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Curbing the Over-Indulgent Habits of Grandparents

Please welcome my friend and Guest Writer, Sharon, as she fills in for the traveling Amelia in the upcoming weeks. Sharon is an American currently living in the Middle East with her husband and two children.

grandma and child Most of us have been there.  We arrive at Grandma and/or Grandpa’s house for a week long visit, only to find ourselves in a precarious situation.  Why?  Because your parents (or your spouse’s parents) are standing at the door, greeting your kids with one or more of the following:
a) Large bags of candy
b) Several new toys
c) The latest “cool” techno-gadget
d) A week of planned excursions to expensive theme parks, malls, etc.

The week progresses, and every time you turn around, your child has a new toy or outfit.  On one hand, you think, hey, it’s only for a week, then we get back to our normal lives. And this is true, to an extent.  But what happens when this becomes habitual?  Every time you visit them, or every time they visit you, the kids are lavishly spoiled by their grandparents.  Or what happens when the kids start to demand things from Grandma or Grandpa?  Ugh, no one wants to be in that position.

This has happened to us on a few occasions.  We have the unique position of being parents to the only grandkids on either side of the family (hubby is an only child, I’m the oldest and, until recently, the only married one).  In addition to that, our family lives overseas, so any opportunity the grandparents get to spend with the grandkids is rare and precious, and the presents can be a bit over-the-top at times.  What do we do?  Fear not, ladies!  There are a few ways we, as moms, can handle out-of-control gift-giving.

For starters, we need to accept this fact: in general, grandparents WILL spoil their grandchildren.  There’s really nothing we can do about it.  Now, before anyone thinks I have a defeatist’s attitude toward this particular subject, I want to point out that I think that we CAN influence the AMOUNT of spoiling that occurs and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.  None of us wants to have kids that are ungrateful (especially to our own parents!), so it’s important that we approach it from two sides:

  1. Your kidsRemind them to say “please” and “thank you” when requesting or receiving something from your (or your spouse’s) parents.  It’s really easy to teach kids manners when we are around teachers, friends, and even strangers, but the family arena seems to be the first place where politeness jumps out the window.  Reminding kids about simple manners before they visit their grandparents can work wonders, and help your kids to remember to be thankful.  If your concern is limiting the number of toys in the house, let the child(ren) know that, from now on, for each new toy they get from grandma or grandpa, they have to choose one of their older toys to give away to charity.
  2. The grandparents – This is the tough one, because some grandparents will react defensively, especially if approached in a confrontational manner.  Start by thanking them for being so loving toward your children, and that their generosity is really appreciated by you. Then let them know you noticed how they much they like to buy things for your kids, and ask them if they’d be willing to redirect their giving.  It doesn’t take much to “spoil” my kids (as they’re still fairly young), so if my mother, for instance, decided to give my kids a personal DVD player just for fun, I would consider that over-the-line.  One way we avoid this in our household is by suggesting toys/games that our children would like to have, ones that seem a little more reasonable in price or quantity. That way, the kids get toys they want, and grandma and grandpa still get to have their fun.  Ask them to save bigger presents for birthdays or Christmas.  If you want to nip the toy-buying in the bud all together, suggest that your parents or in-laws come over with a little present, like a small candy bar or lollipop (or iTunes gift card for older kids), and they can put money in their savings account or college fund.

In the event where grandpa or grandma is not willing to change his/her behavior, there are a few options.  The first one, limiting visits (especially for grandparents who live in the same town), is something I would call for in an extreme situation, where your concern is your child’s safety.  Grandparents allowing young children to watch rated R movies after they’ve been asked not to, for example, would warrant a reaction like that.  Most of us (hopefully) will not encounter this problem.  Another approach is one I mentioned, having your children give away old toys for each new one that they receive.  Or, get a bag of toys and take it over to grandma’s house the next time you visit.  Let her know that the kids have too many toys at the house, and so you’re bringing some extras to stay at her house.  After a few garbage bags full of toys, grandma and grandpa will get tired of the clutter, and probably get the hint.

So, have you ever encountered this problem?  How did you handle it?  What was your parents’ (or in-laws’) reactions?

Photo courtesy of garden beth

More about our Guest Writer:  Sharon was born in Southern California, spent a bit of time in Hawaii, then moved to Texas for ten years, where she met her husband and had her first child.  She now lives in the Middle East with her hubby and two kids, ages 5 and 2.  Her favorite tea is Earl Grey, and favorite dessert is any cupcake from Sprinkles.  She loves learning new languages (currently working on Arabic), traveling, and cooking.

12 Responses to Curbing the Over-Indulgent Habits of Grandparents

  • Gravatar September 17, 2009 @ 6:26 am

    We have this problem with my inlaws (and the opposite problem with my parents where they spend more on my sister than they do on my whole family put together at times).

    We have tried talking to my mil, but she hasn’t listened too much for the most part. It’s hard because she has grandmother guilt because she is unwell and cannot travel to see us. We would appreciate her giving us gas money (upwards of $100) for the times that we visit her (every 4-6 weeks) rather than fill our house with tons of toys that we don’t need and clothing that is WAY over priced and are totally unpractical. But, what can you do?

    Sometimes, it’s just a losing battle!

    We do appreciate her generosity, but I don’t want my kids to be spoiled, you know?!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Um Tulip
    September 17, 2009 @ 8:27 am

    Also living overseas, I often feel guilty that our kids have such little time with their grandparents. Usually we’re able to see family once a year. So that week or two is packed with gifts, trips, and no limits. It’s hard for me to say anything as both sides of the family miss their only grandkids so much. What has worked the best is 1) just let some thing go. Some things aren’t worth arguing over 2) talk with the families about how to spend the holiday together. Ask for specific gifts that might be expensive – educational materials, good quality shoes, a trip to a children’s museum or water park. If I know what to expect regarding gifts and trips, it is easier to anticipate and I can request things I really do want for my kids that I can’t afford. ~ Um Tulip

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Marc Herstein
    September 17, 2009 @ 8:55 am

    GREAT Article Sharon – here is something for you and your readers..Please Share :-) Grandchild Connection allows distant grandparents and grandchildren to develop close, meaningful relationships by utilizing today’s technology of video conferencing. As part of the “VideoVisit” experience, we coach grandparents in educational and social activities that deepen the bonds they share with their grandchildren, and we provide the tools to achieve that end. We just launched our full site this past sunday on National Grandparents Day, September 13th, 2009. Come visit us at grandchildconnection dot com :-)

  • Comment by Sharon
    September 17, 2009 @ 11:54 am

    @Multi-tasking Mommy — I completely sympathize! I think for a lot of us, this is a VERY delicate topic, especially to bring up with the in-laws. Could you go shopping with your MIL next time, or perhaps call her before the visit and (subtly) hint at things the kids need? Also, there are so many ways that grandparents can spoil their grandkids w/o spending money and buying stuff, so suggesting other ways to show her grandchildren love might help her think outside the box. Maybe you’ve already tried that, it’s just the first thing that popped into my mind.

    @Um Tulip — Great additional suggestions, particularly for those of us who rarely see our parents or in-laws. I felt really bad during our last trip to the US b/c we simply could not take all of the stuff that my MIL bought for the kids. So, we just left it there for them to play with next time.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Breanna
    September 17, 2009 @ 12:05 pm

    I think remembering suggestion #1 is the main thing. You can’t really control what others give to your kids and I’m not sure that you should. If I had in mind to give someone a particular gift, it would be from the heart and I think it would bother me if it was suggested that I get something different or not give anything at all. My parents and in-laws give my kids stuff all the time that I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen or given them myself, but I think that’s the beauty of it sometimes. Sometimes the grandparents might not want to get the kids stuff they “need”, and when they do, they’ll ask.

    Now grandparents and discipline/behavior and the things they allow… that’s a whole different conversation! :) ha ha!

  • Comment by Dawn
    September 17, 2009 @ 1:39 pm

    We are so glad to have you, Sharon. Great post! I can see how you’d deal with this problem routinely. I also completely agree with Breanna that we really can’t control the actions of others, no matter how right we might be. :) I had an experience of just telling someone once that what they were giving me wasn’t what I really needed. This just made both of us feel bad & awkward afterward. I won’t do that again.

    One time, we were given a Bumbo for our second baby. This is a very nice, generous gift, but our children had zero interest in it. It was really hard for me that a $30 item was in our home, we couldn’t return it, and we were scraping pennies together for diapers. But, there was really nothing I could do about it except give it away!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amy
    September 17, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

    I don’t mind the kids getting spoiled with fun trips, cute clothes, and fun toys. It’s wonderful that they’re helping us provide our kids with things that we can’t. I appreciate it, and the boys are always excited and thankful.

    But I insist that don’t let the kids get away with acting like monsters. The grandparents are fully informed of our rules and how we expect the boys to act. So they help us make sure the boys use their manners, treat things and people with respect, etc.

  • Comment by Sharon
    September 18, 2009 @ 6:26 am

    @Dawn — I struggle with the same thing, especially with expensive clothing from places whose names I can’t pronounce. It’s so easy for me to think, “I could have bought so many (insert essential item) with that money!” instead of just enjoying the gift.

    Moneywatch.com also had an interesting article on this topic, if y’all want to check it out.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by brideleon
    September 20, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

    We deal with this all the time. My kids are the only grand kids on both sides. I am an only and my husband is the oldest and only married one. We live about about 1.5-2 hrs away from both and when they come or vice versa they always have to give them something. And we see them quite often with living that far away. And I agree that we should not tell people what to give, I actually feel funny when asked what they want or where do I shop. But I know that come Christmas time and birthday time it actually makes their lives easier. But besides those times of year it sometimes gets out of hand. The bigger is not better and hello we are running out of space. And on top of that it seems to be a competition between the grandparents. Who is giving more or spending more. Its sad. Example, my daughter who hardly ever asks for something and can go into a toy store and out with nothing for herself, will ask my mom- “what did you bring me?” That makes me cringe but hey, she did that to my child not me! I can not wait until my husbands brother and sister have some kids!!
    ( that was the longest comment I have ever wrote! whoa! but i feel i could write a novel on this topic!!)

  • Comment by Sharon
    September 22, 2009 @ 1:32 am

    @brideleon – I know, it can be frustrating when the grandparents start to compete. That’s a whole other topic to discuss!

    Just to clarify, I hope I didn’t come across as saying that we should tell grandparents what to get their grandchildren. But there are tactful ways to make suggestions to grandparents if the gift-getting is getting out of hand. A lot of it depends on your relationship with your parents and/or in-laws.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Michelle
    October 1, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    I really need help with my situation. See we are currently living with the inlaws, and they get on everything that has to do with my child(Which shes curently 4 years old). They get involved about her education, with what she does, and if Im giving her time out she gets in it to. If I tell my daughter not to do something she will start crying and i wanna give her time out and then here comes grandma to tell her whats wrong and starts spoiling her. Then if she is crying, my mother in law will send her older daughter to investigate why my daughter is crying. The most recently was when my husband was telling my daughter to stop her behavior and giving her time out. She came and told him to give my daughter to her. He said no, and for that she said then stop treating her that way! Please some one help me… Also I have tried talking to her but she wont listen.

  • Comment by Sharon
    October 1, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

    Michelle – I’m so sorry to hear this! Living with your in-laws can have some benefits, but some real drawbacks as well. I think most grandparents HATE to see their grandchildren disciplined (even time-outs!), so it can be a real point of contention if you’re living together.

    I don’t know all the details of your situation, but if I were in your place, I would call a family meeting while your daughter is either at preschool or in bed. Get together with your husband beforehand and discuss what you want to say. I would even pray together with my husband for wisdom in the situation. It’s important that you present a united front so your in-laws know you’re serious. At the meeting, let them know first off the things they are doing right – “You do a great job calming little Josie down when she’s upset,” etc. – and how much you appreciate them. Also agree that you all desire what’s best for your daughter. HOWEVER, be clear that you are trying to train her to be an obedient, respectful child, and it’s important for your daughter to have boundaries, as well as consequences when she steps outside of those boundaries. Ask them to trust your judgement on this. I hope this is helpful!

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