New additions to families are usually joyous occasions, whether a baby is born, a child is adopted, or a family decides to foster a child in need. They can also be times of anxiety and stress for the parent(s) as well as for close family or friends who may have lost a child or who want children and are unable to have them. For those who experience feelings of grief, longing, or resentment when faced with another person’s pregnancy, those feelings should be addressed with professional help, if possible, or with someone close. Regardless of the gift-giver’s personal feelings, it’s best to acknowledge the occasion as the wonderful event it is.
Many parents-to-be put together a Baby Registry, often online. If you haven’t been given the link to the registry, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the parent(s). Give the registry a good review; while swaddling cloths and baby thermometers may not seem particularly interesting to you, the parent has spent time and thought on the items they chose. In this situation, more than any other, practicality is the name of the game. There will likely be a few expensive items on the list, especially if this is the first child. Consider organizing a group of friends, family members, or office mates to each contribute what they can to purchase that costly stroller. Several people pitching in $10 and $20 can add up fast. Respect the registry – the parents have chosen that stroller for a specific reason (perhaps it also converts to a car seat, or it has special wheels for the terrain where they will be walking).
Clothing is an option, just keep in mind that sizes fit differently on infants, and make sure you pick out something you know the parent(s) would want, not necessarily something that YOU think is adorable. Bows and frills work for some parents, but not for others. If you don’t know the parent’s tastes that well, veer away from anything bold; also remember that not every parent wants pink for girls or blue for boys. If the family is into sports or superheroes, team-specific outfits and superhero merchandise will be a hit. Personalized onesies are fun for both gift-giver and parent(s) – inside jokes and shared interests show a high level of thoughtfulness. I recently observed a great gift – the father is an ATV enthusiast, and his close friend had a onesie designed with the baby’s last name on the back (like a jersey) and the name of their ATV club on the front. Is one of the parents big into fitness? The Buff Baby Dumbbell Rattle is highly recommended.
Personalized gifts are my favorites, such as a framed photo of an ultrasound or a wooden block with carved birth details. If the baby’s name has already been chosen and announced, a customized alphabet book is a thoughtful gift. Sentimental parents may want a baby book, or the more modern baby keepsake drawer units. Depending on the family’s sense of humor, funny gifts always garner a laugh: the baby mop, the mustache pacifier, the boobie beanie, and the “whoopsie” onesie are highlights. For the most juvenile sense of humor, poop jokes always work, such as these: upper-class onesie; Star Wars; Game of Thrones.
If the family already has a child or multiple children, and you have the resources, consider giving each of them a small gift to celebrate their new sibling. Even when families do everything they can to make sure older children aren’t left out, I think it’s important to specifically recognize them. “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” t-shirts are adorable, or arranging to take the child/ren to the zoo or a park after baby is born will make them know they are still important – and give the parent(s) some relief for a few hours! For those families who enjoy professional photos, give them a gift certificate to use with their favorite photographer.
On the topic of parental relief, keep in mind that while this may be a time of joy, it’s also likely a time of exhaustion and little sleep. A great gift is to give the parent(s) time alone; if you can afford it, a massage or mani/pedi would likely be welcome. You could make a specific offer to babysit so that the parent(s) can have a date night or even just go shopping without the stress of toting offspring around the store. One of the best gifts I’ve heard of is a coupon for 24 hours of “home switching” – the friend babysits while the parent(s) go to the friend’s home and has some alone time to read, take a bath, watch tv, or just recoup some sleep. Any form of self-care gift will probably be appreciated – even if you simply paint mom’s toenails and feed the baby while she watches a movie. A post-baby basket can be fun to put together: include a DVD, a bottle of their favorite wine or spirits, earplugs, a neck massager – anything that will help the parent(s) to relax!
For low-cost, no-cost, and do-it-yourself gifts, consider purchasing a small notebook at your local Dollar Store or craft store and writing some encouraging quotes for the parent(s) to look at when they are at the end of their rope. Something similar can be done with a box of diapers – open it up and write little jokes or puns on each diaper so the parent has a chuckle when they probably need one. (Note: when purchasing diapers, be sure that you know the size and brand that the parent wants.) If you knit, sew, or embroider, create a one-of-a-kind gift. (If you don’t, others can!) If you know that the parents are into the trendy baby headbands, you can easily make some with a few dollars of materials from a craft store and a glue gun. Framed photos are also great options: an ultrasound picture, a photo of mom while she’s pregnant, or, if you have access to baby pictures of the parents themselves, a double frame with each on one side would be very sweet. (The Dollar Store has frames in all sizes.) If none of these ideas feel quite right, spend some time on Pinterest and see what others suggest.
There are times where a baby shower is held after the baby is born, for a number of reasons. If there were complications and the baby spent time in the NICU, consider making a donation to the hospital in the family’s name. See this list for a number of other options for touching donations, and try to ensure that your contribution serves a purpose that is close to the parents’ hearts. You can also donate diapers to a food pantry to help local families; diapers are always a need.
It’s never too early to start a child’s library. If the family is religious, consider a children’s book appropriate for their religion, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or another religion. (Those who want their children to have broad perspectives may consider purchasing books about their own religion as well as others.) If you want to ease a toddler into the idea that a new baby is on the way, I personally recommend Rachel Fuller’s books. For books on essential early learning, consider color, alphabet, and counting books.
Grandparents are often an integral part of a new baby’s life, and, depending on the family situation, may be the most outwardly excited of anyone involved. If you’re so inclined, gifts for grandparents can be a lot of fun: you can play on funny tropes, order t-shirts to announce the news to the world, and buy books with many suggestions for fun games and activities.
Adoption is also a cause for celebration, and a family may be welcoming a child of any age. If the family chooses to have a baby shower or party to commemorate the occasion, and the child is a toddler or older, give some thought to a gift the child may enjoy or that the family could use together, such as a board game. Remember that the child is in transition, and especially if they are older, they may not be ready to be close to others, so you may receive an unenthusiastic reaction to your gift. If there is no party, and you are close to the family, you might consider an appropriately-timed gift dropped off in an unceremonious way, or offer to take the family to dinner (make an effort to include at least one other child of comparable age, so they don’t feel uncomfortable around all adults). Talk to the parents about what the child might want or need.
A family that is fostering or fostering-to-adopt may be caring for a child or adolescent in a particularly vulnerable state. Again, talk to the parents about what the child might want or need, and nonchalantly leave the gift for them. It may make them uneasy to open a gift in front of an audience. Go with your gut, and try to keep the sensitivity of others in mind.
If for some reason it is too emotionally difficult to attend a baby shower or celebration, you can politely RSVP no or, if you are close to the parent(s), you may want to tell them simply that you’d feel uncomfortable attending because of personal reasons. In this case, make sure you send a gift or a card that shows you are happy for their joy, because it really is about them – not you.
A few more things to keep in mind:
* if the baby’s parents have selected colors for a nursery, try to find out what they are;
* include gift receipts wherever possible;
* shop locally when you can;
* just because YOU like something doesn’t mean the parent(s) will; and
* if in your travels you find a great gift, especially if it’s on sale, add it to the Gift Box in your closet because you know you’ll need it eventually! (Wait – you don’t have a Gift Box? You’ll want to start one – more on that later!)
Read my first Memorable & Unexpected Gifts blog here.