Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dismaying Story #90: Circumventing Mom's Values

Dear Andrew,

I know tons of moms facing this issue. Maybe you can give some insight on how to handle this for the holidays, and it will work for the kids' birthdays and such also.

My husband and I are trying to live simply. We don't buy electronic toys for our children, and we try to avoid plastic "crap," violent toys/movies, and all the princess stuff. Problem is, my family doesn't understand this. They continue to give toys that I have told them are inappropriate for our values. We have told them we don't do these kinds of toys, we have offered suggestions, but to now avail. I even have one that insists on giving my 5 year old makeup and high heels! What can I do to keep the peace, and not have to fill my home with this stuff?

Signed, The Peacekeeper

Dear Peacekeeper,

The toys are not the main issue here. Your main problem is that virtual badge you have pinned on your own chest, proclaiming yourself to be Deputy Keeper of the Peace for your extended family. I have said this before on this site; once you get married and have children, they are now your main family and your primary concern.

In this case there is a conflict between the values you wish to use within your own household and the values of your extended family. You have to remember that it is your house and they are your children, period. It is up to you and your husband and no one else to decide what is appropriate for them to own. Inform your family members that if they give inappropriate gifts to your children against your wishes, you will return the gifts to the giver. (Or you will throw them out, or you will put them in permanent storage in a basement closet, your choice.) Tell them that they now know the ground rules, so they will be responsible if your kids are disappointed about having to do without a gift after opening and seeing it.

And you have to follow through on your promise, with absolutely no exceptions, regardless of the giver.

You have to realize that they are the offending party. These are your children, and your family members are trying to impose their own will on how they should be raised. Stick to your values. Your family members may test you on it, and they may grumble or complain when you keep your promise, but this strategy will stop the problem.

If your family members raise huge waves over this, then that is a bad reflection on them, not you. It means they don't respect your rights to raise your own children as you see fit. Again, you are in the right here.

In other words, you have to stand up to your family members and to heck with the consequences. Stop worrying about keeping the peace. That desire is leading you to be manipulated by your family. They will learn rather quickly that you have developed a backbone on this matter and they will toe the line, because they will hate it even worse that they end up giving no gift at all to your children.

Here is another way to think about this. You have developed those values for a reason -- because you believe that violating them will prove harmful to your children in the long term. Until now you have been acting as if the feelings of your extended family members are more important than the well-being of your children. If you step back and look at it from this viewpoint, I bet you will agree that this may not be the best way to balance those priorities.

Unpin that imaginary badge and your problem will disappear.

All the best,

There have already been several amazing responses to this week's Question of the Week about domestic violence and young people. Take a moment to review the comments and leave one of your own.


  1. Just make sure the kids aren't missing out on X-Men and Transformers.

  2. Anonymous1:26 PM

    i like this doc...put the own-ness on the person who's values are being violated .... good food for thought for me...

  3. Anonymous5:44 PM

    On the other hand, ever heard of being gracious when receiving a gift? What does THAT teach children?

  4. We teach our children consistency and our values through our own actions.

    It will definitely work out in the long term for them to see you standing firm to your beliefs and it will show them the level of importance those beliefs are to you, when you consistently stand up for them to the people in your life whom may have the most influence (husband and children aside).

  5. Anonymous1:27 AM

    I don't know that I agree with your advice on this one. The extended family is under no obligation to give these children gifts...that they do so is a sign of love...not a test of ethics. It may be that they do not fully understand the "values" of the parents, but they should not be shamed or insulted for being as appropriate as they know how at the time. I cannot imagine insulting my cousins, or my grandmother - for that matter - by returning a gift she took the time to select for my kids...she's 78 years old! It is up to me to teach my children to be gracious if anyone should ever decide to give them a gift...and then to explain to my children, in private, why we will make other plans for this toy (such as: take it apart to use in a science experiment...)but to return a gift to the giver because it does not meet our "ethical standards" seems just plain arrogant. To think of intentionally hurting your family member's feelings like that...and teaching your kids that they have a right to also? Unforgiveable!

  6. Anonymous1:39 AM

    I have this same sort of problem. I have not celebrated Christmas since I was 19. My family has never understood this. Basically, I just don't agree with the commercialization of the holiday. Also, I am not religious in any sense of the word. I don't buy gifts and in return I expect People not to buy any for me. In fact, I ask people that they don't. Since I made this first announcment to my family, they refuse to accept the fact that this is my truth. Every year they give me grief for not buying gifts and when I give them back their gifts, they scream and moan about how ungrateful I am. Every year. Thanks for this post. It made me feel a little less alone. Peace.

  7. Useful advice from you once again...I think it's important to make sure everyone knows where you stand on gifts that are given to your children. They wouldn't serve up roast beef and expect a vegetarian to eat it would they? (or would they? lol)

    And to anonymous: I understand what you're saying but it IS possible to teach your children to be gracious when receiving anything - a gift, plate of food, a kind word, whatever. It's the responsibility of the giver as to whether the gift is appropriate or not. I've always noticed that it becomes obvious to those around you as you progress through parenthood, what your likes and dislikes are when it comes to your kids.

    And despite that, my mother STILL brought home a discarded toy machine gun she'd found at the hospital one night to give to my 3 year old. She was sheepish about it because she knew I wouldn't be pleased to see it. Maybe there is just no winning with some people! lol The gun ended up in the garbage before he even had the chance to see it, so there was no disappointment involved (except maybe for Nana LOL).

    They'd be no disappointed children if the giver thought there was a possibility it was an inappropriate gift and cleared with the parents first. I think family should know better to be honest but then there are those that could do it deliberately to hack you off lol

  8. Anonymous2:32 PM

    How a family wants to live is their business and the way they want to raise their children should be respected by the extended family as well.
    This goes farther than just toys and gifts.
    There could be issues with food allergies and other things that could be harmful to their kids that need to be observed and if the extended family doesn’t heed the parents wishes and concerns this could also cause health issues for the kids.
    What and how the parents raise the kids is their business period and the nightmare they create by isolating their kids from the outside world as well.
    I believe how a kid plays is a way to slowly be integrated into the social requirments of the day.
    Granted toy guns is not one of them but electronics is and when these kids hit the main stream school system where computers are used they will have to readjust there beliefs I think.
    But yes, the parents should demand from those around them to respect their beliefs and with all the poverty in the world I would how she didn’t throw out any gifts but donated them to a charity to give to those who could use them.

    Have a nice day

  9. Anonymous2:36 PM

    Yes, I believe that as parents, we just have to be firm on what we believe is best for our children. It may not be easy for other family members to understand and accept our decisions but we always hope that they will respect our personal beliefs and stands.

    Hope everything will work out well.


  10. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Another option is to teach your children to be gracious during a gift exchange while maintaining your family values and reinforcing them to the resistant gift giver...such as, "Thank you, Grandma, for thinking of us this Christmas! These high heels are for grownups but we'll have lots of fun exchanging them for something for little girls, won't we?"

    I question the importance of eliminating electronics and limiting a child's ability to imitate grownups through imaginary play with props such as heels their size. However, if a family has adopted those values, they should commit themselves wholly to implementing them. Our country is filled with "I-know-best-for-everyone" advice-dispensers disguised as relatives who have not learned to respect the choices of the children they raised. Stand up for yourselves, adult children!!! :)

  11. In a way i can understand both sides of this. I have a family member who is fairly specific about what her kids can play with and what they cannot. It makes it difficult to get them things that i think they would enjoy(because afterall, isnt the best gift one that a person has ,painstakingly, picked out just for you) The gifts shouldnt be seen as an insult or like the person is trying to undermine your household rules/ethics/whatever. They are trying to get things that they think your children will enjoy.
    Now for the other side of the coin. I dont like people telling me how to raise my child. If I asked someone to not do something inapropriate around my child i would expect them to not do it. Same goes for presents. If i ask you not to buy them a fake gun(because i dont want them to think that guns are fun) and you buy them one anyway, the gift would either be garbaged or sent back. Im not sure what kinds of toys or games or whatever you do allow and dont allow. However, kids have to be allowed to be kids. And some things(like princess stuff) could be used as a reward for doing all the chores, or doing homework all week, or being good. I say hold on to some of those things you dont allow that people have given your children. Let them pick one of those things to play with as a reward.
    i dont know, havent been a mom for too long, but in order to be fair to everyone concerned i think you should just sit down and talk to the family. Let them know (even if you have to write a list) what is appropriate and what isnt in your home. Dont be rude about it in front of the children. You dont want them to learn how to be ungracious.

  12. Anonymous3:29 PM

    Years ago when I was raising my 3 kids, it was my dear wonderful gentle mother who consistently circumvented my convictions about what toys/gifts were appropriate in our home and what ones were not. My solution was simple enough... the toys my kids got from Grandma stayed at Grandma's house for them to play with when they were there (which was often.) True, it did not keep the children from being exposed to things I would have rathered them not be, but it DID keep the offending items out of our house.