Ask Scary Mommy: Our Family Buys So Many Toys For Our Kids It Ruins ‘Santa’ For Us

by Cassandra Stone

Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week … what do you do when your extended family showers your children with so many toys and presents that it leaves you, as “Santa,” scratching your head on what to get them?

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Dear Scary Mommy,

My partner and I have three young kids under the age of 10. Our extended family — on both sides — can’t stop, won’t stop buying All The Things for our kids. Things we don’t ask for, things that go above and beyond any of our kids’ “wish lists,” and things that basically leave us wondering what the hell we’re supposed to get them. Some years they get our kids stuff we’ve already bought for them, and the kids have even asked us why “Santa” would get them things Aunt Cindy or Grandma and Pop-Pop have already bought them. HOW DO WE GET OUR FAMILIES TO STOP BUYING ALL THE THINGS? Without hurting their feelings or seeming ungrateful, of course. Is this a real problem? HELP.

This may sound like a non-problem kind of problem, but it’s still an issue for sure. If they’re asking you for a gift list for the kids ahead of time, try to be honest and set hard limits. “Only one gift for each, Granny, because when they get so many presents from you guys every year, it makes it hard on us as parents to give them the big Christmas morning we want to.”

Do you have savings accounts set up for your kiddos? If so, tell them to deposit whatever they would normally spend on material things into their accounts. Sure, it’s less exciting and they’ll undoubtedly complain. But that money can be spent on more valuable things down the line — new computers, back-to-school clothes, post-high school education, school trips, etc.

You could also try asking for more meaningful gifts, like hand-written letters to each child from their grandparents and the people who love them so much. It might seem boring to your kids now, but they’ll be so grateful for those later on. Homemade gifts are great, too. So are gift cards your kids can use for a shared experience — memberships to the zoo, museums, and other places that are safe (or will be, post-pandemic).

I don’t think you’re ungrateful for feeling burdened by all the generosity, because as parents, we want to be the ones getting the “big stuff” and the great reactions from them because we love them so much and it makes us happy to be able to do those things for them. Of course, it makes your relatives happy to do it too. But you’re the parents, and they should respect your wishes. As long as you approach the matter tactfully and from a place of appreciation, feel zero guilt about being honest with your family.