Inside: Are you dealing with grandparents who buy too many gifts? It can be an extremely stressful problem as a new parent, which is why you need to address it sooner rather than later. Or before you know it, your house will be overflowing with toys, clothes and just way too much stuff.
So much stuff, so little time to organize it all.
That sums up a good part of 21st-century parenting, and it’s probably why the “minimalist” concept is gaining popularity in recent years.
When you start having kids, you find out that the combination of your stuff plus their stuff is simply a LOT to deal with. Who knew kids came with so many accessories, right from the start?
But wait, there’s more! Here comes grandma and grandpa with a carload of gifts!
Far beyond supplying their needs, some grandparents can’t resist going overboard with all.the.toys every time they visit.
It’s even worse when your child is still a baby because you know for sure that baby has almost zero appreciation for all that stuff.
As parents, we try to be grateful. We really do.
But internally, we’re cringing at the thought of where we’re going to cram the latest duplo block set, or the 5-in-1 baby jungle gym that takes up two-thirds of the living room.
When Grandparents Buy Too Many Gifts, You Need to Address It: ASAP
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Here are several good reasons to nip this in the bud early.
Sure, your little one is a baby now, but that baby will become a kid in no time at all. And then you will DEFINITELY have a “too much stuff” problem.
Plus, babies can have too much stuff, too!
1. Your time and your energy will go into managing those gifts, and your mental health matters.
As you likely already know, the main issue with grandparents who buy too much stuff for their grandkids is that there is just not enough time or space to handle all the “extras”.
Not when it’s in addition to the stuff your kids actually need.
Whether it’s too many toys or too many clothes, it’s reasonable to feel overwhelmed when these items are continually flowing into your home.
Especially when your child is still under three, the reality is the YOU – not your child – will be the “stuff manager”, meaning YOU will be the one cleaning, repairing and organizing said stuff.
You also will need to handle the mental load that clutter naturally brings. Especially if you live in a small space, any extra baby stuff can feel overwhelming.
2. The research is clear: too much stuff is bad for kids.
Another reason the “stuff” is a problem is that realistically, your kids don’t need that many material things, and they can’t handle it either.
There is good evidence that kids play better with less things to choose from, not more.
I actually witnessed this one Christmas when my girls were 2 and 5. It wasn’t even their grandparents, but my sister’s in-laws-to-be (who didn’t have any grandkids yet) and were spending Christmas with us.
And those grandparents were itching to spoil someone. It didn’t matter whose kids they were, or what their parents wanted.
The pile of unwrapped toys was a sight to behold, and I remember they ended up both playing with ONE item! One!
Kids become just as mentally burdened as we do, when their room and home is packed to the brim. They don’t know what to play with first, and may not even use many of the toys or outgrow the clothes before they can be worn.
Plus, too much stuff can lead to a feeling of entitlement and a lack of appreciation for the very items that were meant to bring joy.
Once excess becomes commonplace, it feels rather boring and uneventful.
3. The longer you wait, the harder and more awkward setting boundaries will be.
This is true of any situation where boundaries are needed.
If you let grandma buy too many gifts for YEARS without saying a thing, then all of a sudden bring it up before a birthday party, it can lead to a lot of hurt feelings and misunderstandings.
Grandparents might wonder why you didn’t say something sooner. After all, they’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money shopping for more stuff for YOUR child.
You will also probably have some built up resentment, so that conversation may have a little more heat and strength than it should.
How to Set Boundaries Around Gifts With Grandparents
So now that you know the consequences of grandparents who buy too much stuff, here are some tips to try to calm the giving frenzy.
Or prevent it before it starts.
1. Remember that you can’t expect grandparents to honor unspoken boundaries and preferences.
You’re going to have to decide what you will and will not allow into your home, and you’ll need to communicate that decision to the grandparents.
This is NOT an easy task. Setting boundaries in general is not easy with those we love the most.
You might be worried about offending them, or making them feel that you don’t appreciate their thoughtfulness.
2. Evaluate the extent of the problem (or potential problem) before you decide how strong your boundaries need to be.
That is a real and genuine concern, and one you want to carefully weigh before “making a mountain out of a molehill”.
The need for setting these boundaries must reflect the level of excess you’re actually dealing with and the negative impact it has on your family.
Decide exactly how strong you want to be.
Do you want to direct them to only buy your suggestions? Run every gift purchase by you? Or do you just need to step the never-ending tide of unwanted gifts?
Maybe you could ask them to get one extra “fun” gift per kid in addition to things from your wish list.
You might be able to redirect some of the gift-giving by being open about things your kids actually need. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
But if you determine it’s time to have a strong boundaries talk, know that it can be done, in a loving and cheerful manner. It just takes a little practice and intention.
3. Use one of these conversation starters to kick off the boundaries talk.
Remember: Always, always ALWAYS start by thanking grandma and grandpa for loving your children. A little sweetness before a potentially bitter pill can make a huge difference in how this goes over.
Then try one of these conversation starters:
- “Do you remember when you brought XYZ over? It was a lovely gift, but unfortunately we didn’t have anywhere to put it in the house.” They may not be thinking at all about storage space in your home.
- “You are always such a generous gift giver! Next time, would you mind waiting until it’s a birthday or Christmas, though? We want to make sure the kids appreciate gifts as something extra special, so that they won’t take them for granted.
- “I wanted to thank you for the XYZ you brought. However, we really must limit the number of XYZ we have in our house. It’s just a little overwhelming for (name of child), and we simply don’t have space or time to use them all.”
- “We really appreciate your generosity. However, I really struggle with anxiety, which impacts my parenting, and having a ton of stuff in our house is a major trigger for me. Could you help me be a better mom by sticking this gift wishlist as much as you can?
It also really helps if the parent whose parent is the offender initiates the conversation.
It tends to go better than trying to explain this to your in-laws. Unless, of course, you have a better relationship with them than your spouse does!
What If They Ignore The Boundaries You Set?
Now, let’s assume you’ve been honest and explained your needs to the grandparents, but it’s fallen on deaf ears.
Maybe grandma is a shopaholic or grandpa is a hoarder.
Maybe they think you aren’t serious, or they really don’t think they’re buying too many gifts.
Or maybe they secretly wanna drive you crazy. (But we’ll be gracious here.)
The reality is that they probably really love their grandkids, and buying things for them is an expression of that love, in their view. They may be waiting in anticipation for weeks to see your kids and can’t wait to make every visit like Christmas for them.
It might really be a gift for them, too. I’m not saying it’s right one way or the other, but it might be the reality of the situation.
So what else can you do?
1. Try suggesting gift alternatives.
Here are several ideas, inspired by minimalists with kids.
Think museum passes, amusement park tickets, national park passes, day camps, etc.
These are things you would maybe buy anyways, and is especially applicable as your child gets closer to school-age.
Maybe fun outdoor toys you wouldn’t buy yourself, but won’t clutter up the house. Water tables, a balance bike, etc.
Of course…there’s always a limit, whether indoors or out.
“When you’re coming down next time, could you bring a gift card to Crocs. Or maybe you’d like to take the kids to pick out the new shoes they need?”
“Baby really could use 9-12 month pants. She also needs more board books – she loves them so much! And the library copies could use a break…”
If they’re tech-savvy, set up an Amazon wishlist or birthday list of specific needs and text them the link before their next visit. Hint, hint.
Classes or Lessons
Do you and baby really love Baby and Me Yoga classes? Ask for that.
As your baby grows, you can ask for things like ballet and piano lessons. But keep in mind that when they buy the lessons, YOU are going to be the one to take them to that lesson.
So be careful with this one.
Think bubble bath, bubbles, puffs.
As your baby grows, chalk, stickers or treats.
Dates with Grandparents
Encourage grandparents to spend time and money on dates with their grandkids, instead of gifts. They could give it as a “coupon” for Christmas or a birthday, along with a consumable gift if they really want to give a physical gift, too.
Take them to the play place at Chick-fil-a or bring them to a park to swing. The possibilities are endless as your child gets older.
2. Take extreme measures, if you’ve tried everything else.
Sometimes, it takes far more than conversations and suggestions to get your point across.
Here are a few ideas for the hard-core grandparent boundary crossers:
- Tell them when they visit next, you need some help decluttering your home. Let them participate in sorting toys, clothes, etc, so they can get a real visual of how much stuff you really have, and how much they’re contributing to the problem.
- Return or exchange the stuff for things you actually need.
- Simply get rid of things shortly after they come into your home. Be honest when the grandparent asks about the item(s). “I’m sorry, it was a thoughtful gift but we had to donate it because we simply have too many things.” Reserve this for items that your child doesn’t have an attachment to, of course.
- Bring the items back to their house the next time you visit.
- Start a side hustle selling the stuff on Marketplace. 😉
Only you can decide how extreme you need to be.
I personally wouldn’t resort to these measures unless they are blatantly ignoring your requests and the gifts are beyond excessive.
(Or if the toys are talking, sound-blaring, plastic, battery-filled horrors – if you know, you know. With these, I highly highly recommend bringing them back to grandma’s to see how she likes having them in her house…or take the batteries out.)
Try To See The Positives When Grandparents Buy Too Much Stuff For Your Kids
When grandparents buy too much stuff, it can create multiple problems for your family.
This stress can actually negatively impact your relationship with the grandparents as well, so there’s nothing wrong with addressing it before it gets out of hand.
When your kids are old enough, it’s also helpful to have ongoing conversations with your kids about wants versus needs, and how much is too much.
I’ve often repeated to my kids, “People are more important than things”, as I want them to think about what really matters in life.
If you’re intentional in making relationships priority over stuff, you can build a family culture that reflects this value. And even if the stuff rolls in every time the grandparents arrive, hopefully they will understand that love does not equal money or the amount of things someone buys them.
Better yet, you can eventually train your kids to be intentional, get them involved in decluttering, donating and having an empathetic heart.
All those extra toys and extra stuff can be a wonderful way of turning their excess into a blessing for someone else.