Thoughts on Inappropriate Gifts from Loved Ones
Ask Kytka Archives: January 4, 2003
“I’m sure that many here have dealt with family and appropriate gifts (i.e. wood vs. plastic, gentle toys vs. violent ones, etc.). I have wonderful in-laws who love my kids and my sister-in-laws kids equally (of course ;). And although absolutely wonderful, my in-laws want my kids to have similar, if not the same, things (to be equitable and since we have a different philosophy for raising children they want our kids to have as much as the cousins get). In light of the fact that my in-laws are very considerate how can we, my husband and I, help them to purchase gifts that are in line with our life philosophy, i.e. less is more, substance over quantity, etc., etc. I guess I would like
to help educate them on our lifestyle so they can make wise choices in gift buying (so they don’t spend money on something just for the sake of my kids having the same things as their cousins).”
Before I had a chance to answer this question, several wonderful Moms on our discussion list offered their advice which follows.
I’ve got some suggestions that have worked for me and for a dear friend who seeks a more Anthroposophical lifestyle. We sent out a letter back in November after our family started asking us what our girls wanted for Christmas/birthday/etc. The letter was written in friendly, open fashion and simply stated that because we already have so many lovely toys, we really didn’t want there to be piling on of more, that we wanted the girls to enjoy and come to appreciate what had already been given to them (nurturing gratitude rather than the idea of gimme, gimme, want more). We noted that since we plan to home school we are always seeking new books to build up our home library and we enclosed a book list, sectioned into thirds at random and assigned randomly to my parents, my husbands parents and his sister.
We explained that while it is possible to have too many toys, one can never have too many books because they can be rotated in and out depending upon a child’s interest/age at the time and aren’t nearly as hard to store as bulky toys. This worked and our girls got lovely and much coveted (by me) books for Christmas.
My friend visited her in-laws and bookmarked on her Mother-in-Law’s computer some appropriate toy sites such as Magic Cabin, Rosie Hippo, Hearthsong, et al and taped a list of suggestions to the computer monitor. Her Mother-in-Law found this to be convenient and had the gifts shipped directly to my friend (who lives in another state.) Links to such sites could be sent to family members via email to accomplish the same thing.
I’ve found that frank, open, and positive letters to our family detailing WHY we are living as we do (but not critical or implying that the way others live is wrong) really seems to educate rather than alienate them and they seem to come around. Just my two cents.
One thing that really helps here is catalogs. I put my parents and my in laws on the Rosie Hippo, Magic Cabin, and Chinaberry catalog lists so they get them throughout the year as do we. When it nears a holiday or a birthday I pull out my catalogs and give them suggestions. Our rules are just no characters (as in Disney, this year I did give in to Little Bear, Angelina, and Thomas as we have books about them and they don’t have to know that there are actually TV shows about them – we have videos but they don’t have to know that Little Bear is on daily on Nick Jr.), our other rule is no plastic. I have made it clear that we would rather them have one awesome toy than 10 crappy ones!
Now we have been doing this with my parents and in-laws for about 4 years now… Do you think my siblings could catch on? My boys got Rescue Heroes (which were promptly donated as they didn’t even think twice about them) and my Son-in-Law (still shaking my head) got my little pure baby girl, who won’t even be 2 until the end of this month, a BARBIE!!!!!!!!!! In walks my smart 5 year old and says, “Auntie, I am glad you thought of Baby, but don’t you know that Barbie makes girls feel bad about themselves? But thank you anyway.” He was so polite and I wanted to hide in a corner. I guess he figured that since no one was going to speak up about the evils of plastic he would have to. It goes right along with his joke to my mother…. she made the comment about needing something from Walmart and he shouts “Grandma resist the temptation! You’ll get nothing but plastics poisoning while you are in there!” Then he proceeds to laugh himself silly. Honestly, how many other 5 year old’s preach about the dangers of plastics?
Anyway, it can be done, just be gentle with them and tell them that while you appreciate that they want to make all things equal, you just don’t have time to stand in line at Toys R Us to return things! It was that comment that finally hit it home for my Mother-in-Law, I guess she thought I just kept all the crap toys she gave us, heavens no! We exchange them! And when it comes down to it for birthdays and such or if friends ask and they don’t know what to buy, I ask them for zoo passes, museum tickets, etc. or just coming to a party is a great gift too!
So funny, I do the same thing. The only characters we allow are Little Bear and Angelina…I don’t know how my daughter found out about her but she loves her. She has received 2 Barbies which have promptly disappeared (she is 3, and got one for her 1st b-day, believe it or not) Everything else gets donated. The kids don’t even notice really. I did let her keep a small magna-doodle for the car, good thing as it kept her busy while we were stranded for 3 hours in the ice last night!
How timely – we just tried a strategy I feel very good about with the in-laws on both sides. We forwarded the recent article link posted on this list “Is Waldorf Education Christian?”. It really seemed to hit all the main tenets of Waldorf and address specifically a few that our parents are most concerned with. If you’ve already deleted that one, Kytka has some great pages you could send. We did it as part of our Virtual Christmas Card. Instead of sending a Holiday Letter, we sent an email with all of our favorite links. It really let them see what we were doing (and why) in a format that they could review in their own time and space. Way less confrontational, and actually, fun for them.
I love the idea that has been suggested about the catalogues. I’ve found that most people can’t resist the Waldorf stuff once they see it, especially older people. It reminds them of things they played with as children. My parents and in-laws liked the stuff we suggested for our kids so much they may get that sort of thing for all the grand kids next year.
Ask for memberships to places like children’s museums, zoos, etc. Or ask that they pay for a certain number of music lessons, gymnastics, or a class at the community center. Or pick a project that you’ve been wanting to do with the kids, and ask them to buy all the supplies, or better yet, ask them to do the supplies and set a time that they’ll come over and work on the project together with the kids. These are all things they can buy that don’t add up to more toys in the kids rooms.
* Very Special Thanks to these wonderful ladies!