I remember our Christmas celebration years ago when my middle daughter, Megan, was about 4 years old. That year she received the most adorable, soft-bodied baby doll. We called it “Laughing Baby,” because when the doll’s tummy was pressed, she’d let loose an infectious giggle that would set Megan into giggle fits galore. It was precious—the first 320 times. Then it was simply obnoxious and in need of silencing.
One night while my daughter slept, I carefully ripped open Laughing Baby’s seam, pulled out her laughing box, and quickly sewed her shut. I simply had to. Laughing Baby’s laughter was driving me mad.
The only person I had to blame for the madness was myself—I was the idiot who purchased Laughing Baby. Thankfully, as gift-giver I had the right to render the giggly doll silent.
Today, as a grandparent, I view that memory from a different perspective.
Just imagine what would have happened if Laughing Baby had been a gift from one of my daughter’s grandparents. The guilt I’d have felt from surgically removing the giggle box would have been far too much for me. I’d have settled instead for many years of loathing the gift giver for presenting my child with such a loud toy. (I don’t really hold grudges like that, but I know things like that happen in some families.)
So, before presenting my grandsons with a gift, I always keep Laughing Baby in mind and remember the Rule of L’s:
Never give a gift that is Loud, Large or Luxurious without asking for permission from the parents first.
My list actually has seven gift-giving no-nos when it comes to grandkids, so here’s more about those three L’s and then four more:
1: Loud Gifts
Sure, a granddaughter may pine for a drum set, a grandson a dinosaur that roars repeatedly, or a stuffed dog that sings “We Will Rock You” over and over and over. Mom and Dad may be perfectly pleased with such a gift for their little ones. But we all know what happens when we assume. Don’t. Ask first.
2: Large Gifts
That drum set is not only loud, it’s also large. Swing sets are large, too. So are some McMansion-size dollhouses, bicycles, inflatable bouncy houses, and more. Cumbersome gifts can be the bane of families living in limited space.
3: Luxurious Gifts
There’s nothing more uncomfortable during the holidays than being on the receiving end of a costly and unexpected gift. I take that back. There is something worse: When one’s child receives something luxurious that may not be appreciated or taken care of in the manner the gift giver expects, leaving parents to pay a price in guilt and apologies for something they nor their children ever really wanted.
4: Top-of-the-List Gifts
Parents often set out to please their children with at least one deeply desired toy or tech device. Purchasing the No. 1 gift a grandchild wants without first asking the parents could spoil the season for Mom and Dad. An offer to cover a coveted item may be sincerely appreciated or it may be perceived as stepping on the parents’ toes.
5: Age-Inappropriate Gifts
We grandparents know darn well our grandchildren are absolute geniuses and the recommended ages on toys and games mean nothing when it comes to their abilities. They do mean something, though, so follow them. Consider them, too, when there’s a younger sibling. How many Lego sets remain hidden away in an older child’s closet for fear a little brother might swallow the pieces? Perhaps Mom and Dad can formulate a plan to keep such gifts from being closet-bound and unused.
6: Parents-Required Gifts
Nearly all gifts presented to grandkids require some outlay of time and talent on the part of the parent, especially gifts given to younger children. The time that busy moms and dads must add to their overloaded schedules to ensure assembly and enjoyment of some games, crafts, even local venue memberships may lead parents to be even more stressed—and grandparents to feel unappreciated and disappointed. Grandparents who can’t put in the time should ensure the parents can, and are willing to.
7: Collectible Gifts
Many grandparents—myself included—enjoy giving grandchildren a special ornament for the family tree each year. If the grandchildren are young, though, they likely want to play with the gift. They likely will break the gift. They likely will be very sad if they open a present from their MeeMaw only to be told by their Mama, “Do not touch!” because it will break. Consider age-appropriate ornaments.
Lisa Carpenter is a blogger and proprietor of Grandma’s Briefs (grandmasbriefs.com), where she has lots of great content, reviews, recipes and much more that’s of interest to grandparents. She is author of The First-Time Grandmother’s Journal and A Love Journal: 100 Things I Love About Grandma. Lisa and her husband Jim live in Colorado and have three adult daughters and seven grandsons.
Have you had gift-giving missteps as a grandparent? What have you learned in the process? Share your wisdom and learn from other grandparents on our Facebook page.