Thoughts on in-laws and Christmas presents for the kids

I’ve mentioned before that we don’t buy Christmas presents for our children other than stocking stuffers.  This year is no exception– I still need to buy candy and I picked up some fun smaller items to stick in the stocking, but other than that we’re done with shopping for the children.

Why don’t we buy Christmas presents?  Because my in-laws are insanely generous and they seem to be able to pick out stuff that DC1, at least, loves.  (DC2 hasn’t been around long enough to know how ze feels about the in-laws’ taste.)  They buy tons and tons of presents and if we added more it would be even more overwhelming.

Some people get upset at grandparent generosity.  They resent the buying etc.  I mentioned my in-laws’ habit the other day on a blog and someone said they had the same first-world problem and it made her angry.

It doesn’t make me angry, because the in-laws are getting joy out of picking presents and they live far enough away that we don’t actually have to show them the gifts. And some of the gifts are pretty spectacular– the kinds of things I dreamed of growing up (train sets, a giant wooden castle, a bicycle, a real microscope, a wii, etc.). But some portion of the presents end up unopened in our gift closet for other kids’ birthday parties because there’s only so much space and only so much a child can play with over the course of a year.

It’s weird because they give more to my kids each Christmas than I got from my entire extended family and Santa combined growing up. My own grandma would give one really nice present to each of us (like a porcelain doll) at Christmas when we were kids.

My FIL is stuck in a job he hates where he has to work a lot of unpaid overtime. I can’t help but think that if they were a little less generous with the grandkids, that they would have more financial freedom now. But it isn’t my place to say anything, and if they cut back it would also affect the other grandkids whose families have different values about Christmas and presents.  They are scrupulously fair about these things and each grandkid gets exactly the same dollar amount.

So we make up for it by not doing any Christmas gifts ourselves. Except the stockings.  We save what we would have spent and it will be there in the future should the in-laws need it.  (Though they probably won’t given that they’re in the last generation of generous pensions.)

Did you get a lot of stuff for Christmas as a kid?  Are things different today?

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39 Responses to “Thoughts on in-laws and Christmas presents for the kids”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I suppose I got enough as a child even though some years, especially as a teen, I was less than thrilled. Of course, this was in the 1940s and 1950s. Daddy made toys for us. I still have all those and doll clothing and blankets Mama made for us.

    I do have one pet peeve:

    When I was a child, I got one doll every year from Santa at Christmas. It was the only doll I received all year long. I took care of my doll and had beds and things to care for them. My mil would not listen and insisted on sending a doll, an ugly, cheap doll, for my daughters every year. The arms fell off. My husband was a minister, so my attempts to control over-consumption of dolls was thwarted by evil, scheming, old witches/bitches in the church. People in the church knew my feeling about only one doll from friendly (I thought) conversations. SO, the old biddies would present my daughter with a gift in the sanctuary or vestibule with many people present and wait to watch her open it. She would open doll after doll on Sunday, Sunday night, youth meetings and Wednesday night. Of course, they knew that I had to be civil and allow her to keep dolls. How can a person deny a delighted child? The old ladies looked me in the face and smiled a knowing smile acknowledging they had gotten their way. My girls ended up walking on dolls instead of playing with them. Their daddy kept count so I could not quietly remove some of them.

    They never got so many toys that a few more hurt much. It was just the doll thing that ripped me apart each year. I know you think it is over-reacting, but it was and is my right to determine what is correct for my children. It was in no way jealousy on my part. So, rant ended.

    When my daughter told me no toys with parts for her child, I listened and sent books and pre-approved toys since I did not see what he had already. She lived in a small apt in NYC and really just wanted clothing because Santa gave him more than enough. I did send puzzles which I knew she would keep on a shelf in order to keep them together.

    Of course, when you speak of “getting a lot of stuff when you were a kid,” that is the time my children were kids.

    • Practical Parsimony Says:

      So, in the morning light I do appear a tad grumpy. But, imagine you had 50 sets of in-laws who were out of control and disrespected most things you said and opposed your values. Plus, your husband always stood up for them. These people were determined to hand candy to my children at any time they saw fit. They openly criticized what I put on my children’s plates at church dinner, what they wore that I bought, and my wanting the children to behave in church. The occasional old guy would be trying to get my child into a vacant room. My ex accused me of being selfish with our children, not wanting anyone else to do anything for them or talk to them “in private.” I felt no obligation to allow all of them to just flout all my “rules” for how my children behaved or what they could do.

      Imagine your daughters each got a doll several times a week during the month of December. THAT was the breaking point for me–not respecting my not-so-unreasonable wishes. The elderly lady who made her a ragdoll was thanked warmly and was not trying to just get her way.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Normally, I think we can teach our kids that there are different rules in different places. At least there were different rules at my grandparents’ than at my parents’, and this was not confusing at all.

        But your situation is very different. I’m sorry that your girls did not get to cherish their dolls and that so many of your rules were disrespected in your own church.

  2. Perpetua Says:

    We have the opposite arrangement with one set of grandparents. They help us with tuition for the kids’ preschool and in return don’t do much in the way of presents. They give one or two small gifts so they can be represented on Christmas (they are never here in person), and that’s all. We’re happy with that because we’re pretty strict about the kinds of gifts the kids are given & are happy to have control over the process. The other set of grandparents is a little over the top, but only by our minimalist standards. But it does mean we ourselves don’t buy much, one or two small things per child. That’s a good amount for us. It always adds up to so much in the end! But really, compared to other kids, they don’t have many toys (their cousin has a room dedicated to his thousands of toys), although it’s beginning to pile up, though now it’s time to remove some of the toddler toys as toddler is now a Big Kid.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We tried to add to 529 plans in lieu of gifts, but BIL never got around to opening one!

      We had a lot of fun removing the outgrown DC1 stuff to the nursery for DC2. DC1′s room has so much more space! Of course, there’s also a tonne of hir stuff in the great room. We went to a party this weekend where the two children share a room and the room that would be a master bedroom was being used as a play room chock full of toys (the parents used the other smaller bedroom as theirs). Our great room is kind of like that.

  3. The frugal ecologist Says:

    I love your approach. I have seen several posts lately from other bloggers that seem so ungrateful. It is hard for grandparents that live far away and may not see the kids on a regular basis.

    In my extended family ( all adults) we do stockings only + donate presents and groceries to a needy family. We all enjoy finding a couple small gifts that we know our family member will love & someone who will appreciate it gets presents. I wish my in laws would adopt this strategy too. We do a lot of regifting around here too!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s not like they’re bad gifts or that they’re doing it to spite us. (Though who knows, maybe they think the DCs wouldn’t get enough stuff with their hippie parents being the only providers. I doubt it.) I do think that part of it is that DH’s siblings both have SAHP and don’t make as much money as I do by myself, so his parents feel like they need to help those families out, but they also want to be fair. The year they gave us the most stuff was the year DH’s brother was laid off.

      Still, they give much more than I ever got growing up, or would think of giving my own kids. DH says Christmas was always packed with gifts when he was growing up as well. It’s just a different culture. But so far DC1 has been happy and doesn’t seem to have become a selfish materialist.

  4. Kellen Says:

    We usually got several gifts – and dad often made some of them. The only ones that really stick in my mind are the dollhouses dad made for us, since he managed to keep it secret that he was building something, and the tickets to Disney World. Otherwise it mostly runs together.

    If I have kids, I think I might like to do just a stocking with fruits, nuts, chocolates, without any gifts, but I don’t know how well kids would take that. I think Christmas was always just a little disappointing, and I think I’d rather make it just a fun family time without pressure to a) think of the perfect gift you want and b) the pressure for other people to get you that gift.

    It’s a rare Christmas when I can actually tell people that there’s something little that I need that I haven’t already gotten myself. And I hate all the “filler gifts” that are things I don’t want/need but people just bought to give a bit more presents.

  5. JB Says:

    I’m with you. I only got one or two big things (often homemade) for Christmas as a child, and enjoyed the heck out of them. We got PJs or school clothes from the grandparents. Now, DS and I rarely buy our children birthday or Christmas presents because Grandparental generosity usually supplies all they could want and then some. We didn’t have much money when I was a kid, and I think this is a way of releasing all the pent-up gifting. Sometimes I feel annoyed, because *I’d* like to get my kids a present, for crying out loud, but if the GPs are having fun and the kids are having fun, why not?.

    My inlaws came up with a wonderful idea. Everyone (adults and kids) in their large family gets a small something to open for Christmas, and the rest of the gift funds go toward an annual family retreat. We have a blast, and it’s become a family tradition we look forward to all year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That sounds about right… I’d get one big gift from “Santa”, one from my grandma, and some smaller things like books and clothing. And a few things in the stocking with the candy. And that was exciting and awesome. (Though I always thought it was silly to wrap the books and clothing, since I’d get those when it wasn’t Christmas too.)

      An annual retreat sounds like a good use of funds!

  6. rented life Says:

    I like what you guys do. I know when we have our kids I’ll have to fight with mom about the stocking–only because I want to be able to do that and she loves doing them so much that all of us grown children get stockings still. I can see them being fairly generous, but if I asked for some of the $ to go to something else–education, etc, I know they would. I worry more about the lame gift thing…I had a few relatives that would give you that awful, ugly, age inappropriate item that you had to pretend to like but then figure out what to do with. (My inlaws do this now.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have no strong attachment to the stocking. For a while the grandparents were supplying Easter basketry, and I was good with that, though I took some out and gave it right away (from the grandparents) and used the rest for the official Easter basket (supplemented with a little bit of stuff to replace).

      • rented life Says:

        We don’t do Easter in my family at all…I suppose we might do something when kid come around. ?? Dye eggs I guess. I remember 1 year that we got Easter baskets.
        I think the stockings are a big deal because we’re a little competitive. This year my brother and I are giving mom an oversized gift card (I’m making it). We just like being a little outrageous. :)

  7. chacha1 Says:

    I don’t honestly remember what the “usual” Christmas gift haul was like when I was growing up, which is probably a good sign that the gifts, however appreciated at the time, were not the primary focus. Books, clothes, a jigsaw puzzle every year for a while, maybe some craft or school supplies. We were pretty practical. … I know we did stockings, DH and I still do, and those strike me as the most “fun” because it requires ingenuity.

    Finding small things that will delight somebody is tougher than finding big things that will blow them away. I used to give my Dad black dress socks with bright embroidery floss whip-stitched on the toe seams so he could match them up easily, or I’d monogram handkerchiefs for him.

    If I had kids, I am fairly certain whatever I wanted to do would be swept away in the tide of Filipino family “tradition” aka the kids are the center of the universe until the day they reproduce themselves. :p

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Hahaha, love your description of the tradition!

    • Practical Parsimony Says:

      Our stockings, ones we got when I was a child, had assorted nuts, candy, oranges and apples. There was never a toy. We had all the fruit most of the time. But, Christmas apples and oranges were always huge, a delight to us. Oh, we got tangerines, too. We had pecan trees, so nuts were not foreign to us or in short supply. But, Santa brought nuts we only received once each year, or so it seems. It is so funny that we cherished those fruits and nuts. The one constant in candy was Hershey’s miniatures and Hershey’s kisses along with candy canes. The stockings my children had filled were of the same sort unless there was a matchbox car or something really inexpensive. I could put the most mundane thing in the stocking, and that thing was cherished.

  8. NoTrustFund Says:

    What a great approach. Our kids are little so we’re still figuring things out. It makes the grandparents so happy to give to the kids I try not to put on any restrictions.

    This is the first year Santa is coming in our house and I asked my 3 year old what she wanted. The answer? Purple and pink ribbon. Easy enough!

    We got stockings every year as a kid- fruit and chocolate, one big gift from Santa, and then smaller gifts from my parents. I definitely remember it being a bigger deal to get what I asked for than to get lots of presents.

  9. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I think grandparents and family in general participating is awesome. And I think the way you guys handle it is perfect

  10. oilandgarlic Says:

    I got a lot of stuff but I think that my parents gave us 1-2 big gifts plus stocking stuffers and the rest came from extended family. I never noticed that I didn’t get as many gifts as friends because it was quite enough and we usually got so many toys. Nowadays it seems people give a lot more toys with the feeling that it’s depriving kids if they don’t have tons to open? I would like to stick to a limited # of gifts and stick to a budget but we’ll see how that goes as kids get older… I don’t think I would get mad if grandparents dhowered my kids with gifts!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It really does seem like that, doesn’t it?

      My mom told me before DC1 was born that it was the prerogative of the grandparents to spoil the grandkids, which was good advice for getting along with my in-laws!

      • hush Says:

        Your mom gave you good advice! Your ILs sound like lovely people, and you sound lovely for accepting their gifts so graciously.

  11. oilandgarlic Says:

    I think my comments are being blocked as spam..have no idea why as I never used to have issues commenting on your blog..Sigh

  12. Debbie M Says:

    I felt like I got a lot of stuff for Christmas as a kid. Admittedly, my biggest memory is of the crazy year when my parents put together both toyboxes and bicycles for both of us (in addition to loads of other presents). And then we couldn’t understand why they weren’t excited AT ALL that Santa had come. (Turns out they had gotten one hour of sleep.)

    When I was ten, we switched from Christmas to Chanukah, and then we got exactly eight presents (one per day). Plus a piece of gelt (foil-covered candy coin) in our dreidels (fabric pockets shaped like tops instead of stockings). Two of the days we got the gifts from our two sets of grandparents. To me, that felt like fewer presents than we had gotten on Christmas, but my mom says it felt like more to her. The biggest present would be on the last day. We definitely also got pajamas one of the days and sometimes socks (but not undies).

    We were spoiled and often disappointed by our gifts. So does that mean that even eight gifts are too many? But at least during Chanukah, one gift never outshown another that we had just unwrapped minutes before.

    One good thing is that we were never taught to lie and say we loved something, though we were taught to thank people.

    I am still often disappointed today and do not even want to get gifts. I also stink at giving good gifts (I assume because my friends are rich enough to just get whatever they want as soon as they want it). So I now just get things off people’s wish lists when possible (or yank them out of my boyfriend’s hand at the checkout counter) just so I know they are getting something good. And to this day, I can’t tell when somebody is lying when they are gushing about their present, so I’ve decided they probably usually are.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have to ask, how did you switch from Christmas to Chanukah?

      We’re from the midwest so we tend to assume people are being honest.

      • Debbie M Says:

        When they married, my mom was Episcopalian and my dad was Jewish. So we were raised Episcopalian, but my mom was fascinated with Judaism. When I was ten, we all converted to Judaism. (We still got to celebrate Christmas at Grandma’s.)

        I generally assume people are honest, and if they’re not, I generally assume that they deserve to deal with the repercussions of their dishonesty (and keep getting gifts they don’t want). But people tend to confuse these “little” lies with tact. Even though tact is not about lying and hiding; real tact is telling people things they need to hear (or otherwise letting them learn this) in ways that make it easy for them.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        In the midwest we have these elaborate codes that only other midwesterners can understand for combining truth with politeness. Los Angeles too, I think. Though what’s important in the midwest is what isn’t said and in LA the more floral the language the less likely it is to be true. Communicating these little nuances across regional cultures is difficult.

  13. Liquid Says:

    I didn’t get a whole lot of Christmas gifts as a kid, but that only made me realize I could have plenty of fun and good times with just the stuff I already have. I can also relate to your FIL because I work overtime sometimes without OT pay, but thankfully I actually enjoy my job. As for grandparents being over generous, I think that’s human nature. When we don’t see someone we love for a long time we want to impress them or make them accept us as loved ones as well. I don’t like to admit it, but in 50 years or so when I’m a millionaire I might spoil my grandchildren too :0)

  14. Jenny F. Scientist, PhD Says:

    My family never did Christmas, but for Hanukkah we’d get one big thing (like a bike when we were little, and like a nice leather jacket or a pearl necklace when we were older) and then some little things the other nights (like a small package of candy) and my grandmas would send art supplies or one other age-appropriate medium gift.

    My in-laws, who are Christian, are very much into Christmas gifts. I don’t object in principle, but our very simple rules (no choking-sized pieces while babies are in the house; nothing with batteries) are apparently too complex so we pre-screen everything now and return the stuff that is inappropriate. I don’t resent the buying, I resent the noisy annoying stuff that I don’t want in my house. And the lack of respect for how our kids are JEWISH and we are not going to read them “The Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve because that is not part of our household life AT ALL.

    Side note: growing up in the South, we were taught that if we hated something, we could still honestly say we appreciated the giver’s thoughtfulness and say it was very nice of them to give us something.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We gave up the battery fight (and MIL threatened to send more Toys that Make Noise if we complained about their spoiling, though she didn’t say it quite like that– fortunately I also speak Midwestern code and was able to assure her that my mother had already given me the grandparents drill). Though when we visit, often the toys that make noise won’t fit in our luggage and end up staying at Grandma and Grampa’s.

      However, DH is really against toy guns, so those always went in the gift closet for less strict parents (who we knew were not anti-toy-gun). These days I don’t know what we would do with toy guns since most parents at our private school are the anti-gun type.

      One thing that helped us with the cruft is that when DC1 was little, everything made in China was coated with lead, so the in-laws couldn’t get much chokable/plastic/noisy stuff. A fortunate circumstance.

    • hush Says:

      One of my parents is a Southerner, and that’s exactly what I was raised to say. LOL

  15. First Gen American Says:

    I buy stuff for my kids at Christmas as do the grandparents and aunts/uncles. I never received much as a kid so I enjoy it. They do get too much at Christmas but the way we make up for it is they don’t get any new toys the rest of the year (except for birthday which is small). . Tag sale toys for $1 are fair game though, so that keeps things interesting and they seem to like to sell their toys as much as buying them, so hosting tag sales are also fun.

  16. Rumpus Says:

    As a kid I got plenty of stuff at Christmas, but not so much that I was overwhelmed. Something like a stocking and ~6 gifts. A couple of those gifts would be from a relative and the rest from my parents. Usually one of the gifts would be more expensive than the rest (I think a lot of times that was the gift I had asked for if I asked for anything). I distinctly remember some of the gifts, but most are faded in the mists of time. I don’t remember ever being unhappy or petulant about anything…although I was rather unenthusiastic about any clothing.

    For me Christmas wasn’t really about the presents or Christmas morning (not that there weren’t a few years where I dashed to the Christmas tree as soon as waking). I remember my childhood Christmases as being about getting together with family, decorating, and baking cookies. I grant that none of those activities were fun every year, but they were a ritual. Now that I’m older I wonder if gift-giving should be restricted to teenagers and younger (and maybe gifts for your spouse).

  17. hush Says:

    “They are scrupulously fair about these things and each grandkid gets exactly the same dollar amount.”

    Totally understand the fairness rationale, but that’s probably not the approach I’d take. I’m more of the “love them each uniquely, but don’t get hung up on loving them equally” school of thought (the Faber/Mazlish approach). I tend to evaluate each potential gift on its merits. I have a kid who is old enough to get certain ski equipment this year, but my younger child is not yet old enough. So we’ll spend a bit more on him, less on her this time around. Two years from now, she’ll be the one getting new equipment (or a hand me down if she happens to be his size and we didn’t trade equipment with another family). Also, we give our kids one Xmas gift from us, my parents each give them one, and Santa gives them one, for 3 Xmas gifts total. I have a dear friend who has given my kids handmade, personalized ornaments every year, and we put those in their stockings.

  18. becca Says:

    I suspect my parents budget for my presents tended to be in the $100-200 range for my birthday + Xmas (my birthday is the 23rd)… at least during the years I can remember. I always got clothes on my birthday, and tangerines and maraschino cherries and black olives in my stocking (not sure how the cherries and olives became a tradition, but they were the things I LOVED that we never kept in the house). There were always toys, but something like an American Girl doll was off the table, unless I wanted that to be my only present. I actually remember a lot of the gifts I got over the years, though often for weird reasons.
    When I was older, for several years my Dad would give me a $50 budget and take me to an art supply store. That was the best.

    So to me as a parent now, it seems like a lot, certainly more than I’ll get my kid (though maybe not more than I’ll get him when he’s older). Kidlet’s Dad seems to be “lets buy him this great toy now” all the time, and then forgets about Xmas, whereas I tend to think it’s important to have lots of presents on Xmas, though it means far fewer through the year. I’m not sure what makes more sense there.

  19. Carnival Of Personal Finance – Happy New Year’s Edition Says:

    [...] from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings presents Thoughts on in-laws and Christmast presents for the kids, and says, “Nicole and Maggie discuss what they do when the in-laws are possibly [...]


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