The Childless Christmas Gift Dilemma

The first Christmas commercials showed up on TV before we finished with Halloween. The stores were already putting out the decorations and cheesy gifts in mid-October. You can’t get away from it. Even if you’re not Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s hard to escape the whole Santa Claus business.

So much of what is offered is for children. After all, who gets the most and the best Christmas presents? Kids. When there are kids around, almost everything under the tree is for them. It has always been that way. When my brother and I were little, our parents, grandparents, godparents, and aunts brought in armloads of gifts for us. We’d crawl around under the tree, prodding and shaking the packages, trying to figure out what was inside, dreaming of the possibilities. On Christmas morning, it felt like we were unwrapping presents for hours. It wasn’t until my teens that I realized Mom and Dad received comparatively few gifts. They would nod and admire our bounty while itching to get on with preparations for the company coming soon.

I have spent plenty of time at other people’s houses watching the kids rip paper off packages while I sipped my tea or slowly unwrapped my one present, fancy soaps, chocolates, or another coffee mug. It was worse when those kids were my stepchildren, surrounded by so many parents and grandparents, step and bio, they couldn’t even keep track. My husband’s ex always knew exactly what they wanted and needed because she was the real grandmother, the one who was around all the time. I was this weird Grandma Sue person who knew nothing about children.

We can say Christmas is not about the gifts, but in some ways it is. All the advertising showing perfect families with two happy parents and at least two beautiful children doesn’t mirror our own reality. If only advertisers would try to understand that. Sure, we might have stepchildren, nieces and nephews, or our friends’ children to buy presents for, but we have to exercise some restraint because they have their own parents who want to give the biggest and best things.

Christmas gifts present a dilemma for many of us without children. If you’re like me, you don’t hang around kids that much and don’t even know what they want or need. I haven’t been to Toys R Us in at least 25 years. What are the popular gifts this year? What do you get for a two-year-old? What does a 12-year-old want? Are you obligated to buy presents for kids you barely know? Do your friends and siblings expect you to shower their children with gifts when you can’t afford them or when even walking through the toy store at the mall makes you feel bad?

I’m afraid I sound sorry for myself. I don’t get a lot of Christmas presents these days, and I open them alone. The joys of being a widow far from family. I have been buying gifts for certain young people for years and never gotten anything in return. But that’s not what this post is about.

I want to know what it’s like for you. Does Christmas fill you with dread because of all the gifts you have to buy or the gifts you don’t get to buy because you don’t have kids? Do you enjoy buying or making things for the children in your life? Or are you relieved because not having children means you don’t have to spend the money or deal with the crowds? What’s your game plan for Christmas presents this year? Do you have suggestions for surviving the Santa Claus side of Christmas? Please share in the comments.

6 thoughts on “The Childless Christmas Gift Dilemma

  1. I enjoy buying things for the children I know well. But for the ones I don’t know well, the ones who live overseas, it is agony! Not so much because I don’t have children, but because I don’t want to waste my money and time, and mental health on something that they won’t enjoy or appreciate or worse, will mock.

    When I’ve had nieces who are little, I’ve always bought clothes. They love them, they’re usually different from what their parents would buy them, I don’t have to worry if they’re serviceable or easily washable (ha!), and their mothers have always appreciated it. (With one niece, I was the “cool jacket” aunt, until she got to about age 9 or 10.) I also get science experiments or books for different kids, rather than toys. There was a science/nature shop that I would always just say to the staff, “boy aged 8” or “girl, aged 7” and they’d come up with good suggestions. I stay well away from anything “popular” because the odds are that they either have it, or they’re going to get it from someone else, and I’m bound to get it wrong.

    I also try to get it all done well in advance (or even throughout the year, with an eye out for sales) so I don’t have to endure the hype (and triggers) I might find in toy stores.

    Like you, I get very few gifts. One of my sisters and I have agreed that we will only exchange gifts if we are together on Christmas Day, and that extends to to her daughters and their children. Same goes with another sister-in-law. I also have a cut-off at age 18 for nieces and nephews.

    Christmas for me now is my tree and the food and the pohutukawa blooms on the trees outside, not the presents. I’m okay with that, but I’m always a little sad at the silence in the house when the in-laws go home. I admit that I’m always a bit relieved when Christmas is over, but I know I’m not alone in that, and it is a hard time for many people – whether we have children or not. My mother, for example, always hated Christmas, the stress, the pressure, etc.

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  2. I don’t mind Christmas shopping, and I only shop for three kids these days — the two little girls, ages 3 & 6, whom I refer to as “the Little Princesses” on my blog (my parents’ neighbours’ granddaughters), and stepMIL’s grandson, who is 9. I usually buy clothes for the girls (something sparkly or with unicorns is usually a big hit, lol) and the boy is usually happy to get an iTunes gift card. We also give cash to our two adult nephews, although I am not sure how long we will continue to do that. Perhaps if & when some great-nieces & nephews come around, we’ll switch to giving presents to them instead. 😉 As you’ve observed, we usually give a lot more than we wind up getting. It’s not so much Christmas, because there is sort of an element of reciprocity there… it’s all the other stuff — the baptisms, kids’ first and other birthday parties, first communions & confirmations, and later weddings & bridal & baby showers…


  3. I wasn’t even “weird Grandma Sue”….I was only “Auntie”. (There were two involved real grandmothers). Of course, I don’t even think the stepson and his wife even have any idea why I never had children. I suspect they have been led to believe I didn’t like children. Better than admitting to his own son that the husband didn’t want any more children,being sick of dealing with the ex and his son. It’s not that I didn’t like children. It’s just incredibly painful to have everyone else’s “happy” shoved in your face.

    It was painful to purchase Christmas and birthday gifts for someone else’s grandchildren. I did try to make a mark when doing so–fishing rods, BB guns, handmade “Frozen” purses and an occasional 1 troy ounce silver coin. Grampie only could manage coloring books, books, and puzzles, yawn. I took his grandson fishing in my boat. Yes, you read that right. Grampie didn’t go.

    It’s almost easier now buying nothing at all. You would almost think it would be worse, but it’s like not having to go through it stopped the salt from being poured into the wound. I don’t often participate in toy drives, etc. Right now, spending time selecting the gifts only to have the parents hand them out on Christmas morning is hard. I’m tight for cash now anyway, but it’s easier just to drop a few dollars when I’m able.

    I don’t get many gifts or even cards now either. You see, husband made little effort with his son and grandchildren. That also included me. He would simply state, “I don’t know what to get you, get what ever you want.” So I did. For my birthday last year, I bought a divorce. And last Christmas he called, wondering how much of a check he should write so the kids could buy their own gifts. Seriously.

    My father passed this spring, and with no siblings or relatives, it’s just my elderly mother and me. I don’t hear from the stepkid of 23 years at all. I’m searching for a different meaning to Christmas and different traditions than I had hoped for. I always saw a big family and Norman Rockwell meets Martha Stewart. lol Maybe there will be another family down the road, but I don’t hold my breath that I will be anything other than X’s wife, certainly not even Auntie, let alone Mom or Grandma.

    Wishing you all peace this Holiday Season.

    (You will all find a sick humor in this. So, husband was Catholic, and after the divorce filed for a religious annulment through the church. The grounds: I refused to have children. Technically, that is correct. He stated that the bulk of the responsibility would be mine and to think carefully about it. I was not interested in being a single parent. In retrospect, I should have dumped him then and headed to the nearest bar and found anything willing to donate!! lol)


    • Oh my gosh. There’s so much here. I love the way you say he said you could get anything you wanted, so you got a divorce. His choice of grounds for his annulment are really harsh. Thanks for sharing this.


  4. My husband and I used to buy gifts for nieces and nephews in the beginning, but decided to stop doing it because our budget did not allow for anything expensive enough to really impress them. We rarely got thank you notes, never got gifts in return and since all of their parents make more money than we do we just decided it was time to stop. The decision was made easier by the fact that we don’t spend Christmas with that side of the family, and my side of the family stopped exchanging gifts once all of us grew to adulthood. We instead focused on decorating and being together instead.
    Growing up, the holiday for us was always about making music, both in school and religious groups, decorating and spending time with people. Gifts were fairly modest and not the focal point. I seem to enjoy the holidays much more than my friends who feel pressured to come up with great ideas for gifts. The greatest gift is the gift of time and far too much time is spent concerning over material things in our lives.


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