Care and Feeding

I Took Drastic Measures to Deal With My Son’s Mountain of Christmas Gifts

Am I a horrible Scrooge of a mother?

A pile of gifts.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I went berserk about presents on Christmas, and I’m not sorry. Although I calmed down 24 hours later, I still haven’t changed my mind. My in-laws buy my kid (almost 5) so much stuff year-round. Last Christmas, my son got so many presents that he gave up unwrapping, threw a tantrum, and refused to eat and nap for the rest of the day. Last week, my son said he doesn’t find all these new toys interesting after a day or two. We’ve talked about donating before, but at the last minute he’ll back out and throw a fit.

On Christmas Day this year, when my son was whining about presents, I’d had it. I donated all the toys he hadn’t touched in at least a year, and I still don’t think I’ve made a dent. My kid has yet to notice anything is missing, which proves my point!

Here’s where my husband and I disagree: I had been keeping some large gifts that my parents also sent in my closet (to the point I barely have any space left). The original plan was to dole out those presents throughout the year, but we still had stuff from last year we hadn’t given to him. I unilaterally (because they were my family’s gifts) decided to return these presents and put the money ($500) towards tuition or a savings account.

A major detail: My son doesn’t know the gifts exist, so I’m not taking anything away. My husband wants me to stop donating toys and not return my parents’ gifts. He thinks our kid will be upset once he realizes I gave the toys away (something I’m willing to face), and he thinks I shouldn’t give away presents that aren’t mine. I reminded my husband that if our kid appreciated what he has, played with his possessions, donated to others, and had a better attitude (all things we try to instill), I would have spent my Christmas morning differently.

Since my in-laws aren’t dialing back the excessive gifts, and we have limited space, I’m taking charge, especially as my son’s birthday is coming up. (As I write this, there are still more Christmas presents for my kid at my in-laws’ house to open!) It’s my family, and I’ll decide how the gifts from them get doled out in the same way my husband lets his parents do whatever they want. There are other issues at play, but material goods are a big problem. Despite my best intentions and desire to give my child a better life, I’ve turned him into a spoiled brat and I’ve allowed others to spoil him. I blame myself. What say you? Am I a horrible Scrooge of a mother?

—Big Time In Seattle

Dear Big Time,

I answered a question similar to yours a few weeks ago, but I’ll happily dive in again because this is a common theme around the holiday season. First off, no, you’re not a horrible mother for donating the toys, but I think you and your husband are going about this the wrong way.

Clearly, you’re not doing an effective enough job in telling your son’s grandparents to cool it with the gifts. Stop pussyfooting around and say something like, “Look, I know you care, but we literally do not have any room to store these gifts you’re sending our son. Not to mention, he gets bored after playing with the toys for a few hours, so we just end up donating them to less fortunate kids. If you truly want to do something nice for him, donate to his college fund or savings, and send only one material gift.”

As I’ve said before, some grandparents believe the best way to show love is through material gifts, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. You need to remind them that the best gifts they can give are through experiences like vacations, playdates, sleepovers, etc. Your son won’t remember anything about the toys he received a few years from now, but he’ll definitely remember the fun times he spent with his loved ones.

In summary, you’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic by worrying about donating the gifts or not. The root cause is the grandparents, and you need to address them immediately. I’m sure they wouldn’t want their grandson to become a spoiled brat, but if they continue along these lines, it could be inevitable.


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