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How do you deal with grandmothers bearing gifts? Gay Uncle knows.

grandmother with gifts

Gay Uncle Brett Berk: I received a triple-threat of a question this week: one that takes as its
subject a twining trio of resentments involving greedy children, objectionable gifts, and mothers-in-law.

"Dear Gay Uncle: I am having trouble with my child's grandmothers giving copious, unwanted gifts. These gifts normally are from China, overly packaged, cheap, and are often relegated to the bottom of the toy box moments after opening. There have been times when a certain grandmother has been told she may not buy our daughter something while at the store. On a later date, the same grandmother has returned to the store to purchase the item. I used to go by the philosophy that gift-giving was a grandmother's prerogative. However, my daughter now greets her grandmothers with, 'What did you bring me?'. I feel embarrassed every time I need to overfill the recycling bin or put out a second garbage can because of all the toy refuse. Please address."

The Gunc abides. The short answer is that parents should feel entitled to set whatever boundaries they want for what comes into their house. It's their one absolute fiefdom, and until it's struck by lightning or gets foreclosed upon, they should be able to enact any restrictions they see fit, so long as they're not physically injurious to anybody and don't involve silly costumes or nudity. If your child had a nut allergy, you wouldn't allow grandma to bring a can of cashews over just because she thought they looked "cute" in the store. Of course, if you want this practice to work, you can't be passive, or passive-aggressive, about it. Clearly set the rule, discuss it with the M-I-L, ask her to respect it, and set up repercussions if she doesn't abide (e.g., "We're not coming over for Memorial Day," or "We're sending you to a home").

Of course, every good solution requires a trade-off. (That's why it's called compromise: you feel compromised whenever you do it.) In this case, you must adhere to the understanding that grandma does not have to follow YOUR rules at HER house. Her house is her castle, and she can implement whatever protocols she wants over there -- garbagey product-based, or otherwise -- so long as they're not physically injurious to anybody and don't involve silly costumes or nudity (and no pig latin either; it's asinine). This patented Gay Uncle formula affords a sense of control, achieves balance, and conditions all parties to practice mutual respect. Try it!

next: Granny Gets 'Designer Vagina' to Rekindle Sex Life
8 comments so far | Post a comment now
Beth May 13, 2009, 7:20 PM

Excellent idea and one that I wholeheartedly endorse! Of course, my parents’ response to that comment was we already did our time with toys all over the house, and yet they stress over my kids touching all their precious objets. Sigh.

Dana May 13, 2009, 8:37 PM

Good advice—but I think your logic fails when young children don’t want to leave the garbage-y products at grandma’s, but rather want to take them all home. I suppose that’s just one of those instances when one needs to set boundaries and stick to them, though—or maybe allow one take-home item per visit.

I also wonder (though it’s not the case with my family) what happens when a grandparent allows something, like toy guns, that the parents object to in strong moral terms. I think it would be much harder to be comfortable with a compromise in those circumstances.

Mariah May 14, 2009, 4:54 AM

For unwanted toys (I mean in the sense as in multiples of the same toy, etc.) just donate them to a shelter. I am glad that my grandmother isn’t like this. For any food she may bring, put it into a bag, and donate that, too, to a shelter. I’m sure the kids and people there would appreciate it.

Tom May 14, 2009, 6:55 AM

Thank you for abiding. As I mentioned in previous correspondence, this is excellent advice, but does not seem to apply when the grandmother is borderline personality disordered.

The Mad Mom May 14, 2009, 8:54 AM

You mean I can actually ASK my MIL to stop bringing the most ginormous gifts she can find into our postage stamp of an apartment — that we are trying to sell, mind you? Vindication! DANKA.

Jean Rubinson May 14, 2009, 9:06 AM

I am a grandmother and have come to realize that books are the best gifts to give. No more sqawking ducks to drive their mother nutty. Books are more permanent “keepers” for kids. Any overflow can be donated to the nearest library.

Victoria May 14, 2009, 4:58 PM

Great post, and great suggestions on dealing with MIL. But another way to solve the problem is to have the kids think about what it is they really want as a gift (so they dont accept all kinds of useless junk, but instead learn to focus and goal set towards something special) and then let grandma know about it. She can give $$ contributions towards it, eliminating the physical trinkets and teaching kids about saving towards something. There’s a website that calls itself “The New Model For Gift Giving” that does this..

Stefan May 14, 2009, 9:58 PM

Thanks for this take. The ante is up in our world of eight grandparents (divorces and remarriages and remarraiges). We try to direct them towards clothes which we burn through so fast, but then they so often buy clothes AND the gifts still pile up. So far, we mainly chicken out, act grateful, then put the worst offenders out with the trash.

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