When are gifts not just gifts, but bribes or status symbols?
Oh, this is a tricky area and never more evident than when coming out of the holiday season. As I sit here on New Year’s Day reading everyone’s idea of a good New Year’s resolution and with the current craze of tiny houses and reading the life –changing magic of tidying up, it seems in quite contrast to the proliferation of video games, smart phones and kids’ cars that really run. Who knows what to give kids? Personally, I think those cars are the bomb.
Having my first grandson brings it all back to life.
There are two, or more, families with one new little bright star to dote on. For his first Christmas, I just bought him his next size up basic clothes. It’s what I’ve been doing to help the new parents out this first year. He grows so fast, my brother likes to say, “You don’t even have to wash his clothes, just move up to the next size.” His other grandma let me know she got him a few special outfits for the holidays. Not my thing, I must admit, but he looked darling in all his photo ops. So, it looks like we are off to a good start, so far. We both kept it pretty practical and real.
But, as parents and grandparents, it doesn’t always go so well.
I talked with a good friend and she said in the week before Christmas, “So no competition with the gift giving?” I said, “No, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.” She is very attuned to that because for her, it is a BIG problem, a source of hurt and resentment. Her grandchildren’s grandmother on the other side just goes over the top with material gifts. She can’t give just one American Girls doll; she gives three! She buys outfit after outfit, items the children will never wear. I witnessed it myself at the baby shower – a top-flight stroller filled with at lease 10 baby outfits. It looked ridiculous! In the first place, it is the parents place to be Santa Claus for Christmas, not the grandmas. Also, kids don’t need all that stuff on one day! They don’t need all that stuff, period. What are you teaching them to value? And at some point, children need to get the concept of value of money, or guess what? They will think they are entitled to a showering of gifts. All the time. Then, a gift is not a gift; it’s an expectation. But, what is she to do? Easy. Switch to an entirely different approach.
She can be the Grandma of experiences, not things.
For gifts, she can give games that she plays with the children. She can give a cooking set, and cook with the children, both boys and girls, mind you. Her gift can be tickets to the local children’s museum, children’s ballet or theatre that she attends with them. They get to dress up (working on those social skills) and go out for a special dessert afterwards. But, most spectacularly, she can be the Grandma of travel! She can give a small suitcase and inside is an itinerary for a trip she takes with her grandchildren. It doesn’t have to be expensive; day trips or one night overnights are usually the most fun! Any new mode of transportation that can be involved just rocks. Kids love to ride on buses, metros, ferries, trains or boats. I went with this friend to take her grandkids to sightsee in Washington, DC. I think riding the metro, ordering their own food in a restaurant and swimming in the indoor hotel pool were their highlights of the trip. So fun!! And by the end of the trip, the 10 year old could navigate that metro system as well as I could. What a learning experience for all.
What if you have the opposite problem, grandparents who give their grandchildren very little? It can be as equally baffling as the ones who give too much. To the parents, it may seem like the grandparents do not take the time to know their grandchildren. It’s not that hard or expensive to find a gift that fits. Eventually it hurts the children. But people are people and like the overindulgent grandparent, there is really not a lot you can do. I wouldn’t put combined gift giving from both sets of grandparents in the same room at the same time. I also wouldn’t worry about limiting the grandparents that want to give.
Eventually, the kids figure it all out for themselves.
As I touched on above, if you feel the grandparents are overshadowing your role as parents, then you can definitely say something about it. Not that it will change their behavior, but at least you got your feelings out. For grandparents who don’t give, there is not too much you can do. Before the next birthday or Christmas, you might make a suggestion on something the children might like.
For me, I want to be the Grandma of gifts and experiences!
Keep the gifts in line, but oh just watch me on the experiences. The sky is the limit. It’s a good thing his birthday is just before summer, cause I can’t wait to buy that boogie board and head to the beach. Do I really have to wait until he’s two?
Actually, it’s a win-win, because I get to go, too!!