While children spend weeks — if not months — anticipating gifts on Christmas, the same activity may leave some parents nauseated as grandparents, uncles and other family members attempt to outdo each other on that special morning.
One way to quell potential problems is to open lines of communications and set healthy boundaries, says Jill Walls, who teaches classes in family relationships and parenting in the Department of Family and Consumer Science at Ball State University.
“Many families struggle with some relatives because, while their intentions may be good, they sometimes cross the line when it comes to gift giving at Christmas,” she says. “Relatives may purchase too many gifts or gifts that are inappropriate, and parents are often left with the aftermath, which can be frustrating.
“It can be particularly challenging to establish new boundaries during the holidays as well because there is an emotional component to gift giving and family members may view gift giving as a symbol of love.”
Walls believes the best way for parents to approach this delicate situation is to recognize and show gratitude for family members’ desire to shower children with gifts and at the same time establish some boundaries around gift giving.
She recommends parents:
• take the lead in having open conversations with family members about their children’s interests and identify specific gifts that are reasonable and appropriate for their age group
• set a dollar limit for gifts
• suggest alternatives such as paying for extracurricular activities, contributing to a savings account for their children, purchasing a gift card to be used later in the year or making a donation to a charity on behalf of their young ones
• remember that boundaries are set for one side of the family should also apply to the other side of the family
• approach these discussions with a soft heart, understanding that some family members may become defensive if parents establish new rules without dialogue
• remain positive
“It’s wonderful to have family members who want to show their love, care and attention for your children,” Walls says. “Give them the benefit of the doubt and try not to assume ill intentions. Also, please know that setting boundaries is healthy and often necessary for family relationships to thrive. Even if you rarely see family members, other than the holidays, it’s OK to set boundaries. “