I’m using a different profile for this question, and it’s a complicated one, so bear with me. The short version is whether anyone has experience of helping family members with compulsive behaviour, particularly if it has affected more than one generation?
I’m growing increasingly concerned about my in-laws’ uncontrollable urge to buy stuff, literally any time they go out anywhere. It used to be just about on the high-end of ‘normal’ – they’ve always had way too much stuff in their own house, and always turned up with a couple of presents for our kids every time we saw them, which I wasn’t particularly keen on, especially given the issues my husband has had with over-spending (more on that later). However, over the last couple of years it has ballooned, to the point where when we last saw them, they gave each of our 3 kids the same amount of stuff that the average kid would be happy to receive in total at Xmas - we’re talking 12+ presents each, and we are generally receiving a few random things each too.
We’ve tried many times over the years to discuss the over-buying for the kids; it’s usually brushed off with the comment that they think of them all the time as they’re their only grandchildren, and just pick ‘bits and bobs’ up as they see them, so if we haven’t seen them for a while it piles up, and that most of it is second-hand so didn’t cost much. To give an idea of ‘a while’, it was a 5-week gap between the last time we saw them, and the 12 presents each…
We’ve tried flat-out declining gifts if we are at their house, saying we’ll have to leave those there as we don’t have any more space in our house, or saying that we are now on a ‘one in, one out’ system due to lack of space. We’ve also tried to limit the damage by suggesting one book each would be a great and sufficient present, our kids being massive bookworms; this worked for a short time, but they are now buying piles of huge Lego or Disney encyclopaedias, some of which they’ve already bought for them 1 or 2 times before.
On a personal level, I’m getting fairly fed up with having to spend so much of my time tidying, sorting, or getting rid of stuff that we didn't need in the first place. And I also feel sorry for my own parents, who have kindly followed our request not to try and compete by getting the kids any presents outside of birthdays/Christmas, while knowing it makes them runner-up grandparents.
But more importantly, the kids are now an age where they’re starting to realise just how much one set of grandparents buys them (but young enough to still think this is all good), and I’m worried that behaviour patterns are going to pass down another generation, especially as I’ve read it can be genetic as well as learned behaviour. My husband was deeply in debt when we met, as he also had a shopping problem, but with high-end items, and also struggled with weight all his life, as his parents have done - eating being another outlet for, I assume, the same compulsive tendencies. After a lot of CBT, he is now better with both spending and food, but not great with either, and they will always be an issue.
My husband recognises that the gift-giving and over-feeding are his parents’ way of expressing love, as they both came from deprived backgrounds, and he visited them on his own last year to talk through this and its impact on the family. He also focused quite heavily on their own safety, as their house is now so crowded it’s a health and trip hazard. He thought he’d got somewhere; they both agreed there was an issue, although each thought the other one did most of the buying. However, the very next morning they came back from an outing with….. more presents for us and a few things for themselves.
The obvious answer is that they need professional counselling, but I’m sure they will be highly resistant to this. They are also both absolutely LOVELY, and I don’t want to cause any sort of family rift, or upset/embarrass them, but neither can I stand back and watch our kids thinking this is normal. Any advice??