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« Book Review (fiction): The Thirteenth Tale | Main | More holiday brouhaha »

Comments

paola

Fortunately I live on the other side of the world from my family and my husband is an only child so we don't have the problem of hundreds and hundreds of useless pressies from the relos. ( relatives to those of you not familiar with Aussie slang ) My mum usually sends clothes and puts some money in a bank account for the kids so we can spend it on something useful or save it up and get them to choose when they are older. My MIL gives money too and our friends tend to give smart toys, so again, not a real problem particulrly now that the kids are little.

How about moving to the other side of the counntry? That really helps. Seriously, I'd be in the same predicament as Kristen if I lived near more relatives and friends. There seems to be so much cheap useless (even dangerous)crap around these days and when someone I know well purchases it for my kids, I really do try to explain the reason why it isn't suitable. But yes it does depend on who gives it to you.

Mary

I have three kids, 7,4 and 2, and retired grandparents that like to spend on them. What I do is set up wishlists on Amazon with a wide range of toys at a lot of price points. That way, they can choose things they like and spend as much as they want. This year, I filled my daughter's with Plan Toys dollhouse furniture.

And as for all the plastic stuff? Before every birthday and gift-giving holiday, I purge our toy collection and donate it to a local thrift shop to make room for more.

Grant Barrett

I started the crusade against crap early by joking constantly about having a "no CPC rule." Every time I say that, some asks, "What do you mean?" Then I say loudly, "No Cheap Plastic Crap!" Usually there's a ha-ha-ha and, more importantly, the gifts seem to be more clothes and decorations rather than toys.

Of course, there's a downside to my little no-CPC crusade. A visit to my parents halfway across the country a few weeks ago meant that our (then) seven-month-old son was playing with his two-year-old cousin's big basket of toys at their grandma's. One great-aunt says, "Holy moly, look at all those toys!" And I trot out the har-har-no-CPC-in-my-house-no-sirree "joke." Then, seconds later--maybe five?--my wife opens a present from another very nice great-aunt, who is watching attentively, a present that contains, ta-da!, CPC in abundance. It included CPC that also makes five kinds of annoying electronic sounds, all of them prefaced by Satan's--I mean Elmo's--"la la la la."

I felt very small for belitting the gift in advance. I don't talk about CPCs any more. And that dernded frabbishing fricking squealing Elmo CPC is still in the house because I feel too guilty to pound it into small pieces like it deserves.

Lucy

I don't have any kids yet, but I do have 7 to buy gifts for this year. Can't you just say that you are concerned with all of the recent recalls and that you would prefer that gifts be not made in China? And then throw some suggestions of what they can buy.

shirky

people who know you well probably already know you're more whole foods than market basket and will probably try their best. I would err on the side of not trumpeting my distaste for plastic stuff, because of stories like Grant's and also because there's just no avoiding the fact that there is some snobbishness built into the idea that wooden toys are superior. And I hate to be thought a snob, I really do.

Toys that make noise, however, are just cruel. A screwdriver and a bit of ingenuity can usually remove the noisemaker though.

Shandra

I have a thing about this.

I hate the CPCs (good one:)) and used to donate any that made it into our home immediately. Now that my son is old enough to notice, we are having to talk about it more. When people ask me I have a list ready with what we really want.

However, I have a set of relatives who have always been hugely picky, not about materials, but about labels. They seriously, truly, madly, deeply, do not want anything in their home that comes from a "low-class" store, which apparently includes craft fairs.

Buying gifts for them has always been a landmine and I have always felt a little bit resentful that what should be an enjoyable exchange of gifts (the act, not the items themselves) became instead all about their taste. I don't care a hoot if they keep gifts I give them, if they don't suit them, or if they display them, or even if they laugh at them a little.

But I find myself REALLY resentful that they hand back anything that doesn't fit their view of what's "okay." (And manage to get across their opinion of our ignorant taste.)

I just kind of decided that even though I feel like I have good reasons for my preferences, in the end, unless there's a serious safety issue, they are just that - preferences. With our own dollars we are really vocal about spending as ethically as possible.

But with a gift, I just feel there is a lot around it that trumps all that. Culturally FOR ME, the preference of the receiver of a gift matters some, yes, but the gift is not about getting only things I love and desire. It's about recognizing the effort and love of the giver. And that is also what I want my son to learn.

I honestly think he will be happier in the long run if he knows how to appreciate the love around him, even if it comes with cheap toys that break and litter the floor.

Anyways that's my rant on this one.

Heather AKA Epiphany Alone

I'm going to pose this question to you and your readers, Moxie, because I'm trying to sort it out in my mind...so please don't take what I'm saying as a judgment of what other commenters have said.

We're having a Thanksgiving food drive at school for the families in our district who need assistance. I buy organic when available, but also know that a can of organic beans versus regular can be more than twice as expensive. Do I buy them the beans I probably wouldn't feed my kids? That seems wrong. I opted to donate money towards a grocery store gift certificate so that the families could buy the things they needed.

For the toy drive, do I donate the new toys I won't permit my kids to play with? Also seems wrong. Don't these kids deserve safe toys to play with also?

I really wish the world were a little less complicated.

sue

On the princess-shaped fruit snacks - there's a new snack out there called 'fruitabu" in the fruit snack aisle. It's organic fruit rollups that have fruit in them! Finally, my daughter can also sample the coveted fruit rollup. A complete waste of packaging/shipping energy, but at least not a nutritional washout!

On gifts, I'm at a loss. We live in a small house (so no playroom) with waaay too many toys (already freecycled half of them) and my parents LOOOOOVE to give quantity for Christmas. Every year, they ask for a Christmas wish. The first year my dad was married to my stepmom, we took it to be, you know, a wish list. We got EVERY ITEM. Kind of a windfall, but yikes. Now, with the kids, I request what I think is a reasonable amount of toys, as specifically as possible (links to websites, etc) and still get cals three times a week asking for more ideas. Both of them seem to see their role as grandparents as spenders of money. I know that's always been how my dad expresses affection, and it's very important to them (I do manage to get them to give a small portion of their allottment to us for college funds). Mainly, we suck it up, but we try to direct as much as possible. Fortunately, the recalls were all over the news, so they're cautious as well about CPC, now.

The whole thing is troubling to me, though, since we don't want our kids growing up thinking that money equals affection, and that they need lots and lots of gifts. If it were up to me, the grandparents would give one or two toys, maybe a book, and put the rest in a college fund (or, if they must be frivolous, a first-car fund) or other educational endeavor. That's what we do with the kids ourselves (one gift then money in the bank).

My grandma always gave us kids $$ when we were kids (still does) instead of gifts. My cousins got to spend theirs on toys and CPC, and I was SOOOOOOO jealous growing up. My mom wouldn't hear of it, though - the money went in the bank. Boy was I glad to have that account when I needed to buy a washer/dryer in my early 20's.

Kath

i agree with Shandra completely. People who know our family know what we want. Those who don't have the best intentions. We'll just accept the gift & might donate it later on.

janel

If you're lucky enough to have relatives who ask for suggestions, you can always request that they provide money for fun activities. It's easy enough to go online and buy a membership to a zoo or children's museum, pay for a fun music class, etc. If they live nearby, they can take the kids to these places (built-in free babysitting - yay!) or you can take lots of pictures of the kids enjoying the activity.

EJW

From the time I announced my pregnancy, I expressed a "no-CPC" rule. My in-laws have a long history of buying plastic toys that make horrible noise for my neice and nephew, so I knew I needed to nip it in the bud. I warned them many times that if their gift involved batteries or made noise or had cartoons on it, it was going straight to Goodwill. I suggested wooden toys, books, 529 money, or activities (like zoo passes, gift certificate to the Y for swimming lessons), etc, instead. Fortunately my SIL has taken up this crusade as well, as her small house is filling with CPC's and she can't take it anymore.

I haven't seen the results yet, as my kid's only 11 months old. It'll be a double wammy, with his birthday the week before Christmas. But I am fully prepared to immediately take any CPC's to Goodwill, and have warned them not to "waste" their money. Although really, I'd almost rather they spend their money on a kid who does need some toys instead of mine, who has a million.

giddy

Heather AKA Epiphany, wow I am with you on those questions. With me, it's donating clothes to Goodwill that I know I wouldn't wear anymore, and feeling like it's bad for me to be donating things that are out of style. But then I remind myself that things that are truly dreadful probably get relegated to a rag pile, PLUS not everyone shops at Goodwill for actual clothes; others shop there for costumes, etc., where my out-of-date togs might be just the ticket.

In the case of food for donation--my view would be to go ahead and get the cheaper stuff so you can get more. I think if someone is hungry, any concerns about organic/nonorganic should be pushed aside. Feeding the hunger is more important!

With toys, I would avoid things that seem to have a high likelihood of possibly being recalled (obviously painted, contain small magnets, or lots of some strange chemical--like those Aqua beads they just recalled), but otherwise I think it's okay to donate cheaper items again, so you can donate more. But if you are buying, eg, for a single family in an Adopt-a-Family situation, then well go all otu and buy them the things you would buy your own family.

I do the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes every year, and frequently go through my kids' troves of "junk" to cull small games and trinkets (esp McDonald's Happy Meal crapa nd that sort of thing--as long as it's still new-looking) to put in the boxes along with a bunch of new stuff. I often feel a little weird about putting in things that I think of as junk, but then I think about it from the point of view of someone who has very little. I know my own kids, who have lots, are often enchanted by the novelty of the stupidest pieces of crap, and therefore I hope that the recipients of these shoeboxes are likewise enchanted. I do try to put in as many multi-use things as possible, rather than items that only do one thing.

On the larger question of getting people to give less, I agree with those who suggest offering lists of specific things. And it's okay to say "In light of all the recent recalls, we're trying to go simpler and safer this year, so I wanted to give you some ideas since it might be hard to avoid "made in China" without some help." I think most people would be understanding, but you do have to be careful with wording. Don't imply that this is to correct all the ills of past gift-giving years; make it instead about the recalls, even if it is ALSO a plea to stop filling your house with more toys than you really need.

Catherine

We only have to worry about my mother in law, and thankfully, she's happy to buy the kids books---any books I recommend. She will happily buy my oldest a book on the Aztecs and Mayans, or whatever. All I have to do is suggest a title or two, and her shopping is done.

So if you have a hard time with people who resist your idea of a good toy, maybe trying the book route would help?

paola

Lucy, almost everything I see these days is made in China. I don't necessarily have a problem with that as long as it's safe, but often it isn't. They don't bother recalling everything here in Italy, because there is so much stuff that is potentially dangerous and don't have the manpower to enforce recalls (unless they are for well known brands like a Matel product that was made in China despite being an American brand), or perhaps they just don't know what is or isn't dangerous as so much stuff just slips through.

By the way, I agree totally with Shandra about the sense of gift giving; it really is the thought that counts and not what the gift is ( although it would also be nice to get something that we don't want to pawn off onto someone else)

Mommyprof

We keep a family wish list on Amazon that we update throughout the year. When one of the kids asks for something, we say not now, but I'll put it on the wish list. But when it comes right down to it, it's a gift, and I think it is rude to tell people what to buy. We have a rule for the kids that they don't remove toys from the packaging until we tell them it's ok (the fact that we have to ship everything back home since we fly for Christmas helps with this), so we have had good luck with exchanges. The things we can't exchange, we re-gift or donate. Our janitor has a kid close in age to one of ours and makes $7/hour, so she is always happy to have new toys to take home.

Christiana

My grandmother is more concerned about the recalls than I am (not that I'm not, but she was obsessing over everything she gave me for the baby the other day - and I mean EVERYTHING), and she's always been more about qulaity than quantity.

However, my in-laws are known for the cheapness - they'll buy the cheapest blanket in the store just to say they bought it, nevvermind that it looks and feels like crap and won't hold up after 2 washings. But I digress. I am worried that they will forget the concept of recalls, etc. and simply buy the cheapest thing on the wish list, or n ot bother with the wishlist at all.

My husband I and i would like to institue a less-is-more rule in general - but it's going to take effort to get that across to them. I'm making him mdo the dirty work and talk to them about what is appropriate.

rudyinparis

Ho boy, is this ever my topic these days. Not so much the Made in China (truthfully, very hard to avoid) as limiting the sheer amount of stuff. I have spoken or will speak to people I feel comfortable having that kind of frank conversation with. I said something to my parents (and hurt my mom's feelings) and said something to my MIL (who I love dearly) and plan to issue a Sweeping Proclamation at the Thanksgiving table. But the family members I do not feel close enough to to have this conversation, I will let it go.

I'm a little uncomfortable with the "please don't get my kids crap" take on it, versus "we want the holiday to have real meaning beyond accumulation". I don't feel I could dictate what people should give. This is along the lines of Shandra's point, I think. So instead I focus on wanting the emphasis to be on being together and not buying into the cult of consumerism.

Heather AKA Epiphany Alone--me, personally, I don't put anything into a food shelf box that I wouldn't feed my own kids, period. I used to do differently, but it always made me feel like an asshole. I TOTALLY get the argument that a pp made, more is better, but just for me and only me I do it the way I do and avoid a lot of not great feeling. Just listen to your gut. As for thrift stores and toys and such, I don't hold the same standard--I mean, thrift store clothes are thrift store clothes and maybe some punk rocker with an ironic sense of humor wants to buy my old stuff and rip it to shreds, good for them. And the gifts aren't usually ones I bought, as opposed to the food I do buy for my kids. It's a distinction that makes sense to me, at least!

electriclady

This is a tough one for me. I am anti-plastic and anti-consumer and very anxious about the recalls. Even though my MIL has heard of the recalls and totally agreed with me a couple months ago when I said I was nervous about made-in-China toys, she doesn't seem to really be making the connections--a few weeks ago she called to ask me about Christmas presents, and I got all excited thinking she was going to ask me what we wanted/needed and I could direct her to an Amazon wishlist etc. No--she had already picked out two toys she liked and wanted me to pick my favorite--a Fisher Price flashing-light, loud-music, noise-making plastic train, or a Cabbage Patch doll. (Seriously.) When I gently expressed nervousness about the train, she said, "Well, I figured it was Fisher Price, and that's a good brand, so you can trust it." Never mind that Fisher Price/Mattel had TONS of recalls this year (tried to explain that to her but...).

I am really struggling with this but have decided I just have to live with it. One heinous plastic toy isn't so bad in the grand scheme of things, and I have to learn to accept these gifts in the loving spirit in which they are given. And I need to conserve my fighting energy to keep her from dragging my husband's circa-1975 plastic toys and my SILs old Barbies from the attic, as she has offered to do. (Because 30-year-old Barbies are a totally appropriate toy for a 10-month old!)

Thank goodness my own parents will buy exactly what I ask for. :)

electriclady

(Side note: There is a growing xenophobic slant to the "no made in China!" alarm that I'm not too happy with, despite the fact that I say this myself. Something like 80 percent of ALL toys sold in the US and a comparably high percentage of other consumer goods are made in China. Made in China does not automatically equal bad--in fact, many "quality" European toys are partly or wholly made in China, too. The tough thing is to do our homework about which companies have responsible business practices, regardless of where their factories are physically located. Okay, stepping off the soapbox now.)

Jan

Last year I gave my MIL (who is a woman who defines herself by what she has -- quantity, not quality, too) a short list of things the kids might like. She wanted more (not different ones, more) ideas. I told her that she didn't need to get them a bunch of stuff and she started in on the "they're my grandchildren and I want to be able to spoil them" crap.

I just told her, honestly, that we are trying to teach our kids some specific values about consumerism and about the meaning of the holiday season. That obviously she can do whatever she wants, but that our preference would be that she stick to one or two gifts per kid.

I've found that when I acknowledge that it's their decision what they buy, but state my preferences, people are more receptive. I've also found that my limiting (or suggesting a limit on) the number of gifts, it naturally limits the quality somewhat.

The other thing you can do is ask for things like a membership to the zoo or the aquarium or whatever is fun to do near where you live. This is great for far-away relatives, especially, because they can do it online and not have to ship anything.

I also am not afraid to ask for things my kids NEED, as opposed to stuff they would think is fun.

As far as the food bank, I buy the stuff I bought for us when we were students living on one part-time hourly job. No, it's not what I choose to feed my kids now, but it's a far sight better than nothing. My personal value on this one is that if I'm going to give one can of organic versus four cans of non-organic, I think it's more important to FEED four people than to give the highest quality to one, if that makes sense. I also think it's great that there are people out there who make the other choice. Everybody deserves the special treatment some of the time, ya know?

Amy

My issue is less about quality than about quantity. My mother is happy to buy expensive (in other words, not CPC) toys, which I appreciate, but she's also into the quantity of toys. So Christmas at my house for three kids looks like Christmas for 20 kids. I've tried in vain in the past to stem this tide... and finally decided to stop fighting her on this. My new rule is that most of what she gives my kids has to stay at HER house (they are over there all the time, so it's not like they don't get to play with the stuff, but I don't have to spend my life fitting all their toys into our little house). So, my advice on the CPCs is this: if the giver is in town, request that the toy reside at the giver's house so the child has something to play with when they visit. If the giver is out of town, donate it.

Brooke

Melissa and Doug toys are made in China, too. And they are all brightly painted. There haven't been any recalls yet, but I'm not willing to trust it. Also, if I am paying a lot of money for a toy, I would rather it not be made in a sweatshop.

We've just returned/exchanged the horrible light up make noise toys. After we thanked the relatives politely. These are relatives who won't even listen to us when we say what size clothing our daughter wears (seriously, she has not yet grown into the clothes they bought her last year), so there is no point in trying to express our preferences for toys.

Re: food drives. Most food banks need money more than canned goods since they can buy food cheaper in bulk. But it's really nice to get good food since a lot of stuff that ends up in food banks (according to a friend who ate in one for a whole season) is stuff like cake mix. Especially since some food banks are set up to let people shop and choose their own. So kosher, halal, and vegetarian food is also appreciated.

Kristen

This is Kristen, the questioning mom. Our daughter is actually only 5 months, so we still have plenty of control over what she plays with! Thank you so much for all of your suggestions. I think we will start a "wish list" and just point people that way if they ask what she wants.

As for what to do if we get things we don't want.... i'm torn. I lean towards exchanging if possible, but that is getting harder and harder. Maybe we will donate anything really offensive? Hmm, I just don't know yet.

Kristen

Ok, I just reread all the comments, and wow, thanks again. Although this may not have been expressed in my original e-mail, I too am concerned with instilling in our daughter the spirit of the holidays rather than consumerism. Part of our problem, is that she is the first grandaughter, so we know, no matter what, people are going to buy her stuff. I also agree with the bring grateful for gifts. I would never want anyone to think we didn't appreciate them taking the time and energy and money to pick out presents for us. That is an important value that must be balanced with trying to control what our daughter plays with!

wendy

I have sent out a few emails to relatives over the last couple of months to tell them about great fair trade websites, or catholic charities websites, etc., and writing something like 'I loved this website, thought you might, too.' It is passive but I once tried the "nothing from Wal-Mart" and it came across as just rude. Gifts are more about the giver, I know, and I enjoy giving things I like or think people should have, not necessarily things I know the person would love.

So, when we receive gifts I just don't feel comfortable with, I put them aside or donate them immediately.

Also, re Melissa and Doug. I tried contacting them several times because I know their toys are made in China and I wanted to know about paint, process, etc. They're cute, cheaper than the Haba and other painted wooden toys, but because I've never received an answer, I just don't trust the company.

rudyinparis

Hi Kristen,

Thanks for stopping back in! I think this is a really interesting topic and I think it's great that you're already examining how to handle these kinds of issues. I always think about when I took an ethics class years ago and it was discussed that an ethical/moral conflict doesn't arise in the conflict between good and bad (because then what is the conflict?) but between different shades of good (or bad). So this is a classic in that regards. I'm glad you posed the question.

Deborah

I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that most everyone here has family/friends who 1) excitedly want to purchase gifts for their kids, and 2) such an overabundance of possessions that we can "afford" to be picky about the gifts we are given. As I type that, it sounds like a judgment-but it isn't. Just a thought that is running through my mind, not necessarily a bad one for me to start off Thanksgiving week.

Anyway, I'm from the school that a gift is a gift. If someone asks for recommendations, I would definitely give ideas-but if they don't ask, I just wouldn't. I would say a great big thank you and either give the gift to a worthy cause or (if dangerous/recalled) return it to the store or manufacturer.

And on the food bank issue, I think it would be horribly unethical to give something that could potentially be dangerous (like a toy or other product that has been recalled) but absolutely fine to give non-organic food (or any food the giver might not personally prefer). I can't stand canned vegetables, but if for some reason I found myself in possession of some I wouldn't feel at all bad about donating them-particularly since it would be difficult logistically for me to donate fresh veggies. Somebody must like them, I figure, since they are sold all the time. Another reason to be thankful: I get to be really picky about the things I eat every day, up to and including the very yummy ice cream I shovel in every night.

Meg

I think the rules are well-deserved, but I think the timing of these conversations needs to be improved. Being asked, "What do your kids want for Christmas?" and being given a diatribe and commandments in response is completely offensive. I don't think it's a matter of "demanding" and "insisting"; I think it's a matter of clarifying your wishes throughout the year, rather than a sudden "Don't you dare"-type conversation a month before Christmas. And if people don't listen, quietly dispose of their gifts later on. Telling them their money is "wasted" may be your opinion, but is just as tacky as their plastic gifts.

We've declared a "No Bratz, No Barbie" rule for K which, with the exception of one pillow-case and a returned pair of boots, has gone over smoothly. We declared the rule during a shopping trip outing with her grandmother, where they planned on going to pick out a new toy. It wasn't during the holiday crunch, so grandma was at her leisure to look around for other options. She tested the rule once, we exchanged her purchase for something more acceptable, and she spread the word to the family that we "really meant" what we said.

wavybrains

There IS a way to make specific requests without being crass. Just don't make it about YOUR kid, but instead make it a family discussion. My mom is one of six kids, and it's a close knit family with everyone wanting to get gifts for everyone else. Growing up, one uncle complied the family wishlists into a single typed document that was distributed to all the relatives. Often the list would include suggestions to allow for spontaniety (i.e. Suzy is really into princesses this year. She'd love dress up clothes, books about princesses, and soft princess dolls like X) or just general categories (Matt loves picture books--already have Dr. Seuss, but any others would be awesome). The list had all the kids and all the adults. Sometimes adults would put things like donation to X charity in our name, movie tickets, things like that but suggestions of gift certificates were off the table as the whole point was avoiding things like that. If you want to have control over the gifts, you might suggest doing a family wide wish list like this. Offer to be the one to compile it and distribute it. Try to get a few close relatives to agree before approaching everyone else. The family list can become a treasured family tradition instead of a crass plug for gifts if you do it right. As a kid I used to wait eagerly for the list to arrive.

ches

We just took the easy way out. We told everyone that we have so many toys we hardly know where to put them, and asked them all to just buy clothes this year. That way we can buy the toys that we actually want at our house.

Anon

OK, we've had the CPC discussion with the relatives, with varying degrees of success. But what about all the issues around the kid's rights, understanding, etc.? And what about balancing all of the above with relatives who come over all the time?

Now that T.'s still a toddler, it's easy enough to let him play with the CPC my dad or SIL gives him, then "hide" it that night, and donate it later. It might hurt the giver's feelings never to see the thing again when he/she comes over, but they do know our stance on such stuff, so I'm willing to have a bit of friction there for consistency's sake.

But what happens when T. gets a bit older - old enough to remember better but not old enough - say, school-age - to begin to work with the complex understanding and questioning this issue carries with it? Like, next year? I feel he should have some control over his own things, and whisking away/"disappearing" a gifted item I don't approve of for non-safety reasons feels, well, wrong. He has a right to feel safe in the ownership of his possessions. Yes, we can talk about the choices we make and why, but from, say, 2-5, making our concerns clear and involving him in the choices would be pretty difficult.

Anyone going through this with their preschoolers?

Sharon Silver

When my kids were little they were always upset about the gifts they got from family. They would cry and say, "Don't they know who we are?" Then it dawned on me how to solve this. We began to send out emails with photos early in the season saying, Look How Much We've Grown! The emails had recent pictures AND a list of all the new things the kids were into. This really helped. The gifts started becoming more of what the kids wanted and were much more in alignment with our values too.

Melanie

I think I may be one of very few posters here who is ok with the CPC's. Sure, I'd rather have the more expensive, hand-made locally toys. But I've also seen the pure joy a child gets out of playing with a toy he/she really loves, cheap plastic crap or not.

And I also of the mindset that you can't possibly protect your child from every and any potential danger out there in the world. You do the best you can to keep them safe and healthy. I'm not about to let my child play with a toy that's been recalled but I'm not going to the extreme of banning all toys made in China from our house. To me that seems the same as never letting your child leave the house because there might be another person out there somewhere who could pass on an illness. Yes it may happen. But the odds are so much in your favour that it won't.

I hope I don't sound judgemental of those who chose to be more selective about toys, that's not my intention. Just wanted to give my perspective.

ethansmama

This is a huge issue in our home. Our children are 15, 12, 10, and 11 months. My MIL has always gone overboard with the gift giving. We have respectfully asked for them to buy less, and been ignored, we have asked for things like magazine subscriptions or zoo or science center memberships, they state those aren't any fun for the kids, huh?. The problem is that they ask the children what they want, and with all the consumerism out there, our children are exposed through television and friends, they ask for CPC and that's what gets bought for them no matter what we say. I have just had to bite the bullet and keep my mouth shut. I take the toy home and because the nature of CPC is to break relatively soon, we usually see Christmas gifts in the trash by Valentines day. Now that my kids are bigger they ask for less CPC and more expensive electronics, but now with the new baby, I have simply stated that anything that smells of a recall or likely to be recalled will go staright to the trash, if they want to throw their money away that his their choice.
As to trying to teach the kids about consumerism, it's hard when they are showered with gifts during this time of year. We talk to the kids before the phone calls with Grandma, reminding them that when she asks what they want, they need to be aware that she buys everything. It isn't a wish list where she chooses a few items, it is a full out "buy me" list. I have let the kids make the choices this year and we will wait to see how it goes. If we think that they went overboard, we will be donating some of the items to the local foster kids organization.

Kelly

Our first gift-giving holiday after our first child was born included very very specific and often repeated instructions of one gift per person per child. That made people think a bit more... instead of buying lots of crap, they tended towards one really nice gift (which tended to be less cheap/plastic/character directed). We also hinted that we were planning on steering our kids away from character toys and to more traditional stuff and books. We also made sure to point out that any noise-toys had to "live" at that person's house, and not ours.

Another Erin

Wendy (and others who wonder about Melissa and Doug) - below is the text of an email I got from M&D in response to my query about lead. It's very vague, and simply reiterates the points that a pp made - it's not about China, it's about quality control. But maybe you'll find it reassuring?

"Please be assured, we test for lead VERY frequently.

It's quite possible to make great quality children's items in China, which meet all safety regulations, but the key point is that you have to test and inspect very frequently to be sure that your factories are always following your instructions explicitly. I assure you that's exactly what we do.

From our experience, the key to doing this correctly is not simply to insist that your factories follow your instructions, but then to go one step further and to AUDIT, INSPECT, AND TEST very frequently. That is the most important part of the process, and it's something our company has always taken VERY seriously."


katie

For me it's more important to teach my kids how to receive a gift well, than to teach potential givers exactly what I prefer to receive. Of course if they ask for recommendations I'm ready to give them! And I may amend this rule as my daughter grows older; I do have a much bigger problem with skimpy toddler girls' clothes, Bratz, etc, than I do with CPCs. But it seems to me that the ability to graciously receive a disappointing gift is a really wonderful skill, and something that doesn't come naturally, so it must be cultivated. I remember being unable to hide my lack of enthusiasm for some presents very well when I was a kid, and the chewing-out I got from my Dad has stuck with me to this day. What you do with the gift later is your own decision, but at the time of receipt, no matter what, you act charming and graciously and thankfully to the giver. And I don't think you have to be insincere, either -- just focus on the giver's good intentions and smile (as you let your imagination run wild with how you are going to put that Tickle-Me Elmo on the grill and light that f-cker up at the first opportunity).

Shandra

"And I need to conserve my fighting energy to keep her from dragging my husband's circa-1975 plastic toys and my SILs old Barbies from the attic, as she has offered to do."

That's totally my dilemma with my parents, who have kept everything from my childhood and it keeps emerging - rusted, cracking plastic, and all. They must be soulmates! In that case as it is a real safety issue, I vet everything first.

I am hard-core about this idea that if someone gives you something you have to trot it out all the time to show your enjoyment of it. I say: no no no no. My politeness does not extend that far (nor does my memory, or my closet space). I thank the person and after that, it's mine to burn if I so desire. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it. :)

I actually haven't had anything on a recall list yet but if I did I think I would return it. Those manufacturers can bloody well pony up.

I honestly don't worry about my son's consumer habits being set at Christmas/Yule/etc. I think how his dad and I approach things all the time (including the season, but not exclusive to) will be the greater influence... and if not at least I will get great gifts in my old age, ha ha ha. But that would make a great topic for a post.

Also my parents were hippies and then turned into super cash-burning yuppies. I went my own way regardless of both extremes.

I know the time of CPC love is approaching and I think I will have to let my son love the toys he loves, as long as they are not dripping with lead paint or date rape drugs. (Can you believe that is no longer a joke?) But as he gets older I will definitely talk to him about it.

I remember my parents letting me buy a Barbie Head, the kind you styled the hair and put powder-blue eyeshadow on. I remember it because they commented on what a waste of money it was pretty much every day. Both my sister and I adored it, even after my sister cut off most of the hair. It served some need. I have a feeling Noah will find something even worse... maybe a mini nuclear missile launching pad manufactured by 6 year olds???

For food banks if we're buying, we just buy cash/gift cards for them to use. Anything extra from our home meets our standards already.

AmyinMotown

If my SIL and brother in law (whose kids are chiefly the ones we buy gifts for) made comments to me such as "You have to buy X Y and Z and no cheap plastic crap!" that would be the LAST gifts those kids would get from me. It's incredibly rude to dictate to people what sort of gifts would be acceptable to your rarefied tastes.

That being said, I think wishlists, or "We really like this kind of toy (or X store)" or general, categorical ideas are fine. We try to stay away from character toys, noisy things, etc. and interestingly,although that describes pretty much every toy my nephews own, my family has been pretty good about honoring that. OK, my dad did buy her every Elmo thing when she was in her Elmo phase, and now it's dinosaurs, but I write that off to "devoted grandpa." or, they are at least the right kind of toy (acctive, creative and imaginative) and that fact that they are plastic doesn't concern me as much. I;m lucky in that my fammily is pretty resepctful, but I also try very hard to be gracious. Everybody's time and money is limited and if someone if nice enough to fight holiday crowds and spend their hard-earned coin on a gift for my kid, thenI can live with it. My money follows my principles, bbut I am not rudely shoving that down the throats of others.

stacy

Melanie, I definitely see where you're coming from. I was all "NO CPCS!" when I was pregnant, but some CPC made it into my house anyway. And I'm surprisingly okay with that.

There's this...idea in our culture that we need to be perfect. All the time, at everything. And that includes giving our children only perfect toys. But the perfect is the enemy of the good, you know?

A friend got my 11 month old a Leap Frog activity table that lights up and blares music...it's the kind of thing I'd shirk from in horror if I passed it in the store. Several of my friends have all but sneered at this unenlightened, consumer culture artifact holding a place of honor in my living room. But my son loves, loves, loves this table. I could take it away from him to live up to the ideal, but I just don't have the heart.

I guess I'm saying that I'm a fan of balance in all things. I'm all right with my son using some cheap blinky crap, as long as he understands that he doesn't have to see a licensed character or a flashing light to be entertained. The kid also loves long walks, and playing with wooden kitchen spoons, and romping at the park. So I guess if he does get CPCs this December, I won't be *thrilled,* but I won't mind so much, either.

And I also agree with Katie and others about the importance of being a gracious recipient. There is no gracious way to say, "I will only accept this kind of gift." A good gift-giver should know better than to give CPCs when the parents won't want them in the home, but nobody's perfect. They're trying.

Brooke

I have to say that Melissa and Doug saying that they make sure all their toys met high standards doesn't reassure me. Hell, Mattel and Fisher-Price say that, too. All companies say that. Any recall is a one time thing, not indicative of a larger problem, blah blah, buy from us. Of course my concern is way more of a labor issue, but the recall thing seems to resonate more with the relatives. I tend not to trust a company which outsources it's jobs to any country with a lack of labor laws.

Interestingly on the lead issue, I'm slightly less concerned about plastic toys because you can find unpainted plastic toys, whereas wood is all painted if it's colored.

I totally agree about being gracious. On the other hand, I have some (step) relatives who have been so incredibly rude to and about our family that I am much less concerned if they think we're snobby. Although we tend to just go really overboard with the thank yous there because their kids never write thank you notes. And I get to feel all morally superior.

It's funny how the obnoxious toys from the relatives who love and care about me are okay but those same toys from the homophobic relatives seem like more judgement on how we raise our daughter.

Oooh, Moxie, you should have a post to vent about the crazy things relatives have done/said about your kids. That always makes me feel better about the crazy stuff that happens with my own family over the holidays.

Stephanie

I certainly understand that we should remember that with a gift, it's the thought that counts. Which is why I'm really not upset by most relatives that show up with CPCs. The issue for me (and it seems like most posters here) is either parents or ILs. For me it's ILs.

These are people that are supposed to know you well, having raised either you or your husband. They should care about your stance on these things. That's why it rankles. Those of us complaining may sound ungrateful, because "it's the thought that counts" but that's just it. They aren't taking the time to give it any thought.

And there's my soapbox!

pnuts mama

oh, i'm so late to the party today!

first, for heather re: the donatiosn to the food bank:
our youth group is having it's annual thanksgiving food drive tonight and when we talked about it last week, i specifically requested that our kids (teenagers) a) buy the food items to be donated with THEIR OWN MONEY and b) purchase non-perishable food that they themselves enjoy. i believe my specific quote was "just because your hungry doesn't mean your taste buds are missing. no one likes canned beets"

i think in the case of organic vs. non-organic, i'm ok with non-organic as long as the food is healthy. we have our own food pantry, so our food drive truly does benefit our local community, but the items need to be non-perishable. rice, powdered milk, pasta are always requested, and i know plenty of places where i can get that stuff in organic form for less than the supermarket.

when it comes to toys, i would buy a decent toy (do they give you any suggestions?) that i would give a friends child, hopefully one that would encourage creativity or the imagination. i would also definitely give some of my kids favorite books- that is a gift that kids who live in poverty need way more than another toy, the gift of reading a fantastic story to inspire a life long love of reading.

Sherry

I'm just excited that my girl is going to be getting new toys for Christmas. I can't afford to get much stuff myself, but when I do buy some little thing, she loves it -- for a while -- then she gets bored with it. I'm assuming all kids are this way. So I'll definitely do the "put things away and bring them out gradually," if I can restrain myself. I don't care what it's made out of, as long as she enjoys it. We're all different, I suppose. I admit, I'll get upset about Barbies and certain clothes and stuff later, but for now, bring on the toys! (Perhaps you can tell that this is my first Christmas with baby. I may change my tune later.)

Sherry

Oh, for Heather. Definitely nonorganic, as long as the nutritional value is high. These kids are undernourished, and need the largest possible quantity of healthy food. But then again, I'm okay with CPC.

mrsgryphon

I keep a "wish list" for all 3 of us - my husband, myself and our 22 mth old daughter. I add to it throughout the year, whenever we think of something that we might like for birthdays or Christmas. Sometimes it's a specific item (ie. follow this link to this online store), sometimes it's a general idea (Bean loves sliding, colouring and playing with her dolls). We do usually have a few notes about preferences as well. My wish list requests gift certificates to certain clothing stores (hopefully giving the hint that I really do prefer to pick out my own clothes), but also mentions the craft projects that I'm working on, that I've recently started running and that I love indie movies. Our daughter's list has lots of ideas, but also says that we'd prefer to stay away from licensed characters until she starts asking for them herself (then we'll re-evaulate!) and that she actually really does prefer active, imagination toys.

We don't buy her alot of toys ourselves during the year, so it's fairly reasonable for us to expect her grandparents and aunts/uncles to keep the madness to a minimum during the holidays... neither of our families are overly "buy, buy, buy", though, so maybe we just lucked out. It does also help that all of our relatives are 4 provinces away on the other side of Canada, but I think it would be pretty effective if we lived near them, too. We see them quite often, and most of the time the Grandparents will bring one gift or one outfit when they come to visit, so we haven't been over-burdened!

(although, I'll be honest, sometimes I kind of wish they WOULD spoil her a little more so we didn't have to foot the entire bill for her new wardrobe every time she grows a couple of inches!! 2 sides to every story, I guess!)

Kristen

Original Questioner here...

I wanted to explain more fully what toys I don't want in our home. I think my question may have been misinterpreted by some as not wanting "CPC" in our home because we're snobby or like expensive things. That's not really the case. I don't object to plastic toys as a whole, its just that as a class these toys are less likely to foster the values and goals that I seek than other toys-- such as creativity, open-ended play, exploring, learning, imagination, etc.

Here are the toys I have objections to and why-
-loud noisy, one function, plastic toys- I think these toys tend to stifle imagination and put kids in a box. why pretend and make a siren sound if the truck has five built in? why build a castle out of blocks if you can buy a complete plastic set?

- "princess" and character toys-- I think these are what I find most objectionable because of the marketing ploys and commercialization of childhood. Especially the "princesses" which I find to be awful role models. These toys are what begins a life time of marketing driven consumerism, which i would like to start later rather than sooner!

- the trendy toy of the month- the problem with these types of toys is that when the fad is over they get dumped en masse into the garbage. I would like our daughter to have things we can hold onto for a while and that she can grow into.

- things that break easily-- same; not worth buying if things are just going to end up in the garbage in a few months.

thank you again for all of your incredibly helpful and constructive comments. You have all been so helpful in allowing me to figure out the best way to handle gift suggestions while still teaching our daughter (even at this young age!) to be gracious and thankful. A gift is a gift, that one should be thankful for, no matter what. But I think that maybe I can address this issue with our family in a way that will make everyone more happy-- grandparents will get to buy baby presents and baby will have the kind of toys that we feel will best foster her growth. at least I hope so! we'll see how this actually plays out...

pnuts mama

ok, so back to the original question. my husband is a bit more verbal about CPC's, but we also kind of wear our values about consumerism and the environment on our sleeves all year round (one of my uncles affectionately refers to us as "whale riders") so i would hope that it doesn't come across as a big shock to folks who know us well enough to buy the pnut a gift that we reeeeeeeeeally feel uncomfortable with things that come from questionable safety backgrounds (and please, don't get me started on the conditions of the workers who produced or sell the items).

also, everyone we know who is a parent WANTS to know what we want/have already since they go through the same thing with their kids. i ALWAYS ask my friends/reletives what their kids are into and often ask "do they have ___ yet?" before i buy. i hate getting a gift that can't be returned/exchanged (stores have really tightened up their policies we found out! the few times we've gotten doubles or items that just don't sit well with us, we try to return or donate or regift. luckily pnut is little enough to really not notice yet. i don't know what we'll do when she gets older. i'll probably learn to live with more crap in my life.

SO, long story to say that this is what i do every year for christmas and birthdays:
a month or so before either event i do a group email to anyone who normally buys for pnut, saying

"sorry to do this as a mass email, but since so many of you have written asking me what the pnut would enjoy for christmas this year (ed. note: most people have not done this, but isn't it nice to be included in such a thoughtful group?), we decided this would be the easiest way to reach you all at once.

first, we really really want to thank you all for the way you always remember pnut so generously. it means so much to us that you always think of her, and we love that she knows who has given her nearly everything that she owns! we are so grateful for how thoughtful you are, and especially those of you who go out of your way to make or buy something handmade for pnut! i never realized how much the handmade stuff that mom made meant to me until we had pnut, and i really love that she has these things now. can you believe there is a website now that features handmade items for sale from individual crafters? etsy.com -they have the cutest toys- felt foods and dolls and tons of things that i know the pnut would have lots of fun playing with.

for those of you who asked, this winter/spring pnut is wearing a size ___ (i know! can you believe she is still so tiny! really, anything larger than a ___ is still too big! i was so disappointed that she wasn't able to use some of the summer things for her birthday). she really doesn't need much by way of clothes (as we have so many generous friends who continue to hand us down their stuff), but of course we know that great-grandma loves to get those foofy dresses and who can resist that?

this christmas the pnut is just beginning to understand the concept of this being the baby jesus' birthday (you know her obsession with birthdays!) and we're trying to introduce this part of her faith to her with age appropriate books and toys. i can't wait to haul out the stuffed nativity set that mom made me 30 years ago for her to play with. and you know our radio will be set to non-stop christmas music starting this weekend- it's never to soon to learn christmas carols as far as i'm concerned.

by now pnut is really enjoying books- especially those that have really simple story lines. she also is learning her letters and numbers and colors, and loves to read her books to us, which is a welcome change. she is also really into puzzles, the wooden kinds with big chunky pieces are the easiest for her right now, as are wooden blocks that she loves to stack up and knock down!

as far as toys are concerned, like most of you, we're concerned with all of the recalls and horror stories of unethical labor practices by so many toy manufacturers and we feel like we're at a loss trying to figure out what to do about it! we are just doing our best to get fewer safe things that encourage pnuts imagination and creativity based on the stuff she already has the most fun with.

the age of imagination has just begun here, and pnut just loves her __ doll that her gramma got her last year- she loves to put it in my old babydoll highchair, or grammas old cradle, or the stroller that her aunt got for her birthday. i would bet that she would go crazy to have clothes to dress her up in or little food things to feed her with. she also spends plenty of time in her play kitchen- she has some food and pots and pans, but we've also seen other cute foods here ___ and baking sets here ___. i would imagine that the dress-up stage is on the horizon as well, and she loves her f*sher pr*ce people and cal*co cr*tters as well.

again, we can't thank you enough for thinking of pnut at this time of year. we are truly blessed with your love and generosity and we really appreciate it. can't wait to see many of you over christmas!!
love, pnuts mommy and daddy"

wow, now all i have to do is copy and paste and email! awesome.

Ewokmama

We started this process early - when I became pregnant we let everyone know that we were working to eliminate all plastic from our household due to health concerns. We have a wishlist for our son and that seems to help. Also, because our family is from out of state, they have been focusing on things that are easy to transport (gift certificates, clothes, and books). We live in an apartment, so we ask that everyone be conscious of our lack of space. This all seems to help...

caramama

I'm with Sherry, but it's our first Christmas with the Pumpkin, too. I've been waiting to buy her new toys and books, which she's been needing lately, because the holidays are right around the corner. The Pumpkin also gets bored with toys pretty quickly (and I get bored of the same old books), so we are looking forward to getting a lot of stuff for her. Although I am concerned about all the recent recalls, in general I don't have a problem with CPCs. I'm sure my house will eventually be overrun and I'll change my tune.

I will admit that I don't like certain toys I find annoying (crossing my fingers we don't get anything Elmo) or clothes that are not my tastes (she's still so young, it's really about my taste in her clothes). For items we get that I don't like, I thank the giver very much and stick them in the closet when I get home. I either return them, re-gift them to people who I think will like them, give them to charity, or keep it handy to pull out when the giver comes to visit. That last one is really for my MIL who buys clothing that I don't like, but has said that she can wait to see the Pumpkin in.

I've also been thinking about how much I loved getting a bunch of gifts for Christmas! It was so great, it was like Christmas morning! Oh, wait, it *was* Christmas morning! I'm going to quote Shandra, because I agree with this exactly: "I honestly don't worry about my son's consumer habits being set at Christmas/Yule/etc. I think how his dad and I approach things all the time (including the season, but not exclusive to) will be the greater influence..."

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  • My expertise is in helping people be who they want to be, with a specialty in how being a parent fits into everything else. I like people. I like parents. I think you're doing a fantastic job. The nitty-gritty of what you do with your kids is up to you, although I'm happy to post questions here to get data points of how you could try approaching different stages, because, let's face it, this shit is hard. As for me, I have two kids who sleep through the night and can tie their own shoes. I've been a married SAHM, a married freelance WAHM, a divorcing WOHM, a divorced WOHM, and now a WAHM again. I'm not buying the Mommy Wars and I'll come sit next to you no matter how you're feeding your kid. When in doubt, follow the money trail. And don't believe the hype.
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