Jan 12

perfect gifts for a new mom

I have been thinking a LOT about US culture surrounding the birth of a baby. The baby shower route kinda grosses me out; we sit around playing silly games and then sit around watching the mom open a ton of gifts that are cute but not necessarily helpful (and quite possibly not in her taste anyway). As a guest I am never comfortable with any of this, and as a potential receiver it actually fills me with dread. #firstworldproblems

On the other hand, my love language is gift-giving, so I understand that it brings many people joy to give gifts and celebrate being a part of a community; they are showing their willingness to support the family in a time of great transition and often need.

I’ve been working on my own attitude, and trying to appreciate gifts people share with us (and everything has been in great taste so far) while struggling to understand why I am so violently opposed to being on the receiving end of this process.

1. CONTROL. I have to admit that part of me wants my kid to look cute and artsy, but on my own terms. I don’t want to feel obligated to outfit him in cheesy “grandma’s little cutie” print shirts and well-intentioned but horrific handmade booties. When we weren’t sure if we would have a boy or girl I was ready to keep the gender secret just to avoid an influx of terrible pink and ruffly baby clothes. This is a control issue, I will freely admit.

2. MINIMALISM. We live in a tiny house and do not have the physical space to store any extra items. I was visiting a family member shortly before they gave birth and their ENTIRE GUEST ROOM was full of unopened boxes of [generous yet] gigantic plastic baby things relatives and friends had shipped to their house. While we will be moving into a larger space sometime within the first year of Burrito’s existence, we just don’t need or want to be equipped with everything until the kid actually needs it.

3. THE PLASTIC. We have been making a concentrated effort to bring less plastic into our home. We’d like our child’s toys to be as organic and natural as possible.

I know everyone says their kid LOVES the bright plastic play seat with little animals that move and music that plays and buttons to push, I don’t want to train my baby to have a short attention span and demand constant entertainment. Give the kid a dishtowel already! Or a stick! (HA.) I remember being intrigued by a friend from MIT who came to the US from Slovakia; Daniel kept talking about how he didn’t like the way people in the US buy all the toys in bright, unnatural colors for their children, as these colors don’t really exist outside of the plastics factory. HE’S RIGHT.

So those are basically my top three reasons for not wanting to participate in the US baby shower culture. I also don’t want friends and family to feel obligated to purchase things for us. Supporting a friend in your community should not be relegated to one afternoon of awkward game-playing — then cross them off your list after you deliver a lasagna or two after birth! Being a good friend is an ongoing relationship where you figure out what the other person really needs and make yourself available to help with that.

I apologize if that sounded didactic or preachy, I’m just trying to get out my thoughts about the gifting thing because a good friend remarked to me last night that she has never heard of anyone not wanting help with a new baby. It’s not that we don’t want help, but that we want people to seek out creative ways to support us in this huge transition time.

To be honest, I’m quite anxious about the upcoming change in lifestyle and loss of personal freedom. Having another being to support is going to be a full time commitment for the next twenty years. It’s scary and wonderful, and we’re excitedly preparing ourselves for this change. And hoping we don’t turn into the stereotype new parents who only talk and think about their children and forget how to be interesting. :)

Inspired by a friend’s recent facebook post, “[friend] gave me the best gift ever last night – she took care of Ransom all night long so I could sleep!!!” I put together a list of what I think are PERFECT gifts for a new mom. I realized after writing the list that most are services, and therefore potentially pricy, so I am envisioning a few friends getting together for some of the bigger items.

ETA: Ali and I continue to urge friends NOT to buy us any gifts, but for those of you who insist, here are ideas of the type of thing that works for us:

  • ★ contribute toward diaper service (my mom is gifting this to us for the first few months, what a brilliant idea!)
  • ★ gift a couple of hours of pro house cleaning service to use before or after birth
  • ★ bake cookies, fudge, or other sweets; bring meals the week BEFORE the kid is due and when mom is feeling too big/tired to cook
    check out mealtrain.com for an easy way for a friend to coordinate meal dropoffs and share dietary preferences with well-meaning others
  • ★ give the mom a couple of “coupons” that you will take her out, buy her coffee, and hold her child while engaging in adult conversation with her – to redeem at ANY TIME in the first three months of having said child
  • ★ [very close friend] babysitting and washing all the dishes while mother rests or gets out of the house
  • ★ Commit to praying for the new child and the family once per week on one specific topic. Let them know what you’re praying for!
  • ★ group of friends contribute toward credit with a pro house meals service [like The Good Plate or DinneratYourDoor in Portland]
  • ‎★ pedicure credit + promise to hold the child while mother is being served
  • ‎★ consultation session or credit with a professional organizer or life coach
  • ★ gift certificate to your local bookstore and a list of recommended books (thanks, Michelle & Paul!)

Personally, I would be thrilled with receiving a luxury like pro housecleaning or meal services. I’m not suggesting friends should be burdened with spending more than they would otherwise just because I’m snobby about synthetic clothing; even if the gift was small (like one hour of cleaning or one meal’s worth) it would be a treat. I can’t figure out any classy way to communicate this to people… is there one?

What would you add to the list? What would have thrilled you to receive before or after the birth of your first child?

6 Responses to “perfect gifts for a new mom”

  1. Bethany Says:

    I have to agree except I really have been so thankful for the clothes and gifts from my baby shower. I did not receive any bright colored plastic (which I dislike as well!), just things that I actually need. I told Ken I DID NOT want any of those play seats with attached toys that make sound, etc, because I do not want to train my child to be constantly entertained. I remember my little brother being entertained by kitchen mixing bowls and one of my mom’s favorite photos show him walking around with a giant one on his head like an oversized helmet. I think all that plastic (and electronic handhelds) is contributing to the mass ADD/ADHD in America. We also purposely did not register for a specialty overpriced garbage can. We did get a rocker/swing, but it has very natural colors/fabrics and does not have all those attached toys.

    I was blessed to have a friend help me when registering for gifts and she did a good job in helping me see what I really need and what I really don’t. I think registering for gifts you do want is a great way to ask for what you really need and to make sure you don’t get junk.

    (I did receive a lot of baby clothes, but I do have the space to keep the ones that won’t fit for a while. I’m really happy with them because it means I won’t have to shop for clothes for probably 6 months! I plan on donating the clothes he doesn’t need anymore, after we’re done having kids.)

  2. rachel Says:

    “Anything that requires batteries or makes sounds is going to live at grandma’s house”… :)

    Bethany, I am thrilled and inspired to hear about your registry experience. And I have to say, I don’t want to sound overly judgmental toward friends who like to buy the gifts. We have received some really cool things from parents of young ones, whose thoughtfulness did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

    As a side note, we have a “swap-n-play” near our house where you take your kid to play, but also can freely trade out clothes that no longer fit for some that do from the bins in the back. Kind of like a free store, but among a small community. It’s a cool system and is well organized.

    There are some things I wish we had room for in the house, like a rocker glider to use while feeding, and the aforementioned swing/rocker. We will just wait until we have the space to get those items.

    Also, I realize the post really overemphasizes plastic. Our friends all have good taste and don’t get us junk, I was using that more as a symbol than anything.

  3. Danica Says:

    It’s been two years since my little one was a newborn, but I will say that clothes were some of the things I appreciated the most. I didn’t get a lot of big plastic things (though we did have a swing and a bouncy seat). I definitely prefer natural toys and most of our toys that make noise were gifted to us by others. My daughter loves blocks and puzzles as well as playing with tupperware and cookie sheets. The main plastic toys that we have these days are Little People block sets and Duplos (which I love for the creativity aspect).
    The theme for my baby shower was building the baby’s library, so we got a lot of books. One of my friends embellished some burp clothes for me which I absolutely love and used a lot for the first year or so of Caitlyn’s life.
    One of my favorite toy companies has been Little Sapling Toys on Etsy … definitely recommend them (they have a lot of great teethers as well as blocks and cars and such … all made of wood).
    I’m like you … I love to give gifts, but I completely understand and respect your request for help in other ways. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you guys from the East Coast ;)

  4. Mindy Says:

    In looking back, I would say about 80% of the stuff you will get within the first couple years (or that people will get you) is not really needed. Or only needed for a really short time period. What I found most helpful shortly after the birth of a child was:

    1) My husband graciously getting up early with the baby (as early as 5:00am) for the day so I could sleep in.
    2) Clothing bought for and donated to us. We continue to cloth our children in about 90% donated clothing. They grow out of it so fast anyways.
    3) A good blender to make baby food. I credit this with the reason my son does so good with fruits and vegetables to this day – because I gave him a wide variety of blended food (avacado, papaya, banana, carrots, etc.) when he was a baby. Costs less and you can also avoid the weird fruit blends that don’t exist in real life.
    4) When it really comes down to it, children always tire quickly of the toys anyways. They want genuine interaction with people in the form of loving, hugs, verbal interaction, games, and outings to observe the world. A great idea for mothers of toddler and preschool age children would be a membership to a museum or nature center with abundant programs for preschoolers. We’ve never had much money and therefore not many toys. Instead we try to fill our time with walks in the woods, playgrounds, library story time, free locals kids programs, etc. and it is these experiences that the kids seem to take the most joy in anyways.

    No matter what you end up doing, I know you and Ali will be fine parents. Just parent the way you want to and Burrito will turn out just fine.

  5. syann Says:

    sorry, this isn’t really a gift suggestion but a comment on your thoughts about the bright colours often seen in children’s toys (plastic or not). I believe the theory behind this is that a baby’s brain responds more to bright colours rather than natural hues of brown/grey–hence the overabundance of brightly coloured toys.

    As well, I’ve been told by several Japanese coworkers that American toys and clothes are highly sought after in Japan because of their bright colours. Apparently, Japanese baby products are very neutral or pastel.

  6. Jenn Says:

    Having a small house now (over)full with 4 children and lots of kid stuff I totally understand the position you are in. I put of the baby shower for Sebastian until a month before his due date because we hadn’t moved yet and I couldn’t handle having tons of baby stuff.

    Amazingly babies actually require very little, especially if you nurse; car seat, diapers, blankets, a few hats and burp rags. Lots of burp rags.

    I’d say the very most important gift someone (or even better lots of someones) could give a new mom is time alone with her husband. The most important thing you will ever give your child is putting your marriage first and thereby ensuring a loving home. It gets hard, but it’s so important to make time for dates. Even if it’s just one hour at a bookstore just the two of you.

    Also help with laundry. It’s amazing how much laundry one little baby produces. (yay for diaper service btw. There isn’t one here so that means even more laundry!)

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