Dear Amy O,
For a variety of reasons, my wife and I have chosen to raise our two children in a “less is more” fashion regarding possessions and consumerism. We believe children should have toys, electronics, hobbies, sports equipment and other things. We don’t believe their bedrooms, and the rest of our home, should be stuffed with impulsive buys and overloaded gifts just because we can afford them.
How do I get my parents to respect our choice? Ignoring requested boundaries, they shower our children and us with gifts all year long. I feel the children are being put in the middle, which isn’t fair to them. I don’t want them to grow up in a cluttered mess.
Trying to Be a Minimalist
Dear Trying to Be a Minimalist,
Congratulations on your choices and for (the try of) setting boundaries with your parents and their role in your children’s lives. So much easier in theory, isn’t it?
You asked, “How do I get my parents to respect our choices?” My answer includes a multi-prong approach and can be applied to any boundary breaking situation. Here goes:
First, your letter indicates communication on your part. You’ve asked your parents to stop showering gifts all year long. They aren’t honoring your request, and that is the issue. First, stand by your choice and be prepared to repeat it as often as needed. You’re the parent and it’s up to you to let your parents know about the values you want to instill in your children.
Together with your wife, decide on non-negotiables and communicate them to your parents. Maybe yours are gifts only on birthdays, select holidays and the fourth Sunday of odd-numbered months; no screen time after dinner; but sweets after dinner are up for discussion. You decide.
Parents and grandparents need to communicate away from the children about guidelines. When the guidelines are established, they can be shared with children. Your children need clear boundaries and to know consequences, and it is imperative that your parents are on the same page. Grandparents should feel comfortable saying, “No, that’s not what we agreed upon with your mom and dad,” or something of that nature. That way, children receive the message that Grammy and Grampy aren’t so easily manipulated.
How about discussing with your parents some alternatives to all the things? Maybe they can pay the league fees for your child’s favorite sport or a series of painting lessons. Or perhaps you can institute a rule stating that all gifts (other than those for designated occasions) will reside at Grampy and Grammy’s house. Having to store the fruits of their largesse at their home may give your parents reason to rethink their purchases.
Second, forgo the finger pointing and latent anger. Again, so much easier in theory, isn’t it? This is about your children’s childhood, not yours. No need to bring up their faulty parenting of you or to compare them to other grandparents.
Parenting styles change and evolve. Once upon a time “spare the rod, spoil the child,” was considered wisdom and the directive “go out and play” was thought of as good parenting. Grandparents come from a more relaxed time in child rearing, for example, handheld devices weren’t on the scene, getting into college wasn’t a competitive sport and global pandemics were a footnote in history books.
Third, if indeed your children are being put in the middle, you can take at least partial credit for that. If a child hears “no” from a parent, they may seek a different answer from their grandparent. This is referred to as triangulation, when one or more in a conflict brings a third person into the dynamic. Rewarding this behavior, such as enabling the showering of gifts, is sure to make it happen again. Stand firm in your parenting choices
I applaud your commitment to parenting. Keep up the good work.
Dear Amy O,
Why should others be hungry and wait for late dinner guests? Please let your readers know that etiquette guidelines—from the Emily Post Institute for example—advise to wait the obligatory 15 minutes and then start serving.
Please Pass the Hot Mashed Potatoes
Dear Please Pass the Hot Mashed Potatoes,
Consider it done!
And I’ll add, don’t forget to welcome your late guests graciously and have them join in the fun no matter what time they arrive.
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