Childless and buying gifts for kids

I wandered through the toy section, completely bewildered. Thanks to my nephew marrying a woman with two little girls and then having a new baby, this Christmas I found myself shopping for children, but I didn’t have a clue what to buy because I have no experience with children. What do they like? What do they hate? What would make them shriek with delight and send them running to show their gifts to their friends? I don’t know. The toy section of the store is even more foreign to me than the automotive section. I feel like any second I’ll be outed as an imposter. It doesn’t help that I have only met these girls once and I’m sure they have no clue who I am. But their parents know, so I feel obligated. Besides, it could be fun.

I wound up with an odd conglomeration of stuff that reminded me of the crazy gift boxes “Grandma Rachel,” my dad’s childless stepmother, would send us, miscellaneous stuff  she’d picked up over the year. Now I understand that she really didn’t get the mom thing either, but I thought she rocked.

For the baby, I went with clothes, making a wild guess at the size. It’s like buying doll clothes, only more expensive. Everything is so tiny and so cute, and I feel bad that I don’t belong in this section like the other women. At the check stand, the older woman in line in front of me admired my choices and said she bet the baby who’d wear them was just as cute. “Oh, she’s adorable,” I gushed, as if I were a genuine member of the mom/grandma club. Nope.

It wasn’t much different years ago when I was buying gifts for my niece and nephew when they were little. Or for my stepdaughter’s children whom I rarely saw once we moved to Oregon. When you don’t live with children or see them very often, you don’t know what they need or want. Their mothers know. They can shop for children with the expertise I employ shopping for groceries or office supplies. But me, I feel like an idiot.

I won’t be receiving anything from these children in return. And I can’t afford any of the gifts I’m buying this year. So why do it? Because I think I should, because I want a connection with these children, and because I don’t want my sister-in-law saying, “Jeez, she didn’t buy them anything.”

When my brother and I got older, my maternal grandmother sent us $20 every Christmas. That $20 used to buy a lot back then. We loved it. My dad’s father always sent a check, but Grandma Rachel kept sending her packages of odds and ends, books, beads, shells, secondhand jewelry, newspaper clippings, and stuff she picked up at church bazaars and rummage sales, all smelling of the cigarettes she smoked in the kitchen when no one was looking. I loved that, too. The kids are too young for checks. I guess the new nieces are just going to have to deal with crazy Great-Aunt Sue. Crazy is all I’ve got.

How about you? Are you shopping for babies and kids this Christmas? Is it hard? How does it make you feel? Let’s talk about it in the comments.



9 thoughts on “Childless and buying gifts for kids

  1. I do not have any children to shop for. For several years I have been doing Operation Christmas Child, packing a couple of shoe boxes that are sent to children in places like Africa or Eastern Europe who will not get any other presents. It gives me an opportunity to buy some stuff for kids throughout the year, which I enjoy. It is a little dull, in that you don’t get to know who gets it or see them open it but it helps. I also give to a local food bank, and at this time of year I donate more chocolate products for children. There are several other toy collections through charities where I live, although I haven’t done these this year.


  2. Clothes for babies is always good. They don’t know the difference, but their parents appreciate it. I’m giving my 13-year-old great nephew money because he’s saving for a new phone and a new computer game. And over the years, as my other nieces and nephews were growing up overseas (so I knew nothing about their likes and dislikes), I would go to a specialist toy store, tell them the ages and genders and say I wanted something educational or activity-driven for them, and they would help do the choosing for me!

    I think, though, that every child needs a crazy great aunt! (I’m one, after all!)


  3. My godmother (single, childless) would always send me handmade gifts or funky clothes, and my uncle (also single and childless) would often give me samples of products from the fancy department store where he worked. As much as I appreciated the chocolate and money my other aunts and uncles sent, it’s the odd gifts from these two that stand out and mean the most.

    Now that I’m a “step-grandma” I love the idea of Grandma Rachel’s crazy box of surprises. I might have to borrow that. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I get stressed out, too, having to buy for kids.! Somehow in my head, my gifts end up being symbolic of how I feel about them, and that’s too much pressure. It’s become simpler for me these days to give money at birthdays and then do gifts at Christmas, along with baking cookies because what kid doesn’t like sugar? When they were younger, I’d ask my sister-in-law for ideas and that worked out great because then she could cross those items off of her own list. Now that they’re teenagers, I’m buying them Boston-area related stuff like T-shirts because I’m trying to get them interested in coming out here for college or moving here later in life 😉


  5. OK, I am now a mom, though when I read Sue’s book I was not a mom yet, but anyway, my view on this has not changed: it is hard enough for a woman to be childless and/or alone for the holidays, but the way people absolutely expect single and/or childless people to buy gifts for kids is just ridiculous. So this is my opinion: Christmas is NOT for buying kids presents. It is for EVERYONE – or at least it should be. Anyone who believes in Christmas for what it actually means should agree that it is even not very Christian to have traditions that make one person feel bad – namely the single, childless aunt. I have two kids now, I have sisters who also have kids, but I have one who has no kids and this is what I do: I buy her two presents, and that way she has one present from each of my kids, since she buys a present for each of my kids. Otherwise she would get shortchanged. This topic is something I feel strongly about, I just find it obnoxious the way some people think that kids are entitled to presents from everyone around them. They’re not. If they don’t get what they want, they will not be scarred for life. We do not go overboard with our kids, and we will damn well teach them gratitude and graciousness, not to expect but to appreciate.


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