holiday giftsJust over a year ago, when my son was born, the gifts arrived in full force. And for weeks, they kept coming–from friends, family, and even people my husband and I barely knew. Mason is the first grandchild on both sides of our family. My husband and I were married and childless for more than nine years, so Mason was eagerly awaited by many who sought to give him the entire world —all in his first weeks of life.

As doubles, and then triples and quadruples, of the same must-have baby items piled up in my 1,500 square-foot DC row house, I began to panic. While I appreciated loved ones’ thoughtfulness and excitement, at heart, I am a minimalist who detests waste. What would we do with all of this stuff? Where would we store it? Would we even use it? And how many trips, with a newborn in tow, to Target and Babies R Us would I have to make to return all of the duplicates?

As the holidays approached, and loved ones geared up for another round of spoiling Mason, I realized I had stumbled into what felt like an unexpected minefield of parenthood: material goods, and the messages they sent to my son.

Granted, Mason was three months old at Christmastime last year, and had no clue what was going on. But he wouldn’t always be so young and unaware. What do the amount and type of gifts say to him? And are those messages consistent with my husband’s and my values? I cared much more about these issues than I ever expected to. Welcome to motherhood.

I intuitively knew I should set some gift-giving boundaries with extended family early, and so I did. To avoid competition between families, I suggested they not spend over a maximum dollar amount. Ever the pragmatic one, I encouraged monetary gifts for Mason’s savings account and set up an Amazon wish list with needs and wants. This system works for us right now. Once Mason can express his own desires, I might consider the four-gift rule–one gift to wear, one gift to read, one gift you want, one gift you need—or some adaptation of it.

There were a few minor snafus initially, but overall, I faced much less resistance to my guidelines than I expected. Now, a year later, both families are fully on board, Mason receives plenty of wonderful gifts, and I feel as though my wishes, as his mother, are respected. Potential minefield averted, for now at least.

How do you handle gift giving with your children and extended families?


When she’s not monitoring what comes into her house, Rebecca writes about reading, cooking, and life on Capitol Hill with a 14-month-old at Dr. Blondie.

Photo credit: VTHD via