Photo by Shutterstock
Hello, moms and dads! I'm Becky Striepe, and I'm so excited to be the newest member of the Inhabitots team. I have a one year-old baby boy named Darrol Henry, and I can't wait to share stories of my successes and failures as I figure out this natural parenting thing on the fly.
My son Darrol turned one year-old on Sunday, and that means gift-giving city. Our family and friends love this baby boy, and they showered him with a mountain of thoughtful gifts -- I'm pretty sure he got more presents for his birthday than he did for Christmas. It bums me out that there's always a shadow on gift-giving occasions, however. We have so many loved ones who are so generous with our little guy, but they don't all share our values when it comes to non-toxic toys and clothing. How do you handle it when you receive that well-meaning PVC rubber ducky or a pair of pajamas that are most likely treated with toxic flame retardants? Below is my plan for handling Darrol's birthday, and I'd love to hear your suggestions and strategies for graciously dealing with well-meaning but toxic gifts.
Photo by Shutterstock
Handling Gift-Giving: Think Win-Win
We’ll get to tips on how to handle gifts that don’t line up with your values below, but you can also be proactive to make this a smoother process for everyone. We knew that folks would want to get Darrol birthday gifts, so we updated his Amazon baby registry to reflect things that were in line with our values. Amazon has a great selection of toys that are healthy for your baby and good for the planet, and it’s a site that everyone in the family is familiar with, so they can shower your kiddo with gifts without stepping out of their comfort zones.
What I love about Amazon is that you can even register for things that aren’t on their site. They make a universal “Add to Registry” button, and it has made this entire endeavor so easy. You can fill your whole baby registry with handmade gifts from Etsy if you want, for example, but your family can find them on Amazon, where they’re comfortable shopping. Win-win!
You can also just plain talk to folks. Gently suggest things that you need or your kid likes and that you prefer. Tell them about specific toy brands or materials that would work best. Your family and friends want you and your child to cherish these gifts, so they’ll often appreciate the guidance!
photo by Valerie Everett
Encourage Experience Gifts
Is there a museum or national park that you and your kid like to visit? Suggest an annual membership as a gift idea instead of more stuff. I don’t know about you guys, but my kid’s toy box was overflowing before his birthday, and now we have a bit of a storage problem. Read our previous story: 6 Non-Materialistic, Experiential Gifts for Kids for more ideas.
photo by marvins_dad
Smile, Smile, Smile (then donate or return)
Of course, not everyone will shop your registry or follow your suggestions, and I think it’s important to accept that you can’t control that. This is definitely the hardest part, especially if you did the legwork up front to give your family and friends options. It’s not always easy.
The tactic that seems to work best is to just smile, be gracious, and later on sort through your gifts to see what needs to go back to the store or get donated. A lot of big box stores like Target or Macy’s will let you make a return without the receipt. I’m mentioning those specifically, because I’ve made receiptless returns there without problems. You’ll end up with store credit, which you can use to get something for your kid that works for you.
Did you end up with something that you can’t return? Donate it! Local charities and schools are happy to take toys, art supplies, and clothes that you don’t want to keep. Donating is the last resort for me, because if I’m concerned about toxins, I don’t want to pass them on to other folks either if I can avoid it.
photo by erika g.
Handling Your Kid
My son is only one, so this year we didn’t have to worry about his response to gifts as you would with an older child. He was much more interested in crawling into the box than playing with most of the toys he got, but in the coming years, that’s definitely going to be an issue. What do you do when a well-meaning grandparent gets your child a gas-powered toy car or giant plastic dollhouse?
I’ve got two ideas on how to handle this, and I think plan B is going to work better when he’s a little bit older.
Plan A: Don’t Open Gifts at the Party
Next year, I may try to just not open Darrol’s gifts in front of the family. That way, I can sneak a peek at things and stash any gifts that I don’t want him to see before he opens everything. This is going to be tricky, because this year folks were very excited about seeing him open his presents, but I can’t think of any other way to avoid a toddler freakout if we end up having to return something that he falls in love with after opening.
Plan B: Talk to Your Child
I don’t know how well this will work at his second birthday, but surely when he’s a bit older we’ll be able to chat with him after folks leave about why some gifts might not be keepers. Whether we end up returning or donating the gifts, we can let him pick something out to replace them that is safer and healthier. So, if he got a toxic rubber ducky, replace it with one that’s made from safer plastic. My dream here is that by letting him choose the replacement, it will make giving up the original gift a bit easier.
photo by Carlos Saldiva
Handling Party Favors
What about those thoughtful party favor bags full of plastic toys and sugary candy? Your child is going to want that party favor bag as soon as he sees it, right? This can also be tricky. My go-to with party favors is just to discreetly skip them if possible. When you can’t skip, though, here are some ideas for you:
- Talk to your kid. Once you’re clear of the party, talk to your kid about what’s in the bag that you don’t want him to have and why. Offer to replace those fun-sized Snickers and toxic toys with a healthy treat that they get to choose. Kids love making their own choices!
- Pawn them off. When we end up with candy that we’re not going to eat, I send them into the office with my husband. The breakroom is a magical place where candy disappears!
- Donate or return them. Returning is probably going to be tricky, because a lot of those crappy plastic party favors come in multipacks, so this may be one case where you have to donate.
- Craft with them. My biggest problem with cheap plastic party favors is that they become useless so fast. If that bothers you too, try treating them as craft supplies to turn them into keepsakes. These DIY dinosaur mason jars come to mind as a way to improve the quality of plastic party favors.
Just like with gifts, I think the important thing is to be discreet, gracious, and kind. Try to remember that no one’s trying to hurt your child or force you to feed him candy, though it might feel that way in the moment. I know – easier said than done! I definitely have my slip-ups in this department, but at every gift-giving occasion it gets a little bit easier to handle these situations. Think of it as practice for the next time!
I’d love to hear from you guys! How do you handle gift-giving occasions? Is your family understanding, or do you find yourself with a big pile of Made in China plastic toys at birthdays and holidays?