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.