Grandparents play a lot of different roles in the lives of their grandchildren, and being the consummate gift-giver is definitely not the most important. Still, on certain occasions, giving gifts to grandchildren is expected. For many families, Christmas is one of those times.
Grandparents are expected not to show favoritism in their gift-giving, which sounds simple but is actually a fairly difficult thing to do. Grandchildren can vary widely in their ages, personalities, and family circumstances, and yet grandparents are supposed somehow to keep their gift-giving fair and equitable.
How to Avoid Favoritism With Grandchildren
We don't have to spend equally on every grandchild, although that is one option. We do have to have a guiding principle for our gift-giving and follow it without favoring a particular grandchild, or without penalizing the grandchild who is not a favorite.
I know, I know: You're a grandparent. You think you don't have favorites. Don't kid yourself.
At certain times you are bound to have a weakness for a certain grandchild. Maybe one of your grands is having a tough time in school or in life and pulls at your heartstrings extra hard. Perhaps one of your grandchildren is going through a whiny stage, or being a moody teenager, and you're not feeling particularly close to him or her. This is called fluid favoritism, and it's not particularly harmful to children. What's bad for kids is when you have a persistent preference for one grandchild over another, and you don't even try to hide it.
By the way, when we talk about grandchildren, we are talking about step-grandchildren and foster grandchildren and any other children who are part of your family circle during a gift-giving season. Realistically, you may not be as bonded to a child who has only been a part of your family for a short time as you are with a child that you witnessed come into this world. It doesn't matter. At Christmas, they are all your grandchildren.
So back to our dilemma: how to equalize gifts for grandchildren. Here are some of the gifting strategies that grandparents use, with their advantages and disadvantages.
Spend Equally on All Grandchildren
This strategy seems to be the fairest, but it is actually riddled with difficulties. Consider: You got a great deal on an item for one grandchild and had to pay full retail for another grandchild's gift. Or you spent the same amount on both children, but one gift is clearly better than the other, and the grandchildren will notice. Or maybe you found a cute toy for your toddler grandchild for $10, so you bought your young adult grandchild a $10 gift, too — even though the items desired by older grandchildren are clearly more expensive than the items that will thrill a toddler.
See how things can get complicated? That's why some grandparents have shifted to the strategies below.
Keep the Number of Gifts Equal
Some grandparents just make sure that each grandchild has an equal number of gifts under the tree and don't worry about the costs involved. That's a simple solution and one that works when the grandchildren are young. When they are older and know more about the costs of items, they may pick up on any discrepancy in spending.
Give the Same Thing to All
Favoritism can't be a factor when everyone receives the same item. This strategy doesn't work, however, for grandchildren who are widely separated in age. Some grandparents give all their grandchildren in a certain age bracket the same thing. That solution works fairly well, since children are most likely to compare gifts with their age peers.
Give Money or Gift Cards
Some grandparents opt to give gift cards and/or money, the ultimate one-size-fits-all gift. That solution works for some recipients, while others much prefer getting something personally selected. It's important to know how your family members feel. Also, when younger grandchildren receive money or gift cards, parents have the after-Christmas task of taking them shopping. Some parents will consider that a thrill; others will find it a burden.
Give the Gift of an Experience
Instead of purchasing gifts, some grandparents pick up the tab for a fun activity for the grandchildren or for the whole family. An experience gift can be as inexpensive as movie passes or as pricey as a theme park visit. The beautiful part of this plan is that it works for all ages. The grandchildren can use their movie tickets on a animated film or a sophisticated comedy, depending upon their ages. The theme park visitors can gravitate to the thrill rides or the kiddie rides, depending upon their ages and their fearlessness or lack thereof.
Donate a Gift
Some grandparents make donations to non-profits in the names of their grandchildren. This is a cool solution once grandchildren are old enough to appreciate it, and it's a good lesson in philanthropy for grandchildren. It works especially well if you gear the donation to a child's special interests. Many grandparents pair the donation with an actual gift for the grandchild.
Don't Give Gifts
Opting out of gift-giving is a solution that is eventually adopted by many grandparents, especially as they advance in age and as their families increase in size. Some grandparents consider hosting the holiday celebration as their gift to their families. Grandparents who are on a fixed income may not be able to afford even small gifts. Still, grandparents who decide to opt out of gift-giving should definitely let their families know in advance, especially the first year, so that no one is caught expecting a gift that they don't receive.
Communicate Your Intentions
No matter what gift-giving strategy grandparents choose, it's important that they share it with the parents of their grandchildren and with the grandchildren themselves, if they are of an appropriate age. It's not cool to come to a grandparent's house expecting a stack of presents and find nothing under the tree.
Other Gifts That Grandparents Can Give
The best presents that grandparents can give can't be wrapped up and put under the tree. We can give our time and our attention to our grandchildren who sometimes get overlooked in a busy world. We can express our unconditional love. We can share our thoughts and our values.
These may not elicit squeals of delight on Christmas Day, but they will be remembered long after that doll house or video game has been discarded.
This essay was written by Susan Adcox, a writer specializing in grandparenting topics. She is the author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild.
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