The Great Graduation Gift List

Lisa writes: It is graduation time in my house, times two. And, Mary Dell’s family is rejoicing in a commencement as well. While we have been here before with our older kids we were stumped for ideas of gifts and reached out to our band of experienced moms for some wonderful suggestions to create this graduation gift guide.

graduation, cap toss

We have included gifts for both high school and college, for both young women and men. We have covered a broad array of price points and tried to include both the practical and the frivolous. Have a friend with a grad this year? Please share this post with them.  And, if you have more great ideas to add to our list,  we would love to see your suggestions in the comments. 

The number one gift for graduates is money. It is what they ask for most often and what is proffered. As a nation we will give about $5 billion in graduation gifts and 58% of this will be in cash. But if money is not on your list, or you are looking for a more creative way to offer it, here are 38 suggestions from our friends and family.

1. Tuck a Check Inside Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening by Becky Blades, and you’ll be giving your grad what she wants but doesn’t know she needs: her mother’s loving counsel. The beautifully illustrated book covers topics from laundry to forgiveness to creative living. Directed predominantly at young women, my college boys laughed out loud and read it cover to cover. The best part: pages to personalize. All this wit and wisdom is available for $13.99.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

2. And for Help with that Laundry. We love this suggestion from Bespoke Custom Gifts. A personalized laundry bag with instructions and the meaning of those tricky laundry symbols printed right outside. Any mother who has received a phone call from a laundromat knows the value of this great idea. We ordered one as soon as we saw them.

3. Monogrammed Towels or Towel Wraps. Now that they are setting their own laundry schedule, kids can never have too many towels. Monogrammed towels will not get nabbed in the dorm laundry or city laundromat.

laundry bag, Bespoke Custom Gifts

4. Who Are We Kidding? Tuition, room and board, spending money for four years…that was the gift.

5. Dorm Essentials. At some point every high school grad seems to find themselves in The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or Target searching out XL sheets and an array of storage items. Gift certificates from these national retailers will get them on their way. Items can be ordered at your local store to be picked up later in the store closest to your child’s college campus.

6. Wheels. College grads moving to cities with limited public transportation will rejoice over any help with car insurance, payments, or money towards a car lease. For some, those days of walking are over.

7. Two Wheels. College kids on bicycles is an idyllic image, but not if your kid’s bicycle was the small one they got for the holidays in sixth grade. If they are going to attend a university that is suited to a bike, and most are, this may be the single most useful gift you can give.

8. $50 in Quarters. Think of it as a year’s worth of laundry without wandering the dorm every week or two looking to see who can change a couple of dollars. But we did hear something about a quarter drinking game….

9. It’s Always Coffee Time. College kids pushing though late night studying or graduates who are now waking early will appreciate their own single serving coffee maker. Keurig makes all different size machines for any dorm room or apartment. This is a gift that saves time and money. If your graduate is a tea drinker a small electric kettle is just the thing, here is a $58 version that comes in four colors, including lime green.

10. Money Disguised. If handing over a fist full of dollars is not what you had in mind, turn that cash into silver coins or a mint set from the year your graduate was born. The coins are commemorative, can be save and cherished, or turned right back into needed cash.

11. Overnight bag. It might be time to stop using grocery bags as luggage. A small canvas duffel or tote will come in handy on visits home, away for weekends or traveling to, hopefully, job interviews.

Filson bag, duffle bag

12. Help with Student Loans. A full 70% of college students graduate with debt and the average loan burden approaches $30,000. Any and all help with those payments is truly a graduation gift.

13. The Party. Graduations are a time for families to gather and celebrate. They are milestones of great meaning and joy, but that doesn’t mean the festivities are free. As parents,  the party can be a gift to our kids they will never forget.

14. A Journal. A beautiful blank book, given in advance of a graduation party, can be passed among the guests. The real gifts are the thoughts and bits of advice that family and friends can record, making this a gift both deeply personal and meaningful.

15. A Beautiful Piece of Jewelry. Graduations are one of life’s big milestones and, as such, perhaps a moment for a first piece of real jewelry. A set of pearl earrings or subtle gold necklace can be worn on special occasions or taken out for job interviews.

16. Let the Tailgating Begin. A small portable grill works either outside the stadium or on an apartment rooftop. Grill tools need to be part of this package.

17. Unbreakable Cups. Tervis makes 329 unbreakable mugs, with school logos. College kids are not the most careful with their possessions, so heavy emphasis on the unbreakable.

18. Gift Cards for Local Eateries. For many kids graduation means a new city, either for college or a job. Gift cards from local restaurants will be a great treat in the new neighborhood.

19. Personalized Belts. Smathers & Branson, a luxury retailer of needlepoint goods, will make a personalized belt with meaning for your grad. They also sell wallets, key fobs, hats, flasks and coasters all embroidered with Collegiate or Greek Logos.

default-hero

20. Get Rid of the Backpack. For kids facing their first real job, a brief case, good handbag or okay, an upmarket backpack, might be the thing to send them on their way. Quality leather goods do not come cheap, but the last for years to come.

21. Fleece blankets, with Monograms or Photos. One of my friends gave fleece throws in college colors with their embroidered monograms to our kids and all their friends. With drafty dorm rooms or extra friends spending the night, this is a gift that will get used. Shutterfly will put your photos on a machine-washable blanket for $43.

22. Gym Membership. For those leaving the college campus the days of free exercise facilities might be over. Give the gift of health and fitness, or at least a place to de-stress after a long day at the office.

23. Wallet or Business Card Case. Something everyone needs and it can be upped with a gift card inside.

24. Campus Gifts.  For high school or college grads, sweatshirts or other item from their to-be alma mater or for high school grads, a gift certificate to the college bookstore are classics.

25. Manners Never go out of Style. Personalized stationery may not make them jump for joy but they will never again have the excuse, “I had nothing to write a thank you note on, so I sent an email (or worse, a text!)”

stationery, note cards

26. J. Crew. We are pretty sure that it is not possible to have too many J. Crew gift cards. College grads need clothes for the world of work and high school grads may need warm weather gear now that they will be doing much more walking.

27. Experiences, Not Things. Tickets to concerts or shows, or if your budget stretches to accommodate it, a trip. Many parents mentioned the lasting joy of a post-graduation trip if it fits into the family finances.

28. Money Lei. Feeling crafty? Take those dollar bills and make a traditional lei. One part origami, one part Hawaiian necklace. a quick search on Pinterest will show you a 100 different styles with instructions.

29. Tools of the Trade. Unassembled furniture? A hinge that is coming loose? A small but well equipped tool box might just be what your grad needs. Here are suggestions from The Container Store.

30. The Classics. You can never go wrong with these tried and trues. Watches and pearls might go to the office the first week of the new job, or be tucked away for the first special occasion, but this is the gift that lasts a lifetime.

31. Family Photos. They may have snapshots of the family in their phones, but that is not the same as a beautiful professional photo for their wall or desk. Consider a family photo shoot, complete with family dog, before the kids leave home.

32. Lean in for Graduates. Sheryl Sandberg has rewritten her manifesto for women’s empowerment for the 20-something set. For any young women just starting out, here is a road map.

33. A Picture is Worth….iPhoto, Shutterfly and WeMontage all offer parents an easy way to create a book of memories. Our computers are jam-packed with photos waiting to be liberated. We can pull them off our kids’ Facebook pages and upload them into a perfect keepsake.

34. Time to Make a Home. Think about vouchers from Ikea, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Design WIthin Reach or Sleepy’s. Credit at any of these stores, or many others, will be appreciated by anyone with an empty new apartment.

35. Their Life on the Page. What are you going to do with all those old report cards and iffy school photos? Here is a chance to put their lives on paper and make a scrapbook with mementos you have saved for years. This is not a last-minute job, but more like a suggestion for parents of juniors.

36. Cookies. Who wouldn’t love a voucher from mom for baked goods that will be sent the following year?

chocolate chip cookies

37. Family Memento. Grandparents looking for gifts might consider some of the family mementos or jewelry that their grandchildren can treasure forever. Passing on family heirlooms (and we use this term broadly) is a moment with meaning for both generations.

38. Steal a Little Time. Finally, one of our wonderful readers suggested something that tugged at my heart. For kids graduating college with jobs, the days and weeks after graduation will be one of the last extended periods of time they will have. A one-on-one parent and child trip, even just an overnight, is an opportunity that will not soon arise again. There really is nothing like the gift of memories.



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The Good, The Bad and The OMG of College Admissions

Mary Dell writes: As teenagers progress through high school, the warnings to their parents about college admissions become an ever-louder drum beat that is nearly impossible to escape. With my eldest child, I braced myself for his junior year terrified at my ignorance on the subject. But anticipating only what we have been conditioned to fear can keep us from realizing a broader parenting experience. I have been through this process twice and our youngest will begin college in the fall. With the admitted benefit of 20/20 hindsight, here is my list of The Good, The Bad and The OMG of college admissions.

college campus, college admissions

The Good

Road Trips

I loved the college road trips I took with my kids. Though the info sessions and college tours are now a blurry mashup of dozens of schools, I have vivid memories of dinners we shared and decisions each child revealed while on the road. I may never again have a chance for such prolonged one-on-one time with each of my children as I did while they were hunting for colleges. I was happy when we traveled together and I relied on them for navigation and a sharp eye for the closest Starbucks. I am grateful that on this one part of the process, parental involvement is a necessity.

[Read more...]



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Change, Ambivalence and the Facts About Stay-at-Home Moms

Stay-at-home motherhood is a highly examined aspect of modern life with a Babylon-level of voices and opinions. Lisa weighed in last summer with her writing, Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom, Grown and Flown’s most widely read and debated post to date. When Pew released research this week entitled, After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers, we thought it was time to take another look at the facts and stereotypes that surround mothers who do not work outside the home. Regardless of one’s opinion on the “optimal way” for parents to raise their children and provide for them financially, having a grasp on the facts should be the shared starting point.

stay at home mom, Pew

While Pew’s research showed a marked increase in the number of SAHMs, the causes of this increase were manifold: lack of childcare, declining employment opportunities for those without a university degree and a drop in women’s participation in the labor force.

[Read more...]



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Clean is Sexy and 58 Other Bits of Advice for Young Men

Lisa writes: Our brilliant friend, Becky Blades, has just published her gorgeous book of advice for young women, Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone. Nestled among her beautiful pages were 270 pieces of advice that mothers would give, if they thought their daughters were listening. As a mom with boys, I simply had to weigh in with my own advice for young men.

clean is sexy, advice for young men

If you need a graduation gift for a young women, go right now and buy her book.  If your life is filled with boys staring into the precipice of adulthood, stay right here, read on and then give us your thoughts. Here is what Mary Dell and I might say to our nearly grown sonsif they ever start listening.

[Read more...]



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Ready for Takeoff? Facing the Question with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day and organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week. On Monday  we featured Liane Kupferberg Carter’s writing and today, we are honored that Susan Berger, author of the blog, Berger’s Blather offers this heartfelt post:

young adult, teenager, autism

My 19–year–old son is almost ready to launch.  Well, that’s what I tell myself. “Almost,” as in “You can do it,” “You’re nearly there,” has become my lifelong one-word personal prayer. My son is on the cusp of leaving home, the pivotal step toward the rest of his life–ordinarily an expected and desired move most parents and young adults strive for.

[Read more...]



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Loosening the Ties that Bind: Growing Up with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day.  Organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week.

We have read Liane Kupferberg Carter for years and hope that her writing, below, will touch you, as it has both of us:

Liane Carter, autism, Autism Awareness Day

I don’t know how to do this.

There’s no book for taking the next step. No Fiske Guide to Colleges. No Barron’s. When our son Jonathan was preparing to leave home for college, we had a whole shelf of books to guide our family.

There’s no book for our autistic son Mickey, who is turning twenty. No U.S. News and World Report ranking best vocational opportunities; no handbook rating residential programs for developmentally disabled young adults. We’re making it up as we go.

[Read more...]



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Rules: the Fewer the Better

Lisa writes: My kids did not have curfews. We had no rules about where they were supposed to do their homework or even when. There were no real rules about food, dress, chores, or even tidiness. We bought a dog without extracting a single promise from our sons. This was not an oversight as I had grown up in a home with a litany of rules. On the other hand, my kids had strict rules about computer use, bedtime, manners, academic and athletic endeavors and, above all, lying.

rules, street sign

When and how we make rules for our kids is one of the trickiest aspects of parenting. Enforcing and altering them is the other tricky part. Rule making is not something to take lightly or to try and do on the fly. It is important that we have a philosophical underpinning to the constructs we set for our kids.

Yet for me, the number one rule was: make as few rules as possible. It was, I believe, a risky proposition, one about which I received a great deal of criticism, but I believe it has merits.

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Competitive Sports and College Recruiting: Time to Pry Them Apart

Lisa writes: Competitive sports and college admissions often get intertwined, as if the only reason for the former is the latter. But aren’t we confusing two issues? If there were no college recruitment would there be no competitive sport? And, are there advantages to kids and teens to competing athletically at a very high level, regardless of collegiate outcome?

soccer, boys soccer

The reality is that most kids, even those involved in an intensive athletic experiences, will not be recruited to college. Getting recruited to play sports in college is the dream of many athletes, but the facts surrounding this process can be bleak. There are over seven million high school athletes and more the three million kids playing competitive soccer. Only around 5% of high school athletes will compete in the NCAA. And, it is a mere 1 percent of the seven million who will find themselves on a D1 team with scholarship money.

So if you are a parent whose kid has been playing hockey/lacrosse/soccer/football/basketball or you name it, for 10 years and they did not get a place in college, or if you are a parent staring down the barrel of those 10 intensive years, the question is are the time, money and effort you and your family put into sports wasted?

[Read more...]



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When Your Child Wants Off the College Carousel

A Grown and Flown friend, Cathy, writes: The process of deciding where to go to college is the single most significant event in your child’s secondary school experience. For many, the college process begins in 9th grade, with some parents seeding the groundwork before middle school. I wasn’t one of them. My daughter began her college search in earnest in her junior year and by senior year had narrowed her choices to eight schools. She was accepted at seven.

college campus, college kid

She registered at a small New England school with a strong academic pedigree. I left her there on a sunny September morning, and as I held her for our goodbye, I noted she was trembling. Sick with worry, I drove the six hours home, tears blinding my eyes. She called (well, texted) frequently in the ensuing months and seemed to be okay. Her grades were excellent and she seemed to like it there. I exhaled. When she came home at spring break, I noted she looked tired and thin but I attributed it to studying. In May, she was home for summer. By July she was fidgety and one night came downstairs and said “Mom, I want to take a year off.” Here are some of the things I learned in the process figuring out what her next steps should be:

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Princeton Mom on Marriage: Facing the Facts

Today on Forbes, Lisa writes: Susan Patton’s words sound like they might have the ring of truth.  When the Princeton Mom tells college age women in her new book, Marry Smart, that “College is the best place to look for your mate,” heads nod.  When she says, “Once you graduate you will meet men who are your intellectual equal—just not that many of them,” it almost sounds as if what she is saying might still be true.  But that ringing is the sound of the past.

Disagreements with Patton’s arguments abound, but the most salient rebuttal is that many of her contentions are based on outdated facts and are no longer accurate. She acknowledges that her book is advice and not a study as says, “There are very few statistics in this book, and my research has been limited to talking with people I know, like and trust…”

Yet, there is a very real reason to set the record straight.  Her points, if taken to heart, send young women a message that they should relegate their hard work, in the classroom and the workplace, to the back seat and instead focus on catching a man in college, lest they risk becoming “a spinster with cats”.  Yet 91% of college educated women (and men) marry, suggesting that the vast majority of those wishing to wed find a partner.

[Read more...]



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Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, Part 2

Lisa writes: Here is part two of our interview with Lacy Crawford (@lacy_crawford), author of Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy. In this fictional account of the college admissions process, Lacy takes a long hard look at five very different families and how they endure the pressure-filled fall of senior year. For many parents of high school kids, this book may be either a window or a mirror on a world that fills them with horror. But perhaps it best serves as a cautionary tale, asking parents to acknowledge that this is the end of a road, a time when your child needs to be very much themselves, a moment when they begin to lead. If Lacy’s characters cannot make that unmistakable fact clear, then reread her wonderful book.

Lacy Crawford, Early Decision

G&F: What do you hope that parents reading this book will walk away with?

Lacy: Levity, confidence, and a sense of perspective. Also there are some honest tips, and if they help, great.

Helicopter parenting, of the type you feature, is quickly falling out of favor. Doing too much for our kids is no longer a badge of honor among parents. The number of high school seniors has peaked and the rise in applications at some schools has stalled. Do you see any of these factors altering the pressure that you describe?

[Read more...]



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Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, a Conversation with Lacy Crawford

Lisa writes: Lacy Crawford is the author of the wonderful new book, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy (William Morrow.) For fifteen years she served as a discreet college admissions counselor to the super rich, shepherding their children through the maze of applications and essays. From August until acceptance, two or three times a week, she worked with students helping them research schools and draft, rewrite and polish their essays. While Lacy was employed by parents to guide their children, it is clear that those who hired her were in great need of her help as well. (BTW, Lacy can be reached via twitter at @Lacy_Crawford)

Early Decision, Lacy Crawford

After years of working with high school seniors Lacy faced an even more daunting task, filling out applications for nursery school for her own baby. “I’d been secretly judging these parents for ten years,” Lacy recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast. “But there I was, ready to step on the same moving walkway, and I thought, ‘I know how this ends.’ This ends with me hiring someone like me to get my kid into college.” It was then that she began to take the notes that would turn her very real experiences into a superb work of fiction.

Mary Dell and I met Lacy at the book salon of the incomparable Aidan Donnelley Rowley and, while I politely bought the book as I love to support authors, I had no intention of opening its cover, or even taking it out of the bag. [Read more...]



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Never Again Will I…

Lisa writes: My youngest son heads off to college sometime in August. When he finally slams the screen door, he will be emptying the nest my husband and I began to fill 22 years ago. With his departure, I reflect on a few things that, frankly, I am more than a little ready to let go. While everyone I know is already sick of hearing how much I will miss him, here are a few things that I will never have to do again:

sons, family, brothers

Sit in a car outside a school, gym or private home, waiting. In my car, in the dark, by myself.

Quiz anyone on vocabulary words. My husband has all the words he needs.

Worry about who is in whose bedroom, which door is opened or closed, and what other parents’ rules are for their kids who are in my home. Once you have lived out from under our roof, your personal life is your own.

[Read more...]



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College Admissions: Don’t Go It Alone

Mary Dell writes: Dear Moms, We feel for you, we really do. Since your kid entered kindergarten, you have probably heard that nothing in parenting compares to the stress of college admissions. Few of you have arrived at this stage without feeling a degree of anxiety now that it is your child who has begun to think about life after high school.

college admissions

Lisa and I are two moms with five kids between our families. Our youngest are high school seniors who have the end in sight. “The end” is not only college application season, but also their high school years and childhood in general. Letting them go is part of the college process and one reason why it feels so painful. In fact, we could sit right down and weep between now and graduation but, instead, we want to throw an arm around your shoulder knowing that it is you who needs support right now. So we offer advice, a digital hug, from two moms to you:

Looking for colleges is a family matter.

Do not feel remotely guilty being involved, despite experts who may tell you to let your child “own the process.” It is their search, but parents should be there to lend an ear, a hand, and a credit card as needed.

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Parenting: It Is Not My Job

Lisa writes: It is not my job.

Being a parent is a really tough job. Many argue that it is the toughest job. Yet, speaking only for myself, I made parenthood far harder than it needed to be by taking on jobs that were not mine. My job is to love and care for my kids, to make them feel safe and teach them to navigate the world into which they will venture. My job is to teach my sons the set of values, rightly or wrongly, that their father and I hold dear. My job is to launch educated, good, responsible men.

girl in snow

That is a tall order without adding a whole list of other parenting challenges, that frankly I am not certain can be achieved.

It is not my job to find my child’s “passion.” Passion by its very nature is deeply personal and individualistic. One person simply cannot find it for another. If my kids want one, they will have to find their own Not everyone has a passion and the notion that everyone does is a middle class artifice of the late 20th century. I promise, many people have lived and died having wonderful lives without beholding a “passion.” I do not have a passion, and honestly, I am okay.

[Read more...]



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