Find out why it can be a huge problem when grandparents give too many gifts, what you can do instead, and why you might want to cut back on your own gift-giving this year.
When grandparents give too many gifts, it is nearly always to show their love for their grandchildren. Gifts show how much we value our grandchildren, and how much we want to delight them. It’s hard to consider that those motivations can result in problems.
But there are several valid reasons for parents to try to limit gifts from grandparents. These aren’t just small problems for the parents. They can be big ones, and they can also affect the children and grandparents themselves. Here are 10 reasons that you should consider cutting back on gifts to your grandchildren.
How overindulgent grandparents cause trouble for grandkids
#1 Too many toys=less imaginative play
Are you buying toys because you think your grandchild will enjoy valuable playtime with them? You might want to think again: Research is pretty convincing that having fewer toys leads to better quality play in children. With fewer toys to choose from, children interact with the toys in more creative ways and play with them for longer. This sustained play leads to all sorts of positive outcomes, from motor skill development to better problem solving. In other words, having more toys actually hinders play.
#2 Do too many gifts spoil a child?
There’s a scene in the first Harry Potter book where the dreadful Dudley Dursley is counting the gifts he received on his birthday. "Thirty-six. That's two less than last year!" While this is a fictional exaggeration, many grandparents are creating similar expectations in their grandchildren. If you rush to make sure they have everything they could possibly desire, they will grow up with the assumption that they deserve everything they want. Eventually, life will teach them otherwise, and it will be a hard lesson. It’s much kinder to keep them from having to learn that lesson by not over-indulging them from the start.
#3 Creating negative habits
Another negative effect of too much stuff is the impact it can have on your grandchild’s consumer habits. When a child becomes accustomed to having an abundance of things, they will consider that the norm. When they are first supporting themselves, they may feel deprived if that abundance isn’t possible, or they may develop negative spending habits to fill that sense of need. Again, you can set them up for future success by limiting what you buy them now.
How overindulgent grandparents cause trouble for parents
#4 So Much Damn Stuff
“Too much stuff from grandparents” is at the top of the list of topics that parents struggle with, especially at this time of year. 75% of the parents we surveyed wanted grandparents to respect their wishes about gifts.
Parents have many reasons they don’t want too many gifts from grandparents. The one most often cited, and most often waved away by grandparents, is the sheer volume of stuff. Many parents don’t have the physical space to
accommodate the toys indulgent grandparents buy. Even if they do, parents are the ones responsible for storing and picking up all those toys. Yes, the kids should be putting them away—but the reality is that even if they are, the parents are responsible for getting them to do it.
Another thing to consider here is that you, as a grandparent, are only one of the people giving gifts to your grandchild. Let’s do a little math here: Say your grandson has four other grandparents and four aunts and uncles. Each of these people get him one gift for his second birthday. That’s already nine gifts. Plus something from mom and dad—we are up to ten. But if all those grandparents buy him three things, and two of the aunts get him an extra little something—that’s 22 presents. For a 2-year-old, who would be just as happy with a box.
If you’ve already bought more gifts for your grandchild than you know their parents would like, there’s a generous solution. While your grandchildren are faced with getting too many gifts, many children are in the opposite situation. Take some of the things you bought to Toys for Tots or another organization that provides gifts for less fortunate families.
#5 Stealing the limelight
While it’s natural to want to be the one to grant your granddaughter’s most heartfelt desire, consider that her parents might want to be the ones to get credit for giving her the skateboard she wants more than anything in the world. It’s only fair to give them first chance at that, which is why it’s vital to discuss your gift giving strategy ahead of holidays and birthdays.
#6 Undermining their values
Many parents want to raise their children with values of minimalism or environmental awareness. It can be a struggle to teach children to value people and experiences over belongings if they come to equate their grandparents with abundant gifts. This is especially difficult for parents who choose not to have certain types of products in their home, like battery-operated toys or clothing made in sweatshops. As grandparents, it’s important for us to respect that, and to value our adult children’s decisions as parents.
How overindulgent grandparents cause trouble for themselves
#7 Focus on the relationship, or the gifts?
When grandparents give too many gifts, it changes the dynamic in the grandparent-grandchild relationship. For many grandparents, the first thing a grandchild says when they see them is, “What did you bring me?”
I only see my grandchildren 3-4 times a year, but I decided very early on that I wasn’t going bring a little something to them with every visit. I wanted them to be happy to see me and Pops for ourselves, and I didn’t want to set up a habit that would change that. This also means that I focus on them, rather than their reaction to whatever I might have brought.
#8 Setting up conflict with your adult children
Parents are asking the internet how to limit gifts from grandparents because the grandparents aren’t listening—or because parents are afraid grandparents will take offense if they raise the subject. If your adult children haven’t talked to you about gift giving, don’t assume there isn’t a problem. Bring up the subject yourself! Get your copy of “A Grandparent’s Guide to Happy Holidays” for tips on how to have that conversation.
#9 Financial peril
Suzanne was so thrilled with the birth of her first grandchild that she went overboard with gifts. When the second one was born, she did the same. By the time the fifth grandchild arrived, she had retired and had a much more limited income. But because she had set up a pattern of buying expensive gifts for her grandchildren, she continued to do so for fear that they—or their parents—would be upset with anything less. This sometimes meant scrimping on things she needed for herself. How much easier it would have been if she hadn’t gone overboard to begin with, or if she had felt able to have an honest conversation with her children!
Reason #10: Help Change the Narrative
There is too much advice out there that says being grandparents gives us the right to ignore parents and do whatever we feel like. Research shows that the most important thing we can give our grandchildren is our time and attention. This is what children remember, not the things we bought them.
Who's ready to stop focusing on spoiling our grandchildren and start focusing on cherishing them? Let me know in the comments!
Parts of this post were originally published in December 2021.