grandparents, we sometimes forget that the point of child raising is to raise responsible caring adults. We might just think that loving these beautiful grandchildren with all of our hearts no matter the cost is the point! I promise the in-laws also want to do what is in the best interest of your children, they likely can’t see their behavior is a problem. My own parents had a hard time seeing me as a grown up and able to make decisions for my family. My idea of less was so “silly”. I agree that your husband should talk to them, if he is good at that sort of thing. It might me that they have a problem seeing him as a grown up despite that obviously being the case. Sometimes, as backward as this might sound, it might to be good to have a Mom to Mom talk about your values and thank her for all the help your in laws are providing in instilling your shared values. Then talk to her about this value of frugality which you obviously share…should be applied to your children you know because we want to raise them to be responsible adults, not pollute the planet with the latest plastic toy..blah.blah.blah. I know you can dress it up but you know be honest and kind and straightforward about your needs for your family. Involve the kids in repair of broken things. Read to them, Do crafts together, walks, story time at the library, encourage them to have special time together that doesn’t involve gifts. My god son at 2-4 years old really loved the car wash and a trip to the library. We did it every week and he thought it the best thing ever! He is 6 now and lives a couple of hours drive away but he still like to go through the car wash when he visits, because that is “our thing”. I’m thinking about you because this is tough and I’m sorry this is hard. Good Luck!
Thank you for your sweet comments! I never thought about a Mom-to-Mom talk…great idea!
That’s a tough situation!! I also don’t like “stuff” and absolutely under no circumstances will be raising my kids to be spoiled or receiving every thing they want.
Here’s an idea: We actually just enacted a Rewards Chart for our girls (ages 4 and 3). Good behavior, getting along, listening, etc. all merit a sticker (though not all the time, of course). Once they collect 20 stickers, they can pick out a $10 item or choose to save that money.
We absolutely do not buy them anything now unless they’ve reached their 20 stickers. I will admit I used to purchase little items for them here and there at Target, the store, etc. Now, they don’t get toys until they reach the sticker threshold. They also don’t throw fits anymore because they understand how it works.
Perhaps get your in-laws on board with that plan? They could be the ones to purchase them something once they hit the sticker amount, and you can choose the dollar amount as obviously you don’t want them buying $100 worth of stuff once a month, haha.
Just an idea!! Tough situation for sure!!! Wishing you the best of luck!
We actually do something similar and the reward is usually a “date” to anywhere they want to go. I’ve never thought to let my in-laws give the reward but that’s a good compromise from time to time. Good call!
I love buying for my grandchildren. I like to buy toys they want and games and toys we can play with together. I have pared down my gift giving a lot once I realized that my daughter- in- law “cleans” with a big black trashbag and I was still paying for stuff that is living in the landfill. I now make sure I can afford what I buy and they each get 2 or 3 gifts at Christmas. We shop with a price limit for birthdays (more one on one time) and I now keep toys or games at my house that we play together. Because when they are at my house I have the privilege to just play and everything else can go on the back burner. I understand your position, I just had no idea I could love anyone this much and want to do everything I can for them. of course I loved my boys too but this somehow is just different. So this is the other side. But no one ever told me not to buy things. That might have been easier and I would have respected their wishes. But truthfully I probably would have grumbled at first but then you just do what the parents want. They are raising your grandchildren.
HI, We have a similar dilemma at my house. I have spoken to them again a lot and nothing happens. One thing that has worked is instituting the “Nana Bag”. The Nana Bag is a tote bag that my mother fills with stuff and then rotates it out. Whatever comes in the Nana Bag, leaves in the Nana Bag. That way if she sees something that she thinks the kids will like/play with she can share that and then we don’t have to have lying around our house all the time. It’s been working pretty well.
I need a Nana Bag! Thank you!
been there – done that !!! As an adult, we have the right to “rule the roost” in our own home. Sorry folk, no compassion for the in laws here. My house/kids – my rules !!! When the in laws blatantly disregard your requests – then it is time for tough love. Pick out one or two gifts to keep and donate or sell the rest. Your in laws apparently do not care about your feelings – so don’t get all bunged up over theirs ( in this situation). Keep reminding your children that less is more – and perhaps let them take the gifts to donate – so they can understand that they are helping another child have a better Christmas. Do not let your in laws have the power to influence your lifestyle. Maybe it is time to relocate ? 😉
Great ideas! Thank you!
Wow, this hits home! I’ve been in the same boat with my in-laws. My MIL would buy the kids random toys because it was on sale at Kohls and she had a coupon, or she was in the Dollar Tree, or it was Thursday… 🙂 They also lived only 10 minutes away so there was a constant in-flow of toys, junk, and treats all the time. It took a long time and some hurt feelings on her part, but she has finally come around to only giving gifts on special occasions. The kids had some embarrassing melt-downs when they realized we weren’t going to let Grandma buy them everything they asked for while we were out shopping, but eventually they got used to it.
In your case, I’d suggest talking to your kids first–you can tell them that your family doesn’t have room in the house for all the new things, or that it’s not fair for them to receive so much when others receive so little… frame it how you like, but emphasize that not all gifts from Grandma can/will be kept. Then talk to the in-laws and emphasize the boundaries (again!). Tell them that while the thoughts & intentions behind the gifts are much appreciated, the gifts themselves have actually become a burden and a sore point in the house. Outline your plan going forward, that any gifts received between holidays/special occasions will be donated or re-gifted. You could even return them to the store or sell them to a kids resale shop like Kid to Kid or Once Upon a Child. This will be really difficult and awkward the first few times you have to snatch a new toy out of the hands of your kids (likely in front of the in-laws), but the kids will quickly learn and (at least in my case) the grandparents hate seeing the kids upset so they may tone it down just to avoid the awkward scene.
Remember that they’re looking for ways to bring joy to the kids and if they’re like my MIL they firmly believe that it’s their JOB as grandparents to spoil the kids. If you’ve already mastered the art of removing the “stuff” from the house, work on giving the in-laws another outlet to shower your kids with OTHER things… ask them to help support a school or church fundraiser, open college savings accounts for the kids and let the in-laws contribute to that whenever they’re in the giving mood. Work on establishing the gifting boundaries now because as the kids get older and their interests skew toward gaming systems and other electronic devices, you’ll want to make sure that your preferences and values with regard to those things aren’t trampled, as well.
It’s great to hear from someone who’s been there. Thank you!
Hi there, I understand your problem, but before you say anything, try and look at it from your in-laws perspective. Yes they are spoiling your children, and yes I totally understand how you feel but they are just enjoying the joy you have given them by your beautiful grandchildren. So they are spoiling them, let them, you sound very sensible, your children may be young but they will grow up understanding your values even if they don’t now. Accept you are blessed with two sets of loving grandparents and enjoy the times together. They won’t be around for ever. Everybody is different, it certainly isn’t worth a family rift. If you say anything about their excessive spending it will cause hurt and bad feelings no matter how hard you try and kindly you approach the matter. I would just sit back and accept their gifts and just realise how much they love your children, however annoying this may be. Having a good loving family is priceless. Your children will not grow into spoilt brats because of your own values. Trust me. I’ve been there.
I appreciate hearing this. Thank you!
It is very hard to sit back and just accept when you feel you are drowning in stuff. And, possibly, drowning in guilt. I know that my in-laws give out of love, but it all becomes a lot to manage, and then I feel guilty because I do have this anger/frustration/anxiety toward their acts of love. Ours has not gotten better as the kids have gotten older, but my kids are aware of how much stress it seems to cause me and limit what they ask for. It is not only items that can be donated – which continual purging takes effort – but sentimental items and articles and letters that they feel will be of interest to the boys – old books they had as a kid, articles on new discoveries, letters of encouragement (usually entailing 5 or more pages). All of it is so nice and caring and loving, but I am drowning. Not only trying to figure out what to keep (some will be very nice to have when they are old and can appreciate it – my teenage sons appreciate, but not to the degree that they might later in life) but what can be tossed and what can be donated. Then to field all the questions as to whether the boys read the items and liked it and what they thought – and, yes, they should possibly have a weekly check-in chat with their grandparents to discuss all of this personally, but they are continually busy with school & sports & homework, that it would take constant planning to make sure this occurs.
We have had the discussions and limited success has occurred (souvenirs now are only consumables as my boys love to eat), and I am going to try to some of the other suggestions above, but I also don’t think we should have to accept something that suffocates.
What a great case Study! And what a lovely family! Thank you for sharing. 😀
I think this situation may give you an opportunity to teach another lesson. Some people have values that are different. It sounds like your in laws are lovely people, and they are very involved. They have just chosen a different way to express it. Perhaps the kids can learn to associate the blessing of gifts with their grandparents, with the understanding that that’s a “grandparent thing.”
On gift interception. One thing I do is put away some of the gifts after they have been unwrapped. Then I pull them out another time during an “I’m bored” moment. Still a lot of stuff, but at least it’s spaced out a bit.
Whatever you do, I’m sure you will find some middle ground. Happy Holidays!
Thank you! I like the idea that it’s just a “grandparent thing.”
Tough situation. Our family situation in many ways mimics Grace’s.
I agree with the starting point of a heartfelt discussion with the in-laws. However I am not sure I would take a hard line approach if the conversation doesn’t go the way Grace might like and the grandparents persist with their overindulgence. Part of a frugal lifestyle for us has ben to value experiences over stuff. But the other part of valuing a more frugal lifestyle is placing value on relationships over stuff. Which means that sometimes you accept the stuff to protect the relationship. At least that is what we did.
My kids are now in their late teens and we found the overindulgence of family started settling down once the kids were beyond the “little” stage. We found that family genuinely enjoy purchasing items for small children and often the buying was more about them than the kids. Now that the kids are older gift giving has settled into something much more reasonable which we appreciate.
In terms of teaching your kids about consumerism and “stuff” I would point out that in the end you are the parents and are the ones teaching your kids life lessons. In the end your constant messages about frugality and consumerism will likely win the day. My 20 year old son who was quite spoiled by his grandparents is one of the most frugal kids I know – because in the end it was us and our constant role modelling that taught him about money and consumerism rather than his grandparents.
In terms of concrete solutions. I agree with limiting the occasions when the kids get stuff. I would continue to request gifts of adventures rather than things. That eventually worked for us and our kids enjoyed memberships to the zoo, conservation area, and a local butterfly conservatory. I would point out that the kids value their time with grandparents rather than the things. In terms of our latter questions, we love our Dyson and it was worth the money. And in terms of Paw Patrol I would resign yourself to the new one arriving in about two weeks.
All good points to keep in mind. Except that last part about Paw Patrol play sets 😂
I’d be the grandma in this situation, and started giving my grandson 100.00 on Christmas, birthdays, and proud-of-you events for a college/whatever fund. But the thing that stands out for me here is the lack of education on the part of he in-laws. Whether or not they’re comfortable with it, their grandchildren are going to grow up in a very different world… So maybe schedule movie night with them and watch the Minimalism documentary, and the next movie night watch the Leonardo DiCaprio environmental documentary, and there’s an excellent series on Showtime? National Geographic? on current environmental issues… All very sobering. The best gift we can give children today is our presence, resiliency, creativity, and education – the truth is the STUFF is destroying us all. Even our charitable organizations don’t want more stuff because they can’t give it away and then are tasked with disposing of it – was told this by a local Good Will. I’m so very impressed with the frugal community and wish I’d engaged much sooner… We’ve created an insane world.
And, yes! I agree that grandparents have to be taught boundaries. It’s not respectful to treat our adult children and their children as if we’re still in charge of the family dynamics… Great story and comments.
Susan, I understand what you’re saying about charitable organizations. Our local charity donation place has trucks lined up to take most of the donations they receive to more needy communities 20–50 miles away from our wealthy suburb. One of the workers told me that often, when they need maybe three of something, they get donations of a hundred–and they’ve run out of places to store such things. Hence, the trucks to haul it all away. They don’t even open the bags and look anymore–they just toss them into the (large) trucks. Which is fine, I guess–someone eventually gets the items.
Thank you! Excellent points!
When I first saw the title of this post I was worried that it was my daughter-in-law who wrote it. 😛 Once I started reading I sighed with relief. My daughter-in-law actually introduced me to this blog and has been very supportive of me as I’ve been trying to turn my life around and live more frugally. I’m still struggling with this, especially at Christmas. For some reason I get nervous that I don’t have enough gifts for people to open Christmas morning, and it’s been difficult for me to amend those ways. Last year we decided to cut way back on gifts and take a family trip instead. It was the best decision ever! We made so many memories. Maybe Grace can convince her in-laws to hold off on the gifts for a full year and then take the family on a Disney cruise or some other family trip. The savings bond and college fund idea is great, and one that we did with our children the first few years of their lives, before they were aware of gifts.
Coming at this situation from the other angle (as the gift giver), I’d say that there is some inherent need to shower those we love with tangible things. I don’t know why, but it’s been a hard thing to change. Please don’t expect the in-laws to change overnight, and without a fuss. Just yesterday I emailed my daughter-in-law to find out what she wants for Christmas and she suggested I “find a charity to donate to.” 🙂 A gift certificate to Kiva.org has become one of my favorite gifts to give people.
One last thing: I went to bed last night freaking out because I felt as if I didn’t have enough “stuff” to give my kids for Christmas this year. After waking up and reading this blog and all of the great responses I not only feel as if I have enough, but maybe too much. Time to plan another family trip.
I love the family trip idea! Thank you! (I also request donations in lieu of gifts…they never comply😒)
Oh, my! My husband and I are in-laws and grandparents who may be just a teeny bit like Grace’s! One of us in particular spends many of his waking hours thinking up gifts and games and activities for his beloved grandsons!
Every once in a while, when I annoy my son and daughter-in-law by something I do or say amiss, I am surprised by how burdensome my clumsy missteps or overreach seem to be!
To me, it’s “just me” but sometimes to them it is…more. It is likely that your in-laws experience this entirely differently than you and your husband do. It might help to get a feeling for where (in their histories, hearts, minds) they are coming from,
and what it is that they think they are doing. It can help you to feel more forgiving of their (possibly unconsciously motivated) misbehaviors, and help you to skillfully help them to change.
So, my first suggestion: take it all with a grain of sand. Don’t regard them as heavyweights but as goofy grandparents freed by age and diminishing responsibilities from being “sensible” (e.g. that ancient vacuum cleaner!) They also adore your children, and take joy in engaging them with gifts! I’ll bet, oh, 25 cents, that the last thing they want to do is to annoy the living daylights out of you. If it is possible quiet the resentment, find a place of good-humored affection for them from which to speak to them. Tell them with loving kindness that you are glad that they are crazy about the children, but that you want them to help you to teach the values you hold dear.
Second suggestion, in case the first suggestion doesn’t work, and still addressing the values you want to teach your children:
There are children not far from you (the nearest shelter for people who are homeless or fleeing domestic danger, for example, or a prison playroom for visiting families) who aren’t being spoiled by anybody. Why not teach your children the joy of sharing from their abundance? They could have a special—large—”giving box” in which they could regularly put toys that they are done with, or never needed, or are moved to share with a child in need. That would allow you all to pass forward the generosity, and, at the same time, to establish sane limits on how much “stuff” crams your toy box or shelves. As they learn to make giving to others part of the household economy, the children could understand a lot about the world and their place in it, and about the limits of their need to consume stuff, and about the happiness that comes from giving joy to others.
I’m going to guess that your in-laws could be conscripted to help you to teach these values to their beloved grandchildren.
Mark my words…we will have a Giving Box by tomorrow. Love this! Thank you!
My mother was this way and I just came to appreciate it. I found that my mom was bored and just liked to shop. I would say embrace it but help her. I would tell my mom that the kids needed new shoes and she was on it. Gave her something to do and one thing off my list. Also I would get her to take the kids to the park , museum etc. they bonded that way and kept them both busy. So she may have gotten an ice cream or stuffed animal that I wouldn’t buy but oh well. She did by my daughter an iPhone in 5th grade which I was wasn’t happy about but it actually is quite handy now that she is in 8th grade. My moms gone now and I’m actually very thankful for everything she did and I think it helped me get to my FI goals sooner.
I didn’t think about how it would feel when they are gone. Great point! Thank you!
As an early childhood teacher and mom in a family of very gifty grandparents, I can empathize. The toys take up space, children begin to expect rather than enjoy them, and often as a person without a TV they also introduce commercialism through characters and shows we don’t love.
But I do believe I’d be parenting my kid through ‘resenting not getting everything’ regardless of the grandparents. That is a coming of age task that we have to work through. Maybe you don’t have to protect them from the lesson?We can’t control how other people feel. So you can’t control how seduced children feel by toys and candy, and you can’t control how much grandma loves giving the gifts which means either she gives too much or she feels unappreciated and resentful of your attempts to limit her.
In a way, the grandparents give us a chance to help our children authentically CHOOSE frugality rather than merely experiencing it. Each of us needs to feel the lure of loads of stuff, and decide it’s getting in the way of joy.
Perhaps if you take the focus of influencing grandma’s volume, you can focus each of them, grandparent and child, on the various feelings and consequences of the stuff parade.
Can you acknowledge to your child it feels exciting to get something new, but ask them to notice how long the “new” feeling lasts? Can you help them wonder about people who seem to enjoy more when they have less? (I love the Little House on The Prarie picture books for children to show children deLIGHTed with a pair of mittens and a single piece of homemade peppermint for xmas). Can you give them the burden of taking care of all those things and make sure they all get stored in their room? Make it clear that if things go unused, the child should set a time by which they should donate and maybe they can write a note to tell grandma, “thank you for the car. It’s not as fast as my other one, so now I don’t play with it. I want to give it to Cradles to Crayons because some kids don’t have any cars.” and if any objects get broken due to poor care, they need to call grandma and apologize. Then the child can enjoy the positives and negatives of stuff. By having the chance while children are young and so eager to learn from parents, your mother in law might be helping you have the chance to teach your children to CHOOSE frugality if you make sure they experience the delights and the burdens of stuff.
Maybe you can also approach Grandma on a slightly different angle using your shared interests. Can you point out to her that you feel when you watch your children’s eyes, they are looking less at her warm smile, they are making fewer memories of her embrace, and they are getting distracted by objects that they don’t connect to her? What if you asked her to put experiences first, and only give gifts as souvenirs of a memory of shared time together? THis would get you out of the ‘how much’ fight for the time being, and it would help Grandma feel the ‘memories vs. stuff’ experience, and prevent your kids from developing such a knee jerk reaction to associating grandma’s presence with receiving objects in the doorway. This might be an easier conversation to have because it’s not about what you want her to stop doing, it’s about how you want to enrich her connection to your children’s lives. It’s not exactly what you want, but it helps teach grandma and child how to value what you value so they can both really choose to move away from stuff as the glue that binds their relationship. As thinking people, we tend to want to win change through philosophical alignment, but often behavioral change happens most steadily when it starts with an innocuous change in routines. So how about insisting without compromise, that all gifting happens at the end of the visit, and should be tied to shared experiences. Perhaps that’s a rule that all parties (mom, grandma, and kid) can mutually value?
And don’t forget to stop buying grandma a sweater and help the children make something for her, or buy them tix for a wonderful shared experience together so she can see the joy that comes from doing vs. having.
You know your stuff! Excellent suggestions and insight. Thank you!
I had a similar situation with my sister (whom I was living with). She over indulged my daughter and professed she loved her so much she had to give her everything. I kept telling her no, explaining I didn’t want this but she saw me as being stingy and mean. Finally I sat her down and explained this wasn’t about money and things but values. I reminded her about other peoples kids we knew who were spoiled and unappreciative and how I didn’t want mine to grow up like that. I also reminded her how we didn’t get these things and we all grew up with strong work ethic and appreciated what we had. I guess my advice is try to appeal to them based on what this will do long term. Grandparents love to talk about “in their day” and how kids “these days” have no sense of hard work and saving up for things and not getting into debt. Perhaps you can appeal to them that you want your kids to have those old fashion values and not get caught up in the Keeping up with the Kardashians mind set.
Best of luck.
I love appealing to the “in my day” mentality! Great idea! Thank you!
Coming from a slightly different perspective here: I don’t have children, but my mom expresses her love through gift giving as well, and always gave me way too many gifts as a child (and even now still). And you’re right, having things constantly lead to many problems: not understanding the value of special occasional items, cluttering up my room/ house, disagreements with her over what I really wanted/ needed versus what she wanted to give to me, ect.
However, as I’ve gotten older, it has helped see things from her perspective: she gets as much thrill and excitement (probably more) when she finds something fun in the store for me than I ever did from getting gifts (hence why our love languages are different). So shopping and spending is more about her own experience and this fantasy she creates in mind as she envisions all the ways I will love and use this gift.
Saying this, I doubt your in-laws are trying to actively undermine your parenting, as long as your relationship is good otherwise. The compromise between me and my mom was hard one, but I don’t think yours needs to be. For my mom and I, it was about helping her realize my true needs and wants (for example a nice, but expensive kitchen appliance versus several small gadgets that I will never use), and also appropriate times to receive gifts. For example, every time I come home, she tends to have a gift for me, but I refuse to open it, and instead tell her to save it for Christmas, so that I can open it at Christmas time and have more fun. So all my gifts she buys throughout the year get put in the “Christmas pile” in the attic. That way she keeps the excitement of buying things throughout the year as she sees them, and it actually prevents a rush of buying useless presents to open just for the sake of opening presents at Christmas.
So, as some of the other advice has been, redirect their buying habit to something more useful for the children: school clothes, new shoes, ect. that you and your husband might traditionally buy yourself, and allow them the occasional “spontaneous gift” but ask them to save the other gifts for a special occasion. But encourage them to send you pics of what they are buying so 1.) you know not to get a repeat item, and 2.) be excited with them and tell them how much the kids will love X. And while you might still end up with an excessive amount of material things (I still do) it is much easier handle the excess all at once and teach valuable lessons of donating, giving, and graciously receiving as you sort through the pile with your children and help them make decisions about the 5 things they want to keep and the rest they want to donate. Just don’t do the sorting in front of your in-laws. But I do suggest involving your children in making those decisions. Children are naturally inclined to share and be generous, and if approached the right way, it may become a fun tradition in your house to go through the new and gently used items and come up with ways another child might benefit or have fun with it. I do this several times a year, and it is always a good time to imagine how another person might enjoy something I once enjoyed.
Sorry this got so long, but good luck to you!
Great ideas! Thank you!
People show their love in different ways, and for some people gift-giving is their love language. You can try to explain and redirect, but if they don’t listen, then it’s not worth jeopardizing the relationship over. Give the excess to charity and try to let it go. There are much worse problems — like those grandparents who aren’t loving, involved, or around. The last of my grandparents died when I was 12, and some of my now pretty faded memories of them are based on the times they “spoiled” me.
This is a good perspective to keep in mind. Thank you!
I had a similar situation with my parents. Its wonderful when people are generous and their love for grandchildren is awesome… but I know from personal experience what its like to deal with all the “stuff” pushed on you. I solved it with 2 way approach. I gave my parents an outlet to give – I opened 2 minor accounts for kids and gave parents account information and deposit slips. and I also got mean and angry and forbade them from bringing any kind of stuff to my house. So if they feel the need to give they deposit money into kids accounts and now when kids are older they give them money in cash too. Kids are forbidden to spend without my OK. There is never too much money and I do not mind kids having nice accounts of their own or even having cash. I let kids buy stuff they really want with 48 hrs rule before purchasing and my approval.. but overall there is no extra stuff.
I like this system! Thank you!
Possibly insisting on “stocking stuffers” only. Make sure you pick the size of the stocking 😉
We’ve been rather straight forward with our families and they know we will donate anything that doesn’t jive with our life style. It has helped keep the stuff to a minimum. My husband’s mom keeps toys in her trunk to bring and play with … knowing they cannot ‘live’ here.
I also like the idea of talking to your kids about it. They may be more receptive than your in-laws (who have been this way for decades).
Best of luck this holiday season!!
Great points. My older son will likely understand. Thank you!
Another point, since your inlaws seem to save on themselves and just want to GIVE to the grandkids, its best to explain to them that stuff for little kids is useless and it would be so much nice for kids to have their own accounts funded by grandparents. When they are old enough they can approach college with less worries and more $$$ and maybe buy a condo and a car and it would be so much more valuable to them as they grow older then toys and books that end up in trash…
Your in-laws spending/spoiling habits are clearly deeply ingrained, they’ve been living this way for years. This is going to take a change of heart and lifestyle for them, both of which take a lot of time. Could you try to communicate with them your love of simplicity, minimalism, and frugality, instead of condemning their spending habits? They don’t share your values, probably because they don’t understand them, not because they don’t respect you. Share your story, how much your life has changed since you’ve developed a new perspective on “stuff.” And try to hear and understand where they’re coming from too. If you only saw them on holidays, I’d say suck it up. But since they are close, a long term change of thinking is probably the best way! And you’re doing awesome my addressing this so early on.
I had a grandma like this when I was a kid. My sister and I were her only grandchildren, we saw her often, gifts abounded. But she wasn’t doing it on purpose. Her gift giving came from her own broken life and a desire to make our lives better than her childhood was. She was also very lonely, and was trying to find fulfillment in her life by giving us everything we wanted. I very quickly, as a child, realized that this was unhealthy and I got tired of all the gifts on my own. So don’t assume this will ruin your kids. They might see through all the consumerist crap on their own.
I like shifting the blame, for lack of a better term, into my frugality d minimalistic tendencies then onto their consumerist lifestyle. Great point! Thank you!
Why not suggest that the toys be kept at Grandma’s house? That way the kids will have something to look forward to during visits to their grandparents’ house, you don’t have to deal with toy clutter, and perhaps your in-laws will see when enough is enough, and experiences work to everyone’s advantage at a certain point…
They have TONS of toys at their house so this might show them how it feels when a space is overtaken. Great idea! Thank you!
This is definitely a passive-aggressive solution but….here goes. Discuss with your children that for each thing that comes in, something has to leave. Then, when the grandparents bring over a new thing, tell your child in front of the grandparents that now is the time to go pick out which toy they would like to give away in its place. The child can go choose something, and it can be put in a bag by the door ready to head to a local charity. Maybe if the grandparents see that the child has to give away something every time they bring something new, they’ll think about it differently. It will enforce for your kids that there is a limit to how much they need to possess and will keep the excess clutter at bay, and maybe, just maybe, the grandparents will have second thoughts when last week’s gift has already found its way to the donate box. This is such a difficult situation and I completely sympathize! Good luck!
Sometimes being passive aggressive works! This is a great idea. Thank you!
One option to think about is that rather than trying to change other people (which I’ve never seen actually work), perhaps think of this as an opportunity to help your children learn that there are all types of people in the world. We all come with different values, goals, and even different ways of expressing love. It’s very hard to not get caught up the idea that your way is so obviously better (i.e. save the planet, buy less stuff, how can they not see this). Maybe try thinking about it as the other person also be coming from a place of love, or even just a habit (i.e. I love my grandchildren, I want them to have everything so that they’ll be even happier). If you really think over buying is a tactic on their part to specifically undermine your parental rights, that’s a different ball game, but do you really think that’s what’s happening? One of your big concerns seems to be that you feel that they aren’t respecting your values, but it might help the relationship to think about if you are respecting their (albeit very, very different) values? You might also think about where family relationships come into your value priority list as well. As much as I wish that my family would funnel that seemingly endless toy money into a college savings account or a charitable gift, that’s my wish, not theirs. To me, that means I get to mention my preference to them, but I don’t get to control their choices anymore than they get to control mine.
On a practical note regarding the stuff (coming from a non-consumer household with over-buying family members as well), what has worked well for us is getting the children (4 and 2) involved in sorting and passing along items from our household. I try to find value in teaching the kids how to think about and practice what do we keep in our house vs what do we find new homes? It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. It has been a fun learning process for all of us, for example the four year old is particularly loathe to donate any of the cat’s toys, but is more generous with his own stuff. We also have specific spaces in our house for toys, so when new things come in, we typically use a one in/one out plan (give or take). We also talk about where to donate specific things (i.e. outgrown clothes go to a younger cousin, toys go to other children, old towels go to the shop for rags, etc.). Even though the excess of stuff coming in doesn’t match my value set, seeing the four year old think of re-purposing or donating items he no longer uses, does match. I’d also add that just because he does expect a new present from Granny each time he sees her (because that’s what happens based on his past experience), he does not expect me to buy him a new toy when I go on a trip, or when we go to the store (again, because that’s not what happens based on his experience). Even a two and four year old can quickly learn the idea that different people have different rules, and I think that’s a really useful skill to reinforce.
Anyway, this is just a wordy way of suggesting that you may want to try taking a step back and looking at this “problem” from a different point of view to see if you can find joy (or at least acceptance) in what you can control while letting go of what you can’t. Never an easy task for sure, but trying can’t hurt. May your holidays be filled with love!
Great perspective and suggestions! Thank you!
I see a lot of good suggestions here — and “leave the toys at the grandparents’ house” and “have a good, frank discussion” were two of the ones I immediately thought of.
When my kids were little and would get too much stuff at Christmas from family, we started a rule: No new toys, movies or craft items could be played with until the kids went through their existing stuff and brought out everything they no longer played with or wanted. We separated that into “still good” bags (after cleaning them up, if needed) and a “trash” bag for broken toys. We donated the good toys and got rid of the broken ones. THEN they could have their new stuff in their room. If they got a gift they weren’t too fond of, we asked if they’d like to re-gift it or donate it. The kids actually liked doing this system, and in our very small house, it kept toys to a manageable level. They would find two or three bags of good toys to donate each time, and would eagerly hunt their rooms all over for all of the accessories so some little boy or girl could play properly with the donated toy. They learned the real pleasure of giving to others, and are still generous as grown ups.
I feel so blessed to have had a grandmother (I only had one grandmother living when I was born) who set the bar very high for grandparents, and parents who followed my grandmother’s example. My husband’s parents died before our kids were born, so I don’t know how they would have been to deal with. My own grandmother, though, doted on her grandkids but refused to give them ANYTHING their parents had not pre-approved, right down to a cookie. Her first question was always, “Did you ask your mother?” when we asked for anything. Christmas and birthdays, she always asked the parents what was acceptable to give. People say she sounds so strict and that grandparents have a duty to spoil their grandkids with things their parents won’t get the kids, but they are wrong; she was unstinting in her love instead of material goods, and all of us grandkids loved her to death. My parents appreciated and followed her fine example, thank heavens!
Wonderful ideas…I like this system! Thank you!
My kids are incredibly fortunate that they have 3 living great grandmothers, a great grandfather, and a step great grandfather (in addition to 4 grandparents). They’re all super generous, but learned a long time ago (when I was little) that we didn’t need toys, so they all send checks for birthdays and Christmas (one grandmother also sends us an anniversary card and check)! These are usually around $25/each, so I can put a few hundred in their savings for their birthdays. It’s great to supplement the token amount that we contribute (in debt payoff/saving phase).
One great grandmother (anniversary card one) sends cards for every holiday (even the 3 month old got a Thanksgiving card). Its cheap and the boys love getting mail. We visit her a few times per month and she has started giving the boys food!! Which is awesome! Usually it’s fruit, maybe cookies/crackers, occasionally pudding or applesauce. She even gave me a few packs of wipes after the baby was born. Nothing extravagant, but things we might buy anyways.
I walked the older 2 to my dad’s house last night to pick up fruit (2 pears and an apple) she’d sent over for them. They were excited about fruit (not really surprising for them, but they practically ran there in the cold). Anyways, maybe food is a compromise? Or consumables?
Great suggestions. We do get cards for every holiday, however minor, and lots of food from them but I like the notion of them buying stuff we’d buy anyway. Thank you!
We have the exact same problem. In fact I was wondering if my wife started a blog I hadn’t been informed of… We have two approaches. The first is suggesting the toys be kept at grand mas house.
The second is a toy purge. Literally as soon as new stuff comes in the old stuff goes to good will (along with some of the new stuff if we can head it off). Its a good tax write off and when the kids are older we can explain all the good they are doing by gifting it to those in need. My in laws are even aware of this, though its not stated directly. Still the flow continues. I’m starting to learn the names of the folks at the local donation centers.
I get it…I’m on a first name basis with volunteers at several local charities!
Have them take 1/2 to 3/4 of the stuff they buy and add it to a 529 plan. Tell them you need them to help fund their education, this in turn helps you fund your retirement. Show them the costs of education. I did this with my parents, they loved being able to see them graduate and knowing they had something to do with it. Both my kid had partial scholarships and it still cost me $250,000. They both graduated in 3.5 years. The husband should have this discussion, it doesn’t usuallly go well if the “outlaw” is there. Good luck
Great suggestion. As the “outlaw” this may be out of my hands. Thank you!
I don’t have kids yet, but I love these suggestions. One compromise might be to insist that they only give gifts when the kids come to their house. Some people have suggested that the grandparents should have to keep the gifts at their house anyway, and they might slow things down when they realize how quickly things accumulate. It would also:
1. Have the kids associate the gifts with going to their grandparents’ house instead of their own home, and possibly be less likely to assume that their parents will also give them everything they want.
2. It respects the grandparents’ wishes to give gifts, but keeps them out of the house and keeps parents’ rules enforced at home.
3. If visits to the grandparents’ home are less frequent than the grandparents’ visits to the children’s home, the gift-giving opportunities are automatically decreased.
4. If the kids do become accustomed to receiving gifts every time they go to their grandparents’ house, and then there are occasions where they don’t receive them and get upset, the grandparents might realize the negative effects their excessive gift-giving has on the kids and reduce it on their own.
This might be a good middle ground for the near future, and then maybe as they get more accustomed to the idea, stricter steps can be implemented. I do agree with other commenters that more discussion should continue, even if they don’t change. If they choose to buy your children gifts against your wishes they should at least have to listen to you explaining why that’s not okay with you even if they’ve heard it before.
Great suggestions! Thank you!
I agree with so many of these suggestions folks have given here. As an empty nester with my grands far away, I’ve been guilty of over-gifting. I’m sure your in-laws do it out of love for your children and don’t see the possible harm all these gifts might do to their developing characters. Perhaps you and your husband could make a childless date with your in-laws (a lunch? A coffee?) and explain again the values you’re trying to instill and ask again that they limit their gift-giving to small birthday or holiday presents. Ask if they might instead be pen pals to your kids – exchanging a weekly or monthly letter might be fun. I know mine really enjoyed getting mail at a very young age and you might be able to use the letters as teaching moments as well. Or they might want to have a weekly or monthly “date” with one child at a time to really get to know them. Or even a weekly phone call to speak to one child at a time (as well as all the regular visiting – I know they’re close by). As so many have said, I’m sure all the gifts are given out of love and wanting a connection with their beautiful grandchildren. Being in that situation myself, I can appreciate how kind you and your husband are being about this.
Great suggestions! Thank you!
It’s the prerogative of grandparents to “spoil” their grandchildren and it’s the responsibility of parents to set boundaries. This means that the parents get to decide how many toys the children are allowed to have (ie; the kids can pick out 2 toys of their choice) and the rest can be donated to needy children’s organizations. No explanation is necessary to the grandparents. If the kids tell the grandparents and they ask about what happened to the toys, then Dad can explain why he and Mom did what they did. After a while, the grandparents and kids will accept the situation. At the very worst, the parents will have to stick with donating the toys. There’s no need to be resentful and a simple thank you is all that is required of the children. Consistency and boundaries always with kindness and appreciation is what will work.
Thank you! Nothing wrong with donating toys to those who have less!
I am looking at it from the perspective of being a soon to be grandmother, who grew up as one of five children on a dairy farm in the 60’s. I learned to fix just about everything with baling twine and duct tape, was paying for my own clothes and dr/ dentist appointments by 14. Had many Christmas mornings with nothing but an orange or a grapefruit in my Christmas stocking, and nothing under the tree. It never bothered me on e bit. But, I am now 62 and have lived frugally my entire life, but do tend to spend too much on our daughter and son in law. I know I need to stop spending on them, but it is as if I have a need to make up for the lean years. And now that they will become parents, I will truly need to reign myself in!!!! I think having the son chat with his parents will do the trick. I think they truly are trying to be generous in a nice way, and do not see it from the young couple’/ viewpoint.
Thank you. I agree they’re probably just not seeing it from our perspective. Enjoy your grandbaby!
After acknowledging how appreciative you are of your in-laws and how thoughtful they are with your children, I would politely ask them that instead of giving your children things, that they give regular contributions to a 529a in your child’s name. I view this as an all around win: you have less stuff, your children grow up with good values, and your in-laws can feel great about setting up their grandchildren for success! I just can’t imagine any grandparent that would not want to give their grandchildren the gift of a higher education. My grandparents did this for all of their grandchildren (and gave me one real present a year) and I know we all are forever thankful (and all 5 are debt free!)
My one other thought is: ask them that instead of buying gifts for your kids, that they take each kid (or together depending on your kids!) on a vacation once per year. This can be a big weeklong cruise or small weekend getaway depending on what they are comfortable with. Again this is an all around win: your children will value experiences, your in-laws will get ONE ON ONE time with their grandchildren (I mean… Does it get better!?), and there is an opportunity for you and your husband to get a date week/weekend (or vacation sans kids) to yourself.
Again, my grandparents did this for all of their grandchildren on a rotating yearly schedule (one grandchild per year) and now grown up, every time we get together funny stories from our various vacations always come up! These are the absolute best memories I have about my grandparents… I don’t have those same memories as the other side of the family… Just that they gave me a lot of stuff (that I don’t have).
Hope this helps Grace! You sound like wonderful parents!
Thank you! These are all wonderful suggestions. We aren’t perfect parents by any stretch but we try very hard to do right by those two rascals!
Make it known that all gifts will be played with and enjoyed for one month! Yay! Then they will be lovingly donated to a worthy charity in the child’s name. Of course, gifts of experiences are different and will be enjoyed by the child!
There’s an idea I haven’t heard yet. Thank you!
My husband and I dealt with this with my mom, and my in-laws. We tried talking to them which did not work initially. We had to get firmer and firmer over time as it did not stop. Every Christmas, Easter, birthday, etc. we had more and more stuff enter our house. We explained the dilemma in terms of excess, frugality, and simply space parameters within our home. None of this worked. It boiled down to the fact that our values were being undermined and our four kids were witnessing their grandparents disregard what we were trying to instill. We developed a single gift rule for each child and informed the grandparents that anything more would be donated. We explained that they had a right to give the gifts, and once received, we had the right to do as we wished with them. We did make an exception though for anything they wished to bring over to our home for the children to play with while they were here visiting. This ended up being a good compromise. The grandparents got to purchase whatever they wanted as long as it went back home with them. Over time, we were able to persuade them to give the kids passes to a theme park that they liked. It was the gift that kept on giving throughout the year and did not clutter the house. It was a win-win situation which took us years to arrive at.
That sounds like a good compromise and it’s great to hear from someone who’s been there. Thank you!
The ultimate Mother-in-Law rule (because it is rarely a Father in Law problem) is that the mother is in charge of the kids and her home. I never buy any gifts for my family or even for my own son without the specific gift being recommended by my daughter-in-law. At Christmas and Birthdays, she at my request sends me links to specific items that she wants in her house or on her husband’s back. You need to clearly draw the line in the sand, and your husband needs to make this line clear to his parents or other members of his family. You should make it clear to your own parents and extended family. Your children are small as yet, but soon your desire to establish their values will be permanently compromised by these hustlers who are running roughshod over you. My recommendation is that you establish alternate outlets for their generosity and that can include trips to parks, fishing at the local dock, visits to the library and participation in reading hour,visits to zoos and museums, walks around the neighborhood, flying kites, eating an approved lunch packed by mom in the park, visiting the fire station, visiting a farm and the list goes on and on. Have them begin to teach skills. Coloring, mixing bread or cookie batter or even growing a child’s garden. Blowing bubbles into the wind. Cleaning rooms. Learning to cut along the lines with child safety scissors (cut out pictures from magazines). Small and large motor skills are essential to good starts in school. Try enticing them to help the children by putting together puzzles or learning simple dance steps. Your four year old child can actually begin to learn to read music. For that matter your four year old can begin to learn to read. Your in-laws want their grandchildren to be excited to see them. This life-change will take some effort on your part to retrain your in-laws by planning simple involvement activities for them and their grandchildren so that the excitement is generated by an activity and not a gift. As the change is made — Yahoo!! — you have solved your problem. The critical element to your success is to establish an approved list of items that are allowed for your children and when they can receive them ——–and make it clear that you are in charge of your children and your home. You are allowed to express your feelings. Trust me I am the mother-in-law and they must respect you because YOU are the mother.
You really know your stuff! Thank you for some great perspective and suggestions!
Tell them they can give the kids each 1 gift on holidays and birthdays. The rest of the time, just spending time with the kids is really the best gift. Have you considered writing them a sweet, kind letter extolling all their virtues and then set your boundaries? I just wonder if that would give them time to digest the issue w/o being confronted.
I think a letter is a great idea. Thank you!
Someone already mentioned the idea of a “power struggle” – and that’s what this is. Your in-laws think they know better about how to handle this situation with their grandkids than you do with your own children. It’s a relatively small issue now because it’s gift-giving, but what about when it’s a disagreement over which school they go to, or what kind of car they start driving at 16, or when they get their first cell phone? It’s veiled in a very sweet intention of doting on the kiddos, and they probably aren’t doing it on purpose (and certainly not with any malice!!!), but that’s what’s going on here. This requires you and your husband to stand firm, together, on this and set a precedent that you are in charge of these decisions for your kids. Since they are his parents, I agree that he needs to be the one to administer a tough love style conversation with them, making sure they know this is something the two of you have decided together. If you haven’t read “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, I’d recommend it. They talk about the importance of laying down boundaries in relationships, and it’s full of practical tips on the types of language to use and how to approach these conversations.
Now, onto less difficult things – the vacuum. We just purchased a new one this summer and discovered that this Hoover model is actually rated better than the Dyson models by Consumer Reports in the bagless upright , and for about 1/5 the cost: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002HFDLCK/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
We have mostly wood floors and a Golden Retriever, and this thing is great! I highly recommend it!
Good luck, Grace!!!
Thank you for the recommendations! I plan to read that book for sure. Also, we have that vacuum! It’s great!
Your first question struck me: how do you make other adults do what you want them to do, without risking making them angry? Well, you can’t. So the first thing I would recommend is acknowledging the limits to your own control, and stop feeling like if you can find just the perfect way to say it, you can convince them to listen and comply. You do your best, and how they respond is on them; it is neither your responsibility to fix, nor your fault if things don’t go as you’d prefer.
The second thing I would recommend is to try to understand them first. You, like all the rest of us, are wrapped up in your own head; you have had a long journey to get to where you are, and you and your husband have both struggled through difficult things to get there, and as a result of all of that you now feel like you have figured it out and discovered what is “right.” The thing you need to realize is that your parents have *exactly the same story to tell*. Something — or things — made them who they are. And who that is, right now, is someone who thinks that buying stuff = showing love. So when you say, “please don’t give my kids so much consumerist crap,” they hear “please stop showing my children how much you love them.”
Now, personally, I am more aligned with your values (or else I wouldn’t be reading here — duh!). But what I think is right *for me*, and what you think is right *for you*, is completely and utterly irrelevant to what your parents and in-laws think is right *for them*.
So if you really want to find a way to convince your parents not to give you so much stuff, you need to first see the issue through their eyes. They need you to understand that this is how they show love, and to find ways to fill that really deep need they have — you’re not trying to shut them out, you want them to build an even deeper, closer relationship, because you think they are worth so much more than some cheap plastic piece of crap. This will get easier when the kids get older, because they will be able to interact more as people. For ex., my teenager has spent the past few months wanting to learn all of grandma’s family recipes, and she and her dad just spent the weekend at my in-laws making those recipes for grandma, who is now in the middle of chemo and not eating much. Maybe it’s buying the kids ice skates — and then teaching them to skate. Maybe it’s buying horseback riding lessons — and then taking them to/from those lessons every time. Maybe it’s teaching the kids the family recipes, and then the kid can teach the grandparents how to put those recipes together into an online recipe book. You start with the little stuff while they are young, and grow with them — my Granddad taught me how to whistle when I was 4, and how to drive a lawn tractor at 8; my dad taught me how to wash a car; my Grandma taught me how to unmold a Jell-o mold; my Granny taught me how to make jam; etc.
So for now, yes, have the discussion, but have it from a place of inclusion and love and understanding, vs. anger. Because if you tell your parents “it’s you or the stuff,” at best they will be hurt, and at worst they will choose the stuff because of their own emotional needs. So figure out in advance how far you are willing to push this to enforce your anti-materialist values, at least in your own house (ITA with the other comments that you can let them keep all the stuff at their house). Just don’t forget that materialism is only one value, and maybe not even the most important one; there are many other values, and our actions every day teach those to our children as well — how you treat people who are imperfect, how you love them in spite of their failings, how you respect and tolerate and accept people whose views are different than your own, how you discuss differences of opinion with compassion and respect, how you choose which hill is worth dying on, etc. etc. etc.
And finally, stop worrying about “Is there a way to raise my children to value frugality while surrounded by a constant stream of excess?” Of course there is. You managed it, right? And without even someone like you around as a guide. But this goes back to the same issue: even if you could engineer a perfect, frugal upbringing for your kiddos, those kids may still go in the opposite direction and reject it all as a life of unnecessary deprivation. This is equally true regardless of whether the grandparents decide to be a good example or a horrible warning. Kids are flexible; I mean, I grew up with both a grandma who had an entire Christmas tree worth of gifts for me and a mom who totally didn’t believe in consumerist crap (and, just for good measure, a dad/stepmom who showered gifts on my half-brothers while giving me a token or two). And yet I survived and have become neither a monk nor a wastrel; I took the good and the bad, and I pieced everything together into what I thought was right for me. Just like you did, and just like your kids will do. You do the best you can, you talk with your kids about your values, but you don’t control the outcome.
Thank you for pointing out that I should look at this situation with more empathy. You are absolutely correct that I cannot change others.
This is a beautiful comment!!! What an excellent perspective and I agree wholeheartedly with it and this comes from a minimalist mom who utilizes a 10 item wardrobe so I’m pretty hardcore. At the end of the day, it’s our relationships that matter most and not whether I can control the influx of stuff and where it was bought. I have hurt my in laws feelings in the past over their gifts and I regret that. Our relationship was more important than my annoyance with the stuff. Your kids will learn from what you and your husband do but ultimately they will decide when they are older how they interact with money and stuff. You just do the best you can do.
Hi Grace: Here are my suggestions.
1. Insist that your children write a Thank You note for their gifts every.single.time. As they are young, you can help them until they can write for themselves. They have to acknowledge what they got and why they like it. Aside from teaching them how to be appreciative it will serve as a reminder, to them, of how much they have received. That is the other side of the coin of “living with less” & frugality.
2. Relax a bit, they are 2 & 4 and right now it is EASY to buy a lot of presents for them. As they age the deluge will slow down. It will become harder and harder to buy for them. I promise.
3. Situations change: your in-laws will age, get tired of over-giving, money situations will change and who knows what else. Take a deep breath, these are early days.
4. Don’t underestimate your influence on your own children. Your words do sink in more than you realize. Have faith in yourself and your parenting.
5. Vacuum: Dyson. Hands down. Well worth the money. In the rare case that something breaks down, parts are easy to replace by purchasing online and doing yourself – it’s built that way. I’ve had mine for over 8 years and it’s still going strong.
Thank you! Sometimes I feel like my words won’t carry as much weight as all the flashy toys but it’s a relief to hear I still have clout.
All I can think of while reading the case study and the comments is all those eisodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” and just wish Grace the best of luck. I think there have been some good suggestions made, would it be interesting to hear a report later of how things went. I am older, no kids, niece and nephew now adults, but this certainly does resonate when I think about giving gifts to other couples with young children.
I will update Mrs. Frugalwoods and, if she chooses, she can let everyone know how this unfolds!
I don’t have kids but I’ve dealt with this exact same problem with an overbearing family member who would not stop giving me and my fiance gifts. She would give us useless gifts too like little knick nacks and the such all the time. Almost everytime we saw her, finally I put my foot down and said stop giving me gifts. I know they are your family members but you need to be firm with them and tell them no. No gifts. If they can’t handle the suggestions you’ve given them then they can’t handle it. Another suggestion might be setting a gift limit?
That’s a great suggestion! Thank you!
We’ve been there… For my mom it was mostly buying clothes for my daughter. I tried telling her honestly to stop, but it’s like discussing politics, nobody really listens, you just go in these circles of “but don’t you want her to be happy?!”. What seems to have worked is:
1. Communicating to my mom that I want to be the one to buy her things also. If she does it all, I get robbed of the joy and satisfaction of giving my daughter the things she needs and/or wants. I think this one kind of got my mom in the heart, but in a good way.
2. Like a lot of others said: letting some of the gifts live at Grandma’s. We have a small house, so it’s easily believable, but we just repeat that we don’t have room for everything and to keep the toys, some have to stay at Grandma’s (and Grandma should love that, because she wants them to be happy over there too, right???).
3. Talking about how happy our frugal-ish lifestyle is and hoping the seeds settle into their heads too!
4. Letting go a bit. Giving gifts is obviously my mother’s love language and it sounds like it’s your in-law’s as well. Giving makes my mom happy and her money is, of course, hers to spend. I know it can definitely create two conflicting atmospheres of financial responsibility and discipline, but remember, you are still their mom, they live in your house, with your rules. They will eventually learn from both examples that there is a big difference and hopefully choose the right financial path for themselves. And of course, in every dilemma there is an opportunity, and it seems you are blessed to have many opportunities to teach your kids about thankfulness and gratitude!
Also, sometimes I just hide a bunch of toys and pretend like I don’t know what she’s talking about when my daughter notices they’re gone. Mean? Yes. But sometimes it works!
I have this problem with my mom as well and I also try your #1! When I was a kid, Santa brought lots of gifts. Santa only brings a gift or two per kid to my kids because my mom brings so many gifts she has done his job for him! This makes Santa a little bit sad because he enjoys choosing and giving gifts at Christmas.
Thank you for the great suggestions!
Perhaps a quick but effective solution…
My sister’s nephews (her husbands brother’s kids) live near their grandma. She would always bring them gifts (everyone said it was excessive but she would laugh them off and say “oh but I’m grandma!”), until one day she stopped by without one. The oldest looked her square in the eye and said, “Grandma, where’s my gift?” She rethought the whole approach after that realization that she was creating a habit.
I have a feeling this is a line she’s going to hear VERY soon. Hopefully she will get the message! Thank you!
I have the exact same problem with my in-laws. I was raised very frugally and my husband not so much. He is definitely the spender in the family and while I have curtailed A LOT of his spending, he definitely learned it from his Mom. My in-laws live 10 minutes down the road, and while my soon-to-be 4 year old does go to preschool for half days, grandma, for the most part, watches him the rest of the day…and has been my primary babysitter for his entire life, which has saved my husband and I a ton in day care costs. Throughout the year, there will be random toys/DVD’s bought for my son by his grandparents…and coming up quickly, will be the exorbitant present extravaganza that is Christmas at my in-laws. They will far outspend everyone else combined…and I have no clue how to get them to scale down. I dare not say anything as my mother-in-law may just decide to no longer watch our son if we criticize too much. I’ve tried explaining how I’ve started a star-earning system at our house. Our son can earn gold stars for picking up toys and helping take out the trash, etc. Once he earns enough gold stars he can turn them in for something he has been wanting or a treat. I was hoping she would do something similar, but that hasn’t happened. I would have my husband talk to his parents, but I get along with them better than he does, so there is no hope there. So, I feel like I’m stuck. Hopefully, things will slow down when he starts full time school in a little over a year.
Now that I read this, I would like to back up and state that my in-laws are wonderful people! I should probably just request the comment be removed as I don’t want to sound too complain-y. I should be happy that my son was blessed with in-laws that want to spend time with him. I mean tis the season to appreciate what we have, right?
Don’t fret, Beth! This is a safe space to share how you’re feeling.
Beth, I “got” how much you appreciate your in-laws from your comment. I do not think you were complaining too much, you are just stating a difficulty you are having. Having a different view on gift giving than your in-laws, does not mean you do not love them dearly. We all know that!:)
Believe me, I totally get it! Thank you for sharing!
I agree the husband should talk to his parents but I don’t agree with Grace intercepting the gifts and giving them away.That might be hurtful to the in laws if they found out and cause tension between them and the in laws.
If the in laws still keep doing it after Grace’s husband has talked to them than you just need to let it go.It would be difficult for your children and you if the relationship with the in laws ended or became injured.
That’s a good point. Thank you!
I have a little different perspective as an older first-time mom to young children. (Many of my friends have children in college or are grandparents.) I also love toys and giving gifts. I have to work hard at reigning myself in because we can afford the toys, we all love toys, and I stay home with the kids so they have all day to play with the toys and often have friends over to play. I see your point of view as well, and you certainly have a right to set the rules for your household and a lack of clutter is lovely. I think everyone in this situation needs to give a little for this to work. Your husband needs to be willing to talk to his parents honestly. His parents need to be willing to cut back and honor your wishes. You may need to relax your idea of the perfect amount of toys a bit and reassure yourself that your husband turned out ok after growing up like this. Perhaps you could use a shelving unit in the garage to create a toy library where they can be checked out and returned to control clutter? Or let the library be at the in-laws so they can stock it to their heart’s content and the kids can take home a toy and then return it and pick a different one? You sound like you have a great head on your shoulders and will come up with creative solutions to this dilemma.
I love that! Thank you?
Wow there are so many great suggestions here! My two cents worth is this: I believe I would ask the inlaws over for dinner one night and together with your husband I would try explaining in a very loving way that you BOTH love how they love your children, but that you fear they will begin to see them as deliverers go treats rather than wonderful grandparents with more to offer than toys. In that light, you would prefer them to put a few dollars in a jar to save for future needs every time they feel compelled to purchase toys that will eventually be thrown out. Tell them of your struggles to save for college ( real or imagined) and your concerns for the expenses they will face as they get older…cars, insurance, college, sports, etc, and just how helpful it would be to have this little fund available for them THEN. It would also solve your concerns that your children may begin to just see the grandparents as a means to get more stuff. Tell them you want the children to value them for the loving people they are, not as gift givers. Be sure to remind them they are more than welcome to bring treats on appropriate holidays (that you approve). They are obviously very loving and caring people who share their love through giving. By all means encourage them to do so, but explain what you’ve said here. If you have already done this to no avail, then, as you said, I would do my best to intercept those gifts (or spirit them away when the kids go to bed!!) and donate them or at least put them on a rotation where so many toys are not always available at the same time. I always did that with my children’s toys anyway eventually rotating them out the door by selling them or donating them! They just didn’t need so much, so many less played with things were placed in rotation and just donated. You’re in a tight spot, there’s no doubt about that. Good luck. This too shall pass!
Great thoughts. Thank you!
My husband and I lived for decades constantly playing defense with both sets of grandparents trying to undermine the rules we had for raising our children, among other things. I’m going to be frank here, they do “get it” – they just don’t care and are telling you by not respecting your wishes that they are going to do what they want and you can’t do anything about it. There is no way to do this without having any kind of fallout. They’re not going to like being called out for disrespecting your feelings and rules regarding your own children. It’s a power struggle and it will go on forever unless you put a stop to it.
Every family is different. We both came from families that had a hard time dealing with the fact they no longer had complete control over their children when they became adults. In addition, we had both sides trying to outdo the other to be the “cool grandparents” and the ones the kids loved better. In addition to my mother just plain trying to get my kids to love her better than me. (Yeah, big issues here)
Your kids are young, take charge now, because I promise you that it will be harder later for several different reasons. I recommend telling the grandparents ( in whatever words you choose) that if the gifting doesn’t come down to a dull roar that the gifts will be donated to needy kids. My in-laws got it, grudgingly, but they got it. My mom had to test the waters and she did – once. I made good on my threat and that problem was solved, too. Also, hubby needs to step up. Thankfully, my husband had no problem putting his foot down to his parents. (It was my only saving grace).
We all want to keep peace, but we found out the hard way that it comes at a steep price all its own sometimes.
Very valid point. Thank you!
No easy way out of this one Grace. I have to admit that I am that same Grandma. I was a single mother and the father of my two boys was a non-participant after our divorce, so we got by on little. Spent time together doing stuff in lieu of having stuff. However without even realizing it I became a grandmother on a mission to make up for all the “stuff” my kids lacked. That is until my son pulled me aside and firmly told me to stop. I was a little hurt initially, but mostly embarrassed at my lack of thought and sensitivity. Now instead of more stuff, my focus is on the gift of meaningful time. When I am with them I REALLY play with them instead of giving them more stuff for them to play with. At Christmas my gift to my children and grandchildren is a weekend together at the beach or at the mountain. Everyone has a fabulous time together, and when asked if they want gifts or a family weekend getaway, all the kids unanimously want to spend time together in lieu of getting more “stuff”. Based on personal experience, my advice is that you and your husband to have an honest conversation with your in-laws and gently tell then (don’t ask) that their gifting habits have to change. Even if they don’t understand and it causes an initial rift, the long term benefits for everyone will be well worth it.
You give me hope that change is possible! Thank you!
This is certainly a tricky situation. Thinking about our own personal situation, I feel our families can tell that we try to live frugally and not accumulate too much “kid stuff” so they understand we don’t prefer that to be continuously added. I would agree that it’s probably time for Grace’s husband to intervene or at least try to speak with his parents about this. He would know them best and hopefully they’ll get the picture once he explains. I like the idea of intercepting the gifts or donating them, but I’d hate to respond when my in-laws asked what my son thought of a certain gift. Being up front is probably the better choice.
It is possible that Grace’s in-laws do not agree with the way their grandchildren are being raised and don’t agree with the frugality mentality. It is a difference in lifestyle preferences and should be respected. Without meaning to, they have put the Grace & her husband in a very awkward position. It is wonderful that they love the children, but need to find an appropriate way of demonstrating their affection without undermining Grace or their son.
I would speak to them one last time (as a couple.) If they don’t agree to adhere to the frugal rules of the household, I would be tempted to say something similar when they showed up with gifts in the future. “It is very kind that Grandma & Grandpa have given you another gift–but remember, this means you must donate something that you already own because you have been blessed with more than enough!” Once they realized that continuing on the current path isn’t working, I think they may be more amenable to change their ways.
Perhaps they would consider making a small donation of money to a special bank account to commemorate special events? When the children turn 18, it will be helpful to have money set aside for a car, first apartment or furthering their education and it will help them in life in a way that is more beneficial than accepting items which will eventually be donated.
Nothing to add only wanted to say this was a refreshing change from the usual comments younread elsewhere!
I’m so glad to hear that! We have a pretty awesome community here and I love our readers–so full of helpful, sincere insight and advice :). Glad to have you with us!
Maybe adapt this “Mommy and Daddy” quiz for the grandparents and give your kids’ answers to them for Christmas. (My friend’s son did this in his first grade class and it was very cute!) The questions like #20 “How do you know grandma and grandpa love you?” are bound to elicit answers like “because she hugs me” or something like that. It might emphasize the point that kids are fond of the people in their lives for how they relate rather than the things they buy.
I think you are wonderful parents! And because you are you will prevail. Better that you might upset someone temporarily than that you should allow something negative to take root in your children’s lives. And loving grandparents who want access to their grandchildren have a powerful incentive to accept your values.
Our kids have 3 sets of grandparents and all 3 overdo it with gifts. My mom will ask what to get or if X is okay but then she gets upset if I say no or suggest something else and she’ll get me whatever she wants anyhow. So I don’t know why she asks. My FIL gets a ton of cheap loud toys that break very quickly. I feel bad about the landfill, but I throw them out as soon as they break. MIL will ask for Christmas and birthdays, but she will also send random presents all year. Example: I sent her a cute picture of my 5 year old at the library. Two days later, she sent us a package with 12 children’s books! I mean, seriously? We were just at the library!
Smile and say thank you. It’s not worth ruining the relationship. The children will quickly learn that stuff doesn’t make you happy if you set that example on a daily basis.
I had a friend in med school who had strong memories of her parents having her and her sibling choose 1-2 of their Christmas presents each year and donating them to charity. Still in the box, never used. They spoke of their blessings and sharing and discussed their values with the kids. She loved the idea so much, she continued the practice into med school. Just as the giver can do whatever they want as a gift, so can the recipient. It might be hard at first, or not the message you want, but may help.
I am going to suggest that you ask them to please share a skill(sewing, building, gardening, sports) with the kids and putting money into an investment account(I love vanguard) for each child’s use in the future for their needs. One set of my parents have bought into this, one set just don’t get it. Love them and go on whatever their choice. They will be with you such a short time. Relax and have the kids clean out their toys quarterly and give them to a local church or daycare, or needy family. Feel blessed they have grandparents who love them and are with them. We can not always be the one in control.
It is interesting that this is an extremely common issue our generation faces in raising kids! I have three children and may suggest a few simple ideas: 1. Make a wishlist on Amazon where grandparents have public access. I will add art materials or open-ended toys and send out an email reminder at birthdays and Christmas to keep these items in mind! 2. A visual system for something intangible is a great way to keep the focus on giving an experience. Such as, giving a membership to the zoo? Having the grandparent come over and simply draw on a piece of paper, then putting it on the fridge, and each time adding an animal ( they can draw it at home, giving it to the child when they visit) as they continue to reinforce, “each time when I come over I will add another animal, until the last animal is in the zoo- that means we are going to the zoo!” Or a paper chain for a vacation. Anything “advent” style for both the kiddos and the grandparents to touch and build excitement! 3. Have an activity playdough/puzzle/magnets ready to go that the child only gets out when the grandparents are there, which can transition the visit smoothly into quality time! Good luck! You’ll do great! 🙂
Those are such good ideas! LOVE that the “advent”-style zoo would teach delayed gratification… I’m definitely borrowing this!
as a 70-year old mother of two (no grandchildren) it’s easy for me to say this: the in-laws are Grace’s husband’s problem. HE needs to step up and handle this. and, many years ago when friends/relatives/divorced dad presented unacceptable gifts (guns, war toys, etc.) those items magically disappeared overnight, never to reappear. i make no apologies. best wishes.
Great Nan has taken responsibility for paying for shoes for her two great grandsons aged nearly five and two.
Shoes are important, she knows her contribution is greatly appreciated.
We ask permission before buying toys, clothes or books. It is easy to send a photo, and we are not offended if we receive a ‘no, thank you.’ We do not want to out-do the parents’ presents.
Maybe you could make a One-In-One-Out policy and let the kids decide what to get rid of. Then, they might ask their grandparents not to get them some things because they’ll have to get rid of other toys they love. They might be too young to say anything now, but eventually it will at least make them think.
I agree with Mrs. FW that your husband or your kids have to take the lead on this. The givers aree not your parents, so you get to stay quiet if you even want to be present for the conversation. If it were your parents, your hubby would be off the hook. If your husband isn’t willing to step up and do this, then your in-laws might be getting mixed messages from you two and then have a better excuse for continuing their deluge of gifts.
This entire blog post was clear, polite, and well written. Why not just let them read it? Best of luck to you and your family!
I’ve been married for decades. My MIL is mentally ill. You never know what Christmas will bring, a huge offering of consumer madness or a paltry gift from the dollar store. Over the years we have told my daughter that MIL has different standards than we do. We don’t take a stand, we don’t alienate people, we go with the flow. Not everyone is going to buy into your life choices. Kids whining? Explain to them that it’s tough and why. Nobody is entitled to a bunch of consumer crap at our place, sorry. Grandma gave it to you? Go ask there.
You might never win this battle….is it worth it to try and convert people why clearly don’t want to be converted?
Wow! 162 comments in less than twelve hours!
I wonder if reading this blog would be helpful, (as a few people have suggested). Would that open up a conversation of why gift giving is so important to the grandparents? Or write a letter full of love to them?
Do the grandparents ever play with the children and the toy? That is, are things taking the place of not knowing how to play or converse with very small children? (I don’t think so, but it might be the case).
Are both grandparents equally committed to gifting? If spoken to individually by just the son or just the daughter-in-law, to one individual, would that throw more light on the situation?
Also, are the grandparents able to spend money on themselves? (It doesn’t sound like they are in financial difficulty). I can respect frugalizing the vacuum cleaner if it still works, yet get frustrated with people who, for instance, won’t go on trips they want to because they don’t know how to spend money on themselves when they have a right to do so for their own joy.
Start with the simplest thing: Ask them why they do this, and listen to their answers. Ask them about how it makes them feel, what their goal is, etc. And then listen, really listen.
Then, assuming that you’ve asked them before not to do this (and they’ve kept doing it), ask them what they hear and what they feel when you ask them not to give so many things. How does your request and your minimalist approach make them feel? Ask them what they think of your perspective.
Then ask if you can share how you feel when this happens, and what you’ve observed in the kids.
Then, see if you can explore together options that give them the “good feels” they get when giving gifts without the objects.
Wow, that is a tough situation. It sounds so very similar to the way I was raised. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but my grandparents did, and they showered us with gifts. I’m 30 now, and still dread Christmas because of the focus on material things. I just want to encourage you to talk to your in laws now. Your kids will thank you later! I wish my parents had stood their ground and, in a sense, protected me from the co-dependency of my grandparents. It sounds like you have already done that to some extent, and I concur with Mrs. Frugalwoods that maybe it would be a good idea for your husband to step in. It also may help for you to try to understand the reason behind your in laws doing this…did they “go without” as children? Are they trying to earn your kids’ love? Do they feel guilty taking care of themselves and buying things for themselves so they channel that energy into spoiling your kids?
Thinking through family dynamics and the reason behind things might help you figure out what to do with the situation at hand.
Respectfully said, I don’t think one should ever take away to gift of giving. Scientifically proven it does wonders for our happy hormones and self esteem. BUT we also have a responsibility to teach our kids the downfalls of consumerism! This is what I did. I purchased ipads for my kids and family members could give iTunes vouchers ect. We also welcomed kindle purchases. Have a set rule of giving. Gifts will be donated if you do not stay within the rules.
Good luck! I have no solutions, just sympathy because we’re in a similar place. Fortunately, my in-laws live in a different state so the deluge is much less.
It’s tough, though. We tried to explain to my MIL that it’s not about the stuff, it’s about the values. For one, she decided that my daughter MUST have ALL the princess things. When we tried to ask her not to buy princess stuff (not to stop buying stuff, but to stop making everything princess stuff) she got really upset with us.
We ask for experience gifts (family passes to museums and such) instead of things, and that has curbed some of it. We also pointed out that our daughter has a college fund. Funding that is a much better gift than any small trinket which will be forgotten, and my MIL agreed. I think she does that in addition to all of those annoying trinkets, but she does put money in the college fund every year.
My MIL thinks that she’s showing her love by over-buying. Really and truly, that’s how she shows her love. In her mind, having us ask her not to buy or to buy less was basically like us asking her not to hug our daughter. She once said that she’s going to be remembered as the grandma who bought all this wonderful stuff and could NOT be brought to realize that that’s maybe not the best legacy to pass down. We both pointed out that we don’t remember our grandmothers for what they bought for us but what they did with us. But my MIL was adamant on this point. We still have not found a reasonable way to curb this tendency, except to point out how small our living space is.
Good luck to you. There are no easy answers in such a situation, even when all parties are working from a place of love.
This is my in-laws too. My oldest is 13 so I’ve been experiencing this for years, only my in-laws aren’t the most financially secure. It’s very frustrating to see them go out and spend money on the kids and then turn around and complain about their finances. She also used to buy stuff at tag sales that we didn’t need or want. My husband has had many, many talks and it’s definitely had an impact. Now all she buys are clothes during the year and some gifts at the holidays. The key was being consistent-we started to refuse to take things she got us at tag sales (because saying yes occasionally just encouraged her). And after every-single-gift my husband would talk to her. Over years it finally had an impact. Good luck!
This brings back so many memories. We lived three hours from the in-laws. They would have to follow us home after Christmas to bring all the loot that wouldn’t fit in our minivan. And it wasn’t just the kids. They lavished expensive gifts on my husband and me as well. And mostly the gifts were a reminder that they didn’t really know me and were driven simply by a desire to give.
I never managed to change the behavior, only my own response to it. But some of those responses were freeing. For one thing, I realized it was their money to use as they pleased. If they wanted to toss it in the air in front of their house that was their business. If they wanted to turn it into gifts for us, we needed to deal with the gifts because I couldn’t make it change without damaging not only my relationship with them, but also with my husband, which would do more damage to my children than the gifts.
So, for example, I explained to the kids that “Santa Claus” apparently didn’t know our address and dropped all our gifts at the grandparents. Then I turned our own family Christmas into a giving event. We started Christmas morning with the question, “Youngest child, do you have gifts to give this morning?” That child then distributed a gift to each family member. We worked our way up to Daddy, who is his parents’ son and tended to go overboard. Still, he was aware of how much stress the piles of gifts from his parents caused and didn’t try to compete with them.
One thing I noticed over the years was that our children rarely spent money indulging themselves. We generally put financial gifts from the grandparents in a savings account at the bank. With so many gifts flowing in they never became consumers. During their teen years less blessed friends taught them tricks in frugality that even I didn’t know. I gave them a clothing budget and they lived within it without ever considering tapping into their savings. If they wanted brand name clothes, they waited for Christmas when they could shop with Grandma. We could more easily say “no” to being at the store knowing that they were in no way experiencing a deprived childhood.
Another aspect was that the grandparents’ money couldn’t buy happiness. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to build character because they can’t have everything they want. For example, grandparents can’t buy them friends or a part in the play or release from detention at school or even another hour in bed in the morning. And sometimes Grandma’s gifts turned out not so great. My daughters still cringe when they see pictures of the one home perm they each had.
A word of warning: Fighting the gifts can pit you not only against the grandparents, but also your children (and, in my case, my husband). It’s a good way to end up on the outside of a circle made even tighter by a common enemy trying to deprive everyone of their joy.
One more point: As my children entered the young adult years, I was amazed to realize how much they were shaped, for good or bad, by the values my husband and I demonstrated over the years. If I had seen that coming I wouldn’t have been nearly so concerned about the influence of their grandparents and friends. It turns out I had full control over one of the very strongest influences in their lives — me.
I encourage you in dealing with all these gifts to realize that your children are learning how to deal with conflict as they watch your response to their doting grandparents. I’m not sure how I could have done better in the midst of those years of tension with my in-laws, but if I had it to do over, I would try to find a way to be less stressed by the flow of gifts and not get between my kids and their grandparents. Fortunately, my angst didn’t keep them from having a good relationship and for that I am grateful. It helps that, unlike me, my children share DNA with their grandparents and are better able to “get” them.
My mom is an over-spender and a hoarder, so her excessive gift giving is not only problematic for the values I want to teach my girls but also concerning for her future financial stability. However, your warning about how fighting about gifts can pit a person against their own children is one that I have experienced. Over the last few years, my now 6 year old has been aware that Grandma gives her gifts and lets her watch YouTube videos, and mom says no to “everything.” Luckily, my younger sister has moved back to the state this summer, because she has been able to get my mom to understand that it is not her job to buy my kids clothes or gifts every week when she visits. I think it still hurts my mom’s feelings, so I do feel bad about that but there are plenty of gift-giving opportunities at the holidays. Also, I did put my mom on a 4 gift limit for the holidays. My cousin did the same thing with her own mother (not related to my mom), so that legitimized it a little for my mom. I also told my mom that four gifts per girl is still one more than baby Jesus received :-).
I’m retired, and I never had this problem with my 2 kids. I think there is no “easy” solution. You have to lay down the law: All gifts HAVE to be pre-approved or they are going to charity. Both the in-laws and the kids have to know this.
To ease the transition and allow the in-laws to satisfy their gift-giving urge, make a list with your kids of things or experiences that would be acceptable. Rather than tons of toys, maybe a vacation together?
A college fund is a good idea to soak up the charitable urge and do something useful.
Another strategy is that for every gift accepted, something previous, not broken & comparable in value, has to be given away to charity, and this choice must be made, by the kids & parents together, BEFORE the gift is accepted. Sometimes gifts will just be rejected & returned if there is no give-away decision.
You may want to delay this for birthdays and Christmas to give the kids time to decide which gifts to give away.
The important thing is that YOU, the parents, especially the blood-related parent, have to be in control. You should also make clear to the kids & in-laws what criteria you have for worthwhile gifts, and yet give the kids (not the grandparents) a little latitude for independence.
There is a book that talks about the five love languages. For some people, the way they express love is through giving gifts. I don’t know your in-laws, but this may be true of them. If that’s the case, be careful to acknowledge how loved your children feel just spending time with their grandparents and perhaps be a bit more lenient knowing that gift giving is not necessarily about consumerism or materialism for them, but about expressing their love. (I am one such person who loves to express love through gifts. I have to work hard to keep my gift giving in check with my own kids.)
We have boys who are 3 and 6. We had a similar problem, even after asking for less (our oldest’s first Christmas he was literally crying and they still would not stop giving presents). Ultimately my husband started mentioning in casual conversation about my purges of the mountains of toys and how wonderful we were finding it to have so much more space, and how other kids who didn’t have much could have better toys. He sold it as a win-win and tried not to make too big a deal of it, then gently changed the subject.
His family give much more reasonably now (usually about 3 presents each, just at Christmas and birthdays) and even ask what would be good to give. There was no ‘show-down’, just more respect for us as parents I noticed (and was seriously surprised!). They know my mother was a genuine hoarder and that I won’t be backing down on having a low-clutter home. These same relatives now comment on what a great job we are doing raising well-rounded kids who don’t feel entitled to everything (as opposed to my husband’s surly cousins who still expect everything to be given to them because that’s what they had growing up – they’re in their 20’s now and my kids have a much better sense of responsibility as well as genuine, excited gratitude for all they have and receive, and great relationships with the gift-givers).
I noted with interest the grandmother who posted that she stopped overbuying when she realised her gifts were ultimately going in a rubbish bag. Sometimes it seems it’s the only way, if you’ve tried respectful reasoning (though it seems that lady wasn’t given the opportunity).
If you’re interested, the book Simplicity Parenting is awesome for explaining why it’s developmentally better for kids to have less toys and general over-stimulation. May give you some discussion points for the grandparents.
As a semi-frugal grandmother, I understand the urge to give my grandkids what they want, and do for them what I was not always able to do for my own children. Contributing to classes/college fund/savings is admirable, but sometimes we want to SEE the joy a gift brings in the here and now. I think kids learn very quickly that what parents do is not always what grandparents do. While your in-laws sound a bit “over the top,” a really simple solution is to just say “thank you” and accept the gifts.
It’s great that your in-laws love your family so much, but I definitely understand the problem of too much stuff. I live in a 600 sqft condo with my two kids, and that means precious little space for things we don’t need. Therefore, I’ve gotten very good at saying no. So that’s my suggestion, although YMMV. Say no gently, kindly, but firmly, and then stick to that. Set real boundaries, like one present at birthdays and for another holiday, and that’s it. Anything else is returned to the in-laws for “storing.”
I can definitely relate, as our kids have two sets of loving and generous grandparents who bestow lots of stuff upon them, all with the best intentions. I am also a big fan of giving “experiences”, but I must say I think what makes grandparents feel good is making the kids happy, and seeing the looks on the kids faces when they are given a super-cool gift. So a piece of paper saying they can go to a museum, zoo, etc. may not quite sink in at the time with a kiddo. But what about if the grandparents give the gift of the experience with grandma and grandpa? If Grandma and Grandpa get to take them on that experience, then they’re sure to see the delight on their faces, and also produce wonderful memories of the quality time spent together (side benefit- time for mommy and daddy to do something by themselves!).
Aw I have had this problem in the past, but to be honest I embrace it now. Because I’m paying off my debt I appreciate them buying my daughter presents that I am unable to get for her, that she genuinely wants. For example this Xmas they have bought her a barbie Campervan which she asked for last year – I got her a cheap camper van but it doesn’t do what she wants. As she wanted it for a year I asked them if they minded getting it – it was £100 – but luckily reduced down to £60. She will be SO happy when she gets it.
They have stopped being so OTT and they’ve agreed to keep bulky presents at theirs, which helps. I think at the end of the day, it is down to your husband to lay down the law with them. If it was my mum, I would speak to her and deal with it.
Little late to the party here, but I had this same experience. My husband did not want to talk to his parents and so I tried to do it. Thought all went well until I found my MIL telling my 4 year old that grandma wanted so badly to buy blank blank but his mommy didn’ t want her to buy him ANY more toys! Needless to say mommy wasn’t very happy. I had another talk with them and simply stated that if they continued to undermine our parenting we would have to lessen our time spent with them. After backing this up a few times they finally stopped. It wasn’ easy and the trick was not to threaten something we weren’t willing to back up. Good luck!
I had relatives that overindulged me and my sister when we were younger, but we’ve grown up with our parents’ tendencies towards frugalness (after making a few, not too serious mistakes.) I remember doing really badly on an exam when I was 16 and going shopping to cheer myself up. I spent £40 on a chiffon top (I earned just over £100 a month from a Saturday job) and got home and felt empty. I loved the top, I wore it a lot and owned it a long time, but the act of purchasing didn’t give me the satisfaction I expected. Since then, if I need to cheer myself up, I don my walking shoes and head out into the fresh air. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m sure your values will pass on the them 🙂
Grace you have my deepest sympathy. I too have the same problem although admittedly to a bit lesser degree so any advice you get I am in desperate need of as well. My in laws are not my biggest fans due to the husband and I having our own issues. It has been hard especially telling said in laws mainly the mother in law that our daughter does not need any more x but, yet we still get more and last holiday was a complete disaster she got wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too many toys and I try to ask them what all they will be getting her but, it never works.
So many thoughtful ideas!
When my son was little I was very opposed to plastic/throwaway toys from the get-go, which, looking back, probably helped limit toys a lot. Legos were always appreciated 🙂 We discussed boundaries very early, probably the first time my mom asked what kiddo might like for Christmas, but there still were more gifts than I would’ve purchased. My mom has always been very respectful to not get something I wanted to gift, but over the years I’ve realized that she absolutely loves trying to find that perfect present. To her, gift certificate is very impersonal and dismissive of the reason for buying a gift, and she would never feel ok with deposited money or donations.
I agree with others that a conversation about the volume of things is in order – I would focus on the environmental side of this, rather than the consumerism, as it’s usually easier for people to understand the “hippie” impulse than the “minimalist non-consumer” impulse. For my mom I’ve started asking that she give us things she’s not using from her house, that those things are more special because they’ve been used by her first. I’ve also told her about some things I’ve regifted in specific circumstances – like directly to a neighborhood acquaintance who was leaving a shelter to set up house and get back on her feet. That was appreciated and respected, where the thought of me just ‘dumping’ things off at a thrift store probably would make her feel bad.
As for your kiddos, we talked ALL THE TIME about marketing and how companies design things to MAKE you WANT them. We didn’t have a TV and didn’t buy copyright-character items and my son *still* went through a phase of wanting everything in every store 😉 Which simply prompted more frequent conversations along the lines of, “Oh wow, I can see that right now you really want that toy, isn’t Target good at telling you that this toy is really fun and will make you happy? Can you think of something at home that makes you happy?” and his answer was “my stick!” or the cat as often as it was “my blue Hot Wheel car with the red stripe!” or other toys. If his answer was that this toy would make him even more happy, we had an agreement that he could visit it in the store every time we shopped there 😉
My parents live across the country and I SO wish they were closer. I do think that my mom would’ve bought a lot more things if they were local, but I also know that it would have hit home for her to hear that her grandson wanted to spend TIME with her more than anything else. I’ve already decided that when I’m a grandma, no matter where in the world I live, Granny Camp will be held at minimum twice a year in a technology-free zone 🙂
Happy Holidays to all of you in Frugalwoods’ realm!
whoopsies that got long!
Love your idea about visiting something in the store! We have similar marketing conversations and also talking about things my 4 year old wants but your solution is a great addition. Thanks for sharing.
Hello Grace I’m a mother from the North East of England my daughter is 23 and my son is 16 but I’m an only child, my parents do the exactly the same thing but now it is with money my son gets a good school report he get £100 my daughter mentions she might save up for a new car they up her pocket money!! Yep she still gets pocket money at 23!!! But ultimately it’s done out of profound love for their grandchildren, through years of experience I’ve also learnt that as parents the children will follow your values, it is stressful though undoubtedly a few things that worked for me albeit only briefly explain that you’ve decided to open a college/university fund and maybe they could limit the amount of stuff they buy and contribute to it, say your having a big declutter so not buying new stuff until you’ve done it, but whatever you do both my friends and I will tell you do it very carefully because they think they are doing they’re very best for their grandchildren, I guarantee ultimately its you who raise your children not them and the children will know that the excess is not right, good luck Bev
My mother buys for two of her five grandchildren. My children have learned a valuable lesson of rejection. I figure my children are blessed to have a parent that adores them and I get to have them all to myself for the holidays. We lead a frugal life and my children have what they need and some of what they want. If I could not convince these types of gift givers to set up college funds, I would just return as much as possible for needed items. Children always need shoes , coats, book bags and other really needed items. I sincerely mean this.
I think you’ve been given great ideas on how to handle the gift-giving. As a grandparent myself, I duct tape my vacuum cleaner and anything else that’s broken to make it last longer. If my children were to give me a new vacuum cleaner, I probably wouldn’t use it until I couldn’t fix the old one any longer!
I haven’t read through all the many comments but you have a lot of good ideas from what I did read. I fully agree with the post about the grandparents are undermining you and it has to stop now before it escalates as your kids get older. I wanted to suggest a website for people dealing with similar issues. It’s a community forum on babycenter.com called DWIL which stands for dealing with in laws and families of origin. If you google babycenter and DWIL, it should come right up. I will forwarn you many of these woman are tough and harsh, but take your time in reading all sorts of posts and you’ll learn good language and tactics on how to best handle your in-laws, you can post yourself for specific advice if you want, but as you’ve already learned form here, your problem is a common one. Good luck!
Turn your negative into a positive. Teach them to look for the good. Write thankyou notes, modeling a gracious attitude. Your in laws will not always be around to overindulge and sabotage your efforts so regiift involving your children teaching them to be generous. We were over indulged as children by well meaning grandparents and my parents involved us in passing along some excess to a local charitable organization. That still makes me feel good 50 years later.
What a hard situation Grace. I don’t have kids but both sets of my grandparents used to do this to me to some extent. I was the first grandchild on both sides and they couldn’t help it I guess but it was in very different ways. I grew up to be frugal but that has more to do with my parents than anything.
Grandma K sent me anything and everything she thought I might like. I don’t remember any of it and never valued it. She still gifts me too much and doesn’t respect my wishes to live a more minimalist lifestyle now. No conversations or pleading has ever made her stop. I donate most of the gifts she gives me without ever using them.
On the other hand my Grandpa S sent me a beanie baby once a week or so with a letter so we could stay in touch. I loved getting them and would run to the mail box each day hoping one would be in there. I wouldn’t give up the memories of how happy it made me. It was about way more than the gifts themselves. Eventually the beanie babies stopped because I decided I didn’t need any more of them but the memories of getting them and running to the mailbox (we had a ridiculously long driveway) are still amazing. They now respect my wishes to not get gifts at all (not even Christmas) and we are very close.
My parents were quite frugal and I never expected them to get me the things I wanted because this was such a special (and unique to grandpa) ritual. What if you could come up with a way that the grandparents gave them something that was more meaningful and then slowly weaned them off giving anything at all?
Anyhow I hope you are able to get them to stop and they respect your wishes. There are some people that just don’t seem to be able to stop.
I’m going to throw my lot in with the “don’t try to change other people” camp. I think you can suggest experiences or gifts you think would be good, but ultimately, they’re going to do what they want to do. This is the route my husband and I have personally taken, once it became abundantly clear that both sets of grandparents were not only going to buy our Bean whatever they wanted, but that they truly enjoyed it.
I don’t believe that anything good comes from even gently expressing displeasure at a gift done with good intentions (by which I mean, they don’t expect repayment somehow or a similar gift in repayment–and even then I’d say that’s the giver’s problem, not the gift-receiver’s). In fact, the times where I have done so, particularly when I was first trying to limit presents to the Bean, I walked away feeling a little bit like an ungrateful jerk.
Instead, the conclusion that I and two other sets of similarly frugal-minded friends have come to is to simply let the grandparents have their day, and allow the kids to enjoy it as a special Christmas “treat” (which is what it’s supposed to be after all, right?) I hear you saying that they have come to expect it, but honestly I think that’s okay to expect from grandparents. Gift giving is a way for some to express love, and especially with family that is not living in the home, gift-giving can go a long way in establishing connections. My best friend gave my Bean a stuffed penguin, and now every time she plays with the penguin, she talks about the friend. I think the expectation is not the worst when it surrounds something that is a “treat.” Moreover, if their expectations are not met (which someday they will inevitably not be), that is a great time to impart life lessons surrounding gratitude and entitlement. I also think you holding the line if/when they side-eye you for gifts is a great example, too.
With all that said, I recognize that leads to the problem of “OMG what do we do with all this stuff?!” afterwards. I think once the gifts have been given, you’re free to cull as needed. After all, once you have received the gift, it is yours to do with as you wish. I also think it means you and your hubby tone down what you give your children a lot. It can be a little frustrating to know you don’t get the glory of the cool presents when they’re kids, but grandparents are not around forever and, moreover, I suspect I’ll get the ultimate glory when we use the money we would have spent on presents to pay for their college. 😉 All joking aside, I think if you spend the rest of the year cultivating frugality and anti-consumerism in your kids, one holiday won’t wipe that out. Moreover, it teaches valuable lessons in and of itself–how to receive gifts well, and how to practice extreme generosity with others in their lives. You could perhaps hit hard on those values on the days after Christmas.
I hope this little bit from what my friends and I have done helps you in some ways. Happy Holidays!
My father was the same. It would drive me nuts. But now that he passed unexpectedly, I wish I could go back and let him do whatever he wanted. Your in laws value and love your children and this is the way they know how to show them. Let them. You instilling values into them shouldn’t be impacted by them at all. My dad brought my kids to McDonald’s ALL.THE.TIME. Since he passed, we haven’t gone once nor have my kids asked.
I like to ask myself – what is MOST important to me in this situation? If this is an area of primary importance, then I ask – how can I tell my whole truth? Because isn’t that all we can really do, decide and act in line with our convictions. Maybe the conversation goes something like – I’ve really been thinking about how we could come together on the topic of gift giving to the kids. We are trying to teach some defined fiscal values that include constraints on consumer goods. I see how you express so much love and joy through your generosity to them. I wonder if you’d be willing to take a little time to dig deep into the question of how you can continue to engage your generosity and spread that joy while avoiding purchasing things. If buying them stuff is really important to you, how can we reconcile that with the fact that teaching them fiscally conservative ways is really important to us. I am really asking is there a way for you to do your thing while we can still do our thing. I don’t have all the answers, but I think we’re intelligent and capable and maybe together we can come up with a solution. Is it doing new things with them that you value most of all? Are there other new things that you can experience with them? Is it the time that you get to play together with them and the new toys that you love the most? Can you spend time together in another way that will still bring you and the kids the same kind of joy? Is it the look on their faces that drives you? Is there another way to trigger that kid joy?
I don’t know if this speaks to you at all. Just maybe the intersection of your greatest values and their greatest values is where the solution is.
This could also be a case of “powdered butt syndrome”. Meaning because they’ve powdered your butt (or your husband’s) they really do think they know better than you and they don’t really want/value your opinion. And that may mean you simply have to decide if this is important enough to go ahead and cause some conflict over. Maybe they’ll only “get it” after you push back harder.
There is such wonderful advice here that it’s tough to add to it. We have 6 children across 24 years. The first Christmas we spent away from the family, my mother sent the then only child who was a one year old, 81 individually wrapped gifts. He had to take a nap while opening them. After that, we had the tough conversation you all are having. We came to a place over the years where my mom was able to still give a box that could be unwrapped but inside it was often a Mystery Trip ( a balloon with a message inside that you popped with a pin to find out a clue about the trip), or a Date with Gramma where she’d teach them how to sew, make ornaments, cookies, etc or Grampa where he’d take a hike in the woods with them, etc. Later, my kids gave dates to the grands…teaching Gram to snowboard comes to mind! It took us a while to help the family get it but my children definitely value presence over presents now. Best wishes to you and your family!
This year I actually gave a toy back — the shopkins doll crossed a sexist consumerism line I just couldn’t encourage.
Our semi annual (it seems) post on this goes up next Monday.
I’m late to the party and I haven’t read all of the responses, but what I have seen doesn’t address that first you need to make sure there isn’t a communication problem and second you need to give them the credit you give them here for doing this because they love them when you have the conversation.
Regarding the first point, I’ve often noticed (with myself and others) that when something bothers us we often wind up with an internal dialog that FEELS like we’re having a conversation with other people, but we never actually do. An issue will go around and around in my head, or even worse it goes back and forth with my spouse, and I get all worked up. But when I take a step back I realize I have never really addressed the issue with the person in question. Or I THINK I’m saying something, but I’m not really. Saying “You shouldn’t have!” or “This is too much!” or “You should spend your money on something else” really doesn’t get the message across like “I appreciate your generosity, but please stop giving me gifts.”
This leads me to my second point. When you ask them to stop giving you gifts, the first and last point you make needs to be “We love how much you love our kids. We are moved by your generosity and want you to know that we appreciate it. But we think it’s too much for our lifestyle and want to work WITH you…thank you for working with us on this. We appreciate how much you want to demonstrate your affection with gifts and we want you to know that we love and appreciate you for it.” A conversation like this can too easily be taken as a complaint that YOU are spoiled and don’t appreciate the gifts. Or that you are jealous (which comes out a LITTLE bit with your concern that your kids will resent you for not buying even more stuff). The focus needs to be on love and your appreciation of their love. Then work with them to set boundaries.
In fact I wouldn’t focus as much on your standards because: they are grandparents. I had a conversation a number of years ago with a friend who is a grandmother when I was complaining that my mom wouldn’t maintain my standards while babysitting. Now I had a point because she was acting as regular care, but my friend told me “Get over it. She’s a grandmother. She’s not going to be as strict as you. Your kids’ relationship with her is different.” Because of this my conversation would focus on my concern that gifts can get between their relationship with the grand kids. It actually isn’t that hard for kids to understand that grandparents=gifts while mom and dad just don’t (just like at grandma’s they might get a cookie or two before dinner). But none of you want their relationship with their grandparents to be defined by “What did you bring me today?!”
I didn’t read all the responses. I have strong feelings about in-laws. I am a grandparent who told my daughter, when she got pregnant with my oldest granddaughter that I would try really hard to not overdo and save for college or whatever. I have done pretty well, well enough to ask them first if a certain gift is okay and they have never had a problem. Believe me they would tell me and DH. I raised very independent daughters.
However, the in laws……….my advice is do it now before it goes on any further. I gave up all my dreams for my family to fulfill my MIL’s Christmas dreams. Over the years she took to criticizing my daughters….my beautiful accomplished daughters who did not get married and pregnant at 18, well one of them did….got married, got pregnant at 20 (MIL’s very traditional). Anyhoo, this went on for so long and I tried to be a better daughter-in-law and when I tried to talk to my husband about it, he shrugged it off because he never heard the criticisms. She was very careful to either do it on the phone or when he was not around. My daughters did not want to visit because they were tired of the criticism. I finally told DH to either talk to her or I was going to. It did not end well. We waited far too long…..so nip it in the bud now. They probably know exactly what they are doing. You married her baby boy. I know of what I speak. Good luck.
I think the lesson learned is one we all get to eventually in adult hood… as much as you try you can’t change someone’s else actions. We all watched the same TV shows where a nice talk happened and everything was better. Wrong. If they continue as they want, you can only change your reactions. I question parents, why were these conversations not had prior to bringing new people in the world? World, why do we all act like marriage and parenting is a first for anyone??!! Have the conversations so at least expectations are acknowledged!
Open a savings account for each child and see if in-laws will contribute to that instead of gifts, especially for holidays. Let child donate a toy for each new one they get. Kirby vacuum cleaner even a rebuilt one is great. Kind of awkard to use but will suck up everything including the carpet.
I’m intrigued by all this…. since I started off with my 5 siblings in a poor family (father was a cook, mom was a stay at home mother/housewife). Now that we as adults and myself though, no children, an aunt to 7 nieces and nephews, plus 2 great-nieces. I appreciate the grandparents giving since they probably feel it’s good use of their money to give “stuff”, lots of it. This blog post was older, so I’m curious where things are at now in 2022.