What Gives?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Have a gift-giving dilemma? Send it to home@washpost.com and we'll tell you what we think. Or chime in by posting a comment at the end of the article online at http://washingtonpost.com/homeandgarden.

Belle Elving

Editor, Home

Our first Christmas with a baby is raising issues I never considered. Here's one: Several days a week our 4-month-old is cared for by a stay-at-home mom with two young kids of her own. What is an a ppropriate gift? Money (how much)? A restaurant gift certificate with a babysitting IOU for the sitter and her husband? Food? Toys? We are friends with the couple outside of the babysitting arrangement, so I feel like it should be more significant than a small gift.

For day-care providers and nannies in general, money or a gift card would probably be more welcome than anything you could buy. One rule of thumb for a holiday bonus, according to several sitter services I consulted, is one week's pay for a live-in nanny, one day's pay for a day-care provider. I ran this by several parents I know and the reaction was sputtering disbelief, so this guideline clearly is not universally observed. Basically, give what you can afford, either as money or a personal gift, and take the opportunity to tell your caregiver how important she is to you and your children. Because your babysitter is also a friend, I'd vote for the idea of taking all the children for an evening and treating your friend and her husband to a nice dinner out rather than money.

My husband and I are environmentally conscious and try hard not to go overboard with consumption, including gift giving. But what do you give people who already have everything and do everything? My husband's siblings are very well off. They and their children have every toy and service available (nanny, cook, cleaning service, personal assistants). The families take extraordinary vacations. Every year gift giving just gets more agonizing. What do we do?

First, take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is not a competition. This is about giving people you care for something you think they will appreciate. You can't top the mountain of good fortune your husband's siblings already enjoy. And it sounds as if you're harboring feelings of jealousy that a pile of gifts would only intensify. So chart another course. Extend a gesture of goodwill that expresses your priorities without trying to compete with theirs. A donation in their names to the environmental organization of your choice would be the perfect gift.

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