Giving presents: what message are we sending to our grandchildren? 7



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It was my granddaughter’s second birthday on Tuesday, and my other granddaughter’s second birthday on Monday. Two years ago, my daughter and my daughter-in-law both gave birth to two terrific and wonderful little girls, just a day apart.

As you can imagine, there was lots of celebration. Zoe, in Perth, had one big party on Sunday. Counting the grown-ups, there were about 70 guests. There was a pony for pony rides and there were tractors. Zoe loves tractors. There was a tractor DVD, the birthday cake was shaped as a tractor, and Zoe got tractors for presents.

Aurora, here in the country, is having a week-long series of small family parties. I haven’t calculated the total number of guests who will celebrate her second voyage around the sun, but it will also come to quite a crowd. Aurora has a cake at each party, and lots of presents.

Presents: they’re an issue, I think, for our affluent society. Grown-ups like to take care that the presents they buy are appropriate for the child, and the thought that goes into gift-giving expresses love. We grandparents sometimes buy expensive presents because we know that quality items will last longer and be safer for our grandchildren. The internet, with eBay and specialist toy-shops, opens the choice of presents wider and wider. There’s a real sense in which we can’t avoid buying presents. On the surface not to buy good presents would appear to be denying our grandchildren.

But the end result of two birthdays for our granddaughters is more presents than they can appreciate, a sense that they deserve a never-ending cornucopia of material goods, and a profound connection between material goods and family love.

It disturbs me.

We can’t fix the problem simply by stop buying presents. Unless we are superb at crafts, even making all our presents will not counter the messages of an affluent society.

We need to talk about it. We need to raise the issue with our friends, and take the actions we can, like making our own cards and gifts. We can set out to change the way our culture thinks about gifts.

And we need to flood the children in our lives with presence, countering the culture of expensive gift-giving with the valuing of time and attention lavished on the children we love.


What do you think? Do you see your grandchildren being flooded with gifts? Do you think grandchildren are being spoilt? What should be done to make them appreciate the simple things? Tell us below!

Ted Witham

Ted Witham lives with his wife Rae and energetic Jack Russell dog Lottie in a Retirement Village in the beautiful south-west corner of Australia. His articles on Australian music teachers have appeared in Limelight and Insight History, and he enjoys writing short stories and poetry. He is currently attempting a novella and receives great encouragement from his writers' group.

  1. I am sure your granddaughters had lovely times but people are going overboard with these parties. It appears its all about who can show off the most with what they give their children. I have a different spin on this 2 of my grandchildren my son’s have parents who love to show them how to have fun, where on the other hand my daughters 2 don’t get to do really anything much it seems so hard for me. 2 are able to have a fantastic childhood while the other 2 have a father in particular who is only interested In his computer and what he wants. I was brought up in a family that wasn’t mean spirited or mean where money was concerned but there wasn’t a lot but we had fun and knew we were a important part of our parents lives and our grandparents lives as well as extended family with whom we spent a lot of time together. My son-in-laws family seem to be all about what each wants for themselves and the father of that family as he said the other day. I did the Christmas thing years ago not doing it again they get too much (we all would agree on that) they are not getting anything. He is very self absorbed, as is the wife and daughters. This family is all about money being in the bank they don’t enjoy anything and certainly don’t show love or affection the animals get more attention then the grandchildren to the point the mother doesn’t even speak to the grandchildren when they visit. So where does it end or start for that matter we know how much fun life at any age can be and I guess all we can do have fun with the little darlings and hope against hope that somewhere the parents wake up before it is too late. Children older and younger need to understand that the excess won’t always be there and that they may have to go without one day so why not start now.

  2. Well I chose presents carefully for my grandchildren for many years then I got “we already have that”. So I sent money instead. Have never been thanked by the recipient, not even a fb message on our birthdays so this grannie is fed up, just a card in future.

  3. Very sad, yet I hear it time and time again. The more kids get, the more they seem to want. My daughter has a good idea. It doesn’t solve the immediate problem, but when my grand-daughter and grandson have birthdays and at Christmas time, the kids open all the presents with the help of their parents, and that night, my daughter collects a few of them and puts them away – to bring out later in the year. The kids don’t realise, so don’t miss them. My grandchildren are only young though, so it wouldn’t work for older children. Some families put all names into a container, and then one name each is picked out. That person buys only for the name in their hand. I don’t know what the answer is, but I think guilt comes into it too. Sometimes, working parents try to compromise for their time by buying expensive gifts (I used to do it myself because I was a shift worker), grandparents sometimes try to compromise for not living in the same town/city by buying expensive presents. We’re human, and we all make mistakes, but most kids seem to grow up fine anyway. 🙂

  4. Yes, I see Grand and great grand-children being spoilt. I fail to see the necessity to spend 100s of $s on things like clowns, blow-up castles and water slides etc.! Where did it change from their friends gathering for a food party and games like pin the tail and musical chairs to celebrate the birthday! I think I have been more aware of this in the last 5-6years now having Great Grandies who, believe it or not, have rooms JUST FOR TOYS! These aren’t cupboard size they are large bedrooms now overflowing with the ‘loot’ of 3 children, the elder being 6. Another thing I notice are the visits to theme parks , play centres and movies. These were special treats when mine were children but, today it would seem they have to be treated to something every week and, this doesn’t even take into account the cd’s they have. I can’t see that this bodes well for a balanced view on ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. What happened to picnics, a trip to the beach (hunting for shells & building sand castles), taking them to a park to play and run around etc. etc. ….It is a worry!

  5. Pingback: Expensive Presence | Jesus the Child We Worship

  6. I have not had children but I am an Aunt of 9…and a Great Aunt of 8, I am by myself and havent had the $ to, spoil, but I buy, to the age of, my kids, colouring in books, pencils, books to be read from, when young, to read, when growing older, we have our rituals, different ones for different kids, I love them and they love me. Remember…most kids grow up great adults….despite us…in a lot of situations…they need unconditional love from us golden oldies.

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