Q: My parents see birthdays and even minor holidays as an excuse to shower my kids with excessive gifts. I've tried to talk to them about this, but they don't get the message. It looks like Christmas is going to usher in another avalanche of toys from Grandma and Grandpa. What do I do?
Jim: You've probably seen those T-shirts that read, "Whatever happens at Grandma's stays at Grandma's." Doting grandparents tend to overindulge their grandkids and then send them back home -- where their parents have to deal with the fallout!
Often, there's little harm in grandparents wanting to "spoil" their grandchildren, so long as the kids understand that such occasions are regarded as the exception to the rule. But sometimes Grandma and Grandpa need to be reined in. If they're repeatedly disregarding your wishes as a parent, you may be facing something bigger than the mere doting permissiveness of adoring grandparents. You need to take decisive steps to address the problem, albeit in a loving, respectful way that will not jeopardize the positive relationship you enjoy with them.
We'd suggest that you and your spouse get a baby sitter and schedule a dinner out with your parents. Begin by letting them know how much you love and value them. Then tell them that you're working hard to raise children who are not given to self-centeredness and materialism. Explain that although you appreciate their kindness and generosity, you're beginning to feel that they are undermining your efforts by their actions. It would help if you can name specific incidents. Relate the details and tell them how these situations made you feel as a parent. Help them understand why it's important for your children to be held to a consistent standard.
They may feel hurt for a while, but it's critical that you address the issue before it gets further out of hand. Hopefully, they'll share your desire that your kids not become spoiled brats, and will fall into line accordingly.
Q: My husband travels a lot with his job and I am looking for a way to stay connected with him while he is away. Do you have any advice or suggestions that would be helpful?
Juli: There are a lot of couples in your situation for a variety of reasons, including military deployments, staggered work shifts and corporate travel. It's great that you recognize the time apart as a potential problem in your marriage and that you want to work on staying connected. Distance can easily become a marriage killer if you're not intentional about maintaining and building intimacy.
With modern technology, couples can creatively find ways to stay connected even when they can't be in the same room. Find a mode of communication that fits your personalities and relationship. Some couples use Skype, others talk on the phone or text several times a day just to send quick messages about what's happening. Other couples connect with deeper, less frequent communication. A good friend of mine keeps a journal for her husband while he is away. Every night she writes her thoughts and prayers in the journal for him to read when he gets home.
When you are home together, ruthlessly protect that time. That probably means saying "no" to some very good things. Make time to date each other, enjoy physical intimacy and talk through the business issues of marriage and family.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
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