(or please think before you buy...)
This weekend I got caught up in the sales and ended up buying all the gifts for our 3 nieces and several family friends. As I got home and admired my bounty it occurred to me how much I had learned about gift giving to children since actually HAVING kids myself, but also how much I wished those without kids knew what I know now before they showered our kids with their good intentions.
So you don't have kids. Maybe it's because you haven't had them yet but plan to or maybe you like them when they belong to someone else but don't actually want your own. Either way you're that fun aunt, uncle or family friend who gets great joy out of buying things for the children in your lives. You have big hearts and great intentions and we know that and don't want to burst your bubble. But these are the things that parents wish they could say to you....
Things that we really don't want you to buy our children
1. Stuffed animals.
This is only half of them. My oldest child is only 4 years old.
It started the moment I got pregnant- people started buying stuffed animals 'for the baby'. I totally understand the desire to do so- I did it too before I had kids. But keep in mind that kids only really take to one or two of them and the rest pile up (and pile up...). The number I received during my first pregnancy would have held both my kids over for their whole lives, but they only increased in numbers once the actual kids were born. Not to mention the ones my husband and I both saved from our own childhoods for 'when we had kids some day'. Take it from me- parents hate the things. And the kids? There is that one stuffed animal that will become their velveteen rabbit, and it could be yours. But you would have better luck playing the lottery with those numbers.
2. Toys that sing in THAT VOICE.
Anyone with kids knows exactly what I'm talking about. IT'S LEARNING TIME! YOU'RE MY FRIEND! GOT MY NOSE! (HONK HONK!). To be on the safe side, just don't buy anything that sings or makes noise. If you don't believe me, try playing it 25 times when you're hungover and you'll reach the tip of the iceberg as to how it feels to have one of those things in your house for FIVE YEARS.
3. Anything with lace, ruffles or buttons.
I know you think it's ADORABLE. You think we will too. But what you don't know is that they will wear it once for an obligatory guilt photo and then be put back in the closet. This is because these things are 1. a pain in the ass to put on them. 2. incredibly uncomfortable for the child and 3. completely impractical to wash. Kids are a giant mess of bodily functions and wearing something like that for longer than 5 minutes is bound to end badly.
But kids love candy right? Um yeah. But what you don't see is that after you go home they end up crying or puking or both. We try SO hard to feed our kids healthy foods and they are constantly bombarded with junk food. Please don't add to the problem.
5. Seasonally inappropriate sizes.
Sure that sun dress you bought is GORGEOUS. But it's going to have to be GORGEOUS on some other kid because by the time they're the right size for it it is going to be snowing outside. Keep in mind that all children are different sizes regardless of age and all brands of children's clothes are completely arbitrary in sizing.
6. Shoes for babies.
My girls had about a dozen pairs of shoes. They never wore any of them because babies have strange shaped feet and kick everything off instantly (except the leather ones like robeez. Those are the best). If you have a thing for shoes please wait a few years and buy them for a 5 year old who keeps wearing them out or losing them at school. They are still small enough to be cute but they are SO needed. I promise the parents will love you for it. This also applies to newborn outfits. They fit into those things for about 5 minutes, but they can wear some of the larger toddlers sizes for YEARS sometimes.
7. GIANT toys
If it's too big to bring over without a car, it's too big to give to other people's kids. The floor space in our house is in very short supply and WE like to be the ones to decide what occupies it. The sheer amount of gear that comes with babies and children is overwhelming, and unless you live in a giant mansion you're constantly fighting to find room for it all. Please buy something small enough to fit in a drawer or on a shelf.
And PLEASE don't combine #1 with #7 and buy something like this:
So what do you buy if you can't buy all those wonderful things? There are PLENTY of things that we would LOVE for our kids.
Parents love when people give THESE things to our kids
If you want to buy cute clothing, the best bet is simple cotton pyjamas. For babies make sure any sleepers have zippers instead of snaps. If you want to know why, try this: Dress your cat in a sleeper with snaps. In the dark. At 3 am. See how that works out for you. Zippers make it faster, and when it comes to dressing squirmy babies every second counts. Simple cotton outfits work too- think onesie or shirt and matching leggings or shorts. If you're going to buy individual pieces of clothing make sure it's a very neutral color. Nothing is going to match with that green pair of pants.
2. Good quality children's literature
Go for award winners, classics or current bestsellers. Read it 6 times in a row and see if you still like it. Remember that we're going to be reading these books over and over and OVER again, so make them ones that every age will like.
3. Wooden toys.
I don't know why, but wooden toys have more appeal to children. Stacking rings, sorting shapes ,blocks, puzzles. They will play with the same pile of blocks over and over but ignore the giant plastic stuff that's much more complicated. Educational toys, art supplies and anything that will really engage them is also usually a safe bet. But be wary of play doh. Some parents hate digging that shit out of carpet and cracks in the hardwood.
4. An experience. Especially with you.
If you really want to be AMAZING to the child, while still keeping the parents happy, do something together. Take them to a movie, or a museum, or an amusement park. The child will be thrilled and remember it long after any toy and the parents would love the peace and quiet for a few hours. Everybody wins. If you're out of town a gift certificate to DO something (including lessons) is a close second.
5. An addition to something they already have and love.
More trains for their set, legos for their collection, food for their play kitchen, furniture for their doll house. Adding something new to something they have breathes new life into it without huge cost.
Every child has gaps that the parent would love filled. They might have been passed down 3 coats this year but not have boots. They might need new ice skates, or hardly have any pants, or REALLY want a certain toy. Ask for needs, ask for sizes, ask for wants. A little knowledge goes a long way.
7. If the baby is too young to notice the gift (or not even born yet) consider getting REALLY practical.
Batteries. They go in SO many toys and items. AA and AAA for most, but a few C and D as well. They will certainly go to good use.
Gift certificates for places that sell everything (like walmart, costco, target, the dollar store). There is always something we need to buy last minute for the baby.
Gift certificates for food. New parents are VERY short on time and any meal they don't have to cook is VERY appreciated.
Fitted sheets. Babies (and later children) are very leaky, spewing creatures. They require far more bedding changes than we do, often at all hours of the night. We can never have enough spares.
8. Your interest in them as people.
Nothing makes kids (or their parents) happier than really KNOWING them. Ask them questions, listen to their stories (and our stories about them. We love them so much and love that you do too).It thrills them when you remember their favorite color or book or their best friends name. You're an important part of their life and the time you spend with them (or talking to them if you're far away) is really what matters to them more than any flashy toy you could ever buy them. I know it sounds corny, but it's really true.