Grandma-on-Call Q&A: "My 4-year-old Grandson Gets Tons of Gifts, and I Can’t Afford to Keep Up"

Our grandparent-in-the-know weighs in on your most pressing grandparenting questions.

By Sandi Shelton
Image of Sandi SheltonSandi Shelton

Reader Question: "Help! My 4-year-old grandson, Ryan, gets tons of gifts—everything imaginable—from his other grandparents, and I can’t afford to keep up. When he sees me, he asks me, 'What did you bring me?' and it sends shivers up my spine."

Sandi says: Oh, I feel your pain. Sometimes grandparenting can feel just like a competitive sport. Or worse, like a bad day in seventh grade. Who knew when we signed on that we were going to someday have to feel like uncool middle-schoolers again?

But there’s good news, Grandma. And it’s something you already knew: money really doesn’t buy relationships. Even little children, who are dazzled by shiny objects, know when they are truly loved, and when somebody is paying attention to them—and that, fortunately, is still free.

The trick is to not disparage the toys bestowed on little Ryan, but to look instead for all the good things that you bring to his life—which, luckily, are all there just because you’re you, and you love him.

Instead of being the “buying” grandma, tell yourself you’re the “fun-loving” grandma, or the one who makes up stories or who dances with him. You can be the person who snuggles him and reads stories, or who tells him fun facts about his mom when she was little. Maybe you and he go on long, meandering walks, being willing to stop and look at every stick and stone along the way. (My grandkids love the city walks where we take a nickel, and flip it at each corner: heads, we turn left; tails, we turn right.) Or maybe the two of you love to make a big mess in the kitchen baking cookies. Instead of feeling bitter about the toys others give, take them out and play with them alongside him.

Do this, and you’re teaching him something important about the human heart: toys are one thing, but they’re really best when they’re shared with someone who’s paying attention. And when he says, “What did you bring me?” just laugh and say you’ve brought him 100 kisses, special delivery, and you’re going to kiss his cheeks until the kisses are all gone.

Want to ask Sandi a grandparenting question? Email her at

Sandi Kahn Shelton is the mother of three and grandma of four. When she's not playing tic-tac-toe with one of her grandkids, she writes novels.



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