Over-gifters

over-gifters

We are knee-deep in the holiday season, so let's take a moment to talk about over-gifters—these are people in your life, or especially your kid's life, that give more gifts than you'd like. Generally speaking, these are good, well-intentioned, loving people. The last thing you want is for them to walk away, feeling hurt, alienated, or confused. 

Yet, you may also wish to see change, especially if you are moving towards a simpler life with less stuff. Particularly if you are raising your children with simplicity as a core family value. 

The Love Language of Over-Gifting

On the path toward simplicity, I frequently hear from parents that they are inundated with gifts from other family members. Especially toys. Sometimes it's little trinkets from the dollar store—they just want to show up with something in hand to bring a smile to your kid's face. Other times it's higher ticket sought-after toys that your kid has been begging for, but you prefer not to have in your home. 

Either way, the "offender" I hear called out the most often is the grandparents. 

The grandparents may want to give a lot of gifts, but you might want your kids to focus on the real gifts: the relationship and connection between grandchild and grandparent. 

If the grandparents (or anyone, really) in your life has the love language of overgifting it can feel frustrating. Maybe you've made multiple attempts to shift their buying habits, and it all seems to fall on deaf ears.

The Role of Maternal Gatekeeping

Overgifting can be related to intimacy. I want to start by talking about maternal gatekeeping. Maternal gatekeeping is when a mother acts as a gatekeeper. That means she decides what to let in and out, literally and figuratively. It may be actual stuff or it may be values, beliefs, and relationships. Maternal gatekeeping is a well-researched phenomenon. Although it often begins as a means to keep our children safe, it can actually contribute to overwhelm as it leads women to take on the vast majority of child-related tasks in an effort to control the environment. 

If you have a need to control the environment, you aren't alone, especially in a year like 2020 where things feel very much out of our control. I knew about maternal gatekeeping long before I had kids and vowed to avoid it. But I haven't. I absolutely engage in it even though I don't want to. 

You probably do too. And if you are like the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace, you may be a little worn down because you don't get to switch out with a clone every few hours. 

In some form, female mammals all across the animal kingdom engage in forms of maternal gatekeeping. It's rooted in safety and protection but can quickly become a slippery slope that begins to cause harm along with the good.  

Because of maternal gatekeeping, maternal grandparents often have a closer relationship with grandchildren than paternal grandparents. Mothers often feel more connected to their own parents and have an easier, more comfortable time facilitating that connection with their kids. Now, if you are raising children in a same-sex relationship, you may find that one partner takes on the gatekeeping responsibilities. There's a chance that the gatekeeping partner's parents may have a more intimate relationship. 

Of course, this isn't a universal dynamic. And in fact, I don't think maternal gatekeeping is the sole motivator for this type of intimacy. I don't know the research on it, but personally I feel like there are physiological factors that drives the intimacy levels in this relationship too. My mother lives several states away and only sees my children every few months but from the early months of their lives, I saw that my children attached very easily to her. Which is likely related to pheromones, scents, or something else I don't fully understand—this isn't my area of expertise. Likewise, I had the same connection to my own maternal grandmother. 

What I'm saying is that for reasons both within and outside of our control, it's easier for some grandparents to establish intimacy with grandchildren. 

Grandparents who lack a truly intimate bond with grandchildren may be more susceptible to over-gifting. This lack of intimacy can come from physical distance; maybe you live far apart and don't visit or converse often. Or it can be from an emotional distance; perhaps the grandparent suffers from depression or a mood disorder that makes it more challenging to establish a connection. Or maybe your relationship with your own parent is strained, and in some ways, it prevents intimacy from developing between your parent and your child. 

In situations like this, gifting can shift into overdrive. Gifting can be a straightforward way of showing love from a distance—whether it be a physical distance or emotional distance. Of course, it can also be a result of group norms. 

Have Respect and Understanding of the Group Identity

If you or your partner were raised in families that gave many gifts, it would feel natural for the grandparents to follow suit with your kids. This dynamic has become part of the group identity: 

  • "In our family, we do Christmas big!"
  • "In our family, birthdays are a big deal!" 

If over-gifting is a part of the group identity within your family, it's just "part of who you are" then, when you announce they are you simplifying and requesting fewer gifts, these family members are likely to feel an immediate rejection. 

"Are you saying the way we raised you was wrong?".

They may or may not explicitly say this or realize this, but this underlying sentiment can frequently be present, and it's helpful to talk about—it can become the elephant in the room. 

Anytime we go outside of the group identity it can be confusing and upsetting to the rest of the group, we talked more about this a few weeks ago in the Challenging Relationships series (PART I/PART II/PART III).

Can you invite intimacy in?

Whatever the driving factor, an over-gifter is a well-intentioned person, and I'd advise you not to attempt to end over-gifting today. It will take time. At its core, what you are asking is to give less stuff and give more of themselves. But remember, this isn't always possible due to emotional and physical distance. 

If you are the gatekeeper, you are in charge of keeping things out. But can you also be in charge of inviting things in? 

How can you help facilitate this necessary intimacy and connection that you want to replace the gift-giving? How can you help nurture the relationship between the gifter and the giftee? It's not your sole responsibility, but you may be able to help. How can you help to reassure the family group that even though you might be shifting some of your values and beliefs, you don't think they are "bad" and you don't regret the ways you were raised. 

Start here

If we are moving towards having less and buying more intentionally, then we need to hold true to it ourselves. If you went overboard on your kids this year for the holidays, then it's confusing for the other family members who you have been urging to buy less. 

That means you have to talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk. Year-after-year. 

Have empathy for the gift-givers, especially this year, where intimacy has been lacking for all of us. Remember that moving towards less is a lifelong journey, and it usually takes several years for extended family to start seeing and appreciating the changes that you are making.

Be patient. They will get on board. It just takes time, tact, modeling, and thoughtful discussion. You have to start the conversation early before the gift-giving seasons begin. 

I recommend both indirect and direct conversations about this. Be sure you speak generally about your efforts to simplify life so that they can see you living out simplicity in all aspects, not just gifts. These are more indirect conversations. But I also suggest you have kind, tactful, direct conversations. Here's a quote that you can use and modify to fit your family:

“Our kids love spending time with you and I have enjoyed seeing your relationship grow. I fear that too many packages may distract them from appreciating all the wonderful gifts that you bring as a person. I want them to look forward to special time with you more than they do the gifts. How can we work together to keep them focused on the important stuff?

(Remember, this conversation is too late to have for this holiday season. File this away for next year when the time is right!).

Lastly, stay focused on the big picture. This isn't a problem you are going to fix today. This is a multi-year conversation and path towards change. Stay the course, you are doing great!

We are knee-deep in the holiday season. So let's take a moment to talk about over-gifters.These are people in your life, or especially your kids' lives. They give more gifts than you would like. Generally speaking. These are good, well-intentioned, loving people. And the last thing you want is for them to walk away, feeling hurt or alienated or confused. Yes. You may also want to see change, especially if you're moving towards a simpler life with less stuff, particularly if you're raising your children with simplicity as a core family value. That's why we're talking about this today. I hope to give you a little more insight into the why and how to move forward. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple families. Simple families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

Hi there. Thanks so much for tuning in today's episode is sponsored by Joy Spring vitamins. My kids have truly been enjoying Joy Spring for the last couple of months. They offer a variety of liquid formulas that focus on providing sugar-free support from herbal extracts. They use a simple liquid dropper, which makes it really easy. In addition to the liquid format, they offer a variety of products to provide natural support for your kiddos at all ages and stages. Whether you're looking for some extra immune support or help for those sleepless nights, Joy spring has got you covered. If you want to go to joyspringvitamins.com, you'll get 20% off your first purchase. Use the coupon code, simple families at checkout. Again, go to joyspringvitamins.com and use the code simple families at checkout. I've had a couple of people tell me that they're giving Joy Spring as a stocking stuffer this year, which I thought was kind of a fun, consumable idea.

All right, before we get into today's episode, I want to tell you that I am getting ready to launch a special offer for my simple families foundations program, starting December 26th, the day after Christmas, and running through January 1st, I'll be offering 40% off the full price along with a couple of extra bonuses that you'll only get if you enroll during this period. So if you're looking for a proven roadmap to get your family on the path to simplicity this year, I'd love to have you join me. Stay tuned for more details. All right. Speaking of the path towards simplicity, I frequently hear from parents that they are inundated with gifts from other family members, especially around the holidays and especially toys. Sometimes it's little trinkets from the dollar store, family members show up and they just want to have something special in hand to bring a smile to your kid's face.

Other times it's higher tickets sought after toys that your kid has been begging for, but maybe you'd prefer not to have in your home either way. The quote unquote offender I hear called out most often is the grandparents. So let's explore this more. If the grandparents or anyone in your life has the love language of over gifting, it can feel frustrating. Maybe you've made multiple attempts to shift their buying habits. And it all seems to fall on deaf ears. Over gifting can be driven by a variety of reasons, but sometimes it's related to intimacy. So I'm going to start by talking a little bit about maternal gatekeeping. Maternal gatekeeping is when a mother acts as a gatekeeper, just like it sounds, that means she decides what to let in and out literally and figuratively, it might be actual stuff, or it might be values, beliefs, and or relationships.

Maternal gatekeeping is a well-researched phenomenon. Although it often begins as a means to keep our kids safe. It can actually contribute to overwhelm as it leads women to take on the vast majority of child-related tasks in an effort to control the environment. If you have a need to control the environment you aren't alone, especially in a year like 2020, where things have very much felt out of control. I knew about maternal gatekeeping long before I had kids and I vowed that I was going to avoid it, but I haven't. I absolutely engage in it, even though I don't want to. It's hard to avoid and you probably engage in it to some extent too. And if you're like the Queen's guard at Buckingham palace, you might be a little worn down because you don't get to switch out with a clone every few hours like they do in some form females, all across the animal kingdom, engage in forms of maternal gatekeeping.

It's rooted in safety and protection, but it can quickly become a slippery slope. Now, perhaps in part, because of maternal gatekeeping maternal grandparents often have a closer relationship with grandchildren than paternal grandparents. Now I said often, not always. This could be because mothers often feel more connected to their own parents and have an easier, more comfortable time. The celebrating that connection with their own kids. Now, if you're raising children in a same-sex relationship, you might find that one partner takes on the gatekeeping responsibilities. If so, there's a chance that the gatekeeping parents may have a more intimate relationship. Of course, this isn't a universal dynamic. And in fact, I don't think that maternal gatekeeping is the sole motivator for this type of intimacy between grandparents and grandchildren. I don't know the research on it, but personally, I feel like there are physiological factors that drive the intimacy levels in this relationship too.

My mother lived several States away and she only sees my kids every few months, but even from the early months of their lives, I saw my children attached to her very easily. And I've always suspected that it could be related to pheromones or sense or something else that I don't fully understand because this isn't my area of expertise. And likewise, I had the same connection with my own maternal grandmother. So what I'm saying is that for reasons, maybe both within and outside of our control, it can be easier for some grandparents to establish intimacy with grandchildren, and grandparents who lack a truly intimate bond with grandchildren might be more susceptible to over gifting. This lack of intimacy can come from a physical distance. Maybe you live far apart and you don't visit or even talk very often, or it can be from an emotional distance. Perhaps the grandparents suffers from depression or a mood disorder or some other factor that makes it challenging to establish that personal connection, or perhaps it's that your relationship with your own parent is strained. And in some ways that prevent intimacy from developing between your parent and your child in situations like this gifting can shift into overdrive. Gifting is a straightforward way of showing love from a distance, whether it's a physical distance or an emotional distance

Now, Intimacy isn't the only factor. Sometimes over gifting is a result of group norms. And we have to learn to respect and understand what the group identity of our family looks like. If either you or your partner was raised in families that have many gifts, it would feel natural for the grandparents to follow suit with your kids. This dynamic maybe has just become part of the group identity and our family. We do Christmas big and our family birthdays are a big deal. If over gifting is part of the group identity within your family, it's just part of who you are. So when you announced that you're simplifying and you're requesting fewer gifts for your kids and for yourself, these family members are likely to feel some sort of immediate rejection. Are you saying the way that we raised you was wrong? So they might not actually say this explicitly. They might not even realize it at first, but it is an underlying sentiment that can be present. And it's helpful to talk about because it can become the elephant in the room. This idea that moving towards a life with less, if it wasn't the way that you were raised might be interpreted as a rejection by your own parents.

Anytime we go outside of the group identity, it can be confusing and upsetting to the rest of the group. We talked about this more in the challenging relationship series that I did a few weeks ago. Part one is that simplefamilies.com/episode237 part two is episode 238. And part three is episode 239. So if you suspect that over gifting may be related to intimacy in your family, can you invite intimacy in whatever the driving factor, the over-gifter is a well-intentioned person. And I would advise you not to attempt to end over gifting today. Right now, it's going to take time because at its core, what you're really asking is the person to give less stuff and to give more of themselves. But remember this isn't always possible due to emotional and physical distance can be easier said than done. But if you're the gatekeeper, if you're in charge of keeping things out, can you also be in charge of inviting things in, can you help facilitate the necessary intimacy and connection that you want to replace the gift giving?

I'm not saying it's all on you, but is there any way that you can help to drive this or move it forward? Can you help nurture this relationship between the gifter and the giftee? Can you help to reassure the family group that even though you might be shifting from some of your values and beliefs, you don't think that they are bad and you don't regret the way that you were raised when you're moving towards having less and buying more intentionally, you have to hold true to those values yourselves. So, if this year you went overboard for the holidays and you bought your kids too much, it might be confusing for the other family members who you have been urging to buy less. So if you want to show the over-gifters that you're serious about this and minimalism, isn't just a kick that you're on.

Then you need to talk the talk and walk the walk year after year in the way that your gifting for your own children. So have empathy for the gift givers, especially this year. What intimacy has been lacking for all of us, remember moving towards less is a lifelong journey. And it usually takes several years for extended family to start seeing and appreciating the changes that you're making be patient. They will get on board. It just takes time, tact modeling, and thoughtful discussion. You have to start the conversation early far before the gift-giving season begins. And when you do this, I recommend both indirect and direct conversations. So when I say indirect conversations, I mean, make sure you speak generally about your efforts to simplify life so that your family can see that you're living out simplicity in all aspects, not just gifts. And when I say direct, I do suggest that you have these kinds of tactful direct conversations.

Here's a quote that you can use and modify to fit your own family. "Our kids love spending time with you, and I've enjoyed seeing your relationship grow. I fear that too many packages may distract them from appreciating all the wonderful gifts that you bring as a person. I want them to look forward to the special time with you more than they do the gifts. How can we work together to keep them focused on the important stuff?" Now, this kind of conversation it's too late to have it this year for this holiday season file this away for when the time is right for next year. Lastly, stay focused on the big picture. This isn't a problem that you're going to fix today. This is a multi-year conversation and a path towards change. If you have an over-gifter in your life, you and your children are likely blessed, take a deep breath, and realize it might be baby steps moving forward. I hope you've enjoyed this episode and I hope you're having a lovely holiday season. Thanks again, and have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.