Unwanted Gifts From Grandma Deserve Gratitude (Most of the Time)

grandma giving gift to granddaughterWhat do you do when people -- repeatedly and routinely -- give your kids gifts that are not only not to your family's taste, but actually run counter to your family's values and choices?

That question is currently being considered on the New York Times' Motherlode blog, after a woman wrote in complaining that her mother-in-law keeps sending her daughter, who wears only "boys' clothes" and says she wants to be a boy, flouncy, beribboned dresses (pink, of course). The girl's mom has been donating the clothes to charity, but now the mother-in-law has asked her why her granddaughter isn't wearing the dresses she's been sending. And the daughter's wondering why grandma isn't getting the message about her clothing preferences. What's the woman to do?


The answer here seems clear: Once the question has been asked, an honest response is in order. She's got to (kindly, gently, firmly) fill Grandma in on who her granddaughter is and let her know that, while the gifts are lovely and the thought behind them sweet (one hopes), they are not suitable for the recipient. The mom also needs to convey that she accepts the daughter as she is, and does not wish to compel her to change -- in terms of clothing or identity.

Sure, it'll be a tough topic to address, which is probably why the mother should get the father involved in talking to the mother-in-law, if he's in the picture. After all, the unwelcome gifts are coming from his mother! In any event, to dodge the question with the grandmother wouldn't serve anyone well. That much is obvious.

But the debate opens up a broader issue that lots of us parents can relate to. What should we do when grandparents/aunts/uncles/friends continue to give our kids clothes or toys they would never wear or play with -- or that we hate? I'm thinking about people who give heaps of plastic to families that embrace only hand-hewed wood, fancy duds to a little boy who is happiest rolling around in the dirt, videos to families that eschew electronics ...

In these cases, I actually think the answer is a bit different. Just take the unwanted gifts to the Goodwill and think of how much they're gladdening the heart of some other kid, who might not otherwise have access to a brightly colored plastic toy that beeps (loudly and incessantly, even from the very bottom of the toy chest) or a scratchy blue romper with a sailor collar from the fanciest store in wherever your husband's extended family lives. Write a really, really nice note thanking the giver for her kindness and thought. (And, yes, hope she doesn't ask about what became of the gifts. Distance helps here.)

After all, a gift giver is free to give what he or she considers suitable, and once it has been given, you are free to do with it as you please. Plus, you've presumably made some otherwise toyless, sailor-suitless kid really happy. And your well-meaning relatives happy, too. What's the harm in that?

How do you deal with gifts you deem inappropriate for your kids?


Image via boka/shutterstock

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