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Monday question: Parents (and others) Who Give Too Much

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 28, 2013 10:29 AM

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As the holiday season starts to bear down on us, how many of you are gearing up to cope with parents who give you--or your children--too many presents?

This question came up in last week's chat and it's a perennial complaint--the NYT takes on the grandparent angle of the problem, from giving too much to giving gifts the parents object to (e.g., toy guns).

If you don't have children, you may be the one getting the gifts, as chatter treehouse wrote:

Anyone have any good solutions to the "presents you don't need" dilemma? My mom has just her two adult children to buy for. We aren't married, and we don't have kids. And I've successfully steered her towards things I'd actually use like massage gift certificates, but she still sends a box of "thing" to "open." As though I'm 5. These aren't things I want, and I end up giving them away ... I know these are not inexpensive things (I get the same catalogs), and I hate that she's wasting money on them. Every year she agrees when I tell her I don't need more stuff, and we each usually pick one thing that we each want to give the other, and agree that that will be it, and she doesn't seem to be able to help herself.

It's that last bit that interests me, and that seems to crystallize the dynamic: Parents who agree to be rational about gift-giving, and then break those promises, despite apparently realizing that the gifts aren't desired.

And the catalogs.

Besides Fox News, has any modern phenomenon caused more intergenerational conflict than those bloody catalogs? (Some families must be afflicted with both. If your father is hooked on Fox and your mother on Fingerhut, you've got my sympathy.)

After I and some other chatters urged treehouse to give up the battle, s/he gave some excellent advice:

treehouse: I really should know after decades of living with -- and a few decades living apart -- that I will never win an argument with my mother based on logic. It'll be easier to give up the guilt about giving away or recycling the stuff she sends me that I don't need -- preferably without hanging onto it for a few years. And if she asks, being honest about where things went.

MissConduct: Right! When I say "Let it go," I don't mean just the power struggle with your mother. I mean whatever guilt you feel about being unable to stop the process, and any need to lie about it. Let go of that, too.

What stories and suggestions do you have to share, dear readers? How do you cope with overly-generous parents (to yourself or your offspring) at the holidays? Are you an "overgiving" parent? What's your side of the story?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email

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