Giving to Grandchildren: When Is It Too Much?

When my first grandson turned one, he had a party to end all parties. Four other guest babies lined up in highchairs beside him, each with their own little cake, gifts galore, a houseful of decorations and even appetizers for the adults. It was quite the extravaganza.

Well, he was our first grandchild after all, but now there are three of them and we find we can’t even drive the nine hours to be there for each birthday now. And when it comes to presents and helping with school clothes and summer camps, we’ve had to take a hard look at our patterns of giving.

Here are some tips we’ve gleaned over the years since our eldest grandson was born and some thoughts to keep us on the right track when it comes to giving.

Keep it affordable:  If we buy the oldest grandchild a shiny new bike on his sixth birthday, we’d better be able to match that level of gift for the ones coming behind him. It may be wise to set a limit on holiday and birthday gifts and use that as a yardstick. Don’t set an expectation you’re unable to meet later on.

Keep it fair:  It’s not a good idea to spend more on one child than another. That’s not to say that everything has to be even to the penny, but in general it’s only right to spend a similar amount on each child.

Watch out for unrealistic expectations: When the first thing a grandchild says as you enter their door is “What did you bring me?” it may be time to answer that you’ve just brought yourself and some big hugs. It isn’t their fault if children learn to associate gifts with our visits—it’s only natural that those two things tend to go together. But as wise, older adults we need teach values that will help our grandchildren grow up to be generous adults.

Respect the parents’ rules: Parents probably have a philosophy of giving and receiving, it’s a good idea to run gift ideas by the parents in advance of a birthday or holiday. Don’t be the grandparent who gives a puppy without advance permission.

Be flexible and willing to adjust to circumstances. If your financial picture changes, you may have to spend less on everything, including gifts to the grand- children. No problem, just be a little more creative by giving a day together going for a hike in the woods, or a movie evening at home with popcorn and ice cream. Children love the time spent with them and will often choose that over expensive gifts of plastic and cardboard.

Gift-giving to the extent we do it today is a relatively new phenomenon. Can you recall what your own parents received for Christmas or birthdays? In my family there were no toys given at Christmas, but just an orange or two and some hard candy. Or maybe baked goods were a special treat. On birthdays one side of my family had cakes and parties but the other didn’t celebrate at all.

Our children and grandchildren probably receive more gifts in a calendar year than a large percentage of the world get in a lifetime. It’s a joy to give to them, but let’s be thoughtful and wise in the way we do it. So spend a little bit of time analyzing your gift-giving patterns and make some decisions. When is it too much, and when is it just right?