How to Communicate About Gifts
Gifts can be an endless source of stress for Montessori families. Well-meaning friends and family tend to send over piles of flashing, noisy, plastic garbage that clutters your space and can actively damage your child's development.
Creating a prepared environment for your child involves significant work in curating the items that enter that space. When your loved ones gift your family inappropriate materials, you're left with the difficult choice of refusing the gift and offending the giver, accepting the gift and putting it into storage, or allowing the item to disrupt your carefully prepared environment.
A little proactive action can help prevent these problems and diffuse tension.
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Why are Gifts so Stressful?
Gift giving is an emotionally charged activity because it's one of the five love languages. Giving thoughtful gifts to our loved ones is an expression of our love for one another. For some of us, gift giving it's the primary way that we express our love, and the strongest way that others can make us feel truly loved.
It's no wonder that refusing an expression of love could cause hurt feelings. A loved one rejecting your gift can feel like they're rejecting you personally.
Of course, refusing gifts is not meant to reflect your feelings for the person. Just because you don't want an item in your home doesn't mean you don't love the person who chose it.
With some careful planning, you can safeguard both your loved ones' feelings, and your home environment.
Maintain a List
Use a gift list program like Amazon's Baby Registry to select specific items that you would welcome into your home, and share it with anyone who might be inclined to buy a gift for your child. Amazon's program is nice because you can add items from any website, it helps avoid duplicate gifts, and it keeps track of who bought what in a thank you list.
To find items to add to your list, check out The Catalog at The Prepared Environment. Montessori Gifts (this space) is geared toward steering friends and family toward "safe" gifts for any Montessori Home. In addition to the wealth of Montessori parenting articles and courses at The Prepared Environment, The Catalog includes information specifically for parents like cloth vs. conventional diapers, setting up your child's bedroom, whether or not to use mobiles, and choices for car seats, carriers, and strollers. These items would not be appropriate to choose for someone else, but you can add them to your list once you've made your own choice.
Prior to any potential gift-giving occasion, send a note to anyone who might be considering a gift with a link to your up-to-date list. Always include the link with invitations to events like baby showers or birthday parties. Start early, and send reminders often.
Communicate Your Family's Needs
The first time you send a link to your gift list, send a note to explain your choices to your loved ones. Here's a template you can use:
We are following a Montessori style of parenting, and to that end, we have spent significant time and effort to curate the items in our home to match our child's development needs, and the needs of our family. There are quite a few common baby materials that we have specifically chosen to omit from our space.
Please don't feel obligated to bring a gift, but if you do, please stick to this list. If you wish to give a gift, and there's nothing on the list that suits you, please consider intangible gifts. Gifts of time are most welcome. We have also set up an education fund for our child, which you could donate to if you like.
If you feel strongly that you would like to gift an item that we did not include, please check with us first. We love you dearly, and want you to be able to freely express your love for [name]. We don't want to risk straining our relationship by having to refuse a well intentioned gift if it conflicts with our child's developmental needs.
Once you've communicated your needs in detail once, subsequent mentions of your list can be shorter.
If you want to give [name] a gift, please stick to our list here. We keep it up to date with items that [name] would enjoy, and will work with our Montessori style of parenting.
Let Them Down Easy
If you have already communicated your needs to a gift giver, and they choose to ignore your request, the best solution is to refuse the gift in a firm, but polite and respectful way.
This conversation will be much easier if you have already communicated your needs as demonstrated above. But if it's too late, refusing the gift is still the best long-term strategy.
I'm sorry, but we can't accept this. We love you, and we know that your gift is an expression of your love for [name]. But we have carefully curated the materials in our child's home environment, and this item is not going to work for our space. Please know that our decision is only about this particular item, and is not a negative reflection of our feelings for you. We love you, and we want you to be able to share your love with [name]. In the future, if you'd like to give [name] something that is not on our list, please check with us first. We would never want to strain our relationship over an expression of love.
This conversation should be done in private, so if you're opening gifts publicly, you may need to thank the gift giver and set it aside, then return the item in private later.
Accepting a gift to save face might seem like an easier solution now, but the closer you are to the gift giver, the more likely the problem is to resurface in the future. You may even find yourself avoiding this person on special occasions, or developing feelings of resentment toward them. The best way to keep your relationship healthy is to communicate firm limits as early as possible.