Who Should Pick Out Gifts for Grandchildren?

Some Parents Resent the Burden of Providing Gift Lists

Grandfather gives dinosaur gift to grandson
Finding just the right gift is a thrill for the giver and the receiver. Photo © SelectStock | Getty Images

Some grandparents love buying gifts for their grandchildren. Some enjoy it when grandchildren are small, but find it difficult when they become tweensteens and young adults. It's almost impossible to know all the items that they already have, and it's even more difficult to know which items and brands are cool and which are totally dorky. I think that's why most grandparents resort to asking the parents or the grandchildren themselves for gift suggestions.

 The road to the perfect gift is riddled with gift-giving pitfalls. But some parents don't readily assume the burden.

Why Gift-Giving Can Be Hard

This column from Miss Manners illustrates the problem. In it, a parent complains about having to help grandparents with gift ideas. "It's hard enough for us to keep coming up with original and thoughtful gift ideas for our daughter, let alone having to maintain a standing library of ideas to feed her grandparents," the parent grumbled.

Miss Manners gives the grandparents credit for wanting to give actual presents, rather than a gift card or cash. Her solution is for the parents to give the grandparents gift-giving advice, rather than specific items to purchase. For example, the parents might say, "Vanessa really likes building things."

That's fairly good advice for younger children, although it still doesn't avoid the problem of knowing which building toys "Vanessa" might already own.

The advice doesn't work too well for older grandchildren. For older ones, saying that the child likes video games or needs new jeans just isn't going to cut it. As anyone with older grandchildren knows, some video games and some jeans are cool and some are totally unacceptable. In addition, if you are buying video games, you have to know exactly which system the grandchildren have.

When grandparents make poor choices, parents must shoulder the burden of returning gifts that aren't right. It's either that or be stuck with unusable items.  That's why it's usually smart for parents to help out the grandparents as much as possible.

Of course, when your grandchildren are older, it's possible to ask the grandchildren directly. The only drawback to that system is that it eliminates the element of surprise.

Give Gift Lists a Try

One other solution is for either the parents or the grandchildren themselves to maintain gift lists. Many store-specific sites allow for the adding of specific items to a wish list. Amazon and Toys R Us are two sites with wish list capabilities.

In addition, sites such as Giftster and MyRegistry allow for the adding of items from many different sites. Web addresses can be entered to make it easier for the grandparents to make purchases. When grandchildren maintain their own gift registries, the element of surprise may be lessened, but it shouldn't be eliminated altogether.

Gift registry sites have other desirable features, such as one that allows sizes to be entered. The only obvious problem with wish lists and gift registries is that they must be maintained.

Preferences, sizes and other specifications will need to be reviewed often. Outdated preferences are of little use. The parents who object to providing gift ideas may resent having to maintain a gift list, too, but the grandchildren may be happy to undertake this task once they are old enough.

The complexity of gift-giving is what drives many grandparents to gifts of money and gift cards. If that works for your family, terrific. If not, give wish lists and registries a try. While you are at, why not start a gift registry for yourself? Grandparents can be hard to buy for, too!