One set of my daughter's cousins have gigantic stockings, and they often get 3-4 major presents associated with St. Nick. We have modest stockings and give one toy from St. Nick and one - two presents from ourselves. Additionally, the presents get mixed in with the heaps of presents under the tree which includes another pile to the same children from their mom and dad. I've dealt with the difference in amount of toys with my own quite a bit already and she kinda gets the inequality (and usually sees her gifts as pretty special).

The problem really stems from the tradition in how the gifts get opened. Aside from our daughter's present pile being very small in comparison, the tradition is that everyone takes turns opening gifts. This results in everyone else being done about half-way through this one sub-family's presents and all of us watching while they open (it's boring even for me honestly and I enjoy watching others get their gifts more than I usually do opening my own - it just gets to be long) and it is especially long for the other children who are waiting to enjoy their new stuff.

My husband and I don't believe in heaping gifts, nor do we think it is our right to ask them not to, but how do we handle the situation with our own child?

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    This is not an answer, but I might expand on this later: It sounds like the two families have very different views and values. Perhaps it would be better that each family celebrated Xmas separately (or at least, the part where the gifts are given)? Is this an option you have considered? Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 22:04
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    Yes! but you know, there are family politics too. My husband and I are a great with each-other (even though we're on opposite ends politically and a number of other things). He is agnostic, I am not (his family are all atheists - but celebrate Christmas 'cuz its fun) X-mas with my fam is easy (even in his opinion) but the years with his are a bit - trickier. . . Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 23:06
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    We don't want to hurt feelings and we want to enjoy the spirit of Christmas together - but even if we had the money, I don't think either of us feel it is healthy to play "keep up with the jones fam." for our kid. Commented Nov 21, 2012 at 23:17
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    Not a solution, but kudos to you for trying not to produce spoilt children!
    – NWS
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 11:33
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    We solved this type of problem by moving 5 states away. Not always the most practical solution, admittedly.
    – DA01
    Commented Nov 23, 2012 at 20:00

3 Answers 3


Would it be possible to go ahead and allow the other kids to go ahead and start enjoying their presents while this one set of cousins continues to open their presents? I mean, it seems ridiculous to me that one family is allowed to monopolize the time of everyone else because their parents are spoiling them rotten (ok, maybe they're not, but it certainly seems like they're doing something like that--or overcompensating). It seems pretty clear to me that at the point where this one family is the only one opening presents, "family" present opening time is over.

Is there a reason why everyone else MUST watch them opening their remaining presents? Is it just so everyone else can Ooo and Ah over their presents with them? Judging from your comment above, you are not going to be able to change the way that family does things. So the only thing you can do is change what YOU and your family do (and I get the whole family politics thing. I have 3 sisters-in-law and 5 nieces and nephews all between the ages of 2 and 6).

Perhaps when it becomes clear that "family" opening is over, you allow your daughter to open one quiet toy/book/whatever that she can play with while her cousins finish opening their presents. The rule is she gets to open one, she can't be loud, and the rest of the presents can be opened once her cousins are done. Or, if you're concerned that just doing it will offend others, maybe looking directly at the cousin's mom and saying,"You know, (insert daughter's name) has been really looking forward to getting x for Christmas. If you don't care, I'm going to go ahead and let her open it while you all finish up."

That way, you're sort of asking permission, but not really. I mean what is she going to say? No, I want to be everyone's focus of attention? If she says that, then there are other issues at play here. I'm not saying you just mentally check out, I'm just saying that you don't necessarily provide them with your undivided attention. Go get some eggnog, check out your presents. Start flipping through that new book you got. Whatever.

Another thought is maybe when family opening time is going on, when you're going around opening presents one at a time, everyone first opens Grandma's gift then Grandpa's gift and so on until all of the presents given sort of universally are opened. That way the only presents left at the end are the ones given amongst that sub-family and no one else feels obligated to watch cause the outside-family gifts are all ready opened. Does that make any sense?

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    There are other issues at play. BUT I really like the idea of letting ours choose something quiet to play with right there. If Sis-in-Law can't handle Alice reading a book instead of watching, I don't think she'd have a leg to stand on and she would know it. Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 1:52
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    I feel your pain. My husband has two sisters who are more well-off than we are or my younger SIL is. It's taken many, many years of really working together to get Christmas to where it is today. It helped when one sister moved to New York and discovered you simply can't physically fit a bunch of crap into a 700 square foot apartment with 4 people living in it. However, as the lone SIL in the bunch (ie. the only female not born directly into the family) I have NEVER been the one to instigate change. I will throw my support behind one SIL or another, but I don't feel like it's my place to
    – Meg Coates
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 14:15
  • recommend changes. Perhaps, though, it would be worth your while to sort of feel out how other family members feel about it (I suspect you all ready know). It might be you're the only family member who feels this way, but it might be that everyone else feels the same way or similarly. The thing we have learned is that holidays have to evolve as families change. Their "tradition" was probably fine when they only had one kid, but now that they have more it's not working. You can maintain your familial holiday traditions while still adjusting to accommodate new holiday traditions.
    – Meg Coates
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 14:22

Talk to the parents beforehand Preferably sometime a days or weeks in advance, not ten minutes before they're leaving, discuss your concerns with sis in law. Explain your concerns: your kids feeling jealous, bored, less appreciative of their own gifts, etc. Obviously, your goal is not to stifle your sis in law's generosity (and make sure she knows this), but to help your sis in law teach her children to be more compassionate. You may want to specifically suggest some ideas on how to change the atmosphere. For example:

  • Have them only bring a subset of their children's gifts to the gathering, and perhaps they could open the rest at home, so everyone has a more-equal number of gifts.
  • Perhaps instead of making seperate piles for each child and then opening one gift each sequentially, you pull presents from under the tree at random, and if her kids open two or three presents in a row, whatever, at least everyone will finish closer to the same time.
  • Perhaps a time-limit to group present opening, at which point the children may choose whether they'd rather go play with their gifts or continue watching opening of any remaining gifts.
  • Or do something similiar at whatever point most relatives have run out of piles, allow anyone who would like to be excused go play while those who want to stay till the bitter end watching opening presents time do so.
  • Perhaps limit the gifts opened at the family event to only those going between families, and save all the santa presents and mom/dad presents for home.
  • These are all great ideas. In our case, the rest of us travel to her house and it is really important to the family as a whole that everyone camps out in the house together and does Santa and gifts there at the house (important tradition to them). Unfortunately many of these ideas won't work for us, but I can tweak a few to try AND other viewers might get ideas too. Thanks! Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 1:19
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    Yes, obviously, which ones work depend on the distance traveled, whose house you're at, etc. It would be difficult to ask her not to bring all the gifts to her own home. But maybe in consideration that everyone other than her is traveling with their gifts, and it's less practical to bring ginormous or plentiful gifts in the car, perhaps she could consider having her kids open a few of their gifts early so they can "share them with the cousins" before present opening and/or to shrink their piles a little bit. If you had something too big you'd probably open it at home too. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 21:08

If money isn't the concern just buy them more presents and just because they would be getting more stuff doesn't mean that you also can't teach them to appriciate it. They only get one childhood

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    True, but in my experience, past a certain number of presents and kids are overwhelmed and don't actually play with most of them even if they act appreciatively. Maybe your experience is different. Welcome to the site! Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 1:27
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    This advice is technically a valid answer to the question, but it would just add fuel to the fire. Also, it would not teach healthy skills with personal finance, which is much more important, long-term. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 13:02
  • I have the same experience, my son rarely plays with any of his toys, The enjoyment was in opening them i suppose so maybe buy more gifts but less expensive gifts. Also it doesn't matter if a child has a little or a lot it is still possible to teach them the value of things. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 21:54

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