Santa got it really wrong this year.
December 16, 2014 6:37 AM   Subscribe

The Grandparents sent our kids gifts that are ridiculously wrong for them. Do I return them ASAP and buy things they would actually like? Do I address this with them?

Our relationship with my in-laws has been strained this year but I have tried to maintain good communication between them with the kids. I just checked the packing slips from the packages they sent for Christmas and was pretty surprised by their contents. It is clear from what they sent that they didn't think at all about what our kids like and it almost seems like these presents were meant to irritate us more than anything. I don't want to give the exact gifts but imagine getting a doll that magically poops charms for a girl really into science.

This Christmas is financially tight and I was really hoping that some nice presents from grandparents would round it out. How should I handle this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do I return them ASAP and buy things they would actually like?

Sure, if you can return the gifts without the grandparents knowing about it.

Do I address this with them?


How should I handle this?

... with a gracious thank-you note. Gifts are not to be expected and should not be part of your budget. You do not get to pick the gifts your children receive and your children should not have the expectation that every gift they receive is their most favorite wish ever.
posted by saeculorum at 6:41 AM on December 16, 2014 [83 favorites]

I was a girl who was really into science who was one birthday given a doll who magically grows hair by some relatives who didn't know me at all. I took the doll's head apart to learn how the magic hair worked. All is not lost!

When stuff like this happened in my family we just let it be. It was a good lesson in how to graciously receive gifts that you don't really like. Whether that's what you should do here or not, I have no idea.
posted by phunniemee at 6:42 AM on December 16, 2014 [77 favorites]

We have grandparents that get wildly inappropriate gifts... A complicated digital microscope for a 2 year old. A board book with noises for the same child when he was 6. A coffee table book of the battles of the civil war for a 14 year old with no interest in US history.

If the gifts were returnable, we would return them. If not, we would donate them to Toys for Tots. Then I would buy more appropriate presents, label them as being from that grandparent, and put them under the tree.

If you are really financially tight... try to exchange the gifts for something else if you can. Otherwise just give the gift... you never know... maybe your daughter will find a creative use for the charm-pooping-doll.
posted by LittleMy at 6:44 AM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

You let the kids open the presents that were sent to them. You smile and shake your head and say "Boy, grandpa sure doesn't know how to shop for you, does he? Oh well, it's the thought that counts" and then you move on. Do not police the things your family gives to your kids.
posted by jbickers at 6:46 AM on December 16, 2014 [91 favorites]

Getting rubbish presents from relatives is kind of a rite of passage. Tell the kids they should be appreciative and greatful for all the presents they get, even if they don't like them.
Then maybe after Christmas say you're having a clear out and the kids can get involved by donating toys they don't want to charity or a children's hospital (even if they just got them for Christmas).
That way if the in-laws visit and ask about if the kids liked the presents you can say "oh it was so cute, we were talking about donating things to charity and kids who don't have any toys, and Mary and John decided to donate some of their Christmas presents. It was so heart warming."
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:47 AM on December 16, 2014 [35 favorites]

There is something to be said for getting something awful as a kid and learning early on how to write a thoughtful, graceful, genuinely appreciative thank you note for anything. Unless they're dangerous or offensive (and I mean REALLY offensive, hurtfully so), it's probably not worth the potential offense to ever bring it up directly with the giver. Or to swap them out before they get to the kids. I mean, how on earth would you handle the kid thanking the grandparent for something they didn't send?

Give them to the kids unaltered, have them write lovely thank-you notes, and who knows - maybe they'll enjoy them anyway. Kids are weird that way. And if not, being graceful in disappointment is a really, really good thing to learn at a young age. Christmas will not be ruined by ugly socks or pooping dolls.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 6:50 AM on December 16, 2014 [28 favorites]

Give the gifts, have kids write the thank you notes, then take them to Toys R Us to exchange them for what they like.

Just like you do with gifts when you're a grown up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:53 AM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

No, part of getting gifts is learning that you don't always get what you want---it's extra and the thought counts and you say thank you.

You and your spouse probably got them gifts of what they want. Does it matter that they get more stuff? Just tell them to thank their grandparents. It's a good lesson for life.
posted by discopolo at 6:53 AM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

If they gave you gift receipts, then they want you to exchange them for better gifts. Did they?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:57 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Especially because you have a strained relationship with these grandparents, I would not go behind their back to do anything, nor would I tell them their gifts were inappropriate. As others have suggested, give the gifts as-is and let the children decide what to do with them. (Given your strained financial situation, I would encourage you to think about the suggestions to have the kids donate some of their toys, to combat any thinking about how much they don't have.)
posted by jaguar at 6:58 AM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

My grandmother gave notoriously terrible presents. It was mostly sort of a running family joke - eventually we started competing for who got the worst present from her each year. It was, as others have said above, not a bad lesson in learning to be gracious about the thought behind the gift rather than the gift itself. If the gift was returnable, my parents helped us exchange it *after* Christmas for something we liked better, but we always received and wrote thank-you notes for the gift actually given. I think that was a pretty good way to handle it.
posted by Stacey at 7:00 AM on December 16, 2014 [10 favorites]

If you return or exchange the gifts, your spouse should be the one to tell the grandparents (they are his/her parents, after all, not yours). You should not be the one to deliver a message that could be taken as a slight.
posted by alms at 7:07 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

It seems wrong to me to return someone else's gift before it is even received.
You might not like the gift, but you didn't buy the gift, and you are not giving the gift.

If the gift is that bad, then grandma is making her future with these kids.
The kids can return and exchange them after opening the gifts if they are that bad.

But you don't re-buy a gift from another before that gift was even given. That seems wrong.
posted by Flood at 7:08 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are your kids old enough to be telling their grandparents about what they want from them? If we're talking little kids who still believe in Santa, just grin and bear it like everyone else says. If they're, say, tweens or older who can communicate with them just fine, I'd still keep your feelings to yourself, but encourage your kids to be not-so-subtle about their like and dislikes the next time the gift-giving season rolls around. If your child wants a microscope and doesn't like dolls, they should say so. That puts the onus on your in-laws to be responsive to their grandchildren. Maybe they will, maybe they won't, but at least it will be between your kids and them. Unless it's something grossly inappropriate or blatantly antagonistic, it's best that you keep out of the way.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:13 AM on December 16, 2014

How old are the kids? Assuming they are older than say 6 or 7, I would wait. I would have the kids open them and gauge their reactions. Have them write a nice thank you note to Grandparents. Then, if they don't like them, offer to see if Santa will exchange them.
posted by 724A at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds really tough and I empathize with you. I'm going to be honest, though: I think you're blowing this out of proportion and projecting some of your stress about having tight finances onto the easiest target. I bet your in laws have no idea that they chose badly matches for your children, but you seem to be assuming that they've been scheming about this and did it on purpose to spite you and your kids. It is not your in laws' responsibility to save Christmas. I know things are tough right now, but you gotta maintain perspective here lest you leave your kids with "gifts" that are even more inappropriate: lessons that demonstrate to them that being resentful about gifts instead of gracious = okay.

Take this wonderful opportunity to teach your children about how to be kind when someone gives them something they don't quite like. Don't foist your fears about disappointing your kids due to financial distress/lack of presents onto your in laws, unless it's really truly their fault or something that things have been tight this year. This likely wasn't personal. Don't take it that way and be bitter about it. Christmas will still be happy if you focus on all the other things that make it so for your kids. You are doing a great job. Your kids will still be okay even if they get some strange gifts that don't quite make sense. This is an opportunity for kind, loving laughter and gratitude.

I know that's not what you want to hear, but I hope you understand why I said it. Can I pay forward some generosity shown to me and my parents a long time ago and help out with some small trinkets for your kids? If so, feel free to shoot me a memail with some of their likes and dislikes. No worries if that doesn't appeal to you. :) Just want to offer in case it does.

Again, you are doing a great job. Things will be okay. Christmas will be wonderful. I'm sure of it. :)
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:18 AM on December 16, 2014 [23 favorites]

I'm sorry this holiday's going to be tight for you. I remember one year growing up when we each got some sweaters and some board games and that was it. We played Clue and ate lasagna while my mother looked stricken and my dad tried to make a big joke out of how disappointed we looked that we didn't have a big haul. I remember that more than what I'd asked for that I didn't get.

Point is, if you make a deal out of this with your kids, that's what they'll remember. Plus, relations with your in-laws will get a lot worse and who needs that? Everybody's doing the best they can at the holidays; your in-laws not really "knowing" your kids is annoying but it's not deliberate. They probably asked around for what toys are popular this year - and that charm-crapping doll is apparently a popular toy - so they wouldn't be the lame grandparents that give socks and crafts.

Also, consider that you can have a very interesting discussion with your daughter about the societal implications of giving little girls female dolls that literally shit charm. Make homemade thank you cards and be done with it.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

I definitely encourage letting them open the gifts so that they learn how to accept not so awesome gifts graciously. My sister never learned that, she makes it very clear when she gets a gift she doesn't like, even if the gift giver is sitting right in front of her. It is really hurtful and rude. Please god, teach your kids how to receive less awesome gifts. Teach them sometimes that it really IS the thought that counts.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:22 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

This situation sucks. I'm sorry you have to deal with it. I suggest making a family joke of how terrible they are but reminding the kids that getting anything is a bonus.

If the grandparents are so terrible that you feel that this is likely to be deliberately cruel, that is another situation. In that case I would strongly suggest considering whether it makes sense to expect material things from people who would be cruel to your children. It is kind of a terrible lesson. Not saying this is necessarily the case, but if it is its something to think about.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:31 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have an Aunt who all my life bought wildly inappropriate gifts, out became part of the gun of Christmas, what weirdly bad present did she buy us this year. Strangely some years she'd get it right but it was always part of the fun seeing what she sent.

If you want Christmas to be all about the stuff, go change the presents, if you want it to be about fun memories with family, stop worrying about the gifts and put that energy into making the memories.
posted by wwax at 7:34 AM on December 16, 2014

I'm sorry, but you really need to check your attitude here, and pronto. almost seems like these presents were meant to irritate us more than anything.

This is emphatically NOT in the holiday spirit. Give them the benefit of the doubt for goodness sake. Not everyone is a talented gift giver, especially to children, and it can be tough to find just the right thing.

This Christmas is financially tight and I was really hoping that some nice presents from grandparents would round it out.

That's not how it works at all. AT ALL. I'm sorry money is tight right now, but the correct solution in that case is to find thoughtful, meaningful gifts that fit your budget, not to expect other family members to pick up the slack. WTF?

How should I handle this?

By helping your children write thoughtful thank you notes for their gifts, and teaching them that the thought is what matters most.

Look, I get it. My grandmother is really bad at giving gifts - she loves giving me out of fashion clothing that is 2 sizes too big and other stuff I don't really use or enjoy. But you know what? She's trying to do something nice, not ruin Christmas or make me feel bad in some way or anything. I write her a genuine thank you note every year, then I leave the gifts behind at my parents' house. Because, and I cannot emphasize this enough, Christmas is about giving, not receiving. It really is the thought that counts. Greed is unbecoming, especially in adults.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:44 AM on December 16, 2014 [17 favorites]

Also, it's one thing if your intimate partner or your parent when you're a kid gets you a dumb, inappropriate gift---they're supposed to know you intimately. Grandparents are supposed to just try their best as they don't spend every single day with you, and it seems they have.
posted by discopolo at 7:53 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can actually see the grandparent getting the doll for the science-loving girl as a passive-aggressive way to tell the parents they aren't raising her in a properly gendered way. But yes, don't give them the satisfaction of letting them know they've gotten to you: write a nice thank you note, return the gifts, and buy appropriate gifts with the $$.
posted by capricorn at 7:59 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

If they had to ship the gifts to you, would they even know the every-day existance of your kids enough to pick appropriate gifts?

Grin and bear it. You do not get to incorporate other people's generosity into your budget. HAve the kids write a thank you note and choose what to do with them.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:14 AM on December 16, 2014

My grandmother has a really bad streak of gift giving when I was a teen. As in everything was cat themed and that was before cats had taken over the world like they have now =^..^= Eventually she switched to cold hard cash.

But as the grandchild who received those tacky cat themed hand towels that embarassed me terribly as a kid - now that my grandmother has passed - the bad gifts are a really cherished memory that I have of her. I remember those hand towels that I thought I hated as a teen. I kinda wish I still had them and I don't remember a single thing I bought with the $20 I received in subsequent years.
posted by rdnnyc at 8:17 AM on December 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
The main reason why I feel the gifts were sent to irritate us is that I actually mentioned how awful I thought the doll that poops charms was to my sister-in-law, who sees my in-laws daily, two days before the gifts were purchased. Also capricorn is pretty spot on with their feelings on our parenting and gender roles.

I appreciate all of your answers and between some reflection and your input I am going to let the kids open the gifts, send thank you notes, and move on from there. I usually can see the graceful way out of situations like these but the stress of this year made it harder to do so. Thank you for opening my eyes.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:20 AM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

Well, here's the thing: there's no specific reason to expect (unless you specifically requested that she do so) that your sister-in-law passed your comment on to the in-laws; and you'll probably never know unless you start a big kerfuffle.

So the best thing for your mental health is to decide by fiat that the following things are true:
- your sister-in-law didn't tell the grandparents you hated the doll
- the grandparents were operating with good intentions and asked at the store what X year old girls are into these days
- the universe has a weird sense of humor sometimes
- this is an excellent learning opportunity about grace and thankfulness

And, depending on the age of your daughter and your collective sense of humor, perhaps this would be an excellent opportunity to teach her about bacteria and the digestive system. ;)

Sometimes grace under pressure is hard. Good luck and Merry Christmas.
posted by telepanda at 8:47 AM on December 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Maybe your sister-in-law misinterpreted your comment about the pooping charms doll as a big shiny hint and told her mom, "Hey, OP is all lit up about this crazy doll -- I think that will work for her daughter."

I remember going to a family party aged about ten and receiving a baby doll while my cousin, aged two, got a Barbie. The gifts were clearly mixed up by the aged and forgetful relative. Is it possible that your in-laws might just be forgetful about your kids' ages and did something similar? Especially if there are other grandkids in the family.
posted by vickyverky at 8:47 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Once the gifts are opened and thank-yous have graciously been sent I see nothing wrong with taking the unwanted toys back to the shop and exchanging them for other much wanted toys. And if money is tight and your kids aren't used to going toy shopping, this could be extra fun!! I would just frame it as "grandma and grandpa want you to have great toys that you will love but they have different ideas about what kids like so we'll thank them for thinking of you and then find something more appropriate".

(This was how Christmases regularly went in my house, anyway).
posted by Polychrome at 8:51 AM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

I'd have the kids open the gifts and let them know they can donate any new, unwanted toys to the local Toys for Tots or children's hospital. I personally don't think thank you cards are necessary for Christmas gifts. If it comes up ("did the grandkids open the gifts we sent?"), then you can mention that it wasn't really their thing so they chose to donate the toys to XYZ, which they had a lot of fun doing.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:55 AM on December 16, 2014

Hey, Stacey, nice to see one of my cousins on MeFi! We bonded over the awful gifts my grandmother got us. It was so bad it was hilarious. The doll that poops charms has definite potential in that direction. I remember one year she got me some awful pastel pink shirt with lace on it- I think she might have been encouraging me to be more feminine. Fortunately, it was the wrong size, so I exchanged it for something I would actually wear in any situation other than a laundry crisis.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:06 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also think "wildly inappropriate" can get a lot worse than this. One year my sister and I got NRA memberships from our grandfather (who was sadly suffering from Parkinson's). My parents did intervene there, and that was a good thing.

That having been said, my mom also intervened at least once when it wasn't so good: some friend had gotten me a candy-makeup kit when I was quite young. The kit "got lost" rather quickly (even by my spacey standards). I found it a few months later on top of the refrigerator, and my mom claimed to have no idea how it got there. Even though I am not at all a girly-girl these days, and in fact don't ever put makeup on myself (I pay a professional or recruit help when I have no choice)-- I'm still pretty bitter that she decided what to do with a gift meant for me.

In your case I definitely vote give the gifts as your inlaws intended, nobody is going to shoot their eye out here.
posted by nat at 9:14 AM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sensing this is as much about your strained relationship with your in-laws as it is about the gifts themselves. Do not use this as a platform for family drama, because why drag the kids into it?
posted by obliterati at 9:47 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you've got this handled, but one thing I'd like to add is that I think this is really your partner's job to handle since it's his/her parents in question. If my parents did something like this, I would absolutely speak to them because
1) we have a great relationship
2) I know they care a lot about picking out gifts that will be used/appreciated (especially for kids), so I'd know for sure it was unintentional
and 3) I know them well enough to raise something like this in a light hearted way that would not cause offense

I would never say something to my in-laws, because although I love them dearly, our relationship simply isn't as intimate as that with my parents. I'm actually not sure what my partner would choose -- but in any case, I would leave the decision of how to handle it up to him. You don't mention here what your partner thinks about this or how he/she wants to handle things, but ultimately I think the "strained relationship" here is something that is primarily his to manage.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:58 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You know, my mother in law was always a difficult person, and she and her husband treated Mr. gudrun during his childhood in ways I sometimes found hard to forgive. I was not the daughter in law she would have chosen, and she let me know it (unconsciously but clearly). Over the years she gave me good presents and some bad ones, and I just said thanks and left it at that. That is what my parents had taught me to do - take the high road.

I have found that people who are poor gift givers are often giving gifts that they themselves might like rather than the recipient, or are giving gifts in hopes of making the recipient what they want them to be. Either or both of these things may be what is going on here. The doll may be something your mother in law genuinely thought was cute and thought she herself might have enjoyed when she was a child, and she also may also have thought your daughter would play with a doll if she got one (she's a girl, isn't she?, what girl does not secretly want a doll?)

You've gotten good advice on just thanking the in laws for the gifts and then either donating or exchanging them after the fact. You may want to try to strategize with your partner about how to handle things in the future for birthdays and holidays though, by perhaps having your partner share the kids own wish lists with the in laws (they may or may not follow them, but you will have done your best.)

Also, your kids sound young. I barely remember most of the presents I got at that age. When I try to remember my favorite presents from childhood, they come down to a stuffed animal here (my stuffed horse), and a book there (Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Phantom Tollbooth), the Eames House of Cards, and a kaleidoscope you filled yourself. There were occasional big gifts like a bike, but mostly what made Christmas special to me was spending time with my parents doing things like decorating the tree, making cookies and hot chocolate, watching sappy Christmas movies, singing carols, etc.. None of this takes a lot of money to bring off, and oh I would give anything to have those times back again, now that my parents are gone.
posted by gudrun at 10:41 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

(I'm really not trying to lecture you on the Christmas spirit, but I lost my mother in 2009 and my father just died, so I am feeling pretty nostalgic for times past.)
posted by gudrun at 10:45 AM on December 16, 2014

The main reason why I feel the gifts were sent to irritate us is that I actually mentioned how awful I thought the doll that poops charms was to my sister-in-law, who sees my in-laws daily, two days before the gifts were purchased.

I really think Gran might have just gotten mixed up. It's hard to remember stuff as you get older, keep things straight. Everyone has a lot going on in their lives. No one would go out of their way to spend money on a gift for your kids and shipping to annoy you and a couple of children personally for kicks. Seriously. It just sounds like Gran may have been half listening to SIL.
posted by discopolo at 11:17 AM on December 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I am not from the "grin and bear it", "it's the thought that counts" school. I've been the recipient of hostile, passive/aggressive gift giving too many times.

My plan would be to return the "gifts" before Christmas and get the kiddies what they like. The Gramps don't even have to know about it.

this is the nasty me speaking. It would be a hoot when little Phoebe writes her gram a thank you letter for the nuclear microscope when GruntMa actually sent a toy broom-and-dustpan set. Oh, I'm laffin' from here!

O.K.; carry on.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:56 AM on December 16, 2014

Teach them to behave the way you want them to when YOU get them a gift they hate and/or are indifferent to. Life is long. It will happen.
posted by MsMolly at 12:00 PM on December 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree that the gifts might have been passive-aggressive - I mean, really, who Would think that the pooping charms thing was appropriate? I like the solution you've come up with, and want to send you a virtual high-five for taking the high road when other grown-ups are not.

(On the other hand, one year my grandparents got me a gift my mom Hated and I Loved, and I loved it all the more because it yanked her chain a little. So definitely give the kids space to have their own reactions.)
posted by ldthomps at 12:11 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's possible the charm pooping doll was bought passive-aggressively, but I think it's equally possibly that your sister-in-law said something to her parents like, "Oh, anon was just telling me about this crazy thing she saw on Amazon -- a doll that poops charms!" and that planted the idea, without any actual mention of how awful you thought the thing was.
posted by jabes at 12:29 PM on December 16, 2014 [8 favorites]

My partner deals with the passive aggressive asshole gifts from his family. So far it means that they've moved on to passive aggressive gifting at him and I'm hoping my daughter isn't in the crossfires this year. The way I described it to my husband was: if someone is looking at me for my reaction to a gift they give my child, then they no longer get the benefit of the doubt or my good will. She is not a pawn in their issues with me - I don't use her that way and I won't let them do it either.

That said, we deal with it after Christmas. So the gifts get given away or left somewhere (at an auntie's house, or grandparents, where other kids can get some enjoyment). Then my partner asks them why they said 'the look on your face was hilarious when she opened X' to me. It isn't judgement free but it makes them confront what their actions actually are. It sets the tone for the discussion too - we aren't going to brook any 'it's about toddler anachronism!' when we know full well that they're making gifts do double duty.

So I empathise. In this case, I'd probably ask my partner to speak to their parents and gently probe why they bought those things.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:45 PM on December 16, 2014

I fall into the "grin and bear it" camp. I wanted to say too, even if it is slightly tangential and then I will get back to gifts, that money being tight is rough and hard when you think your kids won't get anything. But we have had years where for various reasons the number of presents were lean and it has been more than okay. We've put the time into colouring and baking on Xmas morning after the smaller pile was done. A scaled-down Christmas sometimes is the bomb. I wish that for you greatly. It'll be ok.

Back to gifts -- even though I counsel graciousness, I know gifts can be awfully passive-aggressive. If you think that's the case deploy your spouse to talk about it a bit in April, when the gift-giving has passed but the gender role issues (or whatever they are) have not.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:47 PM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just a small encouragement about getting gifts for children when money is tight: my father tells me that the gift of my entire childhood that brought me the most pleasure was the cheapest - 2 gerbils at 20p each (£0.20). And that is also one of the very few gifts that I remember now as an adult. So I wouldn't worry to much about not being able to spend loads of money on gifts this year - just get them what you can, that you think they'll like & enjoy Christmas together.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 3:11 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

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