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

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.



If I may - I'd like to add my two cents. From the parent point-of-view. Though I loved my in-laws (MIL passed away several years ago) dearly - DH and I have been married 20+ years and have two teenaged daughters now - my MIL loved nothing more than to shop...and shop...and shop. And nothing gave her more joy than buying gifts..and more gifts...and more gifts for her grandchildren. Often more gifts than we as their parents gave them. Certainly more than my parents could afford to give them. a parent - it drove both of us insane. There would sometimes be 30 Christmas gifts each. Easter would bring home 15 gifts each. MOTHERS DAY would earn them something for having a mother and the same for Fathers Day. There was no excuse that she wouldn't use to gift them something. It was...too much. We were thankful for the offerings - but it was just too much. My oldest nephew got to the "What's next?" stage and I literally lost it at home with my DH. Our girls were 4 and 6 at the time and we decided that before a gift distribution - we would have the girls donate some of their existing things and learn the value of gifts as well as helping those less fortunate.

We didn't want to take the joy away from MIL...but I could tell it bothered my parents as well. But gifting...or overgifting..was my MIL's way of showing love. She didn't do so physically or show it in many other ways.

With my parents, my girls spent time baking, camping, playing games, window shopping, swimming, and just hanging out. Though I can't say the girls didn't enjoy the gifts from my ILs, I can promise you that they never missed them from my parents in any way. My parents were the ones they wanted to spend time with. Enjoyed spending time with - even if it was just to climb up on their laps and watch a movie.

I say all of that to say this - children are quite capable of appreciating "gifts' other than just tangible, monetary gifts. The gift of love and time is just as - if not much more so - valuable - even to a small child. Even from an early age - my girls recognized that the gifts were their grandmother's way of showing love - while my own mother showed it in numerous other ways. They preferred my mother's way - if you ask them now. And wish my MIL had spent more TIME with them rather than MONEY on them.

I hope that helps some.

BlueEyedGirl on 2014-09-03 11:33:46

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