I know the title of today’s post sounds horrible, but it was all I could think of to describe what I do. Our four-year-old daughter is an only child and the only grandchild on both sides of the family. If I didn’t somehow manage her gifts, we would be swimming in piles of plastic toys and Barbie dolls. I usually try to offer some concrete suggestions and general guidelines, and, occasionally, I even make specific requests. This helps keep a nice equilibrium in our family, as Daughter has just the right amount of stuff, Husband and I maintain our sanity and our budget, and the Grandparents get to indulge their Granddaughter.
For instance, my mother-in-law is coming for a visit at the end of this month and has called several times asking what she can bring for Daughter. Daughter is starting Reception/Kindergarten in the fall and needs a school uniform, so Husband tactfully suggested that Mother-in-Law buy that. Mother-in-Law is thrilled with the idea, since she has never purchased a school uniform, Daughter gets what she needs, and we only have to buy school shoes. We have also done this with dance lessons and short trips.
In fact, it did take awhile to come up with this system, but everyone is generally happy with it. I rarely need to buy clothes for Daughter, just the few pieces necessary to fill out her wardrobe, and we also rarely buy shoes, since my stepmother likes shoe shopping for Daughter and happily calls to see what she needs. Daughter also has toys, but we generally start her on toys that can be added to, like Lego or Sylvanian Families. That way, we know that she has toys that reflect our values, and the Grandparents have something they can choose without asking.
Oddly, people used to regularly give practical and necessary gifts, especially during the War and austerity. Even in the States, my grandmothers told me stories of the gifts they received as children, and they inevitably involved knitting needle sets, baby things and the like. It has only been in recent years, with the boom in cheap mass production, that gifts have become something over the top. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate getting something I wouldn’t normally get for myself, like an expensive pair of shoes or a high end perfume, but the point is that those gifts get used and are given in moderation. Daughter could have piles of toys, but she wouldn’t play with them all and there would be inevitable fights about the state of her room. Along the same lines, I could have endless bottles of perfume, but there are only so many days in the year. We all appreciate what we receive more when we receive less. It took courage to come up with our system for Daughter, because it goes against every message sent in society, but we had several heartfelt discussions with the Grandparents about it. Once we all realized that the act of giving is more important than what is given and that gifts don’t necessarily need to be surprises, we all settled quite happily into the system. It ends up reflecting our personal family values instead of society’s, and it spares us the pain of constantly stepping on Barbie’s high heels (although Legos hurt too).