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« Holiday Gauntlet 2: Christmas tree management | Main | Holiday Gauntlet 4: Stress on kids during holiday visits »



This year I felt good about taking a big bag of new, unused, still-in-the-package toys that had been given to my 3yo for her birthday, Christmas 2005 etc. that were either redundant (i.e., the umpteenth teddy bear) or not something I want to deal with (a Barbie music box) to Toys for Tots. The ultimate win-win.


I am also donating a whole bunch of baby toys (electronic, loud music that scares the baby, stroller toys, etc.) to Toys for Tots.

My husband's great-aunt is ridiculously generous to our kids. About once a month she calls me and says, "I'm in Toys RUs/Carter's/Macy's. What do you need?" She doesn't take no for an answer, so we started guiding her very early to the idea that we don't like toys with batteries. Now she goes to the Melissa & Doug section of TRU without prompting and buys the kids a ton of clothes. Also a win-win. But if it weren't such a regular occurence I don't know that we would have said anything--probably would have just held on to things to regift/donate them.


My MIL and FIL are obsessive gift givers - they rarely come by without something, and they come AT LEAST once a week, as they live 2 block away from us and we have a really good relationships. The problem was they used to bring all those crappy made-in-who-knows-where plastic toys that I absolutely detest, and they were so happy about giving them, that I didn't have the heart to tell them not to.

The salvation came through none else than U. (my older boy). We soon came to realize that it takes him between 1 to 5 minutes to take those crappy plastic toys apart and render them unusable, so after many "don't do that! play nice!" from his grandparents, I simply told them - "look, that's the kid, that's what he does. If you want him to have toys that last, stop buying him those plastic atrocities and start getting him some quality toys. If that will bring the rate of gift-giving down a bit due to financial considerations, than it's a win-win, as I'm running out of storage space".

Ever since, they have taken the gift-giving thing down a notch (thank heavens), and my house is no longer littered with partial corpses of maimed plastic toys. The best part was though, they took it very well, since they could see for themselves that their gift-giving scheme isn't working.


You can also take gift cards to places you can't stomach (ie W*lmart) to nonprofits or community centers that could really use them. Then, if it's in your budget, let your kids spend the equivalent amount at a business you're more comfortable with.


I made an Amazon wish list and if (only if!) a relative asked what the girls would like, I directed them there. I emphasized that they did NOT need to buy stuff from Amazon, but it gave them an idea of the types of toys/books we didn't have. It did not, unfortunately, prevent us from getting Dolls #100 and 101, but that's okay. If I'm going to be overrun with toys, I guess dolls are pretty good.

My family is also great about buying us memberships to local places. And books. Love the books.


We get crap all around from my husband's side of the family - it seems that they shop by the following guidelines:
1. Must be made out of plastic.
2. Must have batteries.
3. Must make lots of noise.
4. OR, must be an extremely ugly piece of clothing or an extremely ugly stuffed animal.

The only thing we've got going for ourselves is that they all live far away and won't visit to see their gifts being used. We get rid off the stuff by stuffing it in a big box in the basement for donations to women's shelters.

With my own family, I'd have talked about it, but this is just not done in my husband's family. Unfortunately.


My ILs want to see the kids enjoying the toys they got, and care about getting 'the right' toys. They just get too many.

Two things that helped:

1) Getting them to help me set up the toy management system (toy library in basement) really gave them a clear picture of how many toys we have. VERY clear picture.

2) All the children (now parents) putting their feet down collectively and saying 'NO MORE OVERLOADING ON TOYS!' We settled collectively on 5 gifts per child. A few years ago, I counted literally 16 packages per child. GAK! Too bad the sibs couldn't agree on the college fund idea... sigh.

We don't regift the kids toys once they're able to understand the concept 'MINE'. The gift is theirs once they open it, period. I had my ownership of toys violated repeatedly as a child (toys sold, toys thrown out, toys donated, etc.). I suspect that may tie into my struggles to get rid of 'stuff' now.

Whether it is or not, I refuse to play 'it is yours, unless I say it isn't' with my kids. So, if they are given Mr-Muscle-Bound-Special-Forces-Guy, that's theirs. Guns? Theirs. Commercial-tie-in-toys? Theirs. They know from ongoing discussions how we feel about such things. That doesn't mean that the toy is not theirs. They just must abide by house rules of use (we have weapons rules, for example).

What I found after I gritted my teeth and let them have the weapons/violent toys, was that I could indeed trust my kids (over a span of time, not instantly) if I just TRUSTED them. If I acted like I didn't trust them, they'd prove me right, and do things I didn't like with the toys, get 'hooked' into the negative play, etc.

Instead, I made clear that while I understood temptation, and was willing to establish working rules around the temptations for safety and sanity sake, the actual play content/behavior with the toys I trusted to them. And they do their little run through the 'typical' use of the toys, ... and then the toy gets integrated into their ('our') family culture, and they stop being used as violent outlets, or they end up in the bottom of the toy library boxes.

It takes a few months. I'm willing to wait. I also watch. Sometimes, a toy that was forbidden meets a need that was not well met before. If they're really hooked by something in the toy, I can look for a better version that meets that need and suits our family. If I find one, it often supplants the others. For example, mr-special-forces was supplanted by 'rescue heroes' and a bunch of bendy wood-and-cloth figures, because Gabe and Bren needed representational humans to play with. Trusting them with the toys is educational for me, and for them, and in the longer term, has been for the gifters, too.

Anyway, that's been our approach. Granted, we haven't been given anything completely insanely off-base, yet. So I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be with that, should it come... trusting the child not to learn the wrong thing is harder the more distant the toy is from the family culture. I think I'd at least give it a try, though.


In general, I am lucky that my family and my husband's family are pretty respectful and reasonable when it comes to gifts for our kids. I think that's in large part due to the fact that we have emphasized our philosophy on the subject with our families since they have been born repeatedly. There are a few family members on both sides who will always be a problem, and I just try and keep in mind that they are not violating my express wishes because they are evil, they are just doing it out of love for my kids. Fortunately, I am also able to return/regift and donate most of the things that M and B get from them without a second thought.

My major problem, though, is the two relatives that insist on making my children take their inappropriate toys all the way out of the packaging so that they can play with them during the Christmas gathering, thereby preventing me from returning or regifting the offending items, and also making my daughter really remember that she has received them, so they are harder to take away later for donation. I am not too worried about anything the baby may get this year, because I can politely refuse to open any of his toys all the way. However, with my daughter (age 3 ½), last year I was completely unsuccessful in preventing her from destroying the original packaging at the prompting of these two relatives. I thought about telling her ahead of time that we weren't opening any gifts all the way up and playing with them at these two gatherings, no matter who they were from, but there are lots of cousins at both that don't have to follow these rules, and quite frankly I don't mind her playing with the non-offensive items there. I also am not sure if simply telling her ahead of time would work, and I don't know how vocal I can be about reminders/stopping her at the actual gatherings without sounding rude. Anyone have any suggestions? Last year I just gave in and let her have the things at the gathering. When we got home, I was eventually able to shuffle Barbie to the bottom of the toy pile and then make her disappear altogether. This year she's a little wiser and I am not sure if that is going to work!


Wait, I don't get it -- why no organic items? I'm just picturing Grandma showing up with a bag of organic bananas, and the parents all blocking the door like she's holding a rabid wolverine....


Ha! I was just trying to add another thing to the list of things someone might not want, but thought I'd go with the opposite... I was waiting for someone to catch it.


Saw it, too. Thought it was pretty funny. I could just see the rest of the 'rules' (No wooden toys. No handmade gifts. No fair trade items. Plastic toys only, please! The more electronic, the better! Preferably from a mega-store.) The anti-hippies strike back! ;)


Jessica, I think you might have to up the sophistication of your approach. Barbie skeeves me out as a gift for my daughters, myself, but I'll still trust them to come up with good answers to the gift.

After all, I had Barbies as a kid. We used to tie barbie up with vines and feed her to the sheep, while pretending she was screaming (helplessly and needing of rescues that never came, of course). I also really wanted the barbie sportscar. Skip barbie, I wanted the sportscar myself! I got more Barbies to go with the sports car, and the pool, too. We decided that Barbie would skip town in her sports car (solo), while Ken and GI Joe (kung-fu grip!) shacked up at Barbie's place. Someone gives my girls Barbie, I will thank them kindly for the gift, and let that be it. Maybe because my kids are now older, I can see how very little of the things I dislike are really in use.

IMHO, my kids can be trusted to come up with equally creative ways of abusing... um, using the no-no items. But it may be harder to get them to have a realistic distaste for the items if they never get to have them at all.


I'm surprised no one's pointed out that you can sell them ('used', that is, played with in front of the giver) on eBay (or consignment shops locally) too.

That's my evil plan for opened/abandoned toys, and then invest the proceeds for university tuition. At least until my son's old enough to miss them.

Our shelters & toy drives generally don't take opened toys.

We don't face this problem much though - my family is either thoughtful or cheap, generally speaking.


I am trying to get over a lot of my toy snobbiness. I think the relationship between my MIL and my baby is much more important than any squeamishness I have about some mass-produced hunk of plastic. The funny thing is that while it's true you can try to guide your kids, especially little ones, toward the kinds of toys *you* like, in the end they will chose their own favorites. I have been highly amused, and my husband much chagrinned, to see how my daughter adores the plastic Elmo ride-on, or the Winnie-the-Pooh sweatsuit, or the dancing singing hamster, or whatever it is my MIL brings to her. Because my MIL does invest each of these little treats with a very real sense of wonder, and the baby picks up on that and thinks they are fabulous. And that's fine with me. I imagine it will get harder when she's a little older (after reading that article on Bratz dolls in a recent New Yorker, I feel confident that's one line I will never cross) (famous last words, right?). But for now I am trying to chill out a bit. P.S. Hedra I really appreciate your words about ownership and trusting your children. So sane and respectful. Right on.


Bratz dolls! THAT is where I'll draw the line. And Lunchables, but that's straying a bit...


my daughter's birthday is on the 11th of December, so it's a gift giving craptavaganza all month. What we've done is make enough space for the new, establish how the family feels about certain toys (that's only for outside, that is too loud for in the living room etc.) and have to clear out toys so that there is room for the new stuff.

She also got a lot of birthday money. We have put half in her college account, gave 25% to charity and I took her to Toys R Us for the first time. She has been watching TV at her dad's and sees ads for TRU, so I figured it was time for her to see what it really was like, instead of the commercial version.

At first she was stoked, running from one section to another, then she got tired. She knew she had about 30 bucks to spend, but didn't want to buy just one thing. So the plastic styling head with glittery makeup? got overruled by the Hungry Hungry Hippos game and a play doh dog that squirts ear wax out it's ear.
She didn't want the Barbies, wasn't excited about the fairies and I refused to even discuss the Bratz dolls.

We left after 1.5 hours, she'd inspected each section, decided the RC cars were the coolest as well as the ride on jeeps. I had a massive headache, but I think it was the right thing to do. She doesn't seem as obsessed with the idea of TRU any more at least.


My children will never play with Lunchables either!

My ILs have problems with the no DVD, no licensed characters, and no electric preferences of our family.

The DVD buying is being defeated by the fact we rarely use our television (we watch movies on our computers all the time though- after the baby is asleep, but they don't know that).

Licensed character objections in our area of the country are viewed as rare psychological disorders- like vegetarianism. My friends are eagerly teaching their kids about the very things I hope my son will never care for. My ILs view our desire for our 16 month old son not to know Ariel, Mickey, or My Pretty Pony as socially restrictive. As if he won't be able to lean against the juice cooler with all the other new toddler and make witty non-verbal communication about the newest Dora video.

The situation is made worse by the fact that our brother IL and his wife are such media junkies they even have a special tv running 24 hours a day for their dog. At 3, their daughter (the first grandchild) is a licensed character acquisition fiend. It makes it even harder to explain why the gifts drive us crazy when other parents welcome them.

Virtually every gift they get my son has batteries. Finally, they kept one of these toys at their house when it was clear that my husband would not allow it ours. Within 2 hours of unboxing it, my MIL was offering $20 to the person who would "turn that thing off!" My son promptly threw an even louder wailing tantrum when someone did turn it off. She may have finally gotten the point.

There is a specific form of ORGANIC gift that we do especially fear. Pets. Our ILs would give people unsolicited pets. A wiggling Christmas box scares the hell out of me.


I have the opposite problem..I think my son should be spoiled MORE!!!

Only partially kidding, but really, I suppose it's better to have no crap at all then to have an influx of things you do not want or need...

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  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
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