gifting minefield
August 25, 2018 9:35 AM   Subscribe

I have some great nephews/nieces but an awkward relationship with their parents (and basically all of my family). Every birthday and Christmas is a minefield of gifting anxiety that takes up a lot of my emotional bandwidth - strategies?

My sibling and sibling's partner and I don't have a close relationship, and I'm ok with that. In general, my family is not very nurturing and kind of critical and the closer you are, the more ammunition they have against you. I've come to terms with that and due to living distances, we generally don't see each other except at holidays. Adults in my fam don't do gift exchange, but it's still normal that I would bring gifts for my sibling's children. I spend the period before every holiday/birthday wracked with indecision about what to get them. On one hand, they get a LOT of gifts from a lot of family members and especially doting grandparents and typically don't even seem to notice what I've given them (they are still very young); on Christmas for instance, at some point, they typically refuse to open any more gifts because they are just bored with it all and want to play with something. On the other hand, my sibling and partner may notice what I give them. See above, ammunition - I feel I am under great scrutiny with regards to the gifts. I worry I get them something they already have or I get them something too expensive or I get them something too cheap or I get them something totally irrelevant. Gifting $$ is not acceptable in my fam (at least it better come with a token gift too) so that's not an easy out.

Additional info, when I was a kid, I had an aunt and uncle who basically played the same role I am now (family history repeats right?). They were distant and in retrospect, I don't blame them because they could never do anything right, according to my local family. I am now closer to them than to much of the family I grew up with. They almost always got me the best gift on every holiday - they always knew exactly what to get me. I guess this is motivation for me to keep on trying with my nephews/nieces and also a lot of pressure.

The way I see it, I could be asking you all for good, standard gifts that every kid under 10 wants these days. Or I could be asking, is there a general strategy here that could relieve my stress a little? I honestly love to buy people gifts in general and it bums me out that I'm not enjoying this all.
posted by Tandem Affinity to Human Relations (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Since you actually see them at the holidays could you start a special tradition for you and the kids? Going out to a movie together or a local museum or something? You could include a souvenir if your family is weird about gifts not being things but I think it would position you well to get to know what they actually like without joining in the overwhelming stuff.
posted by brilliantine at 9:55 AM on August 25, 2018

I don't think there is anything that "every kid under 10" wants because that description encompasses so many ages and stages. Plus, if there were such a gift, you can probably bet that it has already been snapped up by the parents or the doting grandparents.
Since you hope that over the years your gifts to our nephews/nieces will help nurture your relationship with them, I would encourage you to come up with a gift formula that you stick with over the years because over time it will help your gifts stand out and consistency over time is a really powerful way to connect with kids.
As far as a formula, you could try to remember the stand-out gifts you received from your Aunt and Uncle and try to figure out what made them so great and then copy that. Like did they always give arts/crafts supplies, or books, or games? You could, for example always give a book (best if you've read it or reread it recently), or art/craft supplies, or a game.
Another thing to consider would be to buck the trend of giving a gift at the holidays and instead sending the kids something at a different time of year when your gift will stand out more.
posted by ElizaMain at 10:07 AM on August 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have one aunt who always gave each of us kind of crappy gifts or gifts that missed the mark (sports t shirts for my brothers in home/away color one size apart for teams they didn’t care about etc). That being said she ALWAYS gives a group gift for the kids that’s a great “crazy aunt” present. Things like foaming bath paint soap, a board game, or whatever is on trend.

I would be consistent and always give each kid $25 for college fund or whatever and then give a fun aunt gift to the collective. I would do board games to keep it consistent and easy for you. Whatever it is make sure it’s something that can be used together
posted by raccoon409 at 10:08 AM on August 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Could you do a family pass to an art gallery or museum in their town?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:37 AM on August 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Books! Find a good kids bookseller and get their recommendations on newly published stuff. Don't overlook graphic novels for older readers. Newly published means they probably haven't ready it yet, so it's a safer buy.
posted by quince at 10:58 AM on August 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding a special experience with you. I don’t know how much time you have with them or how many kids there are, but my fondest memories of my aunts and uncles are when they took just me out for lunch or ice cream or to pick out a gift for myself at the toy store. It was nice to get one-on-one attention from a loving adult who was treating me like a singular person rather than an interchangeable nibling. It will be especially important for any of them that are like you or your aunt/uncle you’re close to now, and feel out of place in the family.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 11:04 AM on August 25, 2018

Are these your only niece and nephew? if you have others, even if you're closer to those others, it's important to be careful not to give at the same level to all. My father's parents showered lavish homemade gifts on our cousins, what always gave my sister and me something that felt like an afterthought. (One year I got a used crossword book with all the answers filled in and then erased.)

Things I loved (Or would have loved) getting from relatives:
Boxes of personalized pens/pencils and other personalized stationery items (Oriental Trading Company has some good stuff) A few smaller items in a personalized tote bag could also work. it made me feel kind of special because it was a one-of-a-kind gift for just me.

Books are also great, especially if you can inscribe it with something like, Dear Niece/Nephew, I really liked this book when I was your age, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Love, Aunt/Uncle Tandem Infinity."

Again on the personalized route, you can get jigsaw puzzles made out of their school picture or other good photo.

We once got really nice, homemade Christmas tree ornaments with our names and pictures. It was fun to get them out every year and find just the right spot to hang them. I'm sure you could find store bought ones if you're not into crafts.

This only works if they play with dolls or action figures, but I loved getting new clothes or accessories for mine.

Board games, but that can be tricky if you don't know what they already have.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:26 AM on August 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

How about giving every child their own card with an individualized note plus a magazine subscription or two for everyone or, better yet, letting each child choose a subscription to receive with their name on it. I am a big fan of National Geographic Kids and American Girl magazine but there are many great options! As they get older, their interests and abilities may change but so can the magazines.
posted by smorgasbord at 11:34 AM on August 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

Consider getting them a collection of something. Buy them all now and gift them one at a time over the years. Or add to it with a variation each year. That way, they can have something from you that noone else is likely to give, and years from now they will be able to appreciate it in its entirety.
Silver dollars, crystal animals, Disney snow globes, glass candy canes, snowflake ornaments, etc.
Accompany them with a gift card that they can use now and a savings bond that they can use later.

This has the advantage of being preplanned and not requiring a lot of thought and anxiety every time an occasion rolls around.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:22 PM on August 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

A pretty good gift across ages is a membership to their local zoo / science center / museum / aquarium. It keeps on giving throughout the year too.

I second the magazine subscription, although my kid never cared for the ones he got.

The suggestion above for personalized stuff is good and fairly age safe and wouldn't conflict with or repeat other gifts.
posted by k8t at 12:35 PM on August 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Gah! Major error in my comment above! When I said, "It's important to be careful not to give at the same level to all.," I meant, "It's important to be careful to give at the same level to all."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:44 PM on August 25, 2018

Re magazines: if you give them subscriptions to, say, Ladybug, they can switch that over to another magazine from the same company as they get older with just a phone call.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:01 PM on August 25, 2018

I have little or no shame about these things, so all of my nieces and nephews get the same thing: cash. I usually make a minor presentation of it and have a conversation about what they might do with the money. If I can’t be there in person the money goes in a card and with the 10+ crowd I follow up with an email on the same topic.

There’s been lots of tsking from Mrs. Grundy, but none of the kids have ever thought this was a bad idea.

As a bonus, in taking some time to connect with the kids I frequently find out their parents were giving me bad gift advice anyway.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:27 PM on August 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can you talk to your aunt and uncle who were same role you are now, and ask them for some navigation tips? They were distant from you but somehow always got you the best gifts, so they were paying attention to something.
posted by queensissy at 11:26 AM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

My family does the scrutiny thing, too, and gifts are an unreasonably big deal. This came up in therapy (along with many other issues), and the major insight I got was that since my family will be dissatisfied with whatever I do or don't do, I may as well do what I want. It's not like I receive perfect, thoughtful, fun, or sometimes even tolerable gifts from family, so at least in my case, genius-level gifting felt like a one-way expectation. When I'm the gift-giver, that's actually my opportunity to take whatever joy I can from the process and just buy things that are fun for me to buy. For me, that's books and occasionally board games.

Have I gifted a book that a kid already had? Yes, and the kid was thrilled to have a new copy because the old one was getting ragged.

Have I bought a board game that turned out not to be fun for the whole family? Yes, only one kid liked Hi-Ho Cherry-O, so it was only played with at holidays when I came over.

But you know what? No one has ever burst into tears when opening a gift I gave them, and that's more than I can say for some of the scrutinizers' gifting. Let yourself off the hook. Your kind intentions will overcome any potential perceived flaws in execution.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 12:51 PM on August 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

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