First and foremost, congratulations on your willingness to reject people who treat you poorly. Many people continue relationships with people who treat them poorly often because they rationalize the actions of others, particularly family members. People will sometimes tolerate abusive relationships with family members simply because they are related. Perhaps they subscribe to the notion that “blood is thicker than water.” That is a rigid and stubborn way of thinking. When someone treats you poorly, no matter who they are, it’s important to adjust accordingly. You and your husband did that, and it probably wasn’t an easy thing to do.
Part of the problem with your mother-in-law may be that your husband has not been clear with her. You mentioned that he doesn’t want a relationship with her but he never explicitly tells her that. He chooses to ignore her instead hoping that she’ll get the message. Obviously, ignoring her is easier than “confronting” her with how he really feels. He seems to be avoiding her because of how uncomfortable or how problematic more direct interaction would likely be. It’s understandable that he would want to avoid that, however he may be effectively leading her on. Because he has not been clear with her, she may believe that the relationship is ongoing and thus explain why she continues to send presents to your children.
There are several potential ways to handle this. Ultimately, it’s his mother and he should be the one, to deal directly with her to effectively remedy this situation. You, as the daughter-in-law, have very little power. He has the most direct connection with her and will likely be in the best position to effectively facilitate a resolution.
One option is that he can tell her directly to stop sending gifts. He might also tell her that every gift that is sent to your children will be donated to charity. If she knew that the gifts were no longer being given to her grandchildren, and instead given to charity, she might stop sending them. Understandably, being so blunt with her may be uncomfortable for your husband but it increases the probability of achieving the goal of getting her to stop sending gifts. It may also provide an opportunity for the two of them to talk and to clarify the nature of their relationship. It is not easy to have such direct conversations. It is probably something your husband has been avoiding and why he instead chooses avoidance.
The second option is one that you mentioned, which is to literally return the gifts. It would likely send a direct message that her gifts are unwanted.
The main drawback with option two is that she might resend them believing that there may have been an error. Secondly, she may misinterpret the message you are trying to send. It’s always better to have direct communication.
Ultimately, your husband should be communicating directly with his mother about what is acceptable behavior towards your family and what is not.
I would highly recommend consulting a therapist (in-person) for advice about what to do. The therapist will gather information and give you advice about how to interact with his mother. There are better solutions than others, and your therapist can review this information with you and your family and advise you accordingly. Good luck with your efforts. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle