Grandparent refuses memo about big, bulky gifts



March 6, 2024 - 2:07 PM

Be careful not to touch your face, specifically your mouth, eyes and nose. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Dear Carolyn: The last time we visited our son and daughter-in-law, we brought along a lovely play kitchen for our granddaughter, which we’d been saving for 25 years. It was last used by our daughter and is in good condition.

My daughter-in-law pulled me aside and tersely asked that we stop bringing large gifts; their condo was small, and there just wasn’t enough room. I told her I’d already mentioned the play kitchen to my son, and he said we could bring it. She replied that he was understandably sentimental about family gifts, so he would never turn them down, but that he was also the one who ended up stressed and grumpy about their overcrowded space.

She also said that, as a stay-at-home parent, she was the one who did most of the cleaning and caretaking of their overcrowded space, so the gifts made life difficult for her.

Carolyn, I have always believed in your advice that married couples should be responsible for communicating with their own parents, so I’m not sure what to do with this information. I think my son should get equal say in what goes in his house, and he’s never breathed a word of displeasure over our gifts. We’re scheduled to visit in a few weeks, and I’d like to bring a toddler bed and tricycle that I know our granddaughter would love. What should we do? — Son Says Yes, DIL Says No

Son Says Yes, DIL Says No: I am gobsmacked that you would still entertain the idea of bringing the bike and bed to their cramped condo after your daughter-in-law’s direct plea — and there isn’t much at this point that still smacks my gob.

What you “do with this information” is leave the big hand-me-downs at home, unless they ask you for them.

The only response to her request — only — was this: “Oh no, I am so sorry our gifts have created more work for you. We never intended that.”

None of the rest matters. Included in that “none” are: your attachment to giving large gifts, your son’s sentimental attachment to his childhood, your interpretation of his wife’s tone, your granddaughter’s projected enjoyment of the whatevers, your thrill in the continuity of family things, or anyone’s idea of who communicates with whom.

They all have some validity, of course. But they all take a back seat to the absolute requirement that you don’t knowingly do anything to undermine your son’s marriage.

I get that the couple’s mixed messages are confusing. The two of them have conflicting interests, and they’re actively making things worse by choosing to act unilaterally. They both put you in a tough spot, and you have all my sympathy there.

It just evaporates when your mind goes to doing what you want most instead of what harms others the least. They will not be harmed by an indefinite cease-gifts while they figure themselves out.

Your son apparently struggles with opting out, perhaps not wanting to hurt your feelings — so switch it. Require a hard opt-in before you put anything in your vehicle. 

Make it easy. When you have them in the same room: “I don’t want to create work for you by dropping off things you don’t need. I will give you a list of everything we have stored away and either of you can let me know whether and when there’s something you want. Agreed?” Work out the terms together. And prepare your heart for finding other good homes for these things.