It seems to be party season for the children at the moment, with a party each to go to for the next few weekends. This is lovely for them but with it comes the inevitable gift giving.
I love presents and genuinely love the feeling of giving somebody a gift. I also enjoy receiving presents - who doesn't? But...I tend to suffer from 'present angst', in that I so desperately wants to give a present that is just right that I sometimes end up not giving one at all. Then I feel terrible. But, that is another story. For now we are dealing with birthday gifts for children we barely know.
There are several issues for me and one is of consumerism. If my child is attending a party with between ten and thirty children then the party boy / girl will be receiving presents from ten to thirty children, as well as from parents, grandparents etc. The thought of that big pile of 'stuff', half of which may not be wanted, fills me with horror. I would never turn up empty handed but our gifts of choice tend to be books, partly because we are a family of book lovers and want to share the joy, and partly because it is usually appreciated and used or at least re-gifted. If we know the child well we will buy something relevant for them that we know or hope they will like. My children have only ever had small parties but even so the pile of gifts has seemed huge.
The next issue is financial. We are not well off and like many families we sometimes struggle to make ends meet. We don't want to disappoint the children by saying they can't go to a party but when the expectation is to turn up with a proper present, gift wrapped with a card it can be tricky. There have been times (now) when we are counting the days until payday so we can go food shopping, so to buy a present involves spending on the credit card. This ultimately makes things worse. So, do you turn up with nothing, buy on the credit card or... take something homemade?
The issue of homemade or even second hand presents is a tricky one. The word homemade is often synonymous with substandard, undesirable, even shoddy. It doesn't have to be that way though. Even if you are not a 'maker' there are things that can be made, repurposed or re-gifted. It still feels difficult or even slightly shameful though, but why? I make things that people are willing to pay money for, but I still feel a but awkward about giving homemade presents! There are prejudices, snobbery and the idea that people will think you are cheap. Also, just because some people like what you make it doesn't mean everyone will. As for second hand presents, I personally don't see a problem with this if the gift is something that you think the recipient will love. But what would you think if you opened a gift that was obviously second hand? There have been some positive developments in gift giving with the popularisation of charitable donations and poverty busting gifts such as those available through Oxfam. (other charities do this too).
There is a lot of emotion tied up with gift giving. I can remember feeling physically sick one Christmas when a scary relative gave me a nasty brown jumper and I could not say thank you. My mum was great at knowing what I would like, but again I felt a gut-wrenching sadness on a couple of rare occasions that she have me completely inappropriate presents. Maybe that's partly why I agonise so much about what to give people.
It can't just be me that has this problem, and I am sure parents everywhere struggle with birthdays. It would be great if we could all work together to change the focus of gift giving. Here are just a few of my ideas for non purchased gifts (there are loads online so I won't go on forever).
Homemade foodie gifts such as fudge, cookies, chocolate bark wrapped in cellophane or little treat bags. Penny sweets in a pretty/ decorated jar.
A simple notebook covered in pretty fabric or paper and a pencil decorated with washi tape, tied together with ribbon.
A favourite book of yours that you think the recipient would love, with a handwritten note attached.
Handwritten or printed vouchers for e.g. babysitting, cooked meals, cleaning, playdate or other 'services'.
Framed drawings / photos.
The most important thing is that the gift is given with love and not just for the sake of it. Obviously it's a bit different for Children's birthday party gifts but if your child knows them well enough then with a bit of thought you should be able to come up with something together that their friend might like. How about your child writing a poem or story about their friend and framing it? Or any of the above ideas would work if relevant and tailored to the child.
On a final note, we are going to a party tomorrow for a little girl we barely know. Will I be 'brave' and give her something homemade, or will I rush out and use the credit card? What would you do?