A reader who goes by the name of Overwhelmed wrote in with this dilemma.
I am newly married and my mother-in-law and I have a strained relationship. She tends to show her affection by buying things and she goes way overboard. If I tell her specifically not to buy me something, she will buy it anyway.
She buys new clothes for my husband every time she is at the store. (He has several plastic bins full of clothes he has never worn). We do not have space for a dining table because the entire dining room is full of boxes of stuff she bought for my husband that he doesn’t need/want.
My mother-in-law kept telling me that for Christmas she was going to buy me something from our wedding registry that hadn’t already been purchased. I told her it was unnecessary because we were inundated with stuff and had already purchased the extra items we needed. She asked me if I wanted a convection oven that I had listed on our registry. I specifically told her that I no longer wanted it because it would not work in our current apartment.
So, she surprised me by buying the convection oven as a Christmas gift. This item is huge and very expensive which makes me uncomfortable. We have no space for it at all in our apartment.
I want to be grateful for the gifts but I feel disrespected that she didn’t listen to me. What is the polite thing to do with this oven (and all the other gifts) and how can I get through to her to listen to me when I tell her no?
I’m sure Overwhelmed is not the only reader with this dilemma. There are probably many people out there looking at piles of Christmas or birthday gifts asking, “How can I get this to stop?”
Because this is your husband’s mother, the first person you need to have a conversation with is your husband. I mentioned your situation to Unclutterer writer Alex and he strongly recommended the book he reviewed, Crucial Conversations. You may want to read it before you speak with your husband or read it with your husband before you speak with your mother-in-law. Regardless of if or when you read the book, it is important that you and your husband agree on how and when to approach your mother-in-law with your decisions on what to do with the all of the gifts you have received to date, as well as what to do with any future gifts you do not want.
Many people give gifts because they love the recipients. For whatever reason, gift-giving may be the only way the giver knows how to express that love. In the eyes of the giver, asking him/her not to give gifts would be like asking them not to love you anymore — an almost impossible task for many mothers.
Your mother-in-law is facing an empty nest now that you have moved out and is probably trying her best to keep a connection to you and her son even if she is going about it in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Perhaps you could try and build a connection with her that doesn’t involve material possessions. You could have regular “Sunday Roast,” (a British tradition where extended family gathers together for a mid-day meal) or schedule an outing to a museum or theatre. There may be a leisure activity you might be interested in starting such as yoga or ceramics. You could ask your mother-in-law to join you. You might find that working together at community service/charity events works best for you. This would allow you to show that you appreciate her presence (as opposed to her presents).
After you have made your wishes about gifting known to your mother-in-law, you can start disposing of the things you no longer want. Your mother-in-law will likely ask about certain items and I know it may feel awkward at first, but, with loving kindness, reiterate the decisions you and your husband have made regarding gifts and reassure her that you appreciate and value her thought, effort, love, and generosity.
Note: If you have received an heirloom item and you’re not sure of its significance, ask your mother-in-law to provide a detailed history (written or verbal). It will help you decide if the item is worth keeping or passing along (possibly to another family member).
It’s your home and you can decide what stays and what goes even if it was a gift. Remember that the gift is not only about the recipient but also about the giver, so always show your gratitude then move on.
Thanks for your great question Overwhelmed. We hope that this post gives you the information you’re looking for and all the best of luck with your situation.
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