Should your children be buying you gifts?

Mother's Day: many mums worry about encouraging commercialism.
Mother's Day: many mums worry about encouraging commercialism.  Photo: Getty

Is the reward of motherhood enough? Or, do you think it's important to honour and respect the role of mums with a special day that includes gifts? When it comes to children buying gifts, there are a lot of mixed opinions. Childcare centres and primary schools usually get kids involved with Mother's Day, so many mums will be waking up to handmade cards and sweet craft projects. But what happens when children start to get older? Is it appropriate for them to buy their mum a gift?

Many mums worry about encouraging commercialism. This year, Michelle's family are attempting the challenge of not buying anything new. She says "the society we live in encourages mass consumption of new products, which is a huge waste of resources". She wants to encourage her children to creatively embrace reused and recycled items. She says "I think it's important to teach our children to think outside the square". One of the latest creations they've made together is a dress made from an old Star Wars bed sheet! Michelle also says that she feels Mother's Day is about sharing positive experiences together, so this year her whole family is going on a charity walk together.

Other parents feel that it's okay for children to buy their mum a gift, particularly if it's the child's decision. Mum and psychologist, Tess, says that her oldest child (who turns six this year) is getting to that age where he might start wanting to buy gifts. This is something that she doesn't have an issue with. She says that it's "about helping him learn how to do this wisely, and not feeling obliged to buy gifts". She adds that her "guilty secret" of Mother's Day is just to enjoy it.

Guilt is something that Zelinda, mum of three, thinks can easily creep in on Mother's Day. "We're supposed to say that motherhood is gift enough, but it's perfectly alright to have a 'me' day once a year", she says. Zelinda agrees these occasions can get too commercial, but thinks it's important to take the time to acknowledge special occasions. She encourages her three children to use part of their allowance to budget for gifts. She's found that by encouraging the kids to plan ahead and buy their own gifts it's giving them practice for adulthood. She says that Mother's and Father's Day is a way to encourage pro-social spending and thinking of others. She remembers one year that her son didn't get her a Mother's Day gift, but his siblings did. She remembers sitting around the table wondering about how to handle it without shaming him or making a big deal. She says that it wasn't about her needing a present, but about instilling values about thinking of others. She says "in primary school they have stalls and hand-made things so it's usually easy for kids to be prompted, but in high school that all stops. We decided we didn't want the traditions to stop when our kids got to high school age". 

Tips for handling gift-giving with kids

Research published in the journal Science indicates that pro-social spending (spending money on others rather than yourself) is a great happiness booster. Many parents fear the idea of encouraging their children to buy a present just for the sake of it. Getting someone a gift is often an occasion which reveals how well you know someone, and sometimes shows how much thought you put into it. Of course, it's important to keep in mind that children often think of 'Mum' as a one-dimensional role. They can have a hard time viewing you as a person with your own needs and interests and that you even had an identity before they were born! It can be a fun idea to periodically go around the family and ask three things that each person likes and dislikes. It's a good way to encourage getting to know people (whether thinking about gifts or not) and it can help kids to develop a sense of their mum as an individual, rather than an archetype.   

Use a child-lead approach. As children get older, they may want to try buying you a gift. It might be a way of expressing independence, showing their appreciation, and also just enjoying the novelty of making a purchase themselves. Just set a modest budget and make sure there's another adult to help.

Have a family brain storm about what a 'gift' is. It can mean physical presents, but it can also mean experiences or even just giving your time. Robert H. Frank, author of Luxury Fever indicates that happiness from material objects is fleeting, but money spent on experiences, particularly spent with other people produces lasting happy memories.