Gift ideas for new parents that rarely make the registry

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This post is a little bit delayed, but I wanted to wait until the recipient of the gift in the photos had received and opened it, so as not to ruin the surprise. 

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Since so many of our friends are having kids right now, we go to a lot of baby showers. I generally try to give good gifts, so I’ve read a lot of posts about baby shower gifts. After talking to a lot of parents, I decided to write one myself. Mostly because the other posts I’ve seen are generally focused on “things” – the best teethers and swaddles, wipes warmer or no wipes warmer, etc. – and what our friends tell us makes the most difference aren’t “things” at all. They basically boil down to two broad suggestions. I’ll note that the gifts here aren’t generally as cute to open as a pair of tiny pyjamas or a hooded towel, so you may want to buy a small something “cute” for opening at the shower (great children’s books are my go-to - there's a post about my choices for these coming), and then tuck one of these inside the cover or package. A side note: these gifts are also great for giving far-flung friends and family, since you don’t need to ship big packages.  

My first suggestion: give parents more time. A new baby adds tasks to a parent’s to-do list, and sleep deprivation makes it harder to get through them. So, if you’re able, give a gift that takes some of those things off parents’ plate. For group gifts (or if you want to give something extravagant), I love hiring someone to clean or cook for the family. This might could be a single deep cleaning of the home beforehand, or an ongoing cleaning service for a few weeks after the baby arrives. It could also mean a subscription to a meal prep service, or a personal chef to come in and make a set of meals for the family (this definitely bleeds into the second suggestion). If you know the parents have hired a post-partum doula, then you can accomplish something similar by adding hours to their doula services.   

You can also offer to take care of these kinds of tasks for parents yourself – you could, for example, pledge to spend an afternoon washing and folding laundry, cleaning bathrooms, vaccuming, or taking older children to the park. There are some important things to remember if you’re going to do this. First, you’d better be close enough to the parents that they’ll feel comfortable with you in their house when it is in (at least in their eyes) a state of disarray. Second, you may need to follow up about this sort of gift when the child arrives (e.g., “when is a good day this week to come over and give you a hand?”). Respect it if parents tell you they want some time to themselves and tell you not to come. Third, if you offer this, do what you said you’d do. Arrive at the house (with a snack, coffee, or a meal for the family to earn bonus points), and do what you said you’d do – this is not a time to snuggle an adorable baby, unless parents say what they really need is someone to hold the baby while they shower.

Second suggestion: feed parents (and any older children, of course). I won’t lie – I have pretty much one strategy to help people I care about through difficult things (illness, bereavement, work stress, breakups….). At least, I think, it’s a useful one: feed them. Whatever else is going on, people need to eat, so a meal is an eminently practical gift. I’ve been known to arrive at baby showers with a cooler full of frozen soup, frozen pizzas, burritos, pesto and cookie dough. I make my own (a.k.a. I raid my own freezer to fill the cooler before I leave), but you can do the same thing by picking up similar items at the grocery store. Frozen/shelf stable foods are often better than fresh, because they’re ready whenever they’re needed. If your recipient has limited freezer/storage space, gift certificates for takeout also work here – with something like Skip the Dishes, you don’t even have to know someone’s favorite restaurant. If you live nearby, it can also be useful to schedule a day or two to deliver a meal after the baby is born (websites like MealTrain will let you coordinate this kind of thing with a group- and they’re free).

If you don’t want to take on full meals, or want to give something less immediately practical, don’t forget about snacks. You might arrange for grocery deliveries of fresh fruits and veggies, or bring a selection of delicious snack foods. If you’re going to do a snack assortment, try to balance healthy and indulgent, sweet and savory, and include at least a few things that contain protein to keep people full. If you want it to feel like a present (instead of groceries), aim for things people would enjoy, but may not buy for themselves – this is the time for the fancy nut mixes and sweets. If you know parents’ favorite foods, then by all means include them. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that a Coffret subscription also fills these criteria – delicious and indulgent – which can certainly work as a baby shower gift.  

Two basic ideas for gifts for new parents: time and food. They work just as well for first babies as fifth. These options also don’t depend on the choices people make AS parents. Most everything in the parenting world – bottles, pacifiers, gendered clothing, swaddles, white noise machines – can be polarising, with people being strongly for or against it. Add to that the fact that parents may have more or less storage space and different lifestyles, and it’s easy for baby gifts to be seen as statements about what parents “should” do, contributing to the anxiety a lot of new parents feel. Whether you’re a welcoming a biological or adopted child, and the family is planning to breastfeed or formula feed, no new parent has as much time as they’d like, and everyone needs to eat, and every parent can do with more time.  

If you’re a parent, which of these would have been your favorite when your children joined your family? If you’re not, are any of them appealing to give to the parents in your life?

Anastasia KulpaComment