What Should I Do With Unwanted Gifts?

I am a member of far too many Facebook groups. Far. Too. Many.


Most of these are mom/Montessori/Reggio interest groups full of brilliant ladies sharing their ideas and resources. This time of year I run across the same set of questions multiple times a day: "What should I do with the gifts that don't fit our vision?" "How should we approach family members who refuse to respect our wishes?" "What should I do with unwanted gifts?"


This is a tricky one! On one hand, we are well aware that flashy, dopamine triggering toys have a long lasting negative impact on the brain's reward system. (Check out Thrilled to Death: How the Endless Pursuit for Pleasure is Leaving Us Numb by Archibald D. Hart) On the other hand, we want nothing more than to model grace and gratitude for our children. An ungrateful heart is just as damaging as a brain that has had its dopamine pathway hijacked. So how do you walk this road?


The gift giver has chosen this toy from a place of love. They want nothing more than to see your Sweet Joy light up with happiness. (Gift giving is one of the love languages, after all.) Many times they have picked this particular noisy contraption because it was marketed as an "educational toy". The gift giver wrapped this present with a happy heart, believing it would make both the child and YOU happy because it was exciting, colorful and educational. No one wants to model the spurning of such love and kindness to their children. It is quite the conundrum!


The only solution I have found that simultaneously honors the gift giver's good will, and my own maternal goals, is what I like to call our "play date box". Let me explain...


The first two weeks of January are free. Any and all gifts received are welcomed distractions as I pack away the Christmas decorations, pull down the lights, and rest from the holiday work load. This gives enough time for the "new" to wear off the lights and buttons. (Rest assured, the new WILL wear off. One of the side effects of that dopamine pathway is that our systems can be taught to desire more, but this doesn't actually lead to more enjoyment. "Dopamine elevations produce higher ‘wanting’ without higher ‘liking’." ~ Pleasure Systems in the Brain) Once this two week period is over, I stick almost all of the less-appealing-to-mom toys into a big Tupperware box. At our next play date, the box is opened and the toys are played with again.


Bonus! By using the box, I don't just honor my family, I also honor my friends!


When a friend visits, I do not want them to spend the entire time walking on eggshells, worried that their child will hurt our school material. With a handy-dandy box of super exciting toys, the children are happy to play for hours. And IF something is broken, no sweat! Nothing in the box is a cherished keep sake. The lights and buttons generally distract the group from the more delicate items around the house, and my kiddos are doubly joyful; they have friends AND that toy they forgot they loved so much. Blessings all around!


If you have struggled with this issue for a while, I challenge you to start a playdate box this year. Model gratitude for family and grace towards friends. Hold to the boundaries and goals you set for yourself and your child. And, if you are really lucky, your love and respect will be reciprocated and you will find yourself struggling to fill the play date box as the years go by.


I have been blessed with a mother and mother-in-law who work diligently to respect my wishes each year, but I am well aware that not everyone is so lucky. I would hope you remember that as you settle into the role of "mother", they are settling into the role of "grandmother". As you wish for only good things for your child, they do also! We are all continuously learning how to best love our evolving family and evolving selves. At the end of the day, what more can we wish for than to be surrounded by a kind and generous family that fiercely loves our kids? Don't let a few noisy buttons interfere with Love.


I hope our journey inspires your own,

Buckets and Berries