Overly Generous Grandparents

by admin on November 15, 2011

My husband and I have a one and a half year old son and this story happened around his 1st birthday. My husband’s mother, Frances asked us what she should get for our son’s 1st birthday. I told her (a number of times, because she inquired a number of times) to keep purchases very modest. Maybe books, clothes or simple baby necessities. He is only 1 and really doesn’t need large, expensive toys. But maybe he is starting to grow out of the size pants he has, and maybe an extra package or two of diapers would be a nice thing to have on hand.

I explained this to Frances (pretty sternly) about not wanting my 1-year old to have tons of toys. That is a personal choice my husband and I have made for our child, mostly because we don’t want to create a pattern of over-stimulation or always needing to be stimulated by something loud and flashy, and that is just what we’ve chosen for our family.

For our son’s 1st birthday, we did not throw a big family bash. We had a very nice little party at home, just the three of us and a little cake. About 6pm, Frances shows up at the house uninvited, with about 3 different large sized presents in tow. Ok. Husband’s father and step-mother stopped by earlier in the day to wish our son a happy birthday, so no biggie. Husband’s step-mother got our son some new clothes and a couple books. Perfect! But Frances bought three large, flashy, loud toys, along with 4 or 5 other small toys. To say the least, it irked me, simply because I had asked her not to buy those toys specifically, and explained why we did not want them. A couple times!

I understand grandparents especially like to spoil their grandchildren. It’s fun to buy presents for babies, period. I get that. But I think people need to understand that especially when a child is only 1 year old, you really should listen to the parents about gifts.When a child is that young, I think the parents need more things FOR the baby (clothes, diapers, new bottles, etc) than the baby actually needs for himself.

My question is, would it be wrong for me to return these gifts? I understand these are just toys, but this is a choice my husband and I have made for our family and I do believe that my son will turn out to be a well-adjusted boy despite the fact that he does not have tens and tens of toys to play with every which way he turns.

Any advice would be great! 1113-11


My husband and I had a similar problem with a grandparent after the birth of our first child.   Despite recommendations that we celebrate Christmas modestly and to please limit her gift giving to a few small items, Grandmother B sent a huge box filled with many gifts.   We thanked her, gave two or three of the gifts to our daughter from the box and then put the remainder in storage.  Over the next year we raided the stash for new gifts to give her and regifted a few for other children.  I may have donated some as well.

Etiquette doesn’t really permit the recipient to dictate to the giver what they should or should not be giving.  When asked it is perfectly polite to give suggestions and recommendations but any more direction starts to gain the appearance of micromanaging other people’s generosity.   We should be loathe to curtail generosity in a typically stingy, me centered world.   The trick is to figure out how to encourage generosity in other areas such as writing letters to the child, building their personal library, or opportunities and adventures the child might not otherwise have.   Grandfather A was the complete opposite of Grandmother B in that he was very frugal in his gift giving but he was very generous in providing experiences that Dear Son still remembers and treasures many years later.

Grandmother B continued to send many gifts to the kids over the years and eventually tapered off as she slowly realized her gifts were not necessary to ensure the love of a child.    In response to her overly ambitious generosity, we began encouraging our children to give gifts on their birthday to counter the perception that they are owed a mountain of gifts.

There will be a few comments that suggest that grandparents ignore their children’s wishes for they wish to raise their children to which I say, the answer to the dilemma is still the same.   Have an attitude that one cannot dictate the generosity of others, accept gifts graciously and with appropriate thanks, and then feel free to dispose/regift any way you choose.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Lambzig November 15, 2011 at 6:02 am

I do agree with Admin, that you cant really refuse people’s generosity or direct too much, as people get such joy choosing and buying presents for a child. It sounds like the letter writer’s mother in law could not resist choosing things.

I had the same issue for my daughter’s first christmas when she was just ten months old. My father bought up half a department store and my parents in law bought some beautiful but crazily expensive toys. People who my husband and I perhaps just exchange christmas cards with (and hadnt seem for years) also, very unexpectedly, sent her gifts. She ended up with about 50 to 60 wrapped gifts, about 20 of which were duplicates and some very expensive. I was incredibly touched by the generosity and thoughtfulness of people, but also completely overwhelmed and felt I didnt want my daughter to have so much and her first christmas to be so much about materiality. The organised notes to record who sent what and the personalised thank you letters took days!

We gave any duplicates to charity (as the gift giver would not know that it was not their gift that she had) and saved some of the others for small surprised throughout the year. Some of the gifts that I didnt feel were suitable, we photographed her opening up to show the gift giver and then sent to charity still boxed.

This year I have set up a ‘wish list’ for her with an online retailer which includes smaller items like books and educational toys . If I am asked what she would like for christmas (and only if I am asked of course), as most of my family and friends are used to online shopping, I suggest they may want to contribute to her library or something from this list. Obviously, whatever she gets sent I will be grateful for, but I agree with Admin that as long as you are gracious and tactful about any delayed present giving or re-gifting and make sure to thank the sender, that is all that you can do.


Susan November 15, 2011 at 7:45 am

I would recommend not getting so “irked” at the grandparent over this. You need to pace yourself for when the hard-core spoiling starts! 😉

Admin’s advise is perfect. My SIL (who has quintuplets) gave me the same advice for my twins. Just because people shower your children with gifts, doesn’t mean you have to give them to them all at once, and with Christmas coming up, you’re already prepared for “Toys for Tots” or other charities.


MidoriBird November 15, 2011 at 7:53 am

When my sister had her first baby, a boy, I bought a medium plastic container and filled it with teething rings, baby shampoo, powder, bottles, trimmers, nail clippers, a thermometer, dispensing spoon, etc, anything I thought my sister could need for a baby that she now didn’t have to worry about getting–those small but necessary supplies.

At the baby shower everyone else had brought flashy stuffed animals, cards, etc all looking fancy–and fancy is not a skill of mine. Nobody else had seen things the way I did and I felt awful thinking I hadn’t done it “right” (I have Asperger’s and tend to see things from a different perspective than others) until my sister came to me and told me quietly that my gift was actually her favorite since I’d actually thought of her needs and her baby’s needs and had eliminated what for her was some very expensive necessities. (Inexpensive individually, but it adds up.)

Since then I’ve kept this in mind and my gifts to her for her children (she had a girl four years later) when they were really young were things like practical clothes, baby bottles, diapers, formula, and grooming kits for infants. Being she’s my sister, though, once or twice they also included a noisy toy or two, but she’s seen where I stand. I was never her baby supplier but I tried to fill in a need of the moment she might have had.


J's Mama November 15, 2011 at 8:04 am

I have a 2 year old son, so I understand where you’re coming from. I just have to ask, why are you so stern with what your mother-in-law purchases? Would you feel the same if it came from one of your own parents? Just know, that it probably came out of love, and not her wanting to irritate you. Spoiling a grandchild is one of the greatest joys in life, and one day you might have a grandchild of your own to spoil. Just say thank you, and do with the toys what you wish. If it makes your child happy, isn’t that what ultimately matters the most.


QueenofAllThings November 15, 2011 at 8:14 am

I understand the OP’s dilemma. Unfortunately, it’s a losing battle. The grandparents will do what they will do (been there). Certainly, at age one, some of the toys can be donated, regifted, or saved for a rainy day. Later in life it will be more problematic.


--Lia November 15, 2011 at 8:19 am

It all depends on how much closet space you have. If you have storage room, take the gifts and leave them there. I’d guess that while you don’t want your son to have over-stimulating toys all the time, you probably don’t mind if he sees them or interacts with them now and then. There are 8 gifts, 3 flashy and 5 small, right? So you bring out one of the gifts one month, get a photo of your son playing with it for a short time, possibly don’t plug it in, and then put it away. A month later, you do the same with the next gift. Frances gets the photo. You get to the bring up your son in the way that you choose.

And there’s the crux of it. People, not just your mother-in-law, will, for here on out, have ideas on how you’re bringing up your son wrong. They’ll decide you’re not feeding him right, don’t have him on the right schedule, are being too lax or too strict, not reading him the right books, and not teaching him the right religion. If this were anyone else besides your mother-in-law, I’d say to drop the gifts at the nearest box that collects toys for children who can’t afford them without another thought. Since this is your m-i-l, that’s the only reason I suggest as much compromise as I do. It’s practice at hearing what she has to say, watching her attempts to influence your decisions, and then doing what you know is right anyway.


Lily G November 15, 2011 at 8:55 am

I never did this until I had children, but now I send my mother flowers on my birthday with a note: “Thank you for having me”.


Laurita November 15, 2011 at 9:16 am

I admire this mother’s attitude toward her child and gift giving. Too often I’ve seen the opposite – mother’s through huge birthday parties that end up being nothing but a gift grab for their children, or placing holiday focus on getting kids whatever they want. This mom is not falling into that trap, and I applaud that.

I do agree with the admin. You can’t dictate the generosity of others, but once the gift is given, it is yours to do with as you please, whether that is to give it to the child, store it away in the attic for all time, or donate it.


Kimberly November 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

While I understand some of your grievances, I cannot for the life me understand, as a grandparent myself, not being included in my grandchild’s first birthday! You really could not have had a small, family dinner party with grandparents invited? Really? You don’t need a big bash as you stated.

It seems to me that you have gone out of your way to be “stern or direct” with your MIL. Is this always the case? Does she usually ignore all your wishes? Are you not on good terms at all or on any terms at all? I understand with in laws, it can be difficult.

But, from what I am reading, you are making it clear she is not wanted. You many not mean it that way, but to me, it is coming across that way loud and clear. Now, this also all depends on the type of relationship you already have. Does she already walk all over your wants and wishes? And are these really you and your husband’s wishes together, (celebrating your child’s first major milestone birthday with just the three of you, or are these basically your wishes and hubby is going along with them?).

As for the gifts, why couldn’t you have said, this is what she could really use and this is what she needs, but we would not mind if you bought her one or two gifts just for fun. Like others have posted, you can bring them out for short periods of time, and then put them away. Or swap on and off with toys. I know my kids, (have three), would get bored with their toys all the time. But, once you go to donate that toy or give it away, all of a suddent that becomes their favorite toy. So, by “hiding” some toys and switching them often, it helps to keep baby enterained and stimulated. You however, can control that stimulation by bringing out what toy and when.

You also state that your husband’s father stopped by earlier with his step mom and you say “No biggie”. Yet, when MIL comes over univited, it is a different story. Clearly, there is background here with your MIL.

While I am a grandparent to a three year old granddaughter, (and our situation is different, my daughter was 16 when she had her), I do listen to my daughter’s wishes, but she knows that sometimes, I do things because, yes, I want to spoil my grandchild. But, because I am allowed to do this within reason most times, we have a good relationship.

I think if you change the way you word things to your MIL, you might find it easier to deal with her and mabye she might actually listen to what you have to say. Kill im’ with kindness. Basically, you learn to play her, (especially if she is difficult), to get what you really want.

I am assuming she brought over so many gifts because you so “sternly”, (as you put it), told her what “YOU” wanted for your child’s birthday. If this came from both you and your hsuband, he should have been the one stressing it to his mother, not you. So, I would work it like I mentioned above, this is what he could really use, but I understand wanting to spoil your grandchild, so we do not mind a few “fun” gifts from grandma.

And if she still does not listen and is just one of those MIL’s, than do what everyone else says. Smile and say thank you and donate the gifts or put them away and bring out every so often for your son to play with when you want him to play with those toys.


Michelle November 15, 2011 at 10:00 am

We have successfully cured my in-laws of this tendency…living in a very-small-house (800sq ft!) from which dear husband operates his business too, we always reacted with pleasure and gratitude to new toys and ensured that the loudest, flashiest and smallest-parts-having ones migrated to gramma and grampa’s so that they could enjoy dear daughter enjoying their gift(s). “Thank you so much – DD will surely enjoy playing with this, but you know we have limited space – let’s keep this at your house so she’ll have some toys there.” rinse-repeat and by her 2nd birthday, they were buying coloring books, reading books and the like.

This stragegy only really works for in-town grandparents.

Agree with prior poster that the OP’s ire should be held in check – and her blessings should be counted if this is the worst thing she has to deal with from her in-laws.


Harley Granny November 15, 2011 at 10:09 am

I am a Granny with the buying sickness. I am trying to contain myself…truly I am.

I do take into consideration what interests my DIL and Son have so I can get like minded gifts.

For example…they like to bike, run, hike etc…basically outdoor stuff. So at least one gift each will be of the outdoor type. This year it’s skates.
The oldest is starting to like to make things so I’ve also gotten a craft kit.

I, for one, would love to buy out the store but #1 I can’t afford to and #2 I know how the parents feel about excess.
If a shopaholic like me can contain myself, anyone can!


Saucygirl November 15, 2011 at 10:11 am

I have three grandmas buying for my three year old and they seem to think it is a competition so I understand where you are coming from. But diapers and socks as a Christmas gift? You have to let the grandparents have some fun. I have found that asking for books that were childhood favorites of the giver usually gets good results. They can personalize the book with messages, which you can stress makes the gift more valuable in the long run, versus a flashy gift that may or may not last a year .


Jai November 15, 2011 at 10:11 am

Oh, I hear you. On our daughter’s first Christmas, my inlaws took two car journeys to bring her presents over! I am not kidding, there were over 50 presents, mostly awful plastic noisy things. She was 4 months old! Three years on, if people ask, we now ‘encourage’ people to put money into her savings account, or to give clothes, books, or non-tangibles like swimming lessons, zoo passes, activity sessions etc. Some people do. The inlaws still don’t – 29 presents on her birthday this year.

I regift some, return some, and put some away for a later date. My daughter gets overwhelmed by too many presents anyway, she gets quite panicky when she’s expected to open piles of gifts. There’s not much I can do to stop them, but I refuse to go ‘into competition’ with them. I buy my daughter one or two things that she really wants or needs. I know when she’s older we might get into the ‘why does Nanny buy me so much and you don’t?’ thing, but at the moment, she’s so happy to get something she really wants that she doesn’t notice the amount.

Case in point: her birthday a couple of months ago. I bought her three small things that I thought she’d like. She had one or two other presents from my side of the family. Inlaws were coming over in the afternoon. I was feeling a little guilty, she was sitting there with only a couple of parcels. My mother rang to say happy birthday and I heard my daughter tell her excitedly “Grandma, there’s SO many presents!” Apparently to a 3-year-0ld, anything over 3 is lots!

Anyway, there’s nothing you can do to stop them – but no one is making you give all the presents at once. Thank them graciously, then do what you want with the gifts, and just ensure that as they grow up, the child understands that birthdays and Christmas aren’t just about getting presents.


CaffeineKatie November 15, 2011 at 10:24 am

I don’t think the real problem is the toys; the parents made their toy guidelines very clear and the MIL totally blew them off. This is about a lack of respect for the parents’ decisions and I doubt it will get better unless they take a bit of a stand NOW.


Elizabeth November 15, 2011 at 11:00 am

Unfortunately, Grandma’s uninvited visit and presentation of the gifts then put the parents on the spot of having to ‘take’ the gifts away, re-gift, deal out over time, etc. The admin’s situation was much easier as it seems the gifts were shipped/mailed and not personally delivered and presented.

Grandma asked and then ignored, repeatedly. Passive/aggressive for sure.


Lucy November 15, 2011 at 11:05 am

J’s Mama: I thought she said pretty clearly that this was a philosophical issue–she and her husband didn’t want the kid inundated with elaborate, overstimulating, toys. I think she was stern with her MIL because her own parents apparently didn’t ask multiple times what they should purchase (or, at least, I didn’t see any bias in favor of any of the groups of grandparents). Maybe the other grandparents were more accepting of the parents’ toy philosophy and didn’t need to be told over and over again.

My parents didn’t like elaborate toys, either–we were given things like plain dolls and building blocks that didn’t do all the playing for us. Big toys take up a lot of space, which they may not have in their home. The bottom line is, though, that it’s the parents’ call.


Wink-n-Smile November 15, 2011 at 11:13 am

By all means, thank your mother-in-law profusely for all the gifts, and choose one of her gifts to keep. The others should be donated. There are plenty of charities and groups that need toys for small children. With Christmas coming, Toys for Tots is an obvious choice. During the rest of the year, you might want to contact Child Protective Services. They are aware of plenty of poor children who have very little, and would appreciate such a toy, to distract them from the pain in their lives. Salvation Army and Goodwill are also good choices throughout the year.

Frankly, spoiling her grandson really ranks low on the list of potential in-law problems. It means she loves him and wants him to have what’s best. Yes, it’s a pain to have to deal with all the excess, but wouldn’t you rather have that inconvenience than the pain of seeing him hurt and ignored by grandparents who refuse to love and accept him?


Chocobo November 15, 2011 at 11:18 am

I can’t say that I feel too bad for the OP. This complaint sounds very similar to brides and grooms whining about what they receive for their wedding — that it wasn’t “on the registry”, or not practical enough, or too practical, it doesn’t fit their lifestyle, and so on.

Having a generous grandmother is not an insult or a commentary on one’s parenting. If only more people had grandparents so eager to please and be a part of their children’s lives.

I don’t agree with the admin’s suggestion to stash the toys away and then raid it to give to the children later; I’m hoping that raiding the stash for new gifts does not mean that the admin took credit for the gifts as their own when they actually came from Grandmother B.

“The polite approach would be to praise her generosity and then muse that you worry that the children are so overwhelmed that they can’t really appreciate it. Miss Manners would think it easier, however, to be silently grateful that your mother-in-law’s generosity enables you to benefit needier children.” — Judith Martin


Sarah November 15, 2011 at 11:30 am

We’re actually having this discussion with my parents right now. My mom’s “love language” is gifts. My middle daughter just turned 3, and the number of presents she got! The problem is that I can’t really just “disappear” the presents. Sometimes my mom gives them to her when she’s visiting or when we visit, so they’re opened at the time. If she sends them, she loves to talk about them, ask the girls about their playtoys, find out how much they like a toy so she knows whether to stick with that toy, etc.

In our case, we’re really close to our parents, so we had a talk with my parents. We’re going to work on making some firm limits on gifts for Christmas. I realize that you aren’t really supposed to dictate gifts and the like, but my understanding was that with family, sometimes etiquette takes a backseat to relationships. Just as a friend and I might discuss whether we want to exchange presents for Christmas and might even set a dollar limit, I think that it’s okay for a family to discuss such things amongst themselves and come to a mutual understanding. I think it would hurt my mom more to discover, by accident or the kids or whatever, that we gave away presents to charity that she’d picked for the kids, than to have an honest discussion that left her with the challenge of picking out the perfect present within certain limits.


Lilac November 15, 2011 at 11:36 am

I agree that kids don’t need too many toys. I cringe when I think of all the toys I or someone else purchased that were left in the dust just days after purchase. That being said I would agree with the poster said to keep some of the toys and bring them out periodically–but with a different idea in mind. Although a one year old is a little young for this, I would encourage any new parents to look at a collection of toys with VARIETY in mind. If one of the toys your MIL bought is a building toy, one musical, one creative play, etc. then consider keeping them, bringing them out periodically. See which ones spark your child’s interests. Books are great (both my kids and I are HUGE readers) but something can be said about toys. Some kids are very tactile. My son loved LEGOS from the moment he touched them. He’s now on a Robotics team, loves building, and is thinking about engineering as a career. I bought him a ton of building toys as well as other creative toys. I never did buy much of anything that was musical–music of course, but not instruments or many musical toys. Not being musical myself, it just didn’t occur to me. He eventually started playing an instrument in middle school and loves it but who knows? He might have been interested in music earlier if I had provided him with good musical toys. You never know what a child is going to connect to until they have the opportunity to try it out. Sometimes toys can point you in the right direction.


Ponytail November 15, 2011 at 11:50 am

Can I just point out a wee error you’ve made ? You say that “Etiquette doesn’t really permit the recipient to dictate to the giver what they should or should not be giving.” but strictly speaking, the parents AREN’T the recipients, so I feel they have a little leeway in deciding what their child gets.

I have been on the sticky end of this. I rang my future SIL and asked her what one of her daughters wanted for her birthday. I was told that she was getting some sort of learning video system and could I buy a game to go with it. I did so, we sent it off, and then received a thank you note (written by the mum, the girl was too young) saying that the present was very much appreciated but that she was saving it for her Christmas present. I don’t think the mother did anything wrong, really, but it was quite confusing, and I’m afraid we didn’t send a Christmas present.


Tad November 15, 2011 at 11:54 am

Yes it is wrong to return the gifts. No, it isn’t okay to dictate the gifts you want your child to receive only what you allow them to play with. and NO, it isn’t okay to ruin grandma’s fun at picking out fun toys for her grandbaby by being all snooty. It won’t hurt the child to get an extra toy or two from grandma a couple of times per year. You can’t micromanage everything, not even your child. He is part of a family and not just your possession.


Politrix November 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm

First of all: Congratulations to the OP on her son’s 1st birthday! A real milestone — that first year is tough! Happy Birthday to your little one, and I’m glad you had such a nice party for him.
Second: Haha I know where the OP and everyone else is coming from. Luckily Grandma and Grandpa don’t live that close, b/c they are constantly telling my husband and (mostly) me how mean and strict I am with my kid. (Gasp! I make her say “Please” and “Thank you”! I make her excuse herself from the table and clear her own plate when she’s finished! She’s too young for that, don’tcha know — I’ll be scarring her for life!)
At the end of the day, though, I guess I’d rather my child have over-indulgent grandparents than, say, those who want nothing to do with them, or don’t care, or think I’m being to soft on my kid… it could be worse! I agree with the Admin’s advice, and everyone else’s on this thread, which seems to be all on the same page.
But I also want to add that I think it’s great that you’re teaching your child not to *expect* presents, and to instill a sense of gratitude and generosity at such an early age (it’s never too early, IMHO). You’re teaching a valuable life-lesson, but Grandma and Grandpa are also teaching him a valuable lesson, too — that grandparents like to spoil their grandkids 😉


Jesbelle November 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm

My step-MIL always gets my son a Christmas present from his cousin (her grandson). The cousin is 19 and pretty much as uninterested in babies as any other college-age male, so you know Grandma is picking out these presents. They are always wildly cheap and chock-full of tiny pieces. Luckily, the tiny pieces provide me an excuse not to open them then and there — we wouldn’t want to lose a piece at Grandma’s house. I hadn’t thought about Toys for Tots, though. I should donate last year’s toy before this year’s shows up. Oddly, the stuff that comes from her is mainly clothes and the one present picked out by Grandpa — usually something featuring a headache-inducing LED light-show, but the kids seems to like them.


Nancy November 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm

My recommendation is to relax. Shopping for presents for kids is, for many people, exciting and fun. Who *doesn’t* love going into a toy store knowing that they can buy whatever they want? lol. I agree with your philosophy on keeping gifts small and simple and few in number to avoid overstimulation (which I think is turning into an epidemic for this generation of kids, based on the ones that I work with). In years to come, maybe Frances will continue to shower the kids with extravagant gifts. However, I think it’s more likely that the gifts will tone down as your child ages– both because he won’t be as “new” anymore and because he’ll develop more of a personality and interests that can be matched with particular gifts (like baseball equipment and a beginner chef kit, as opposed to obnoxious plastic toys that don’t really do anything but flash lights and play sounds). For now, just smile and try to remember that many grandparents do not want to be involved with their grandchildren and distribute their time as austerely as their gifts. I like the suggestion to set the toys aside to be given back to your son throughout the year as he loses interest in old toys (which isn’t a sign of overstimulation; none of them are fun forever). In that way, Frances will have given you and your son a gift that will stretch out over his whole first year, and yet he won’t be overwhelmed with mountains of toys to choose from at any given time.


Jesbelle November 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I meant to add: My son gets tired of the flashy, Mom-would-never-have-picked-this-out stuff pretty quickly, then he spends most of his time playing with the basics — blocks, balls, toy trucks, books, and teddy bears. So, even if you can’t avoid keeping lots of those flashy toys around, your kid will probably tire of them pretty quickly since those types of toys are usually one trick ponies and kids actually enjoy using their imaginations.


Margaret November 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Midoribird — sounds like the perfect shower gift. I did that for my sister in laws — baby tylenol, thermometer, pediasure, small pack of ready to serve baby formula and bottle – things that they might not think about needing until their kid is sick in the middle of the night or they can’t get to a store, plus some other baby essentials that had been useful to me. They both said they appreciated it very much.

And to fend off any formula/breast feeding comments — we all breastfed, but based on my experience, a little formula to supplement before my milk came in made a world of difference between my first and second babies, plus when my first was three weeks old, we’d had an emergency where I was almost in the position of having to leave my child with someone for a whole day without any formula to feed him while we were apart.


Gilraen November 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm

My friend had the same issue, and as she only has a very small apartment in the inner city, she had big problems. She had her husband talk to his mother and explain that though they appreciated the generosity they simply could not house all the stuff and what would she like them to so with them. After this the problem was solved.
I get that grandparents want to be generous, but as my SIL said, be generous by saving for her college fund, that really is something the kids need.

I don’t know the answer as a lot of it depends on family relations and that is tough.


Ashley November 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm

This is something that actually doesn’t happen in my family, and I think we are quite lucky for that. My family is large and we are used to small children running around and babies being born. You are much more likely to get a practical gift than some flashy toy. Unfortunately my sister in law was raised pretty much the opposite and is currently requesting big flashy toys for their first daughter who will be 18 months old when their second daughter arrives around Thanksgiving. My mom VERY VERY VERY politely worked it into the conversation one day that “Won’t it be quite difficult for the baby to nap if Olivia (eldest daughter) is playing with all these loud toys?” and it actually did seem to make sense to her…I guess we will see when Christmas comes.


Paige November 15, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I agree with Admin; well said!


Cat November 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

The notion that “if it makes your child happy” is the first thing to be considered gives me the willies. Start off like that and you’ll be in my office in sixteen years with a child who is “happy” getting drunk, sleeping around, skipping school, and taking grandma’s pills to get even happier.
Do what is right and don’t worry too much if your child is happy about eating a balanced diet, going to bed at a proper time, getting whatever he/she wants, and having rules and responsibilities he/she is capable of handling.
I just heard about a Dad who gave his son a video game that the child said would make him happy. Dad returned it after he watched the boy steal a car, hire a lady of the evening, pay her, and then run her over with the stolen car to get the money back.When he asked the lad why he did that, he replied, “The b***h is dead; she don’t need no money.” I believe he was very unhappy when Daddy returned his game.


Angela November 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Well, I wish you luck. My mom and aunt still buy my daughter expensive clothes that aren’t practical and then expect her to wear them on certain occasions. My aunt sent my daughter a dress “to wear to your Christmas band concert”, which was nice but my 7th-grade daughter wanted to pick out her own dress and it wasn’t the one that aunt sent. My mom gave her a pretty dress for her sixth birthday and apparently was disappoint that my daughter didn’t wear it to her birthday party…a party that involved an indoor gym and activities that did not bode well for a pretty party dress. Oh well, now my daughter is a teenager and picky about clothes, so that has made life easier. I appreciate that they think of us and are generous, but it’s maddening when they have a fantasy about how the gift will be used and I am expected to make the fantasy materialize.


Cami November 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm

It’s a horrible thing indeed that your child’s grandmother wants to show how much she loves him by wanting to give him gifts and see him on his birthday. I mean the gall of her wanting to see her grandchild on his birthday! And giving him fun gifts as opposed to diapers! I say cut her off right now before she gets the mistaken impression that she will have any role whatsoever in his life. Or before she might somehow give him something — a toy, a food item, an IDEA — that you don’t agree with!

Seriously though, you sound overly controlling and overly sure of your choices — a typical mistake of first-time parents, especially those of us who waited into our thirties to have children. Truth is, you’re not really supposed to control what people buy you (or your kids) as gifts. Truth is, telling a grandparent that they cannot buy fun toys for their grandchildor returning those gifts is tantamount to a declaration of family war. Is keeping these toys out of your home really worth it? Truth is, your child is not going to remember or care what he received or what kind of birthday party he had at one year old. Or two or even three. The party is about what the adults want OR what kind of experience they want the child to have. Would it have really killed you to invite your child’s own grandparents to his first birthday party?

In the end, it’s all about how you CHOOSE to see the situation.

My mother showed up for dd’s first Christmas with 32 individually wrapped presents. I was appalled, then began to laugh. A three month old does not need any gifts, let alone 32! But you know who needed them — my mother. She needed to demonstrate how thrilled she was to have her first grandchild; she needed to demonstrate to herself and to me that (unlike my childhood) she had the money to buy fun stuff for her grandchild; she needed to have the fun of buying; she needed to have the fun of abundance. For her it symbolized the abundance of her love. And you know what? That’s a good thing for a baby to have.

It was totally over the top and you know what? Decades later, long after my mother’s death, I still remember my dd’s first Christmas and unwrapping all those gifts — one by one — and laugh. I still look back at the photo of my baby surrounded by the 32 presents and laugh. My dd looks at those photos and says, “Wow, Grandma sure couldn’t wait to have me in her life, could she?” I am so glad now that I choose to laugh at how over the top she was. All of my memories of that day are happy and so were my mother’s. I think laughter is a better choice than getting angry.


Emmers November 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

@J’s Mama;
I think what irked the OP so much is that Grandma repeatedly asked what sort of things to get for the baby, and was well aware of the path that Mother and Father where taking with their child. After numerous question and answer sessions she decided to throw all that out the window and do what she pleased. Spoiling a child does not have to mean with items.

My brother has two children, their mother and her family are fairly wealthy and come gift-giving times they make great flourish of making this well known including purchasing some very expensive and at times outrageous items. Including a miniature sized (though still rather large) trampoline with mesh walls that enclosed it, and in the bottom half was a ball pit for when you removed the trampoline.

My mother (my mother had more then enough income to meet and surpass the mothers family’s gifts) purchased for them (both the young son and older daughter could use this and both liked it and there was enough included in the pack and bought separately to include them both) an outdoor ‘bug hunting’ set that came with things like binoculars, a thermos, a little case to examine the bugs, an enormous magnification ‘plate’, and other accessories for out-door stuff. Included She purchased a book on various insects and plants that had popup images and the like.

I was not as well to do in terms of money but was working at a bookstore at the time that sold some art supplies and art books, I had gotten her (the oldest) a child-appropriate drawing book and from another store purchased various art sets since she had shown a lot of interest in watching me paint and draw(I am a very hungry artist!) . Including a sketch pad, watercolor pad, pencils and erasers, markers and brushes and a mixing palette.

Upon receiving these gifts the two of them ignored the much larger gifts they had been given and my nephew went off outside with my mother to go critter hunting while my niece sat with me at the table as I taught her to draw. Showed her how to mix paint, etc..

Their trampoline was touched once and has sat in a corner in the basement unused.

What I am getting at is that the gift itself is not what is important, but the time spent with the child. Nothing is wrong with flashy gifts, but these children have gotten them since day 1 and are no longer impressed or amused by them. Spoiling a child is not getting them the most expensive flashy toy you can find, . anyone can plop down a shiny mechanical object in front of a 4 year old and walk away,but about the time they have to enjoy and grow from your time and the involvement with their present.


Jojo November 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I wonder if OP feels rather undermined by MIL rather than this being an issue about gifts? And maybe a little insecure too, as this is her first child?
Is it really such a big sin for MIL to drop by on her grandson’s birthday? It doesn’t sound like OP made any effort to include the grandparents, so of course they’ll invite themselves over. Good family management begins with anticipation of the needs and expectations of the people around you and finding a convenient way to meet these with minimal stress and fuss. It is also interesting that OP doesn’t mention her own family. Are they distant? Estranged?
It is the job of a grandparent to go completely nuts with the treats and the gifts. They’re also there to provide the child with a different perspective on how to live. Perhaps it’s time for OP to appreciate that she will do the main job of raising her son the way she wants to. Flashy plastic toys, the odd ice cream and expensive trip will be a pleasant diversion for him and his grandparents to share but he will still return home to the values OP wishes to raise him with. OP needs to take the pressure off herself that her way is the only way for her son to be raised appropriately and embrace the fact that MIL is going to be a willing, free babysitter for all the children she may choose to have for many years to come. And believe me, after a tough day with kids under your feet, those plastic flashy toys that keep baby number three occupied while getting one and two ready for bed are a godsend.
It seems to me that OP’s MIL gave her plenty of opportunities to ask for something large, generous and useful ( a piece of furniture that her little boy might have in his room for the next few years or an investment toy such as a large set of wooden bricks that will provide years of wholesome fun).
Perhaps next time OP should suggest a joint shopping trip with MIL and the baby to find something appropriate?
While I completely agree with not giving small children big gifts, it’s tough not to want to spoil them. Only last night my boyfriend had to talk me out of buying his niece a really lovely Christmas gift because her parents feel she already has more then enough toys and clothes. We’re going to put money in her savings account instead. My boyfriend can be very annoying with his practical approach sometimes – I’m still working on finding her a tiny but brilliant gift to give her when bf isn’t looking 😉


gramma dishes November 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Cami ~~ I just have to say that that’s a really sweet story and a wonderful, joyful philosophy!
Thank you for sharing that.


claire delune November 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm

The element of this submission that I find somewhat galling is the idea that the gift(s) “should” have been necessities for the baby rather than something more frivolous and pleasurable–this was a first birthday, not a baby shower, and the grandmother was asking about a gift for her grandchild, not a donation for the child’s parents’ practical needs. If they are struggling to provide necessities, then I can certainly understand turning to a grandparent for assistance, but otherwise this just sounds like someone whining that a gift intended for her child didn’t take her into account more. Gift-giving isn’t supposed to be an opportunity for the intended recipient to have free access to the giver’s wallet to decide how best to fulfill her own needs. It’s supposed to be a pleasurable and rewarding experience for BOTH parties. I’m not defending the grandmother’s excess here, but I do object to reducing the whole tradition of giving gifts to a simple commercial exchange.


Sarah Bright November 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I have had to deal with the same issue and my MIL and SIl withour now 2 year old daughter. Last Christmas they asked what to get her, we told them pajamas (desperately needed!) and maybe some books. They showed up with well over $100 in toys from Target and no books or pajamas. We decided after they left to let our daughter keep a couple, but the others were returned and exchanged for pajamas.

I say return whatever you want and get what you need for your child. People need to realize that spoiling a child is not the way to win their love.


AnonMom November 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Again, I will be the person seeing this from a different angle, because I have a MONSTER for a MIL. She purposely goes against anything her son and I say to show who is in charge, who is the boss, to prove we are bad and only she is good. Many of you here probably have normal parents and ILs who might go a bit overboard, but it’s not meant to put you in your place. Those of us dealing with a monster-in-law see the passive-aggressive nature of MIL empahtically being told “No.” to a certain idea, then have her do it anyway, knowing full well it’s not going to be happily appreciated by either the child or the parents of the child. MIL’s like mine do this as a giant middle finger to the parents’ faces, while making everyone else think she’s soooooo sweet for buying such a nice gift. MIL knows what she did.

Please consider the possiblity that this is just the beginning for the OP. Often grandparents will use gift giving events as a way to show who is in control. It only gets worse if the parents of the child don’t take a stand. Perhaps instead of dictating purchasing diapers and such the parents of the child could put a limit on the number of packages. A one year old child gets one gift. Two years old, 2 gifts. Or something like that. MIL might still go overboard and buy something hideeously obnoxious, but if she’s willing to follow some guildelines it might help the overall situation.


Sarah Jane November 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

From the mother of a child who was often ignored by one set of grandparents: Thank the grandmother for the toys and for remembering his birthday. Let the little one enjoy them.


Lucy November 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I’m a little shocked by the umbrage taken by everyone who seems to think that grandparents are entitled to buy as many gifts as they wish for kids, regardless of the parents’ wishes.

Nobody said the MIL couldn’t see the child or buy him gifts: The parents simply wanted her to respect their wishes and not over-gift a child who was far too young to appreciate most gifts, anyway. The parents are the ones who have to deal with the gifts once they’re given, and a pile of toys quickly gets to be a burden when they have to be organized and stored. If all you grandparents are so desperate to pick out toys, pick out a few for your grandkids, but then pick out a few more for charity so somebody else’s grandkids can have nice presents, too.

The respect issue goes both ways. Don’t crow about parents “respecting” grandparents’ wishes to spoil the grandkids a bit if the grandparents are not then willing to respect parents’ wishes not to be overburdened by quantities and types of toys that they can’t manage.

Or, set up a playroom in your own house and stock it with toys for your grandchildren to use when they visit. That way, you don’t have to butt heads with the parents over what and how much you buy (and I bet you’ll rethink how much children actually need once you’re the one who has to live with it).


Allie November 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I wish my nephew’s parents had this problem. On his first birthday they sat him in the middle of a massive pile of gifts and started taking his picture. The poor thing looked terrified by all the huge boxes teetering over him and had no idea what was going on. He has WAY too many toys, and is completely overstimulated by noisy, colorful toys, DVDs, cell phones and other electronic devices. Also, everyone is constantly squealing with delight at every single thing he does… kid can’t fart without getting a round of delighted laughter and applause. I keep out of it because it’s not my place to say anything, but I don’t think it’s healthy. I agree with those who say accept the gifts graciously and then simply put them away, regift them or give them to charity.


SHOEGAL November 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I suspect that the Grandmother finds the OP just as irksome dictating the gifts (rather sternly) as the OP finds the grandmother. I think that you were a little over the top stipulating what you wanted your child to receive and by eliminating the grandparents from the party. A grandchild’s first birthday party and she couldn’t come??!?!? I would find that extremely hurtful.

I believe the grandmother decided to ignore your request because you hurt her feelings – and she probably decided that she had the right (and indeed she does) to buy her grandchild anything she’d like. It is attempt to be a part of this child’s life and you should be honored and thankful by her generousity not appalled by it. It you hadn’t been so stern perhaps she would have gotten a different end result. Once the gifts are given, however, you do have the right to dispose of them in whatever way you see fit – so just let her give what she wants – and you can decide what stays and what goes.


Samantha November 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm

I understand why people might think that the OP was being a bit harsh to her MIL by trying to limit her toy purchase, but I am seeing the same thing with my MIL, SIL and niece, only my SIL can’t stand up to her mother. My MIL has been buying my niece every toy she has ever asked for, piling on the presents at her birthday and Christmas and otherwise spoiling the kid rotten. Now my niece has no comprehension of the word ‘no’, screams when she’s in a store and her mother won’t buy her exactly what she wants and otherwise acting like the stereotypical spoiled brat. She’s not yet three. I don’t want to see her at the age of ten if things continue the way they have been.

Now, this is partly the fault of my SIL, who is not enforcing boundaries, but enforcing boundaries with her MIL is exactly what the OP was trying to do. If her MIL is anything like mine, she needs to start now and be incredibly firm because there is no respect for the rules from my MIL and she continually ignores the way my SIL wants to raise her child out of her own preference (including spanking my niece). I know that I will have to put my foot down and potentially threaten not to let my MIL see any kids I might have to keep her from quite literally spoiling them. My first step at which to do this might be at Christmas or a birthday and while it might seem extreme to be so stern over “just toys” (I agree with the OP about not letting kids have tons of overly flashy toys), it won’t be “just toys” but establishing the fact that my MIL has no right to ignore my choices for raising my child, including things like punishment, diet (she ignores my wheat allergy so I’d imagine she’d do the same if my child had one) and safety concerns.


WildIrishRose November 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Why is everyone picking on OP? She made it abundantly clear that she didn’t want to overwhelm her one-year-old with stuff, and Grandma paid no attention. My guess is that OP would not have had an issue with one or two smallish toys, but G’ma appears to have gone overboard with several large AND small things. This would have hacked me off too, especially since I have zero storage space and the rooms in my house are small. Yes, I could regift or return or whatever, but why should I have to? That’s a lot of trouble I shouldn’t have to go to because G’ma refused to listen. It sounds like OP could have been more tactful in her suggestions to G’ma, but G’ma should have had enough respect for OP not to get six large AND small toys that OP specifically requested she NOT GET. And as for spoiling G’ma’s fun, who says there’s no fun in shopping for bath stuff or baby clothes or whatever? It doesn’t have to be toys. I’m sorry, but I’m with OP on this one, with the possible exception of her self-described stern words to her MIL. To all you grandparents out there who are dying to overwhelm their new grandchildren with stuff, DON’T!!! A one-year-old child is easily overstimulated, and that’s a problem Mom has to deal with, not Grandma. Buy the stuff and have it at your own house for when Grandchild visits.


--Lia November 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I’ve read the other comments and am starting to wonder if we all read the same original letter. The OP says that they don’t want to establish a pattern of over-stimulation or of their son always needing something loud and flashy. I didn’t get the idea that the problem was with too many gifts or too expensive gifts. The problem is loud and flashy gifts.

This analogy is not too farfetched. Imagine that the grandchild is sent to spend the day with his grandmother. (Great! Mutually happy visit.) Mother gives guidelines on what grandchild should have to eat while visiting. Grandmother ignores advice for simple healthy food and fills grandchild up with tons of junk because it’s such a joy to spoil him. Grandchild comes home and spends the next 30 hours sick, throwing up, and with diarrhea. Mother gets to clean, comfort, and lose sleep. Thereafter, the child doesn’t want carrot sticks with maybe a single cookie for dessert. He wants a whole bag of candy for dinner, and Mom gets to explain why to the (he never used to be) whiny child can’t have it. The toys aren’t too much different. Mother would prefer simple, soothing toys with trips to the park for a chance to run around and run off energy. Grandmother gives toys that are noisy, flashy, and over-stimulating. Now who has to try to put to put the kid to sleep? Children are different, but there’s a good chance that a child who has been playing too much with electronics isn’t going to be satisfied with a storybook and a lullaby.

Thus my original advice. Grandma gets to give the presents, but parents get to decide when and how often they’re played with– even if that’s only for 15 minutes now and then.


Mistral Fire November 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm

As a first time auntie, diapers sound like a boring present to give a baby and like something that is really more for the parents than the child. As a parent you have the right to make and enforce rules about what toys your child may have, but you can’t force other people to follow those rules. You can thank them and then remove the toys. I like the idea of putting extra toys aside and pulling them out at various times throughout the year, as long as you give credit to the original giver. So you could tell your child, “let’s play with “stored toy” that Grandma got you for Christmas” or “here’s a “stored toy” from Grandma.” Another idea is to create a “Babysitter box” of toys that you are okay with your child playing with occasionally but not all the time. A family a sat for did this and it made babysitting their children much easier because it provided an exciting activity for the children while their parents were out having fun (and the children always thought their parents were out having fun, no matter what the reason they were going out was). Parents weren’t allowed to play with toys from the Babysitter box, so it had to stay put away if there wasn’t a babysitter.

Another idea for the future, when your MIL asks about presents, give suggestions for toys you think would be appropriate or that would go along with toys you are purchasing. For instance: “Baby loves playing with his friend Sally’s blocks, so we are giving him a set of his own. Toy Company also makes some expansion sets with different sizes and shapes, I’m sure he would love to have one of those to play with as well.” In that vein, tell your MIL about how much your son loves specific toys that you approve of. “Baby loves being read to, I think Eric Carle is his favorite author” “He just kept playing with that bear you gave him all day long, he didn’t even want to eat his lunch unless Bear could have some too.” Think positive reinforcement.

Or you could suggest a fun activity that they could do together. My instinctual desire is to go overboard in giving my nephew gifts. Part of it is because I want him to have things that I think will bring him joy and part is because I want him to know that I care about him. I can’t see him, or even talk on the phone every day but sending him toys and books makes me feel like we are connected and that will help him know that his auntie loves him. Ironically, one of the things that helps me keep from buying out the toy store is the knowledge that his parents routinely remind him who gave him which toys when he plays with them. He’s still a baby but does appear to understand that to an extent.


hannabannad November 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I went to a 1 year old’s party once and took 1 gift (I’m the grandparent). The other grandparents showed up with 7 presents. It makes everyone feel odd.


sv November 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I had the same problem with my well meaning mother in law, of overriding my wishes regarding gifts and things like that. I did the same thing the Admin did …put some away and doled them out over the year. That way each gift was appreciated and played with, and I donated or gave away ones that my daughter had lost interest in. And as my daughter ( and subsequent children) got a little older, the excessive gift giving tapered off. Simply smile, say thank you and put them away.


Cat November 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Lia, I think we took that tact because the OP states that she was, “…not wanting my 1-year old to have tons of toys.” That made us think that it was not only the loud and flashy part, but also the huge box of gifts the child was given that caused her concern.


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