Gift Giving and Children: How Much is Too Much?

spoiling kidsListening to the radio on my way to work, I heard an interview with a singer who was enjoying his first big hit. The DJ asked what big purchases he had made since becoming rich and famous. I was expecting him to say a house or a car, but he proudly announced that he could finally afford to buy the Lego Millennium Falcon, a space ship from Star Wars. He had wanted it his whole life and that was the first thing he did with his new found wealth. “Huh,” I thought to myself,” I just bought that for my nephew.” For a brief moment I felt a twinge of guilt for being that family member who showers the kids with material possessions and then leaves the parents to deal with the consequences. How ridiculous that a rock star was excited about earning his prize and I just dropped it into the lap of a spoiled eight-year-old. And then I got over it, took my nephew to Disneyland and bought him whatever he wanted.

Giving presents to my nieces and nephews makes me happy. I will do just about anything for those moments of dancing around in excitement, hugs, and loud proclamations that I’m the best aunt ever. Everybody who loves a child wants those moments. However, they also need to be able to find the boundaries. As an aunt, do I understand how my gift giving enthusiasm is impacting the children? I thought about it and the answer is no. No, I do not. I have no experience in keeping children grounded and grateful while everyone around is giving them everything they ask for. I’m also willing to admit that I’m not likely to learn. I’m not going to stop buying Lego or going through the American Girl doll catalog with my niece to figure out what she wants next. I also do not want to cause problems, and turn those sweet little “you’re the best aunt” faces into spoiled “this is not what I wanted” scowls. I truly believe that giving children too much at once is detrimental, but I want someone else to worry about it and let me be the popular aunt.

Since I can’t trust my own discernment when it comes to overdoing it on the presents, I have made a conscious effort to rely on my brother and his wife to guide me. I have started asking them if it is OK if I buy the creepy mummy Indiana Jones set, or the movie with the scary bear.  I am trying to ask if I can take them bowling or out to dinner when the kids are not within ear shot so that they have a chance to say no without being the bad guy. I say I’m trying because I will admit that I asked my brother about the holy grail of Lego sets as it was sitting on my bed waiting to be wrapped. Self-control is not my strong suit, but at least I am trying. Parents don’t want to say no or be forced to be the gatekeeper all the time, but they know better than anyone when their kids need the family to dial down the spoiling.

I can’t imagine how hard it is to protect a child from the commercialism and greed that is so ingrained in our world, but I think it is a very important role in parenting.  I am aware that I regularly flop over the fence, alternating between trying not to be a part of the problem and being the chief offender. The least I can do is ensure open communication with the parents of the children I am influencing. Even if I ignore them and clean out Toys-R-Us anyway, at least they can mentally prepare themselves to make room for another spaceship.

1 comment
  1. I applaud your website. I love your sensitivity to the parent’s feelings about gifts. Aunts can be an important resource for families. Not only can they provide respite care, but they are also models of different ways of living a life. Aunts can provide a listening ear when children momentarily disengage from their parents. Koo-dos to you for highlighting this important and rarely recognized relationship.

    Ruth Nemzoff
    Author: Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family


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