Saturday, December 5, 2015

FAQ: should I curtail grandparent gift-giving?

I know, I know…several years back you read that blog post about getting your kids four things for Christmas, and your inner minimalist shouted “YES.”

Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.

Done and done. It was a formula that allowed you to simultaneously be a parent who was awesome and a parent who had more time for Elf and eggnog. You made your minimal shopping trips, wrapped your minimal gifts, and placed them under your minimalist tree, awaiting Christmas morning when your kids would gently unwrap their four treasures (“Remember, kids, Jesus only got three gifts.”) and thank you effusively for not over-indulging them like all the other parents on the block.

But then, the doorbell rang, with a tone less “Silver Bells”-ish and more like the death knell of your conservatively sugared sugarplum dreams. And Gigi and Pappaw exploded into your living room bearing half of Walmart, wrapped in packages that in no way coordinated with your brown-paper-and-twine aesthetic. Their eyes burned with the crazed expression young parents everywhere recognize as a sign of OGS - Over-indulgent Grandparent Syndrome.

The gift haul was mind-boggling. Packaging materials and crumpled paper blocked every exit. There was much squealing, but none of it seemed associated with something to read. Surveying the aftermath, you began mounting your resolve never to let this happen again. Gigi and Pappaw must be stopped.

But must they? Have they really torpedoed Christmas? Looking back on my own experience with dearly loved OGS-sufferers I can see how quick I was to point out the symptoms of their illness: extravagance, impracticality, frivolity. But I was much slower to acknowledge the symptoms of my own illness. It turns out I was actually infected with a pretty serious case of FPS – Fretful Parent Syndrome. It showed itself in three beliefs that, looking back, were absolutely off-base. I offer them for your consideration, with the benefit of a little hindsight, in case you’re thinking about dropping the hammer on the grandparents:

1.   My kids will be spoiled by this.
No, they really won’t. They may indeed look forward to Gigi and Pappaw’s visits for less than selfless reasons, but grandparents don’t typically spend enough time with grandkids to permanently impact their consumption patterns. Your children’s attitude toward material possessions will not be shaped by the way they spend one day in December. The vast majority of their formative days will be spent under your influence, not that of their grandparents or anyone else. If you teach and model delayed gratification, practicality, and others-focus twelve months out of the year, a few hours of extravagance at the hands of a grandparent will be a fun memory instead of a life-altering event.

2.   I have to control this.
No, you really don’t. Resist the urge to start placing restrictions on grandparent gift-giving. Yes, it’s true that a donation to the college fund would have been a more practical gift than a studio-quality Darth Vader costume, but grandparents see gift-giving as a way to connect with their grandkids. Because it is. Gigi and Pappaw want to give a tangible gift that will bring them to mind each time their grandchild uses it. Even if they lack a sense of moderation in the gift-giving department, they are entitled to give the gift of their choosing. If it is not dangerous, illegal, immoral, or an ongoing financial commitment on your part once it is given, you don’t need to step in. Controlling what or how much grandparents can give communicates a lack of graciousness on our part, one our children may pick up on. By placing requirements on grandparent gifts, we can inadvertently model a different, but equally ugly form of entitlement to our kids.

3.   I’ve been upstaged by this.
No, you really haven’t. This is a hard one to trust, especially when Gigi and Pappaw have outspent you by a magnitude of seven. But the grandparent relationship and the parent relationship are simply not in competition. When you refuse to let competition enter your thinking, you allow your child’s love for a grandparent to be what it should be: an extension of their love for you, not a threat to it. Your children will not compare their relationship with you to their relationship with Gigi and Pappaw any more than they would compare it to a relationship with a sibling, friend, or teacher. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you are competing for their love, on Christmas or any other day.

How can you know if you are free from the grip of Fretful Parent Syndrome this Christmas? I knew I was headed for recovery when I was able to welcome grandparent gifts without judging them, bemoaning them, or restricting them. I learned to express genuine gratitude, both in front of my kids and in thank-you notes. And I learned to relax in the knowledge that materialism is kept in check in the everyday moments that God has entrusted to parents.

Perhaps most importantly, I learned to keep in mind that grandparents themselves are a gift to our children, a vital part of the wider circle who will cheer for them through the sun and storms that lie before them. No insecurity of mine should jeopardize that relationship or dictate its terms. More than that, my willingness to defer to their gift-giving choices sets an example for my own kids that you’re never too old to look for ways to honor your parents.

Minimalist parents everywhere, I salute your desire to shepherd your kids toward simplicity. Do your best to pair it with forbearance toward silver-haired, soft-hearted spenders with whom you share a physical resemblance, a last name, or, at bare minimum, a deep love for your kids. Should you find this difficult, eggnog will help.

21 comments:

  1. I love you Jen. This is on point as usual.

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  2. We've done only 3 gifts for 16 years. The only way we control the grandparents is by providing the list to them after we have edited it.

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  3. Love this!! But what if our goal is not only to point our children towards " simplicity" , but to the heart of Christ and the reason we celebrate Christmas?

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    1. Sure! I would assume that it was. It was for us. But grandparent giving didn't jeopardize that.

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  4. Excellent Post! I would also extend this same grace to the Aunts and Uncles. The gifts we give are often one of the few ways we can share our love and find ways to interact with our nieces and nephews (especially for those of us who live at a distance).

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  6. Please allow a Nana to chime in . . .I tend to be on the "minimalist" side of things, but I definitely have a soft spot when it comes to my grandchildren! I asked my children what would be helpful for Christmas, and it has become tradition that I give each of the grandchildren pajamas to be worn during the holiday season. Since I have the luxury of having some of my grands nearby, I have some Christmas decorations which are "for them" but stay at Nana's (truly, a musical snow globe of master Yoda dressed as Santa does not match my 'theme' but I have some boys who love Star Wars). I do spend a bit more on the long-distance grands, but it usually is as a gift card for the parents to choose what would be most wanted/needed. Having navigated being a parent with overindulgent grandparents, I really want to be sensitive to my kids, and let the grandchildren know that they have ME.

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    1. This is lovely. May your tribe increase :)

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  7. Great post, Jen! My wife wonders how you physically handle the overabundance of stuff in the home? We have wonderful parents that are extremely generous around the holidays, but what do we do when our kid's rooms are completely filled?

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    1. That's a great question! We usually did a big giveaway right before Christmas, and then again in the summer. It can be hard to stay on top of. If their rooms are filled with grandparent gifts you feel bound to keep, you can rotate them in shifts, putting some away for a couple of months and then "flipping your inventory" so to speak. Kids really like rediscovering toys that they haven't seen in awhile, and it helps keep the clutter manageable.

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  8. This post came to me at exactly the right moment: I am expecting our fourth child and have learned (the hard way) that pregnancy and Christmas do not mix well. I may be quick to forgive certain things while not pregnant, but somehow those pregnancy hormones make it harder to let little things go, and I read this post when I was letting certain small offenses mentally snowball. As I read it, the snowball melted! I was able to laugh again and appreciate grandparents for who they are (even if I don't always appreciate what they buy). So, praise God for well-timed interludes with Jen Wilkin :)

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  9. It's all perspective, isn't it? My parents have been outrageous spenders, but we've learned the art of compromise - and giving lists. As they've gotten older, we've even done the shopping for them. This year, though, we got the 'gift' of a cancer diagnosis for my mom (grandma). Man. God has a plan. We're trying not to look too far ahead, but we're determined to enjoy every special occasion we have, letting her shop her heart out, watching them do their holiday thing, and making the most of what we have. We're making it a party, and enjoying life to the max. She wants no sad eyes, mournful stares. And so we give her the gift of carrying on, and our prayers for her. Perspective. Remember this when you feel overwhelmed with the gift deluge.

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  10. As a grandparent, may I share my custom? On Thanksgiving, I would give them a Christmas ornament that signified something significant in their year. Sports, dance, vacation, 1st anything warranted a new ornament. A week before Christmas, New pjs. Then a gift or two for regular gift giving. Today the two oldest have enough ornaments for their own first tree. Now the great grands will be coming soon and I get to start all over again.

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  11. Whew! This spoke to me! I'll start praying now for that perspective to take over my mind and heart this Christmas.

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  12. Good points. :)
    My thoughts...
    Grandparents can be such a blessing to the parents and the children when they follow the parents leading in how they feel God is telling them to raise their children. It's a great way for them to communicate respect and support for their own children's adulthood and for the grandkids to see a united front between not only Mom and Dad, but the two other most important family members Grandma and Grandpa.

    Hopefully the parents will also return the respect and let the grandparents go hog wild at times. :)

    My reasons for not wanting all the "junk" is that the more stuff I have the less time I get to spend doing the important things with my children. Everyone has a different life situation, and it is, of course, always changing as the kids age.
    For me right now with four children under seven, the youngest a four month old, the plethora of gifts is really a curse. I am doing well to feed, clothe, and read a few books aloud these days.
    More stuff for me and the kids to clean makes me want to curl in the fetal position and cry. (Maybe I already did when the Gma sent me this blogpost in a text and let me know the *second* van load of gifts is coming.)

    I see your/their perspective, but I think it's important to point out how it can be discouraging for parents, uptight as they may be, to be dismissed by their own parents by something so silly as stuff. The kids want TIME not stuff whether they know it or not.
    I loved my Maw Maw because she always wanted to listen to me and just be with me. That's what I remember (ok ok and the talking baby and tinkerbell makeup she got me). :)

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  13. This is NOT what I wanted to hear, but deep down, I know you're right.

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  14. I respectfully disagree :) I think grandparents can respect boundaries given by parents and not encourage a love of materialism. So respectfully, I do disagree.

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  15. I see your point but really it isn't right. Kids should not have so many toys that they don't know what to do with themselves. Also the Christmas gifts stay for the rest of the year and if we are trying to teach our kids be grateful for less the 30 different trucks and cars he got does not. Also I'd rather they give my child a high quality toy that can be passed down or played with foe years than the junk that will break in 1month. Just a personal thought. Grandparents are there to love and spoil the kids but you can do so without 100 toys from Wal-Mart because essentially that's showing the kids that only lots of stuff will do.
    i grew up with grandparents who never gave any Christmas gifts because simply that's how they lived. But you know what? Every year i would spend entire summer with them. Now 20 years later do i miss the gifts? Not one bit! I never did. But i know that they loved me by how they treated me and all the time i was able to spend with them. It really isn't about stuff. And grandparents who understand the value of your opinion as a parent and want to teach their kids meaningful things will get on board with the parents

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  16. Yeah, I needed to hear that, thank you Jen. What are your thoughts about a grandparent giving screens or other devices to young children?

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    1. Kari, that is an excellent question. As I noted, "If it is not dangerous, illegal, immoral, or an ongoing financial commitment on your part once it is given, you don’t need to step in." If you read my blog, I'm sure you know I would categorize screens/devices as potentially very dangerous if unmonitored or not given at an age-appropriate time. Franlky, many grandparents are not aware of the dangers associated with such a gift. I would absolutely want input on/control over those types of gifts.

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