Photo by: LAPS

The Best Gifts Don't Need Wrapping

by Melissa H. (aka Mama B.)
Photo by: LAPS

If I had a dollar for every time my mother told me that it was her prerogative as a grandma to spoil her grandchildren… well I would have enough money to buy another house to store all the stuff she buys her grandchildren! I am not the first and I will not be the last parent who has tried to counter and balance the amount of stuff that is given to their children.

My kids are being raised in a very different community than my husband and I. My husband had one uncle on each side of his family and they were very conservative on gifts. I have 5 aunts and uncles and we got piles of presents every year. My kids not only have their 3 aunts and uncles, they have my 5, my husbands 2, two sets of grandparents and all of our friends who are like an additional 5 aunts and uncles. So when the holidays roll around… well it’s a lot of stuff! On top of that my child was the first one in our family, it took many, many, many (heck we’re still working n it!) conversations to convince my parents that they didn’t need to bring a gift/toy/activity with them every time they came over. There was never a sales rack or dollar bin that my mother hasn’t visited and found something on!

So what to do? We are trying hard to teach our children values and charity and we don’t want them to think that stuff just shows up when they want it. On the same token we don’t want to seem ungrateful to those people that want to show their love to our children with gifts.

One thing that we started when my son was an infant was every birthday and Christmas he had to choose one toy and give it to charity, brand new, unopened. This was so much easier when we were the ones choosing for them. Now that we have a 2 year old and 4 year old its getting a little harder but they both happily do it. We choose different charities every year. The last few years they have gone into church raffles and fundraisers, we have also donated them to hospitals and shelters.

Since the kids birthdays are only 10 days apart we always do a joint party, and it’s always bigger (see above, family + friends, eek!) than we think kids should have, but it’s fun seeing everyone. This year, in an effort to help combat the amount of stuff as well as trying to reinforce our tradition of giving back we asked for no gifts. I included my 4 year old in the whole process and it was an outstanding success. We talked about what other friends had done (collected for a food pantry) and we read about what a kindergarten class in our area had done (collected for a animal shelter) and I asked him who he would want to help. After some very interesting discussions he decided he wanted to help animals and we focused that on a local animal shelter. We collected items for our local animal shelter. He made a big donation box, he helped me shop for items (with money that out of town people sent), and he helped deliver it. It was such a moving experience for all of us! Our friends and family were generous and we filled the whole back of our car! He wowed so many people at the shelter with his generosity and he blew his parent s expectations out of the water with how involved he was. The best part, he asked if he could do it again next year!

These methods haven’t changed our family, or the amount of toys we have, overnight. However they are helping and teaching a very valuable lesson to our children. They did get presents for their birthday, but only about ¼ of what they would have received. I think they actually like it better than the overwhelming pile of presents they would have received if everyone brought something. Sure there was the “is that all? Is there more to open?” moment. However 6 month later they are still actually playing with the toys, and know that they were from their birthday. Those few gifts had greater meaning to them than the huge pile.

I usually start dreading the holidays and how to deal with all the gifts that my kids will get. I usually try to have the conversation with at least one set of grandparents about quality over quantity. But I feel like we are making progress and all learning from it. Last year one of the grandmas gave the kids outings instead of a gift; that was awesome and they loved it. This year my mom asked what they wanted and when I mentioned a larger more expensive toy she actually answered…”Well I guess I would rather get them just one gift I know they will love”. So I’m not worried. We are learning, as a family (immediate and extended), how to be more appreciative, and charitable and that’s really the best gift of all.

Mama B is a former city mama of 2 learning to survive the suburbs, as well as trying to shake the Super mom complex and live a balanced and happy life. It’s a bumpy ride but she loves every minute of it!

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It was very refreshing to read your article. My husband and I have been trying to figure this present thing out for years. We have a handle on the Christmas presents because we live very far away from family, so it helps. But the Birthday's are hard. The One thing we do with our 5 year old is doing something other than getting something. Your article gave me great ideas. Thank you!!!

Love this article. I am a new grandma, and I have 4 kids of my own (including the mom of the grandchild). My other kids are 11, 13 and 17 and hard to shop for. 2 share a birth month (the 17 and 11). I think we will try this for them this year for their birthdays. And I will be more aware of not overdoing it for my Abbie (Grand)

Grandparents and other relatives that want to shower your child with gifts really is a wonderful thing. They just want to share their time and means to give "a treasure" to their grandchildren. You can guide them to share things that won't result in piles of unwanted and overindulgent toys. I would suggest:
1. A family membership to the zoo or science center
2. Season passes to a theme park

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We made a sort of deal with our families.. i live overseas from my parents.. so if they are able to send stuff it's usually cash so our kids can buy their own little things or one package every other year or so.. (costs heaps for a box to send) The family here.. there are 2 uncles and an aunt for my children not to mention older cousins who buy for them plus us.. so.. we said instead of all the smaller toys.. band together to buy the bigger stuff.. they spend the same amount....

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My daughter wanted to stop the flow at Christmas so she asked us not to send gifts. I send small tokens for St. Nick's day Dec 6th. For her son's kindergarten birthday which is on Earth Day April 22, she had an Earth Day Birthday party with a scavenger hunt at a local park, gave recycle reuse reduce tips and asked folks not to bring presents but to donate to the wildlife charity. Cal got nearly $200 and was proud and happy...

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Thank you for sharing this article. I love how you handled the situation. I lost a few friends by handling a similar situation poorly. However, today, we still lead a somewhat healthier life. I get to go volunteer every week for two hours at a thrift store which helps the homeless in our community. My daughter gets a few less toys and the ones she gets come mainly from the store I volunteer at...

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Simply put tell Mother that she has options:
One to continue what whe is doing and that you will take them to the local orphanage.
Two she can open a Roth I R A account with a on line brokerage house and buy stock for a child. Did you know that a stock that splits, with the dividends reinvested, with only $1000 should be worth at least $.5 million if purchase at birth and held to age 65.
Examples; AFL HOG PFE
Three, put the money aside and take the children on a three day vacation...

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I initially cringed when you said your kids had to "choose one toy and give it to charity." As nice an idea as that is, I think the giver would be hurt to return and find his/her gift was the one chosen as least desirable. But, I really like your idea of having a party where the "gift" is a donation to some worthy cause. My children have been invited to a few of these, and it's a nice chance for everyone involved to stop and think of ways to celebrate and do some good at the same time!

This is a great article and something that I also struggle with. I really need to do something because my son is starting to expect gifts from everyone, everywhere he goes. He gets presents or money from almost everyone. He keeps asking when his birthday will be and he just had a birthday at the end of January. Thank you for the suggestions!

Recognize A Miracle Day, April 10, 2010 at Carver Recreation Center is a day of giving nutrition to inner city children and their families. Earthfare Supermarket will provide a balanced and healthy array of food. Moe's is giving golf discs (frisbees) to the first 50 kids to show up. Disc golf professionals will clinic and guide a tournament for the children. Long distance Champion James Cole will demonstrate disc golf principles...

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Great article and very inspiring. It does seem that my kids get showered with tons of gifts for each holiday/birthday. Not only does it seem important to select some of those gifts that would be a good charitable contribution, but also to have the kids involved when trying to clean out old toys. My kids are only 4 and almost-3, but I explain to them that they're out-growing their old toys and it's time to share with those who may not have any or very few.

It is so hard to know what to do especially in a day and age where every electronic game known to mankind is available. I am sooo tired of hearing my kids ask for stuff...

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For my granddaughter's birthday party when she was 10, she asked people to bring the money they would have spent on a present and she donated it to the zoo to feed the zebras. The entertainment that day was a trip to the movies which was about a zebra. The girls had a grand time with that and the zoo put her picture in the paper handing over the money.

I applaud you and your solution to a very sensitive subject. I am going to copy your post and email it to my daughter. She has three young ones (7, 3, 1) and their rooms are overflowing with gifts from family and friends. It might be too early for the 3 year old, but I think the 7 year old should get the concept. Plus, it'll make it easier to get around in their rooms! Thanks for writing your story. (I just shared it on facebook)

My parents were very wise when I had my children, later in life. My son was the first on both sides, and yes, he got some gifts from them. However, early on they started giving savings bonds to each child on their birthdays and at Christmas. These were for their college funds. When the time came, the children were so very grateful to have the bonds ( doubled in value) to help them with their school needs. They also brought them something small to open. We also emphasized giving to others...

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