“But it’s my JOB to spoil them!”

How many grandparents have said that about their grandchildren?  They say it with a chuckle and a twinkle in their eye. They’re so excited to finally have grandkids so they can give as many gifts as they want without worrying about the consequences.  And we’re thinking … “Yeah Mom, but I do have to deal with the consequences.”  

We are trying so hard to battle the entitlement tidal wave, the house is splattered with toys all the time, and we’ve been constantly trying to downsize and declutter.

Then Christmas comes.  We’re back to square one. Undermined, sabotaged, and trapped in a cage of politeness.

We know we have to curb the over-gifting, but how do we do so without hurting feelings and causing awkwardness?  

Yeah it’s tricky, and even a potential minefield, but if we can get ahead of the problem now, before the gifts are bought, we can save ourselves from dealing with the aftermath in January.  

Understanding Over-Gifters

It is always wise before bringing up any sensitive subject, to put on the other person’s shoes and walk around a little bit. Chances are, your parents and in-laws understand that nobody wants spoiled, entitled, selfish children. What they really want to do is indulge the grandkids – and hey, a little over-indulgence here and there is not necessarily a bad thing.  

But where do we draw the line between a little indulgence, and spoiling?  

The answer lies in what happens to our children’s attitudes afterward.  

When a boy opens a new gift on Christmas day, he’s super excited … for a few minutes.  You might get him to say thank you to the right person in that moment, but the next day he might not have a clue who gave him what.  All he sees is a pile of free toys he did nothing to earn.

Since Christmas and birthdays come every year, he develops the expectation that piles of toys will come every year regardless of his behavior.  It is the automatic expectation that leads to entitlement.

Our parents need an alternative.  A positive way to indulge the kiddos without spoiling them.  Here is an example:

When my sister and I were little, Gammy took us to a place called Circus Circus.  All the games you’d find at a carnival in one giant room. She gave us each $40 (which was a fortune to us) and said, “Go nuts!”  We were princesses! We walked away with one or two prizes and a thousand memories of crazy fun.

Why didn’t these days of indulgence turn us into spoiled brats?  Because what happened at Circus Circus, stayed at Circus Circus! It was a special day, but for only one day.  We hoped to go back, of course, but we knew it was a special treat, and not something we ever felt entitled to.

I have little memory of the toys Gammy gave me growing up, but I will always remember Circus Circus.  That is the kind of connection grandparents crave.  The key is helping them see that all the toys they send are not necessarily creating the happiness they intend.

Approaching Over-Gifters

First, share your struggle.  Call up your mom (or whoever the biggest Over-Gifter is) and confide how you are struggling to teach responsibility and contentment.  Don’t say a word about gifts(or hint that she’s to blame). Instead, thank her for listening and for any advice she’s given.

Then actually begin decluttering the toys.  Text her a pic of your giant toy pile with the caption, “It’s downsizing time!  Pray for us!”  

At this point, she may already have connected the dots.  If not, you’ve at least laid the foundation to make the more difficult phone call…

“Mom, you know our toy difficulties, and I’m worried about Christmas.  I know it’s a lot to ask, but would you mind giving the kids something other than toys?  Not forever, just this year. Remember when Dad took the kids to that ballgame? They had so much fun, they still talk about that day.  That would be a perfect Christmas gift!”

Hopefully she will understand and support you, so have a bunch of non-toy ideas ready to give her.  The more experiential and interactive, the better!

When Over-Gifters Push Back

You must be three things: kind, firm, and clear.  You will only let the kids keep a reasonable number of toys. The rest will be returned.  

This a tricky conversation!  That is why if the Over-Gifters are your in-laws, then it might be best for your husband to do the talking.

In case the toys still come pouring in, here’s your insurance policy:

Tell your kids before Christmas about the new rule.  On Christmas day each kid gets to pick one toy to play with, and the rest stay in the boxes (aka returnable).  The following week, in the privacy of your own home, each kid chooses two more toys to keep, and the rest will be returned.  

Don’t worry about relatives being offended.  You were very clear before Christmas and they have chosen to ignore you.  

If your parents and in-laws are anything like mine, though, they may be a tad disappointed, but they will completely understand.  

As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children contentment and gratitude.  These are character traits that steer the course of a child’s life, and a strong character is far more desirable to build than a fleeting moment of excitement on Christmas morning.