Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My mother was raised in pretty austere financial circumstances, and for my entire life has equated things with love. My childhood was materially abundant but emotionally austere, so I’m definitely a skeptic of these values.
I’m now the mom of two, and I’ve spent the last four years consistently and repeatedly asking my mom to give my children fewer things, for lots of reasons. Some are important — I am trying not to raise materialistic children — and some trivial — we just don’t have space. We have lesser means than my parents but we have everything we need and almost everything we want, too; we just want fewer things than they think we should want. My mom has fairly consistently disregarded my requests for simplicity.
While I stand by my own choices, I also don’t want our Christmas morning to seem a disappointment after Grandma’s largesse. Does it seem reasonable to wait until January to celebrate Christmas with my family of origin? I am so tired of having my mother disregard my values as I parent my own kids, but I also don’t feel like having the conversation yet again.
— Postponing Christmas
You’re not going to win this battle with your mother. You might as well ask her not to love your kids.
And, you’re not going to win this battle against your own childhood by fixing it through your children’s Christmas. I realize this will sound unfair, because you are doing a good and important thing in recognizing and not repeating the emotional deficits in your own childhood. But it’s also very easy to let old grievances grab the wheel while we’re not looking, and trying to push your mother into serving your emotional goals with your kids is a swerve over the line.
What you can do here, within boundaries, is figure out ways to respond to your mom’s excesses that honor your values. You want Grandma in your kids’ lives, for example, so that means her gift philosophy comes in, too. You want an uncluttered house and non-greedy kids, so that means you have to stick to your values in your gift-giving and reduce Grandma’s mountain through returns, donations, specific requests (”If you need ideas, Mom, they love “thing you’d be buying them anyway.”) Work on gift messaging but rely on gift management (and generosity-seeding): For every toy coming in, your kids have to choose one to donate.
There’s a bigger answer here, too. You won’t win this battle now but you will basically win all the battles against Mom where your kids are concerned, because that’s what conscientious, loving, engaged, aware parents do. You are fretting about one episode of gift gluttony per year when you are going to be the beacon for your kids the other 364. Everything you say, do, decide, buy, keep, donate, whatever, will provide a model for your kids.
It’s hard to see this when kids are little, but over the span of years — and assuming your mom remains where she is in a supporting role at best in your daily lives — there will be so many more consistent and profound influences on their lives than a gift-wrap frenzy. You don’t know this, but you’ve got this. No need to push back so hard.
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