Prev Next
The Spoiling Boundary

The Spoiling Boundary

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I have an in-law dilemma (who doesn’t, right??). On the surface it seems like such a petty little thing, but I think it’s turned into a power struggle. I’m not a confrontational person and I avoid conflict like the plague, and to top that off my in-laws are emotional and take things VERY personally. So I’m having a hard time deciding how to communicate the issue with them.

We have a 2-year-old daughter, my in-laws’ only grandchild. They are extremely loving and generous with her. My problem is that they don’t seem to have the same kinds of boundaries I would expect them to have (based on my own parents/upbringing). The specific issue, for the moment, is clothing.

They LOVE to buy clothes for our daughter, and the majority of the clothing they buy for her looks (to me) straight out of the Jersey Shore show wardrobe closet—a lot of metallics, lace, fur, logos, etc. I’m a turtleneck and corduroys kind of girl.

It’s not uncommon for them to show up with a stack new outfits, coats, and shoes—not inexpensive ones–put them on her immediately and take dozens of photos of her like she’s a dress up doll. They will do this when I am napping or not home. I should add that they live hours away so maybe this is their way of seeing her in stuff they bought since they don’t see her daily. Or, they have picked up that I don’t use what they buy and are making a desperate attempt to dress her the way they want her dressed.

Because I’ve never had the guts to say “I hate that, please take it back,” I’ve tried other tactics. I’ve said “oh, she really doesn’t need a lot of new clothes, she has so many and she outgrows them so quickly.” Completely ignored. I’ve asked them to bring receipts “in case we need to exchange something.” Ignored. I’ve suggested they buy books and other things that she won’t outgrow so fast—still the clothes arrive. My husband has told them bluntly several times to ease up on the clothing purchases (we’re running out of space!), and it never stops. In fact, once they actually snuck in clothes, left them in their guest room, didn’t mention them to me, dressed her up and took photos when I wasn’t around, then took the clothes home with them. Weird, right??

In contrast, my mom always brings a receipt for the occasional things that she buys, tells me she won’t be offended if I exchange, and gives the clothes directly to ME, not to my toddler. This seems normal to me.

They are good grandparents otherwise, but this feels intrusive. They are not wealthy people and it really is a shame to waste good money on clothes that I will never, ever dress her in when they’re not around. In fact, I’d feel that way even if I did like the clothes – no child needs that much stuff. I feel like I can’t buy clothes for her that I like, because she has a huge closet full of clothes they bought at home. Plus, I wonder where it stops—if they are buying trashy clothes for a toddler, what will she get as a pre-teen? What other requests/boundaries will get trampled over? They don’t seem to pick up on my efforts to minimize the whole princess/clothing-obsessed thing.

So, do I just come out and say “Seriously, stop buying clothes—you’ve had your time to dress up your own kid”? Should I bother trying to direct them to buying clothes that I would actually use? Should I just ignore the whole thing because after all it’s just clothes (but maybe not really)? And why do they do this?? Our daughter has no idea yet that they are giving her gifts so it can’t be to gain favor with her. Is it reasonable to expect them to buy her things that they clear with us first (they have also shown up with big elaborate “surprise!” toys, wrapped, and given them directly to her so it’s too late for returns)? They always complain that their own parents had no boundaries when it came to ‘spoiling’ my husband, so you’d think they’d be more sensitive. Do they just need to get a hobby (maybe a doll to dress up on their own time)? And by the way, we have baby #2 due soon–I don’t know if that will make it better or worse. The thought of this little game going on much longer makes me want to really limit the time with the in-laws, which is a shame for everybody.

Mother of a Real Girl

Oh man, do I ever sympathize, because we’ve got one of These Situations going on at our place, too. Just replace “tacky sequintastic clothing” with “religious books and DVDs.” Books show up mysteriously in the boys’ room after a visit, DVDs arrive wrapped and are given to the kids directly as gifts (so then they immediately beg to watch it, giving me zero chance to screen it first). And I’m not talking about just Noah’s Ark or the nativity story — think creationism, the crucifixion, born-again, full-on afterlife salvation stuff here. Just because it’s presented via cartoon characters doesn’t make me any more comfortable with it, and like you, there’s a distinctly frustrating sense that our boundaries and decisions are being trampled and they Do. Not. Care. We asked them to cool it on the religious stuff — it mostly just confuses/bores the kids and we’re just not onboard with their version of super-duper fundamentalism. No dice. I remove the books and discard the DVDs; they figured out what I was doing and basically doubled their efforts to “save” our children from their godless upbringing.

In our case, they’re doing it because (I imagine) they see defying us as something like a mission, and that it’s justified in the grand scheme of our children’s eternal souls. For the life of me I cannot figure out why your in-laws are displaying similarly sneaky-creepy-determined-as-all-GET-OUT levels of passion about your daughter’s wardrobe. I mean, there’s wanting to buy girly clothing because it’s “cute” and all, but…sneaking in clothes, taking pictures and then taking the clothes HOME? Okay, yes. That is SUPREMELY weird.

Other than buying these people a twee little purse dog with a variety of sweaters and jackets, what else can be done to stop the onslaught of unwanted clothing? It sounds like maybe your husband could try being a bit more explicit — rather than “ease up” tell them bluntly, “no more, we’re done, I mean it.” But they could very well ignore that, too.

Honestly, I would probably just box up all the clothes and donate them. Your daughter doesn’t need a closet full of floofy princess wear, but it sounds like there’s enough to make quite a few other little girls very, very happy. It’s obviously not what your in-laws intended for the purchases, but at this point they’re clearly aware that the gifts aren’t exactly welcome and spending the money anyway. Donate it all to a local shelter or charity and rest assured that the clothing will be put to good use and thus no longer be a “waste.” Then dress your daughter how YOU want her dressed, because she is YOUR daughter.

If they arrive and get bent out of shape at the sight of her streamlined closet, your husband can nicely remind them that you guys tried to tell them that she simply had too much stuff and outgrows it very quickly and seriously, guys, enough with the clothes. She’s not a doll, she’s a toddler who needs a basic set of rough-and-tumble play clothes and that’s it. Maybe suggest they start helping you stock a dress-up trunk or something, so they can indulge in the costume-y stuff in a more appropriate way. (While you fill out the collection of tiaras and fairy wands with doctor and firefighter outfits, and continue to edit down and donate princess stuff along the way.)

As for non-clothing-related spoiling, yes, I DO think it’s reasonable to ask other people to “clear” certain presents and gifts with you first. Especially big, elaborate ones or things that some families might have an issue with, like toy guns or video games. I also know from experience that many, many people will not do that, no matter what. My family tends to buy everything off wishlists and confirm purchases via text message before hitting the Buy Now button, but my husband’s entire family prefers the “Here. SURPRISE!” approach. Sometimes this means we end up with expensive toys that the boys pull out of the box and play with ONCE, or barely at all, and sometimes this means my carefully-chosen Christmas gift gets completely overshadowed by HOLY CRAP LOOK WHAT UNCLE T US SENT OMG. I’m just like…whatever, about it all now. I’m still the adult with the keys to the car and the knowledge of where I can donate the stuff later to bring the toy level back down to normal.

And about your concerns about the future and visions of words-across-the-butt hot pants arriving for your 12-year-old, that’s probably something you’d be able to shoot down with a “I’m sorry, but we simply don’t allow her to dress like that, her school has a dress code and we have rules about modesty. Can you give us the receipt so we can exchange that for something more appropriate?” If that causes hurt feelings, so be it: there’s a big difference between “gifts that just aren’t to my personal taste” and “gifts that are completely inappropriate.” The first kind you say “thank you” and then quietly give away or return, the second kind gets a foot-down talkin’ to.

It’s also possible that they’ll eventually lose interest in playing dress-up with her as she gets older and less pliable about it, or once she’s not the only grandchild, OR they’ll continue to buy her tacky little-girl clothing that causes her to roll her eyes because GOD, it’s like Grandma and Grandpa think she’s still five years old, or something. Don’t they realize she’s SEVEN now? Ugh.

Right now, at two, she’s willing to just stand there and play the baffled part of the dress-up doll. But I would bet cash money that will probably stop soon, within a year or two. She’ll start developing her own tastes and opinions about her clothing. And while I do not have a little girl, I do have quite a few friends who, despite making their homes a 100% princess-free zone, ended up with little girls who zeroed in on a pink sparkly tutu in the store one day and never looked back. And then there are little girls who want nothing but pants and more pants and hate getting dressed up. Your daughter might one day tell Grandma that no, she doesn’t want to wear that stupid outfit and pose for pictures, she’s busy playing right now. Or she might regularly go change her clothes five times a day even when your in-laws aren’t there and insist you take her picture and sleep with her favorite ladybug boots on. Just like you and your in-laws enjoy dressing your daughter to your respective tastes, one day her tastes are inevitably going to rise up and trump everything.

But in the meantime, remember that your boundaries can be occasionally crossed but never plowed down permanently. They do go home eventually, at which point the ugly gifts can go in the donate pile and your daughter’s wardrobe is once again your domain. If your daughter really likes something they’ve brought her — be it a pair of glittery shoes or a faux-fur capelet — add it to the dress-up box instead of her closet. As she gets older, involve her in the donating process and teach her about helping others who are less fortunate.

Lately I’ve been asking the boys if they have any questions about anything their grandparents talked to them about or read. So far, I don’t think they’ve absorbed a single lick of any of it, and the books resonate on about the same level as Knuffle Bunny or the Three Little Pigs. (And obviously a lot of it is similar to other, non-religious takes on “be a good person, tell the truth, be nice to others, etc.” that we read to the boys.) But in the end, we’re their parents. We’re with them a lot more, and right now, we exert a lot more influence.

That won’t always be the case, but I guess I should consider this a practice run for the days when peer pressure kicks in and I’m left behind, hopeful that my years as Number One Guiding Influence were put to good use and I managed to raise confident, critical thinkers. Who aren’t necessarily just carbon copies of myself. Just like you might one day end up with a princessy princess who only wants to wear sparkly pink things, I might end up with a kid who decides that God and church and religion makes him (and his future family) happy. And it’ll be my turn to respect his wishes and choices. It’s like the circle of life and grandparent karma, I suppose.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Published January 25, 2012. Last updated March 12, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • Sonia

    January 25, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    I would find a good consignment store and take the stuff there.  You can use the money you earn to buy new clothes as she outgrows the ones she has, or you could put the cash into a college fund for her.  Think of it as repurposing the grandparents’ generosity.  They get to give the gifts, you get to transform them into something your daughter actually needs.  

  • Christy

    January 25, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Oh man, this resonates SO much. My in laws are now just my father in law (my mother in law passed away), but MAN. The sheer VOLUME of stuff. Stuff and more stuff! Especially clothes. And while we didn’t have to deal with the inappropriate so much, we had to deal with volume and things I just didn’t like.

    I’ve learned, over the last five years, to treat it differently than I would treat clothing gifts from my parents. Because my parents are careful and strategic about how they do things, and my father in law is not. My mom will ask what my daughter needs, buy her an outfit, the end. My father in law will go “Oh look, 400 pairs of socks and purple skinny jeans, lets buy those!”

    So now I donate – I donate a TON of stuff. I just….there’s no emotional attachment for him, given the bulk he buys in….so I don’t want to waste closet space and mental energy by keeping things that I don’t want or need.

    I think it would be maybe helpful if you really start to separate clothing that you deem inappropriate and clothing that just makes you roll your eyes and think “gah princess WHATEVER.” As the mom of a now five year old girl, I will tell you for free that my girl has an OPINION about what she wears – and has had for at least a couple of years (I want to say since she was about 3). So you need to make sure that the stuff that is inappropriate is out of her sight immediately. Trust me – you do NOT need power struggles over things that are inappropriate. You’ll have enough of them over the stuff you just don’t like as much, you know?

    To be clear, I’m not saying don’t feel free to donate both categories of clothing – I’m all for that. But if you are going to get to a point where your daughter wants to wear some of what’s coming in the door, better it be from the eyeroll pile than from the hoochie pile, ya know?

    Hang in there….in laws are a handful when it comes to the “buying stuff:, believe me I get it. Remember that you can’t actually control what they choose to spend their money on…but you can absolutely choose what you keep and what you don’t. So if you’ve made it clear what your kids need and what they don’t, if they choose to ignore you, you just have to shrug, let them do it, and give it away as soon as they leave.

    Take care!


  • Brigid Keely

    January 25, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    2 things:

    1) Some friends of mine were under a LOT of pressure by their parents (well, HIS parents. well, his MOM) to reproduce. Said parent would “just happen” to buy baby clothing and “just happen” to mention it to them “just in case.” They got a dog. Mom started buying clothing for the dog. Problem solved.

    2) OP mentions she’s a corduroys and turtlenecks person. Is it possible the in-laws thinks daughter isn’t getting enough gender essentialism and thus they need to make it up with pink and girly and princess and foofy and toddler sexualization? Because some friends of mine are going through that with extended family members who CONSTANTLY buy their daughter pink dresses and kitchen sets and dolls etc so she doesn’t turn out gay. What. That MIGHT be the underlying thing here.

  • Rachel

    January 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    My initial thought when I read your letter was “I wonder if your husband was one of a household of only boys or an only child”. My dad is a father of only girls, and now that I’m expecting my first, a boy, my dad is already wondering aloud when we’ll know if he’s a righty or lefty so he can buy him golf clubs (um…dad…he’s still in utero, so it’s gonna be a while). What I’m getting at is maybe your mother in law always wanted a girl and is living out all of her girly-girl dreams for a daughter with your daughter…which wuold mean that if #2 is a boy, it won’t shift much, but another girl could continue the behavior until a) your daughter gets sick of it and tells them herself or b)they just get used to having girls around and burn out on their own.
    Good luck and congrats to the local charity who receives the windfall of snazzi new clothes!

  • Olivia

    January 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    This is all great advice, and makes me very thankful that my mother asks what clothes my daughter needs before buying anything. I have a feeling the clothing purchases will slow down as she gets older and starts expressing her own opinion about what she wants to wear. My daughter is approaching 3 yrs old and is just starting to tell me what she wants. I also agree with Christy to really separate what you absolutely don’t want her to wear to cut down on fighting when she starts wanting to dress herself.

    I want to bring up the picture taking while you’re not there. Maybe it just sounds weirder they way it was written, but that strikes me as a bit creepy. I mean, taking pictures sure, but dressing her in multiple outfits and snapping photos like she a model? I don’t know…just seems really, really odd.

  • DrBS

    January 25, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    The idea of ANYONE dressing my toddler up and taking pictures without my knowledge and then taking the costumes hone with them would freak me out!  That is strange (and a bit creepy) especially since you describe the clothes as jersey shore attire.  In what manner are they using these pictures, why are they taking them and (most frightening) why are they doing it in secret?!  Not to be too alarmist but this sounds like some sort of grooming and I would be very cautious if this were my child.

  • Ashley

    January 25, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    We have this problem too. So my husband and I put our foot down. The grandparents are drastically limited in what they can buy her. We also have very strict rules regarding what she eats, watches, and she is not allowed to be around people who are sick (his family is always sick and doesnt care if she gets sick from their hugs and kisses) or that smoke. It caused some major problems when my daughter was born but we stood firm. MIL went majorly crazy town on us so we ceased communication for awhile (lived 6 hours away). They missed her 1st birthday and finally realized we weren’t backing down. Now she is almost 3 and they just visited this weekend. They stayed in a hotel and it was a very nice visit. The inlaws are actually more respectful of our wishes than my parents. So put your foot down and weather the storm. One huge thing I would suggest is to stop leaving her alone with them. If you can’t trust them to follow simple rules then don’t give them the chance to break them. That will cut out 90% of your problem right there!

  • Julie

    January 25, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Yeah, the photo taking definitely raises red flags for me too. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it sounds like something that falls into the “creepy” and “wrong” category. Even if it’s completely innocent, getting a two year old into the habit of allowing people to take pictures without parents around and make a big secret of it sounds like a bad precedent. Add in the borderline inappropriateness of the clothing for the pictures and, well… yeah, it makes me really uncomfortable.

    Grandparents buying unwanted clothes is something you can try to manage but mostly have to just live with. Grandparents sneaking in clothes to play dressup and take pictures of it behind your back is something I’d put my foot down and put a stop to.

  • Trish

    January 25, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I wish you a boy for #2 because 1) it isn’t nearly as much fun to shop for boys — there is 4x as much girl stuff out there and 2) chances are a boy isn’t going to be interested unless it involves wheels. 

  • SKB

    January 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    Good advice. I particularly like Amy’s last line, reminding us all that this might be a moot point in the future (hopefully way down the line). My aunt and uncle were (are) very religious and brought up their son and daughter that way. Now, both kids are grown. My male cousin has shunned religion, and my female cousin has embraced it. My aunt and uncle respect both of their wishes (as far as I can tell).

    In the meantime, get the clothes you deem inappropriate out of the house.

  • Liz

    January 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I think Amalah is actually letting the in-laws off too easy here. My grandparents were the same way with me, and now my mother is the same way to her grandkids. It really is deeper than just them thinking it’s cute to dress up a baby, it’s a control thing. They are undermining the wishes of the parents and this is just the beginning of a lifetime of undermining. Eventually it grows into them creating a division between the parent and child, like, “Well, your parents are unfair because they won’t let you do [x], but don’t worry, grandma will let you. Just don’t tell.” They obviously believe that they know more about parenting, or that their desires supersede the parents’ decisions, and they are crossing major boundaries as a result. If it was just pink clothes versus yellow clothes, maybe it wouldn’t be so worrisome. But clearly they are objectifying or sexualizing the toddler, and I would bet this will continue and they will always be introducing her to things that are not age-appropriate. Please put your foot down firmly NOW, before they take full reign of their desires for what they want your daughter to be. It’s clear that you have given them an inch, and they have taken a mile. Their sensitive “emotions” be damned, they are way out of line here. I also want to point out that most kids are so enamored with grandparents, they will go along with anything to please them. I think it’s unrealistic to expect your daughter to stand up for herself at a later age.

  • JCF

    January 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    If it were just the buying of clothing, I’d shrug it off and say donate.  But the picture taking, especially behind your back, raises major red flags for me.  If my in-laws were doing that with my daughter, I’d be incredibly uncomfortable about it.  I mean, my in-laws and parents take pictures of my kids all the time, especially because they live so far away.  They miss the kids.  I get it.  But sneaking behind your back?  That strikes me as weird and a bit creepy.  You say they sneak in while you’re napping?  Is your husband awake and allows this to happen?  A nanny?  Are they getting your daughter up from her nap to do it?  
    I think you or whomever is in charge of your daughter needs to be more diligent about letting them around your daughter alone.  If they have a house key, change the locks.  Tell them there have been robberies in the neighborhood, whatever.  If your husband or a babysitter is opening the door to them and letting them take your daughter, put your foot down.  If you know they’re in town and MIGHT stop by, don’t take a nap.  

    I would have your husband have a firmer talk with them about the clothing.  If it still doesn’t stop, I don’t know what to say, except that you probably need to start donating or consigning before your daughter gets attached to the stuff, because before long, she’ll develop her own opinions, and you may start battles over what she wants to wear, if that stuff is hanging in her closet.  
    I really hope for everyone’s sake you’re able to resolve this fairly easily.  I’d really love to hear an update on this one!  

  • Jimmy

    January 25, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Wow.  Amalah’s problem > OP’s problem.  And it’s not even close.  

    I think everybody has had to deal with grandparents doing odd things like over-the-top clothing sprees and whatnot.  I completely agree that you warn them first, and then donate, donate, donate.  I would not feel an ounce of guilt over that.  

    But going over a parent’s head when it comes to their child’s religion is just…wow.  I mean, choosing a kid’s religious upbringing is the kind of stuff divorced couples fight over in separation agreements.  That’s one of the four major categories during those proceedings – sandwiched in there with 1) custody sharing, 2) how far away you can live from the other parent, and 3) what schools the kids go to).  It’s one of those areas just so far out of bounds I can’t even believe what you just wrote.  

  • Jenn

    January 25, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    I second Julie. This is vaguely creepy, especially when they take pics and then just take the clothes back. How “sexy” is the clothing?

    I’m also surprised that “older folks” would ever even buy that stuff. My MIL buys my nine-year-old niece cardigans, and my mom thinks Garanimals is the height of fashion.

  • Abi

    January 25, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Oh my god, thank you for posting this question. I’m going through the beginning stages of something similar with my mother. My son is only 2 months old, and she has bought him several of the most impractical outfits for him– like a velour sweat suit with angel wings on the back and no snaps or a *double breasted with tiny buttons* knit outfit that she wanted me to change him into immediately for Christmas. All she wants is to be able to play dress up with him and take pictures of him in these horrible outfits, and if I don’t comply (I generally put it off until the last day of our visit), she gets very hurt and upset. I’m glad that she loves my son so much, I just wish she could spoil him with things he would enjoy instead of make him uncomfortable.

  • Liz

    January 25, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Jimmy, I totally agree with what you are saying. But I also sympathize with Amalah dealing with family religion. Because to the religious people, there is no “decision” to be made, there is only one right religion, and it is a matter of heaven and hell for all eternity. Imagine the grandparents, who truly believe their religious convictions, and they are literally afraid that their beloved grandchildren will burn in hell for all eternity. My family is the same way. It is such a hard situation for the nonbelievers to handle those who believe it is their duty and mission to save the eternal souls of their loved ones. It’s very frustrating. Try telling grandma that you have essentially “chosen hell” for your children! Good luck getting her to back off!

  • SarahB

    January 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    What Amalah said, plus:

    You and your husband need to talk with them again and make it clear that
    1) The number of clothes is completely overboard and unwelcome and ask them to limit gifts to, say, one outfit and one toy at Christmas and birthday and warn that all else will likely be donated
    2) They are absolutely in no way allowed to dress up your daughter. Period.

    And then do not leave her alone with them.  Either she is with you or your husband when they come to visit at all times.  They cannot cross that boundary if they do not have a chance to do so.  And, if they protest or it is a problem not to leave your daughter alone with them, shorten their visits.

  • Jill H.

    January 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    I agree with a few of the other posters above that the picture taking seems a bit off. Dressing a two year old up (in clothes that sound more “too old” than “way princessy.”) and taking pictures without the parent’s knowledge… just sounds icky to me. Maybe all innocent, but… it reads wrong.

    I really think limits need to be jointly agreed on by the parents, then clearly expressed to the grandparents, and finally (& I’m sure repeatedly!) enforced. Don’t give them the chance to be alone with your daughter so they can get around your limits… ‘cuz they’ve already lost that right by not respecting your stated-numerous-times wishes in regards to the clothes.

  • Laura

    January 25, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Julie said: “Even if it’s completely innocent, getting a two year old into the habit of allowing people to take pictures without parents around and make a big secret of it sounds like a bad precedent.”

    I’m going to chime in with the ‘that’s creepy!’ comments. It could be perfectly innocent in this case, but reading Julie’s comment made my stomach turn. 

    I’m not by any means saying that’s what’s happening here. But if there were ever a situation where, god forbid, something abusive was happening, having a precedent of ‘people doing strange things with me that we keep a secret from mommy and daddy’ is dangerous.

  • Corinne

    January 25, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    There’s a relatively simple rule to use when people give your child gifts (or ask them to do things) that you have not vetted first. Anything asked to the child rather than to you first is an automatic no, anything given to the child without your approval first gets taken away. You can teach your child to respond to such things with “You have to ask Mommy or Daddy first.” It seems harsh, but really, how hard is it to say “hey, we got little Jenny/Johnny this toy, is that okay?” or “Hey, we’d really like to take little Jenny/Johnny to the park tomorrow, is that okay?” before getting the child super excited (and then disappointed if the answer is no.

  • K

    January 25, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    This has been a chronic problem for my family, and it’s one that I wished that my husband and I would have reeled in before it became a big problem. Although, every time we put up a boundary that is a reasonable compromise, my in-laws find a way to manipulate around it, so really the problem has evolved. My additional issue with this is that, because this is problem only with my in-laws, my son has begun to equate more gifts with more love. He actually asked me if it meant that one set of grandparents loved him more than the other set of grandparents because they gave him more presents. It’s important to me that kids don’t overvalue material things and undervalue non-material things, so we try, try again!

  • Liz

    January 25, 2012 at 11:08 pm

    I am utterly creeped out by the op’s in-laws. Do not leave them alone with your daughter.

  • Sara

    January 26, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Guys I hate to say it, but it reeks of “grooming”. Just would not let these folks alone with her- certainly not to take her pics or change her clothes. Obviously we all hope that is not the case, but I don’t know, the creepiness factor is just there.

  • andrea

    January 26, 2012 at 11:58 am

    My MIL does the same thing.. including the dress-ups and photos.  I thought it strange but I tread with caution in bringing anything up with my husband because he is super defensive of his family.  The clothes they bring aren’t hideous ..  it’s more that they feel the need to re dress her every time they see her and take photos.. lots of photos.  Like you my tastes are more “preppy” gymboree lets say and hers is much more flamboyant.. not provocative, but not really my taste.  Still  weird though..  

  • Kimm

    January 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    That is not good, that the grandparents have access to the baby alone to dress her up and take pictures, without the parents’ consent. What if it were a babysitter doing that? Just because they are family doesn’t mean they have the same rights to the child as the parents do. I would get that stopped immediately. I am a teacher, and every time the kids’ pictures get taken for anything, we have to send a form home getting the parents’ permission. The grandparents should ask the parents at least! Parents are protecting their child in a good way when they set boundaries with the grandparents.

  • MR

    January 26, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    I am definitely in the TOTALLY CREEPED OUT camp! To me, the real issue is not the excessive clothing – donate that to charities. To me, the issue is the secret pictures of the dd. Red flags went off in my brain so fast when I read that. That is NOT OK. It doesn’t matter who they are, it is not ok for anyone to be taking SECRET pictures of your 2 year old. They are teaching her that it is ok, and you definitely don’t want her to have that belief. Your dh needs to say VERY bluntly “we have discovered that you have been taking pictures of our daughter secretly, and we are NOT ok with it. If it happens again, you will no longer be able to visit with her unsupervised. Period. It is unacceptable that you have tried to do this secretly. It is not ok to teach OUR child to keep secrets from us.” They may not realize the creep factor, but if it IS innocent, pointing out the creep factor should make them back off immediately. If they protest, do NOT leave them alone with your child. EVER.

  • Suzy Q

    January 26, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Yeah, I’m not down with anything these in-laws are doing.  They are overspending, refusing to respect your boundaries, and ignoring any attempts to get them to stop. 

    I don’t think anyone has said it yet, but they are also UNDRESSING your child to re-dress her in those inappropriate clothes for picture time. All behind your back.  How do you know they aren’t taking “cute” naked pictures of her? I know I sound alarmist, but I can tell you from very personal experience that it is the people you trust the most with your child who are the ones most likely to abuse her.

    Put your foot down. HARD.

  • Zoë

    January 26, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    This question has been bothering me since I first read it yesterday, but after talking about it with others, including my husband, and with them having the same immediate reaction I did, I have to leave a comment. We are in the “creepy! icky! stop that now!” camp. This is a way bigger problem than too many clothes. Taking pictures IN SECRET is just wrong. Who knows who they are sharing these with? Basically, what Suzy Q said – how do you know the picture taking doesn’t stop between outfit changes? I am not an alarmist parent, and have never been in an abusive situation, but this immediately brought my mama bear to the surface for a child who is not my own. Take a deep breath, put your big girl pants on, and tell your in-laws this ends. Now!! Don’t worry about upsetting them. They have already disrepected you by disobeying your wishes and sneaking around. You don’t owe them anything. Even if I’m wrong, and this is all innocent, it needs to stop.

  • Kaela

    January 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    If you’re looking for a completely materialistic silver lining, you could bring these barely worn, expensive clothes to a kid’s consignment shop and get $$ for all those clothes. Then buy your daughter something you actually want her to have!

  • crabbymommy

    January 28, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Gosh, some things cross geographical barriers! This in-law thing is not easy. I live with mine (yup, it’s normal in India!!)

    In the beginning I used to, you know, drop subtle hints about the stuff I didn’t like. Well, let me just say, that that didn’t work, AT ALL! So, I tried saying it politely. That, sort of worked, only to have a relapse!

    Well, then I became the straight-talking daughter-in-law (mind you, that’s not normal in India. No matter what, you do not talk back to your elders!) But, in my case, since I lived with her, it was either that, or cumulative-angst-ready-to-blow-one-day kind of situation, so I decided to put it plainly. It worked. Well, to an extent (let’s not forget, this relationship can NEVER be ideal!!)

  • Tracy

    January 30, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Yeah, buying too many gifts is one thing. Buying clothes they know or suspect you don’t approve of is another. But SNEAKING INTO YOUR HOUSE to TAKE PICTURES OF YOUR CHILD? That is so, so, so wrong. It needs to stop.

  • Wendy

    February 7, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Am I the only one who wants to tell OP to start raking through kiddy porn sites to ensure that her child is not on them?  And I’m not kidding.  That is beyond creepy…  I can see wanting to see the kid in some cute outfit you bought, but sneaking in clothes, taking pics and then taking the clothes back is really, really boundaryless and inappropriate.  

  • Liz

    November 19, 2013 at 2:30 am

    Omg, yes! So creepy. Weird that they’re taking pictures and the clothes home with them afterward, but CREEPY that they’re doing it in secret. Obviously it may not be so but it makes me think there’s a not-so-nice reason they’re hiding then dress-up sessions. I have to say, I wouldn’t donate. My sister-in-law received mountains of stuff from my mother and with each child thought she wasn’t going to need the stuff anytime soon, so she gave it to friends. And of course, she ended up having more children sooner by accident, and ended up needing the same stuff. So she had a baby shower for each of her children. We have low income relatives in another country who needed that stuff more than my SIL’s friends, and as someone starting out on my own, it was not fun to buy a $100+ piece of baby gear for her every time she had a kid because she saved nothing.

  • Karen

    March 30, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Thank God I am not the only one with this clothing dilemma.  I particularly hate the fact that my father-in-law does photography as a hobby and insists on giving us his photos in frames (he even stuck two magnetic ones on our fridge without asking) so most of our photos from 2months on they are wearing clothes I didn’t buy.  I have cried so much in anger over this, and my dh has done the whole polite request bit, so no we it just feels plasin disrespectful.  I feel like buying them a heap of clothes every couple of months and seeing how long it takes for the penny to drop, but my kids are 15 months already and I can’t wait that long!!!

  • anonperson

    August 9, 2014 at 6:34 am

    Disclaimers before my comment.
    1. I am not pregnant, nor intend to have kids anytime soon.( I KNOW I can’t handle any responsibility more than taking care of my cat.)
    2.I found this article trying to find some inspiration as a 20-year old who loves pink and princessey things. And this happens to be the article that I vent on about this particular attitude I see in culture today.
    3. I wasn’t looking for this article or parenting articles in general.
    4. I found this article and many others basically saying that a child wanting to pretend to be a princess is bad for whatever reason. And I HATE WITH A PASSION that attitude that every parent I have ever met, (one of many reasons that I will never speak to my dna ‘family’ ever again) that ‘you have too many pink things, you have too many sonic toys, so I am just going to go into your room, behind your back and take things that I don’t like you liking out of your room, and act like I never did so, and insult you for not fitting in with your peers, in front of them when you are already being bullied for thinking cream pink, unicorns, and puffy frilly skirts are much more attractive than rap, gstrings, and hannah montana.
    5.As much as I love pink frills, bows, lace, and tiaras, I know that there are a lot more important things in life. My whole ‘wardrobe’ right now costs less than $150, shoes included. I dream of these kind of clothes, but I just don’t see the point of taking more than 15 minutes tops to get out the door. And I do get negative attention for finding makeup and doing hair things longer than 5 minutes tops every day pointless if there is no reason to look ‘good’ (job, special occasions like a wedding, ect.) I would much rather spend my time making quality memories, than making my bangs look good for 2 seconds and than looking at a mirror for any point of said get together.

    I just want to ask parents of today… What is so wrong with a girl liking girly things? What does that tell your kid (especially when they get older) when you go into their room, their kingdom so to speak, and just take away things because they like something that you don’t find visually appealing? (If it is something that could kill them, or is something that they are having an unhealthy fascination over, like spending 5+ hours a day and not wanting you to know about it, then yes by all means, but TELL them, and explain to them why. And if they aren’t getting the message after 2 times, than say ‘Because I am the parent’, I hate when I see kids just having an interest in something that their parents don’t like, and the parents saying things that are equivalent to, ‘I don’t understand/like it, so I am not going to let you like it.’ and than take away the drawing of that character they didn’t understand, take away the books and games or whatever and just make the kid feel bad for likeing something they don’t like. And goodness forbid the kid joke about the sports team you don’t like winning against yours. Ugh. I also hate the whole ‘My child is my possession so their input doesn’t matter, they just have to be what I want them to be, because they live under my roof’ attitude, which I also see reflected in this whole, pink is bad attitude.) What is the big problem with pastels and fairies? What makes an article of clothing, or image of a princess so bad? I experienced this a lot as a kid myself, for a while, I switched my favorite color to pastel blue to please my mother and her husband. It hurt so much pretending to like tinker belle more than pink hello kitty. And than when I did turn 17 and switch back to my love of pink and girly things openly, they all thought I needed more medicine. I am sorry if I fail to see how thinking a fisher-price unicorn coin back that makes a cute sparkle noise is cute at age 10, and I am sorry at being devastated when I come home from the legal hell that is public school to find that the coin bank I bought with 15 dollars from my holiday money is gone with the change on the floor. I am so sorry I fail to see what is so wrong with wanting to dress up as a Skitty and pretend to be battling the bad guys in my life. I just read all of what I typed. I don’t want to erase it, because I got out a little bit of the messed-upness that was my childhood and it feels good to get it out.
    Long story short, why do so many moms find their daughters liking girly things so evil? And yes, I adore pastel pink, and dream of one day wearing such dresses, even once. I just want to know why does western culture seem to think that if girls like baby pink and girly things past being able to say their first word, it automatically makes them the same as spoiled brat in willy wonka? And yes, I hate pretty much everything I see every other 20 year old wear and do on a daily basis, I just don’t see the hate for girly things. Shouldn’t parents try to teach their kids how to act, what’s acceptable, teach them how to be who they are in an appropriate matter, and also help them learn about how to deal with this awful world in ways they can relate to? Rather than take things away from them for pretty stupid reasons behind their backs, and make them feel bad for liking something that is nothing to be ashamed of?

  • anonperson

    August 9, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Seeing some of the comments before mine… I sincerely hope that neither of my comments (this one and the one before get approved.) Why can’t kids just like what they like, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone(themselves included), mentally or physically? If it’s things like honey boo boo or snookie or pretty much any mainstream celebrity I can think of now does and wears, I understand not encouraging that at all. But I still fail to see how a pink frilly knee length dress worn by a boy or girl, is so wrong, and should be disposed of behind the child’s back. I personally know from experience that it would be less mentally harmful to just put everything you don’t like your kid liking in a giant trash bag in front of them, and make them be the ones to put it in the donation bin, while they are crying like crazy, than them never knowing what they are allowed to own, even if a bunch of the things being put in that bag, were things you bought with your money with your parents there lying about how cute they think that stuffed animal is.

  • Lynzi

    November 5, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Several things…
    I have to wonder how they were able to sneak clothes out, and why they think it’s ok to do in secret. Are you sure your husband hasn’t told them, “Here’s when we’ll be gone, sneak in then, my wife’s too uptight but I can’t convince her”? He was apparently spoiled, after all, and may not see his parents’ actions as a bad thing.
    Second, I agree with those saying put your foot down firmly. Personally, I would cut them off altogether until they understand you and your husband are the ones who get to decide how to bring her up. I know that’s not what most people would do, especially if they’re afraid of not being able to ask favors of the in-laws in the future, but if they’re causing you more stress than it’s worth, cut them off. They don’t have a key, do they? :/

    As a side note…I’ve heard older women say “It’s great being a grandparent, you can spoil them and not have to worry about putting up with them all the time.” Which disgusted me. I’ve also heard a guy complain about how his parents are spoiling his kids, and how he may feel the need for “revenge” by spoiling his own grandkids (which wouldn’t be revenge, obviously, since his kids would be taking that punishment…) Anyway, I wish grandparents would read the comments here. They probably aren’t computer-savvy, but perhaps this should be printed out need posted somewhere that offending grandparents can see 😉


    February 11, 2015 at 2:50 am

    I’m a grandparent who has just been told I may only contribute money to the clothing fund or from a family accout with etsy so it is aesthetically inline with their tastes and more socially responsible. Has completely taken the joy out of shopping for her. 

  • Kate Disbro

    April 9, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    Sounds like you’re buying for your own pleasure. I don’t think people are empathetic enough to the parents who have to deal with SO much STUFF in their home. We are minimalists who are reorganizing and purging all the time. It adds stress to our life and marriage. Also there is too much waste in our county – too much cheap clothing and crap toys that end up in the land fill. Thankfully the next generation is thinking about our planet, while grandparents go out and buy buy buy because they have nothing else to do that makes them happy.
    You can’t buy your grand childrens love, and you can’t shop your way happy.