The Gifts We Buy for Grandkids

By Bonnie Baker Cowan

A grandmother is not a fairy godmother and grandpa is definitely not Santa. Depending on income, gifts to grandchildren can range from small gifts from the dollar store to RESP contributions. The gift also determines who it’s important to make smile— your child or grandchild.

The truth is that in a society where excess seems rampant, especially with toys, electronics and motor vehicles, it’s getting tough for grandparents to make an impression. Whether you’re funding your grandchild’s education or simply looking for that birthday smile, there are some guidelines about gifts that grandparents agree are important.

First of all, check with the child’s parents about appropriateness. Dorothy of Winnipeg says “I wouldn’t buy toys without finding out what my son and daughter-in-law suggest. They research everything for the baby, so they know what is the safest, what is best, ‘the one.’”

Secondly, fair doesn’t always mean equal. Mary Anne of Moose Jaw puts money into RESPs for her three grandchildren. The younger daughter felt her one child should receive the same amount as the combined amount for her sister’s two children. “It caused hard feelings,” admits Mary Anne, “but for me, I can only afford a certain amount, so to double the amount for my younger daughter’s child was not in my budget.”

The question of fairness revolves around whether you give the same amount to each family or to each child. The decision is up to you. Sam and Addie of Goderich, Ontario, gave each of their seven grandchildren $5000 as part of the deposit on a house when they were ready to buy a new home. “We made the decision to give the same amount to each grandchild, even though four of our grandchildren are the children of one of our kids,” says Sam. “Our other children never suggested it wasn’t fair.”

Then there are the tangible gifts that can be nothing short of overload for the child, and most especially for the grandparents’ budget. Toys and gadgets at all age levels abound in variety with prices to match. While I still believe toddlers have as much fun with pots, lids and wooden spoons, today’s parents want the latest and greatest for their precious babes. And, as kids get older, they expect to have their own phones and IPods as well as all forms of riding vehicles, scooters and skateboards.

From the time my grandkids were babies, I derived great pleasure from shopping for clothes. It was much more fun for me than for them. Now that Jack is 12, he likes clothes, so my passion is finally rewarded. Like most grandparents, I believe it’s the parents’ responsibilities to buy the big gifts: the first two-wheeler, the dollhouse, the iPad.

Lastly, gifts from grandparents don’t have to cost the whole month’s CPP. A gift can be as simple—and old-fashioned— as a special book that was their dad’s when he was a kid or a birdhouse they can hang in the backyard and get to know their feathered friends. Older grandchildren appreciate a family heirloom you’ve been keeping just for them.

If there’s a birthday coming up for your school-aged grandchild, with the parents’ approval, surprise her at school and take her out for lunch at her favorite fast-food place. Small gestures are often the most meaningful.