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What Boomer Moms/Grandmas REALLY Want (As Told to Me Via Text After a Wine Fueled Focus Group Led by My MIL)

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We’ve done a lot of gift guides so far this year, but they were the more general “her” “him” “under $50” kind with gifts that yes, are picked by us right here, but for some of them, I wanted to know what specific people REALLY wanted, like…our moms and grandmas. So I asked my mother-in-law to ask her friends about what boomer mom/grandmas want for Christmas so we could write that gift guide (and out of genuine curiosity). At first, she didn’t seem that into it, until I got this bombardment of texts after a wine-fueled dinner party where she and her friends got INTO IT. What she proceeded to text me was riveting. Shocking. It wasn’t just what they want, but more what they want us to STOP giving them. And as the investigative journalist that I am, I feel compelled to give you this insider information.

Now, of course, she isn’t speaking for all moms and grandmas ages 55-80 so I know there will be some constructive discourse here, but if you want some insight into what 10 booming boomer women want AND DON’T WANT, keep reading.

Here’s her text:

“Just got to this. This is from polling my friends. Probably boring. Honestly, most of my friends would like theatre and music concert tix, airline passes, spa treatments, large magnified lighted makeup mirrors, hand made things from grandkids, art gallery memberships, gym or Pilates passes, golf lessons, painting lessons, kayak lessons, fly fishing lessons, restaurant credits for ladies who lunch. Best selling books and movies. Gift certificates for garden centers. Cozy winter throws.”

My internal reaction: I was so excited. Fly fishing lessons? Yes. That’s what they want…

But on further analysis, here’s what donned on me: they don’t want to spend their retirement on a temporary experience, especially not knowing if it’s going to be that good, but they still want to have fun and try it out. Plus, being retired, time is what they do have so they want to spend it in interesting, fun and purposeful ways. They don’t want things, they want more experiences and they don’t want to use their retirement money on that. Got it. Ironically, I don’t want those things. Sure, tickets to a band that I love or a play I really want to go to that is GUARANTEED to be good, but if someone gave me a gift certificate to a cooking class or even a spa treatment, I worry that I’ll first lose that piece of paper and second, feel guilty about not having the time to do it. It would actually become a source of guilt.

Learning a lot, right?? Let’s keep going.

“Even photo books take up too much room. How about the new device where you can watch photos on TV screen? Saw an ad, but can’t remember who. Main point—no little tabletop junk.” — Suz Henderson

Me: “So what do you NOT want?”

MIL (Suz):Please, no more scented candles, picture frames (just send photos we can put on Facebook, we have thousands of frames). Which brings me to the thousands of photos—printed and digital. As we all eventually downsize, what to do? Even photo books take up too much room. How about the new device where you can watch photos on TV screen? Saw an ad, but can’t remember who. Main point—no little tabletop junk.”

My analysis: Alright. No more tchotchkes. That absolutely makes sense that after decades of collecting you have too much PLUS you are likely going to downsize so it just feels like a burden. BUT NO MORE  PHOTO BOOKS???? The last one I gave them is on their coffee table for a reason! I’m going to call BS on this one, but I’m also not going to make another one. I LOVE photo books! WE look at ours all the time. I don’t want to have to look at a device with the kids to relive memories. I don’t believe her.

Ironically, I’m just getting into framed family photos and love how much it warms up our home, but it totally makes sense that in 30 years from now, I might have enough and the amount of frames might feel like a burden. You don’t want to give them away because it was a sentimental gift but you might not want 15-year-old photos that aren’t really that good taking up real estate. So yes, Suz, there are a bunch of digital frames out there (and video calling devices like Facebook Portal and Google Nest Hub). You got it.

Aura Frame

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Me: “Do you guys like clothes? Scarves? Slippers? Robes? Luxury cashmere socks? Or not really? This is fascinating.”

Suz: “Honestly, maybe pretty silk or cashmere scarves, depending on climate. Robes and slippers—boring…unless granny is really old. But she’ll stick with her old, comfy stuff. We still love makeup, eye creams, and moisturizers and really good body creams as we are dry and wrinkly. I don’t take baths, but many of my friends do so the bathtub accessories and moisturizing soaks would be good.

For those of us that workout, cute workout clothes with no short or sleeveless tops.

Many of us are in book groups, so a Kindle or real best-selling books would be great…not sure if you can gift those Kindle books. But at $10 per book, gets pricey.

Is this helpful?

I’m on a roll!!”

Me: “Um. YESSSSS. I’m riveted. What else?”

Suz: “Find out mom’s interests: walking (step tracker), golf? Lots of golf websites for shoes, clothes, hats, golf clubs. Golf bags that can be personalized.

For friends that hike: backpacks, walking sticks, maps of local hiking sites. Fly fishing classes. Family trips to dude ranches (I’d love that.)

“I think Suz Henderson secretly wants some fly fishing classes, she’s mentioned it twice as if it’s just a thing that most people do.” — Me (Emily Henderson)

Books/websites about what grandparents can do to entertain grandkids daily or for longer periods-age appropriate. (Local outings, nature walks, arts & crafts, cooking, gardening, games, puzzles, etc.)?

My (internal) analysis: I think Suz Henderson secretly wants some fly fishing classes, she’s mentioned it twice as if it’s just a thing that most people do. But maybe at 70, you don’t want cooking classes, you’ve done that for decades. You want to do something mellow and relaxing in nature. And classes would force that. I can’t wait for your weeklong retreat in Montana next summer, Suz!

My actual response: “Okay, this post is going to be SOOO GOOD. Now if you were to receive homemade gifts from kids, do you have any sort of preference? Drawings versus ornaments? Like what do grandparents really want from their grandkids?”

Suz: “I think a written list: what I like to do with grandma or grandpa. Things I love about G; my favorite memory/time with G; G is funny when he/she does this; my wish for G is…; an animal that reminds me of G (with drawing). Christmas ornament with photo with G; a handprint with age & date; handmade necklace/bracelet; a compilation of videos with grandparents that can be watched on tv screen.”

And then it ended. One of us likely went to bed, but I just felt like it was such good insight into a generation that while I have so much in common with, are in such a different time in their life and have different needs. For instance, if someone bought me fly fishing lessons, I would open it and see guilt and shame, knowing that if I likely would never use it or if I did, it would be at the sacrifice of my kids or team.

Meanwhile she asked me what I want from her for Christmas, and I sent her links to two things on my gift guide that I will buy for myself if no one else does: the meatball maker which she replied via text “ugh, boring,” and this village cake for a new Christmas Eve or day tradition with the kids (no response).

Then I text, “All I really, really want from you guys is childcare so Brian and I can go away for a few weekends this year, maybe even New York for 4-5 days to see shows and relive our twenties. Or hell, out of the country; it’s been 8 YEARS since just he and I traveled together.”

I’ll buy myself that meatball maker if they give us some grandparent and (therefore guilt-free) childcare time. I may not have said all of that in one text, but that’s the request.

She agreed with two big thumbs up emojis.

I guess what it boils down to is that in my stage of life (running a company, small kids, no time for myself, girlfriends or husband) what I really want is MORE time and less guilt. And in HER stage of retired life, she has an abundance of time (and a ton of energy) so she wants to book it up doing interesting, cultural, physical and fun things but doesn’t want to feel like she is draining her retirement to pay for the Justin Timberlake concert or, say, fly fishing lessons. 🙂

Boy is it productive (and fun) being honest about what you want (got it, Suz, NO MORE SCENTED CANDLES). 🙂

Oh, and per Suz’s request, her true gift for Christmas in lieu of fly fishing lessons is having this photo (sorry for the quality) with my kids be published on the blog. 🙂 JUST JOKING YOU’LL STILL GET YOUR FLY FISHING LESSONS.

Screen Shot 2019 12 03 At 10.42.38 Pm

 

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CFS Online

Wow! so cute, i just love it. Great tips and amazing post, Thanks for the share.

Lauren

Love this post! Thanks for sharing!

Melanie

Really cool post, especially that you wrote it as a dialogue. I got a total different view of possibilities.

Lisa

I am not retired but fall into this age group. Your MIL and her friends are spot on – we don’t need more stuff to take up space and collect dust. I have adopted “fewer but better” as my theme at this stage in life, anticipating retirement and downsizing. I set up a Pinterest board that only my family has access to – I drop ideas there throughout the year when I see something that appeals to me. My son told me the other day how much he appreciates it- even if he can’t get the exact item, he gets ideas from what has been pinned. Unique (artisan) jewelry or scarves are great, as are leather gloves (I can’t seem to make it through a season without losing one) which boring in theory but there are interesting/colorful ones. I would add that charitable donations are also appreciated. I’ve found (especially with people older than I) that tickets/classes can be burdensome unless they have someone to go with, so keep that in mind. Great post.

Kate

One of my favorite posts from the last year! Newsworthy, relatable, FUN, actionable.

Lori

Great post!
At least you didn’t say “Ok, Boomer!”

KMR

I LOVE this! I have a hard time shopping for my mil–now I’m off to buy her movie passes. She’ll love it, plus it will be unexpected. Thanks Suz and Emily!

Tricia

Excellent post! I am in my mid-sixties, and all of this resonates — except the fly-fishing lessons, in case any of my kids/grandkids are reading this! I do love photo books, though, and will always enjoy getting those.

Rachel

This was so good! I think every gift guide from now on should include what the recipient DOESNT want.

K

Adorable post. And makes so much sense.

sarah

Years ago my MIL and mom both asked us to stop giving them framed pics of the kids — but keep the pictures coming! Both swap photos out every year but keep the same three or four frames.

Molly

This is an excellent post! A few years ago you posted about the Aura digital frame and my siblings and I bought one for my parents. My mom (70) says that’s the best gift we’ve ever given them. I can attest as my siblings gave my husband and I one as a wedding gift and it’s so lovely. Not ugly in any way, and a it’s so fun to see what photos rotate in and out.

Meredith

Me too!! At this point everyone in the family has been gifted an Aura by someone else, and my parents both say frequently that it’s the best gift they’ve ever received.

Elaine

Great gift given to us by a thoughtful daughter-in-law and son. We absolutely love it! Hard to display pictures of 15 grands, so this is perfect.

MoMo

Here’s something we did several times for the grandparents when my children were young: a year’s worth of gift cards. I would buy a sturdy divided envelope (roughly business size, with a pocket for each month, available in any office store), and fill it up. Your imagination (and the sky) is the limit. One year we gave my parents a gift card for one dinner every month. My Mom called me mid-February to say, “we’ve used up all the dinners, thanks!” so yup — pretty sure it was appreciated. Another year we chose seasonal cards (or a little cash with a note, where it made more sense)……..money for ice cream sundaes (first day of summer), pumpkins in autumn, Christmas tree in December — you get the picture. It might seem daunting to come up with a dozen gifts but trust me, you will think of so many ideas that you will have to eliminate some. I have done the dinner thing for my now married children, and once assembled one for a college freshman. My only wish now is that I receive one from MY grandchildren, apparently they are fun to use. Happy holidays, everyone!

Kelly

just know your audience – everyone gave my father in law gift cards for years and he would never use them because he thought it made him look cheap and was some kind of a hassle for the restaurant! Different generational perspective I guess!

Sandra

My parents are retired (and comfortable), and my sister and I both are moms of little kids, have husbands and careers (read: we be busy!). This year for Christmas, I suggested that our three families, instead of exchanging gifts, pitch in together and bring a chef in to cook us a family dinner. Then we all can enjoy, no one has to cook or wash a single dish….my mom declined, saying “I’ve already bought you both gifts from our travels.” Womp womp.

Kandice

This is fantastic! I’m in the same place and sentiments with you, Emily, for myself and have never really appreciated what our mothers would want. Thank you for this post! And thank your MIL.

Liz

Oh honey, that is going to make terrible meatballs. They’re doing you a favor – just pass on pressed meat products.

Mkw

So true. Mine went to the thrift store. Less kitchen gadgets… less kitchen gadgets… less…

Erin

Everyone is correct. Get a 1 tbsp-sized ice cream scoop and use it to make cookies, meatballs, melon balls and adorable ice cream sundaes with like 10 tiny scoops.

Sarah

I don’t know if this would fall into the “does want” or “does not want” category, but we just got my parents a digital frame that we can push new pictures to whenever we want, from anywhere. My brother will also be able to add pictures. Hopefully they’ll like it since their first grandbaby will be born in February and we live in different cities. Easier than text-bombing them 1000 pictures of the new little one. Now they can see new pics and videos without having to reply, “Cute!” to every since one. Haha.

Alanna Schroeder

what one did you get?

Rachelle Falcon

which digital frame did you get?

Sarah

We ended up going with the Nixplay Seed (the 10″ one, not the widescreen). During Black Friday, we were able to get them for about $150.00 each. We looked at the Aura ones, and they are definitely more beautiful but also more expensive. If Aura had been in the budget, I would have liked to go with that one. But, the Nixplay still at least non-ugly/bulky. I haven’t gotten a chance to test drive the actual frame yet, but I did download the app and it seems super user-friendly and straightforward!

Ann

We bought Skylight Frame for both sets of parents. Cost is $159 and there is currently $10 off on their site. They love the frames because they don’t have to deal with uploading pics to SD cards or anything like that.

Kelly Griglione

We have the nix play. I love creating different groups of pictures for different seasons. I’ve got a group of all the baseball pics of my kids we use during summer, Christmas pics over the years are on the frame now. If I had my act together I’d create groups of photos that just feature each person in our family and play that on their birthday week. It’s like having a bunch of different playlistS for your photos!

Haley

Thanks for the post! I’m. Researching golf lessons for my mom right now.

Laura

Such a good post! My mom has been asking for fly fishing lessons too. ? She just turned 70. And fishing is not one of her hobbies. Must be a thing!

Meredith

My sister and I do tickets of some kind for my parents Christmas every year, and have for the past 10+ years. It makes life so much easier—they ENJOY theater, movies, etc. but balk at spending the money on themselves. It’s an easy present, they’re happy, we’re happy, nothing goes to Goodwill or in a landfill–voila!

Maxine

I’m a Boomer and her list is spot on! Especially tickets, memberships, classes – it’s ok if I discover I’m not interested in event, at least I tried. Those gifts may make me aware of a place or event I wasn’t aware of. Same for book gift cards or movie passes. Skip the stuff, most of us can buy scarves, creams etc that are exactly what we want.

Meredith

This is SPOT ON for my mom. Yay!

My dad is always saying that all he really wants is to spend time with us, but since we live 4 hours away, it’s hard to come up with new trips. I am VERY proud of my idea: I’m going to give him a box full of the ingredients for making ruggelach, which randomly became a just-us Christmas tradition when I was a teenager. We would put on The Rolling Stones and spend the whole afternoon making huge batches of this very time-intensive pastry. My gift will be carving out a few hours during our busy trip for us to revive the tradition – and then we get to feed the kids the treats!

Heather

This is probably the most helpful gift guide I’ve read this season, and I’ve read a lot! I am always at a loss as to what to get my mother-in-law. Thank you!!!

Melissa

Great post!
But, step away from the cake village…
Your new tradition will be struggling with/cursing at the cake stuck in those pans.

Cris S.

Can I second this? One year I tried making the gingerbread houses for the kids to decorate from scratch. It was a disaster – that took way too long, I was frustrated and the house was a mess before the kids even got to do anything. Buying the gingerbread house kits (that you can get anywhere – craft stores, Trader Joe’s, Target) and then adding on some extra bags of candy you bought and maybe some extra homemade powdered sugar icing (the kind that dried hard) is all you need to do. The kids don’t care about trying to pry the cake out of the cake pan, and they won’t let anyone eat what they decorate anyway. One last hint for kids the age of Emily’s – Spackle the gingerbread house part together for them early so that everything is sturdy and ready to go for them. Little kids (and even my teenagers) find it frustrating to have to hold the walls together until they are dry and sturdy. They just want to decorate, decorate, decorate. And eat some of the candy. They don’t want to watch you figure out how to prop up everything and come back in an… Read more »

Amy

My mom has been making gingerbread houses with the grandkids the day after Thanksgiving for a decade. PRO TIP- when assembling the houses, skip the icing and just hot glue those suckers together. It’s quick, sturdy, and the kids can jump into decorating. All the icing and candy covers your crafting sin, the icing goes further, and you can easily move them from work surface to display without risking a disaster!

Marie

i LOVE this. cackled. but who eats the gingerbread-from-a-box anyway?

Kelly

totally agree! just make a cake in a regular pan and they will be thrilled – those pans will take up a ton of room and probably never be quite as easy or charming or beloved as you are imagining!

stacey

Back when I taught kindergarten our team would assemble 80 little graham cracker houses with sleds. We used royal icing to glue the houses on 80 pieces of foil covered cardboard. Laid yellow butcher paper down the long cafeteria tables then set out the houses and scatter candies all down the tables. Every pair of kids got a little dish and spreader of more royal icing. It was magical and I can still hearing the kiddos oohing and aahing when we opened the doors to let them in. Anyhow, Wilton meringue powder makes a royal icing with a half life of 5,000 years if you want something sturdy for your houses. XO
PS MIL is right: no more bric a brac.

Christine

I’m 62 and totally agree with everything your MIL said!

Mary

I’m guessing your MIL is just a good Grandma/host and puts out that photo book the day before you arrive. Chances are it’s living in a drawer the rest of the year!

She said, no more photo books!

Great post! For able bodied retired folks! As bodies age the desire for experiences wanes!

Sharon

PLEASE do a blog post on what teachers DON’T want. I guarantee you it will include mugs! And there is still time to do it this year (hint, hint).

China

Emily, I fully endorse your wish list. We have the meatball maker and it is fantastic! You do need to tweak amounts of recipes a little bit to really nail it, but it makes it so fast and easy to make a ton of meatballs, and they are super tender because they didn’t get compressed by rolling.

And I just realized I also have the train version of the Christmas village because my almost 4 year old is obsessed with trains and it has been a huge hit.

Also, just FYI it would be amazing if you and your team could do a post on decorating for Hanukkah. We are Jewish and I recognize that competing with Christmas is futile, but I like a festive house and would love some ideas from your collective hive mind.

milo

I second the Hanukkah comment! It would be awesome and unique – I’m sure some other bloggers do celebrate and decorate, but I haven’t run into it in my normal feeds.

Suz Henderson is a legend! Thank you so much for asking her and interpreting her responses! I feel closer to my MIL after having read this <3

Susanne

Great post! As a boomer myself I share your MIL’s sensibilities. Just one nit: I’m pretty sure it “dawned” on you, rather than “donned”. ?

Tarynkay

I would respect the no more photo books directive. In vino veritas and all of that. In my personal observation, our parents’ generation seems way less bothered by reliance on devices than ours is. My kids grandparents read everything on their devices and were a little miffed when we didn’t give our then 1 year old free reign on the iPad they gave him for Christmas. Maybe it’s similar to how my great grandma was far more impressed by a “store bought” gift than a handmade one.

Plus how many grandkids does she have? Maybe if you really want to do a photo book, get together with the cousins and make one of all of the grandkids so there is just one book per year (vs 9 for my kids grandparents.)

Christa

Adorable. All of it.

Lynn

Kudos to you for taking the time to get some great insights. I don’t have grandkids yet but relate to everything in this post. No more stuff!!
Even my adult kids would rather have an experience with us.
Planning a day trip to NYC over Xmas and trip to Yosemite next summer

Patricia

We want charitable donations in our names. Best gifts we get.

Lea

Awwwww I love that! Great ideas Suz! This was an awesome post with great perspective!

Jennifer

My mum used to be notoriously difficult to shop for at Christmas and birthdays. When asked what she wanted, she’d always say “I don’t need anything!” (sort of true). However we started noticing that throughout the year she’d say thing like “I could really use a new XYZ”. So we started writing these things on a list every time she said them in passing, and now when it’s time to get her a gift we have a list of a dozen things she’s mentioned she wanted.

Roberta Davis

great idea!

Jennifer Laura

This was so fascinating! Thanks for writing, I always give my grandmother a framed photo so now I feel terrible! HAHA, thanks for some good ideas and hope I can do better this year!

Tina Defries

This is awesome! it really puts it into perspective. Thank you.

KC

I’m honestly soooo tired of all of the “gift guide” posts on the www right now. BUT, this is ONE OF THE BEST posts I have read all year. Loved it.

Lucy

A gift I have gotten a lot of loved ones along the the lines of the “list from grandkids” is a little book called the fill in the love book. Found at gifty stores like paper source. Mini book that varies by recipient (mom, dad, etc) that just has fill in the blank pages! “I’m so glad I learned xxxxx from you.” “I am so proud that you xxxxx.” They have always been a hit!

Amy Elizabeth Jones

Oh that photo makes me teary-eyed. Don’t they look so happy in her arms. Love.

Karen

My brother and I gifted my parents 2 cords of split wood. So weird I know. But they live on 40 acres in New Hampshire and my 72 yr dad is still splitting wood! They still have to stack it but it was something useful and kind of funny! My 5 yr old is giving them a gift cert to help stack it 🙂

Jenms

This is my favorite “gift guide” post you’ve ever done!

Kara

Y’all. Buy grandparents the Google Nest Hub and install the shared Google Photos live album. (And then make sure you add photos to it every so often from the Google Photos app.) You will get thanked for this at least once monthly, possibly every time you talk to them on the phone ?

Ashlie Beal

This was so helpful. And sweet. Now I want to hug my mom!

Lindsey

This post is so good! The writing was very engaging. Xx

Michelle

This was hands down the most useful, honest, relevant, and REAL gift guide I have ever EVER read. Thank you, Suz!!!

Nora

Insightful, as always. Suz sounds a lot like my mom <3

Danielle

This is the best gift guide I’ve seen this season! They are everywhere but all geared mostly towards women, so my husband will never see it and probably wouldn’t look even if I e-mailed it to him, so in the end I don’t find them very useful. But this is something that I can actually get some good ideas from – parents and in-laws are so hard to buy for! Thank you!

Michelle

This is amazing!!! I am definitely sitting here wrapping 4 photobooks and 10 framed photos for all my boomer loved ones (I just got married, photos for everyone!!)… but I’m taking notes for next year!

Chelsea

This is great! I like the idea of gift guides for stage of life rather than just gender, kids, etc. Your MIL’s ideas are great, and I agree with you for the most part about the things I want now as a busy mom with young kids.

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