Buying Gifts for a Family with Many Children
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.
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)
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?