- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

The adage about grandparents having license to spoil their grandchildren is gospel in many homes. Even the most stalwart parents canbe thwarted by well-meaning but overgenerous relatives.

Americans like to buy toys. Grandparents are no exception they account for 14 percent of toy sales, according to Diane Cardinale, a spokeswoman for Toy Manufacturers of America Inc.

As the organization points out on its Web site, "As a result of the rising divorce rate in our country, a growing number of children belong to more than just one family. The result is an increase in the amount of money being spent on them." In 1999, its data show, the toy industry enjoyed growth in almost every category.

Garry and Marsha Bourke of Clinton find themselves part of an extended family of relatives who enjoy giving gifts to the couple's children. The Bourkes' older son, 4-year-old Jared, is the first paternal grandson; he and his 10-month-old baby brother, Julian, also are the only nephews to Mr. Bourke's brother.

When the Bourke family goes visiting at Christmastime, Mr. Bourke says, "we can barely get back into the car" because of all the gifts. Jared's grandmother, Audrey Bourke, says, "Well, he's just a darling child."

Yet the elder Mrs. Bourke, a part-time registered nurse who lives in Bowie, says she was not an overindulgent parent and manages to resist the urge to shower her grandchildren.

"Actually, I don't give them as much as I'd like to, because I don't want them to get used to a lifestyle their parents might not want to keep up. Kids today want everything they can get their hands on, and much, much more," she says.

At Christmastime, she usually gives her grandson one toy, she says, and some clothes. This year, with the addition of Julian to the mix, she says she still plans to give "one toy and some clothes. And believe me, it's hard."

Clinical psychologist Diane Ehrensaft says she was not overindulgent as a parent, either but as a new grandparent, she says she can understand the urge.

"I guess there's a sense of 'I can afford it' although it really becomes impulse buying. Of course, I also have fallen in love with my grandchild. I know I'm not thinking of the big picture, though, which is why I need my daughter's guidance," she says.

Ms. Ehrensaft suggests that parents discuss the overindulgence issue with their children's grandparents and other overgenerous family members. "Ask for their support. Give them guidance; tell them, 'Here is what would really work for us,' and talk to them about why."

In lieu of buying gifts, she says, grandparents could transfer to nonmaterial indulgences spending special time with their grandchildren, for example, or maintaining an ongoing correspondence via letters and photographs.

Ms. Ehrensaft recommends that parents resist pointing fingers.

"What happens is that people often think of this as an adversarial situation," she says. "You need to get beyond that and think of it as a collaborative situation designed to imbue values."

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