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Giving Tree

The Best “I Have No Idea What To Get This Person” Baby Gifts

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

I love all of your columns, even though they are rarely applicable to me, as I have no kids. I’m going to be waaaaay over-prepared when I do have kids though! I have unnecessary opinions about diapers and baby food and like…nap schedules…taking up space in my head! I’m so happy to have a question to ask you.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesI have a question that is part-etiquette, part-babies/kids. My graduate school advisor has just adopted a baby! Hooray! I am so happy for her and her husband. The little boy is around 2 years old, I think. My first question is, would it be weird or inappropriate for me to send her a gift for her new son? She is no longer my direct boss, since I’ve graduated, but we still collaborate on projects. We are…friendly but professional, I would say. What is the conventional wisdom on presents for kind-of-ex-superior-professional-colleagues’ life events?

Secondly, what on earth should I get her? I have NO idea what she already has or needs, and I also don’t know anything about two-year-olds. I have not known or bought presents for very many babies at all. I have learned from your columns that cloth diapers are awesome-should I get her some of those? Ha ha haaaa, kidding. A…book? Stuffed animal? Tiny t-shirt depicting a landmark from my current city? That is about the extent of my ideas. Maybe a pretty generic present would be more professional? Or maybe something that is for her, and not the baby? I am probably over-thinking this a lot. Help!


Over-thinking ahoy! You’re my kind of girl.

So your questions are actually quite simple and straightforward, no? Question one: Is it weird to buy a baby gift for someone you mostly have a professional-yet-friendly-yet-not-overly-involved-with-anymore relationship?

Answer one: No! Goodness. You’re on good terms with this person, she obviously meant something to you during her time as your advisor, you are genuinely excited for her and her new son and I think it’s sweet and appropriate. (Provided you’re not like, camping out in her front lawn with the family bunny in the gift box, you know?) And from experience, I know many adoptive parents get the short end of the celebration stick, particularly if their baby is an older toddler or the adoption process didn’t really allow for the traditional “before the baby gets here” shower. So I think the instinct to give her a baby gift is a great one. If you didn’t WANT to give a gift, I’d say you’re certainly under no obligation to give one to this person, but…you want to! So seriously, don’t even give this part a second thought.

Question two: What in sam hill do you buy for someone when you don’t know what she has and doesn’t have and aren’t familiar with the child’s age and are just looking for that nice “welcome, baby!” gesture?

Answer two: Well, it’s entirely possible that she does have a baby registry, and it may be possible for you to simply locate it yourself by searching for her name at some of the more likely places, depending on where you live. Target, the big box-type baby superstores, even Amazon might be a possibility. (You can usually search for registries online, if you feel creepy trolling the computers at multiple stores.)

Or – and this is probably the easiest, least over-thinking-y solution here – is to buy a children’s book. Even if you don’t have children yourself, you were indeed a child at one point. A child who read books. And while all the plastic-whoosiwhatzit toys and OMG TOTALLY ESSENTIAL BABY GEAR ITEMS change constantly, children’s books are something that are actually pretty timeless. Chances are your favorite book as a child is still available, and still delighting the current generation.

So think back to your favorite books – don’t even worry about the age-appropriateness. I mean, no Judy Blume for the two-year-old, or anything, but don’t worry if the book seems more for a six or-seven-year-old instead of a toddler. They’ll have plenty of disposable, chewable ABC board books for now, but chances are they’ll also have space on a bookshelf for a beautiful hardcover copy of The Velveteen Rabbit or The Giving Tree or The Happy Lion or The Monster at the End of this Book or whatever. It’s a (relatively) inexpensive gift that will get years and years of use, most likely. Include a note about the book being one of your favorites and you hope little so-and-so will enjoy it someday too. (And a gift receipt, in case it is a duplicate.)

The “my favorite book from childhood” thing was actually one of the most popular gifts my BLOG READERS liked to send, back when I was pregnant. (Talk about people you might not necessarily know very well or expect a gift from in the first place!) And it was so, so nice, and I am really impressed with the library we managed to put together for the boys. We’ve read most of the classic storybooks by now and I always remember how sweet of a gesture it was. And I can honestly testify that there’s a REASON some of these books never go out of print, because it turns out a good kids’ book is a Good Kids’ Book, no matter what decade we’re living in.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

Published September 27, 2010. Last updated July 21, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Lizzie

    September 27, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    I TOTALLY agree! My daughter is only 6 months old and we’ve already exhausted all the books we were given (not many) and keep buying more. Also I just wanted to direct you to this website if you are interested in seeing if they have a registry…it searches registries at most of the major websites and superstores! And gives you a list!

    I’ve used it before when I wasn’t sure where someone was registered, or lost a shower invite (oops) that had the registry info on it…

    Good luck! 🙂

  • HereWeGoAJen

    September 27, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    My daughter is 21 months and I have asked for books for every single present giving occasion since she was born. Books are awesome.

  • Wallydraigle

    September 27, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    When I first saw the title, I thought, “MIRACLE BLANKET!!” because the Miracle Blanket saved me with our second kid. The first was huge but not very physically capable, so my swaddling by hand was good enough (Happiest Baby on the Block-style). With the second, though, she was kicking free within DAYS of birth, and the Miracle Blanket is now my go-to gift for any baby shower. (Thank you, Amalah, for the recommendation)

    But it’s a moot point with a 2-year-old, most likely. 🙂

    So, BOOKS! Yes!

    We had like 10 by the time my daughter was born. Now, I love books, but I thought to myself, “Well, we don’t have much space, and it’ll be a while before she’s ready to really get into them, and in the meantime we can just read whatever magazine or book we happen to have on hand.”

    Uh, no. Because when she did get interested in books for more than just sitting on a parent’s lap or chewing on paper, she latched on to the children’s books. And when you have only ten books to read to your kid, you get really, really sick of them. I have memorized those ten books, plus a few more, and I hate them all. We’ve since built up our collection, and I still get sick of the collection of 30 or so that we have. If The Child had her way, we’d sit on the couch all day and read. Forget food, forget exercise, forget basic hygiene. All the world needs now is more reading. And I so wish we’d bought and received more books than we did.

  • Arina

    September 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    As an adoptive parent, I think this is such a great question! We were in the weird no-shower camp, and I so appreciated when people took the time to send a little something. Seriously, every gift made me tear up, just because it meant so much to me.

    And books! Great suggestion! We love to read, and want our so to share that love.

  • Alissa

    September 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Books, books, books, books, books, books.  I can’t decide between board book or paper book, though.  My son is 20 months old now, and I still only read board books to him, as his page turning is, well, ENTHUSIASTIC.  We have a nice collection of paper books I’d love to read to him (YAY, Fox in Socks!), but it’s going to have to wait for a bit more maturity.

    I love, and DS loves, Sandra Boynton.  And he loves weird stuff.  But, if you can read the book yourself and YOU are entertained by it, it’s a pretty good bet that the mom is going to like it, as well.  To hell with the kid liking it – Mom has to do the actual reading every day!  🙂

  • Kari

    September 27, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Books are a great idea! And I’m not just saying that because I am a librarian! If you want something to go with it, I am sure something like a Target gift card would be greatly appreciated, and it would meet the “how could I possibly know what they need” part of your question.

  • Stefanie

    September 27, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Yes, books!  Include a gift receipt if you’re worried about repeats, but considering the way kids treat books, it’s not a bad thing if they have a duplicate.  And kids may be content to hear the same stories over and over, but as a parent it gets really boring to read the same ones.  Whenever someone asks what my daughter needs, books is the answer.

  • JB

    September 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Books are great! Many (if not most…) of my childhood memories are of me curled up with a book in various locations.

    Though as an aspiring children’s book writer, I would say, though classic books are wonderful, don’t forget the new children’s literature either! There are some wonderful new treasures out there! 🙂 . And, you can only have so many copies of “Goodnight Moon” (I love it, don’t get me wrong, I’m just sayin’).

    Here is a link to NYT’s list: , but a librarian or bookstore worker should be able to help you out as well with new releases.

    Good luck! 🙂

  • KT

    September 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Hey, thanks Amy and everyone! I couldn’t find any registry, so books it is! I was a little bookworm too, in fact my parents recorded themselves reading “Little House on the Prairie” because I would request it so much.

  • Suzy Q

    September 27, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Dr. Suess books! They never go out of style.

  • Melissa

    September 27, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    My favorite gift to give babies and children is a three-book set of Shel Silverstein books. LOVE his short poems, kids love them, love all around.

  • Elizabeth

    September 27, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Books! I was a fourth grade teacher when I had my first baby and my class gift when she was born was books. Each kid in the class picked out a book s/he had loved when s/he was little(r) and they each wrote an inscription in the front. There was a really wide range – from baby board books to some we haven’t even cracked open yet and my daughter is four. It’s been fantastic to have books on hand that the kids can grow into. And of course I still love reading the inscriptions! Seriously, I think that group of books was the best baby present we got.

  • kari Weber

    September 27, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    I think that a book is a great gift too, because at 2 that is a great activity to do to bond with the new child.  Awesome idea.

  • paige

    September 28, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Books are great, but so are lots of other things–art supplies, outside toys, toys to grow into like puzzles for various abilities. A set of music toys would be an excellent gift–easy to use, and fun for attachment-enhancing play.

    I’m headed to a shower for almost-here 5 year old on Wednesday. He was so much fun to shop for!

  • Wallydraigle

    September 28, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Another idea: anything Melissa & Doug. We’re not rolling in money, but every time I walk past a display of their stuff in a store, I HAVE to buy something. I’m incapable of not doing so. We have a block puzzle and a toy tool set, and my daughter is nuts over them (she’s 2, too).

  • Katie

    September 28, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Books are perfect! For adoption, they might like “Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born.” Such a great one. Also great is “The Day We Met You,” which isn’t adoption-specific but could be for either bio or adoptive parents. (We’re in the process of adopting, so I’ve been trying to find great books for the kiddo.)

  • Kim

    September 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I think basic clothing makes a great gift, too. (I mean, I’m all about the books, but they have lots of votes already.) Unisex sleepers and t-shirts if you don’t know the sex, branch out a little if you do. Get a gift receipt in case it doesn’t fit. I am always surprised at how many clothes my little ones can get through.

  • Miriam

    September 28, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I quite often have given a special photo frame.

  • Kate F

    October 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    My son is 6 weeks old and two of the best gifts we got would work for an older child:
    -An LL Bean tote, a big one, personalized.
    -The JJ Cole picnic blanket, which is only about $40 but is an awesome design. Really easy to get folded back into itself, which is always the hard part! Plus the striped inside is really cute.

  • kERRI

    October 4, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I like to give a piggy bank as a baby gift. Its something they can keep, then if you have some extra coins, toss them in 🙂

  • SarahB

    October 6, 2010 at 10:27 am

    How timely!  My cousin and his wife just had their third child, and I figured they would have a lot of hand-me-down clothes and couldn’t figure out what might be appropriate.  We got them two new books plus a few little items for the older siblings.