Buying Gifts for a Family with Many Children

by Darwins Money on 28 January 2011 5 comments
Photo: mschalke

After my last article on whether a second marriage and wedding should be celebrated and financed like the first time generated some great discussion, it got me thinking about some similar situations we're confronted with. The most prominent topic that came to mind was children. We have three children, and we've already seen varying degrees of disinterest and complacency related to our youngest child compared to our first. We try to shield our youngest from these obvious snubs, and unless the kids were to hear us talking about it, they'd probably never know the difference. (I was the youngest, and I never picked up on it.) But there are some common experiences we've had with each subsequent child worth considering.

Baby Showers

When my wife announced her second pregnancy, her sister thought it would be nice to do a little luncheon with close family and friends. My wife felt a little uneasy about people buying gifts again so she asked that the key focus of the shower was to just get together and celebrate with some food and drink, but no gifts. As it turned out, they all chipped in to buy us a double stroller, which probably equated to about $10-$12 per attendee, so not a big deal. We didn't register again, and we didn't expect crazy baby-stuff. We already had it from our first shower! (See also: How to Build a Better Baby Shower)

Christenings

We've now been through our third christening. Close relatives will usually give some sort of bond or cash, and friends give a smaller amount. By the time we had our third kid, I was wondering if there'd be some resentment that guests were now shelling out funds for the third time. At the same time, should a third child be "valued" or celebrated to a lesser degree just because of her birth order? For those around us, we've never decreased our gift amount based on birth order, but we did notice that by our third child, the total amount given was substantially lower — almost half. The reason this was so evident to me is after each christening, I cash in the bonds, take the remaining cash, and put it all into a 529 account for each child, figuring the returns are much higher there than with a low-interest government bond. By simply looking at the starting amounts that first year, our poor daughter didn't get off to a very good start — and we probably invited MORE people since we've picked up friends over the years. It's not that we're hurting for money (and I'll make up the difference in her college account anyway) but it's the principal.

First Birthday Parties

We don't force distant relatives and our long-time out-of-state friends to hike out for every birthday party each and every year, but we've always treated the first birthday party as a big deal. For each kid, I edited and produced a movie about his or her first year of life. We usually have activities for the older kids and great food. It's a pretty substantial celebration compared to the subsequent parties. By the third kid, is it reasonable to start giving smaller gifts? We don't treat others this way, but we've noticed our youngest didn't get the same attendance or gift-giving that our oldest did. I can understand where people are coming from. Three kids seems like a lot to other people — especially friends or family without a single kid! It just seems a bit unfair to the youngest, but like I said, I doubt the kids will ever know the difference.

I tend to think that each life should be celebrated and just because a child is not firstborn, that doesn't make him any less important. For that reason, we always give the same amount for birthday parties, christenings, and other such occasions. Conversely, for a mom having her fourth kid or more, I'd think four or more full-fledged baby showers is over the top. See, mom got probably 75% of the stuff she needs at the first baby shower. Things like strollers, cribs, bottles, and all the stuff new moms don't even know they needed were given at that first shower. By kid four, statistically speaking, there's probably an older sibling of the same gender that can pass down clothing and toys as well. At that point, it's almost an exercise in getting "stuff" just for the sake of getting it, regardless of need or utility.

What are your thoughts? Do you treat younger kids any differently? Should we?

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It depends. I have a daughter (4) and an infant son. I gave away all (ALL) of my girl stuff after my son was born. But I'd like to have more kids. I saw no reason though for it all to sit in my basement when someone else could put it to use. I just hope if I need it again, what goes around will come back around to me! And by kid number three or 4, stuff does wear out. Car seats expire. Blankets get threadbare. Clothing gets stains or holes or snaps fall off or zippers bust. Toys get lost. Safety concerns change.

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For me this is simple. If it is a milestone it gets full gift. A third babyshower would have me begging off attending and I would give a small gift at birth. For some people though it has to do with how they budget. For my mother in law she set aside a specific amount of money per family per year for gifts covering all occasions. So, the more grandkids you gave her the smaller the gift

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You know, the kids don't notice the difference until at least preschool. (I have seen photographs of the baby showers from when I and my three younger siblings were born and they are more for the parents. And the first few birthdays are more about eating cake and ripping into things!) After that age, I would want to tread gently to make sure that they all know that they are valued, so if you end up giving more to one kid to make up for something else, be explicit that that is why... or since you seem like the memorabilia type, have you thought about making them each something about what you love about them, your memories of them, what you do to show them you love them?

Also, I think having a financially stable family will help to mitigate differences in how your kids perceive their gifts. My own memories are funny... even though I was the kid who got lots at the baby shower, I also am the one who remembers the "government cheese" period, so it was kind of mind-blowing to see what all the youngest sibling would get; fortunately the fifteen-year age difference was enough distance to be philosophical about it, but if it had been seven or ten years, it might have been a hard pill to swallow.

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I certainly wouldn't change my gift amount based on how many kids someone had, but I may change it based on my current financial situation. As for baby showers, I'd probably give a smaller gift for a second baby shower if the kids were close in age, but I've known people who've had many years between children and by that point had nothing left. In that case, I'd give my normal gift.

I'm all for first birthday parties, but I recently got an invite to a friend's child's 3rd birthday party. If it was my best friend, or I was the godparent or something, I'd get it. But that had a full-blown party with all their friends for their 3-yr-old. I'm sure they didn't mean it that way, but to me that just sounds like you're asking for gifts.

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I'm a fan of ESA accounts for the tiny tot(s), regardless of birth order; much appreciated, since the parents are often too overwhelmed to set up accounts themselves in those crucial early years.