When my son was an infant, we received about 20 tonnes of baby powder and baby soap. On the face of it, these are relatively non-controversial and potentially practical gifts. In the past three years, however, the powder has been used mostly on carom boards and the soap has been given to people who showed an interest in it. For many people, buying a pre-packaged ‘baby gift item’ is a simple solution but are there alternatives that are both useful and sustainable?
1.Board Books: These thick books are great because they are durable and keep serving multiple purposes as the child grows. It could start with the parent reading softly as the baby nods off. In a few months, the books become beloved toys that must be explored by flipping, moving, smelling, kissing and biting. It is a real delight when the little ones use their chubby little fingers to flip through the pages, and begin to babble stories. There are great board books in Indian contexts now, so you can say goodbye to Goodnight Moon if you wish.
2.Grain-based cleansers: An infant’s skin is incredibly soft and delicate and even the gentlest foaming cleansers can be too harsh for them. There are a number of vendors who sell beautiful, fragrant, non-toxic cleansers for infants and toddlers. The smooth powder is excellent for the child’s skin and gentle on the environment.
3.Wooden Toys: Traditional and innovative wooden toys for children are making a comeback and, if you look carefully, you can find many safe playthings made of smooth, large pieces, and coloured with vegetable dyes. They haven’t made their way to large stores yet, but root around the Internet or attend craft exhibitions to find wonderful dolls and rattles that are so beautiful and durable, you will want to pass them on as heirlooms.
4.Vouchers: A tad impersonal, but at least you can be sure that the money will be used for something the family needs (or wants). Nearly every home has a bag of unloved and unused toys and books that were bought by friends and relatives. That money would be put to much better use if the parent buys a deliciously soft onesie or a fantastic diaper bag. And if you are that friend who gave the parents a spa or restaurant voucher… well, just go over there and give yourself a big gold star. After all, Parental Energy and Patience are the world’s most precious renewable resource.
5.Subscriptions: There are many long moments and hours when the child has been wrestled to sleep and the parent is too wound up to nod off. An annual subscription to a book, movie, or music service is a real gift of love. And the parents will remember you each time they enjoy precious moments of passive entertainment.
6.Rechargeable Batteries: This is slightly controversial, but hear me out. Even the most conscientious parent cannot completely prevent their child from having a couple of battery-operated thingummy bobs. The noisiest, flashiest, and most annoying toys are also highly likely to be a toddler’s top favourites. Which usually means multiple strips of batteries. So do that frazzled parent a favour and give them a few AA and AAA rechargeable batteries that can be used well into the child’s pre-teen years.
If none of these options are appealing, but you still want to give a memorable gift, offer housekeeping, babysitting, or non-judgmental-listening services. Every new parent needs those and there is nothing more sustainable than loving labour!