The Holidays are a time for generosity and celebration. But sometimes generosity from others can make you feel guilty, especially if you’re not the one spoiling your children. Here are some steps you can take to avoid feeling guilty this year.
When my kids were very young, my mom delighted in buying them multiple beautiful toys and games for Christmas—always thoughtfully selected, always a few too many. Our routine was to spend the morning at our own house as a foursome and then travel to my nearby parents for the afternoon. My mom would hand the kids their smallest gifts to start, building slowly toward a crescendo of special, big-hurrah presents. By then, invariably, the kids were worn out, cranky, with little energy left to appreciate the special gifts, and I would feel embarrassed about their reactions.
My husband and I could see how important this routine was to my mom, and we didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but we quietly wished she would give fewer things so the kids could appreciate what they received. We often argued about how to handle the issue. Thankfully, now that my kids are past the toy stage, it’s easier for her to give fewer, more practical things.
Generous grandparents are to be celebrated, but holidays can be tricky because many feel it’s their prerogative to spoil their grandchildren. I checked in with child development and parenting expert Betsy Brown Braun, herself a grandmother, for how Grownups can navigate the emotional minefield of holiday gift giving.
“What adult children need to understand is becoming a grandparent taps into a deep and indescribably powerful well of emotion that grandparents didn’t even know existed,” Brown Braun explains. “Gift giving is an expression of many things, and can bring tremendous pleasure. It’s the grandparents’ way of expressing their love and connecting to their grandchildren. It meets the need of wanting to be appreciated or recognized and offers a second chance to make up for what they might not have been able to afford to give their own kids. Sometimes it can be about competition with the other grandparents.”
But understanding grandparents’ emotional experience doesn’t mean they rule the roost. Becoming a parent is a huge rite of passage, and you get to decide how you want it to go in your home, Brown Braun says. It’s your turn. Of course, that’s more easily said than done, but she believes grandparents need to be sensitive to parents’ wishes about the kind of holiday culture they want to cultivate. Grandparents should ask parents which presents are preferred (you’re the one who must live with the noisy toy, after all), and should know what you’re giving (to avoid duplicating or overshadowing your gifts).
If your parents’ or in-laws’ generosity is creating a climate of affluenza in your home, here are a few suggestions for guiding these well-meaning elders.
Be kind but up front.
Don’t settle for disgruntled arguments with your spouse like I did. If you’re trying to teach “less is more” and how to be appreciative, be honest with the grandparents about your wish to scale back, whether that’s giving one gift or less splashy ones. Grandparents may feel they’re only trying to help by purchasing your young son the latest gaming gadget or that sparkly coat beyond your daughter’s years. Tell them you don’t mean to offend or be unappreciative, but you do need their help in keeping things reasonable. For every family, what’s reasonable will look different, but whatever you’re going for, grandparents shouldn’t undermine your values. Brown Braun’s own son-in-law recently suggested to her that he wanted the family’s Hanukkah celebration to be cut back this year, and she was thankful he said something.
Give the gift of experience and time.
Consider special ways for the grandparents to bond in place of gifts. “Grandparents just want to be important in the lives of their grandkids,” Brown Braun says. Perhaps Nonna would like to take her granddaughter to see her first production of The Nutcracker, or Grandpa would like to take the grandkids on a summer fishing trip. Children will remember a special experience long after the toy has been discarded. Allowing near and far grandparents special time with the grandkids benefits the relationship much more than stuff does.
Contribute to college or pay for camp.
Many Grownup families don’t need more toys, but they might need help with preschool costs, contributing to a 529 plan for college, or paying for a pricey summer camp. Tell grandparents how much a contribution to sleepaway camp would be appreciated. Let them know you’ll tell your child who paid for camp, so they get full marks. Grandparents aren’t always in a financial position to help with costs, but remind them even a small contribution helps.
Store toys at Grandma’s house.
If grandparents have a hard time holding back, suggest they store some of the toys at their own house for when your family visits. Even if you live in a decent-sized home, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by too much stuff. Keeping toys at their house may help them see how quickly material possessions pile up.
Sometimes grandparents need permission to save for themselves, boring as that might be. They may not want to talk about their own finances, but encourage them to put themselves first.
Relationships can be tricky, made more so by the arrival of grandchildren, but keeping the lines of communication open will benefit everyone.
Good luck with the holidays. Here we go.
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