It’s that time of year again, when we have to decide in what material way we will demonstrate our love for each other. Don’t get me wrong. I love the holiday season and I love seeing how little kids eye’s pop open as they squeal with delight while opening presents. However, shopping is problematic for this Grandma and Grandpa.
Reason one is that we go to the south for the holiday season so we aren’t physically around. That makes it difficult to wrap packages and deliver them and enjoy the holiday joy. Reason two is a bit more complicated. My husband and I practice as Jews but the kids of a mixture of no religion, Christian, and Jewish. Therefore it can be all too easy to mix things up and upset someone by saying or doing the wrong thing. Reason Three is I want some direct interaction with the grandkids and just sending a cheque isn’t good enough for me. Reason four is I know they know I love them and they love me but it still smarts when I get a present for them and discover they no longer collect those things or they have outgrown what I picked or their tastes have changed.
We have come up with a perfect compromise that is working very well for our family. We decided a few years ago that while we will observe birthdays for the adults, we do not get them holiday gifts. Instead we make a budget and decide what we can afford, and we divide that amount between the grandchildren. Since we are now up to nine in total including members who joined us by blending of their own families, we need to be able to concentrate our resources on the children. (We don’t differentiate between “step” and “biological”. A grandchild is a grandchild is a grandchild. No child can have too many doting grandparents.)
Each year, about a month before the holidays, we tell the parents how much we can afford per child. We then ask them to take the kids shopping on line to a place like Amazon.ca or Toys R Us Canada, and let us know what they want. We order, pay, and have it delivered to them directly at their home. This saves us the entire hassle and cost of buying presents, wrapping and mailing them over the border where they are subject to theft, confiscation and addition of import taxes and costs. Many companies will even send the package prettily wrapped with a special message from Grandpa and Grandma for little or not additional cost. And I get a message when it is shipped and when it arrives so I know it got there safely.
There have also been some pleasant surprises doing things this way. The kids are getting old enough to use social media and this year, I got to exchange a bunch of messages with one grandchild via Facebook as he planned his purchase. The other nice surprize has been that they sometimes decide on one big thing for the whole family. For example, one year, one family wanted an air hockey table and they all played it, including us when we visited. Now that is a good way to max out our limited grandparent resources.
The other wonderful thing is it gives me a yearly glimpse into what the kids are really “into”. Letting them choose something they want on line, means when I order it I get to see what is special and important to them. This often leads to more conversations and insights about them as individuals. Each child is precious and any chance to learn about them as individuals is wonderful, especially for those grandchildren who were blended into our little clan instead of being born into it.
And there has been one other totally unexpected bonus. The kids have a budget and they have some special limitation on where they can shop. They take the shopping very seriously carefully combing the websites, comparison shopping, and looking for the best possible deal to stretch their money. So the experience is also a lesson in money management, addition, subtraction and prioritizing wants and needs. Now what grandparent would not want to spoil their grandchildren while also teaching them valuable life skills?
This gift giving method also sets us apart from the other grandparents. Children have four grandparents in their lives and with blending, that can grow to eight. One set of our grandchildren are fortunate enough to have grandparents on the other side who can afford very extravagant gifts, the best of everything and anything they might want. Even though they give much more, we give in our own way that is special because the kids shop and choose exactly what they want. Our gift stands out because they got to pick it themselves even if it is not the most expensive of the bunch. I always like it when a child picks a needed accessory for the big fancy present from the other side. It makes me feel like we are sharing the wealth in a way proportionate to our means.
In another family, we are the “rich” grandparents. Their other side gives things like hand made mittens and dollar store specials, made with love and carefully chosen but not costing a lot of money because they just don’t have it. The cousins on that side get very little for the holidays. We do not place our grandchildren in the position of having the modest gifts from the other side opened on Christmas morning next to ours, which are so much more expensive by comparison. Rather, the kids pick what they want from us, and they get it when it is delivered and not when the other side gathers to exchange gifts. And so we get to teach lessons like being compassionate and thoughtful of those who have less material goods.
Finally, with the parents guiding them, we know the kids get what they actually need, even the little ones. When children were very little Mom and Dad did the shopping for them. I learn too. I had this psychological block about playpens. I don’t like them. So I was perturbed when I was asked to send a baby fence to create a quasi playpen area. I trusted my daughter-in-law and ordered it anyway. Later, visiting their home, I could see how she was right. The baby had his safe space and the household had some peace, especially big brother who is very fussy about the special Duplo creations his toddler sibling has absolutely no respect for. My gift was not a playpen to confine my grandson. My gift made for peace in the family and respect for everyone. I would never have gotten him something like that because not being around everyday and living in that house, I either wouldn’t know or my personal prejudices might get in the way.
This is how we solved the problem of being grandparents during the holidays. Every family is unique and will find their own solution but if you haven’t reached it yet, perhaps this one might help you. Happy shopping!