Keeping Grandma from "Buying" Her Love

Jan Faull, MEd, on helping grandparents curb their grandchild spending sprees.
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Q. I love my mother-in-law very much -- she's very good to my family, and she even babysits frequently for us. But I'm having a problem with the amount of clothes and toys she buys my son. Not only does he not need all of what she buys, but our home is also small, and we simply can't accommodate her buying sprees. I don't want to insult her or appear unappreciative, but I do want to tactfully stop her from these buying binges, especially with Christmas on the horizon. What can I do to get her to stop without hurting her feelings?

A. It sounds like your mother-in-law lives with the notion that the only way to connect with her grandson is by buying him things. So helping Grandma make this connection may be the key to getting her to scale back her shopping sprees.

That said, since she's your husband's mother, have him broach the subject with her. He should express how appreciative you all are of her gifts, but that you're also concerned about how many she purchases. Suggest that instead of buying gifts consistently, she consider these options:

  • Limit purchases to only one toy or clothing item each month, instead of every time she sees her grandson. (Consider every other month if you still think it would be too much.)
  • Purchase toys she can't resist, but keep them at her house for your son to play with when she takes care of him there.
  • Put money in a college fund for your son.
  • Save boxes and discarded paper towel rolls for your son to play with, thereby creating toys together, rather than relying on store-bought ones.
  • Pay for his play school or upcoming preschool tuition.
  • Put money aside for a large outdoor piece of play equipment that you'd like to install in the backyard.
  • Purchase his first big-boy bed for him.
  • Take him to the library once a week for story time and book check-outs -- she'll be teaching him responsibility, a love of literacy, plus how to use the public library.
  • Buy a subscription to the Science Center in your community.

However she ends up choosing to spend money on your son, you and your husband need to communicate to her that the most important commodity she has to offer is her time and attention. Realize that when your husband tells her not to buy so many clothes and toys, she may feel hurt. Therefore, it's important for your family's relationship to show your mother-in-law your true appreciation, whether she reads to your son, sits on the floor and plays with blocks alongside him, or allows him to play in the water at her kitchen sink.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com, and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, December 2004.

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