In reporting this story, I FaceTimed with my grandmother to ask her what sort of gifts she likes to receive. She replied that all she wants is to spend more time with me, which was charming and sweet but not exactly helpful (sorry, Grandma). Shopping for grandfathers is easy enough (a nice pair of argyle socks or books about past presidents or retired athletes tend to go over well), but shopping for grandmothers is a bit more challenging — especially if they’re anything like mine.
To find the best physical gifts to buy for someone who only wants to smother her grandchildren with love, affection, and food, I spoke to my grandma and ten others — between the ages of 52 and 89 years old — as well as a couple of granddaughters who’ve had success shopping for their own picky grandmothers. There are even some gifts that would be particularly great for those who aren’t able to see their grandmothers in person.
According to all 11 grandmothers we spoke to, the next best thing to being with a grandchild is having a picture of said grandchild. Even though every wall and surface (including her piano) at my grandma’s house has at least one framed family photo on it, she told me she’d welcome more. Vox Media programmatic sales director Kat Miller told me that her grandma is “a Chinese grandma to a T, and the toughest cookie you’ll ever meet. She literally wants nothing.” But a few years ago, Miller got it right by presenting her grandmother with an album of her wedding photos. “She loves seeing memories of the family. Her house is littered with photos of everyone, even dating back to old photos of my great-uncles and so forth.” Kathy Van-Etten, who has four grandchildren under the age of 4, agrees, telling us that framed photos of her grandkids would make her happy. When we tested online framing services, Framebridge came out on top for its wide variety of framing options, all of them high quality and user friendly.
But if you can’t deliver your gift in person, Framebridge also has a selection of frames it thinks work well for gifts — and they come specially wrapped in a nice olive-green box complete with a satin ribbon, so your grandmother will still have the experience of opening a gift from you (and it might even be wrapped a little better). You can customize size, photo orientation, and frame material, then send it off to her home.
If you want to gift a frame that allows your grandma to see more than one family photo, MaryEllen Sayegh, a grandmother of one, recommends a digital photo frame. She bought this pricey Skylight Frame for her mother — who is a grandmother of five (and great-grandmother of one) — and now hopes to receive one herself. Sayegh says the frame allows her to easily “send her pictures and videos, especially of Penelope [her great-granddaughter], through the cloud to her mom, and she enjoys them immensely.”
Donne Davis, founder of the GaGa Sisterhood — a community for grandmothers who go “gaga” for their grandchildren — and grandmother to three, prefers the brand NIX, which is much less expensive than the Skylight frame. The frame doesn’t have cloud capability, so you can’t upload photos for her without going to her house — but if that makes you nervous, Davis doesn’t think you should underestimate your grandmother’s tech skills. “So many grandparents now are real tech-savvy,” she says, so chances are your grandmother will be able to upload images you send her herself. “My granddaughter is even teaching me how to use Instagram — we’re very capable and definitely need more credit,” she adds.
When former Strategist staffer Chloe Anello wrote an earlier version of this story, she interviewed her own nana, who said: “I don’t need anything like jewelry anymore, but I love when you get me books, because you pick out something you think I’d like, and I appreciate that you put a lot of thought into my interests.” Three other grandmothers we spoke to agreed that books are always a welcome gift, including Sayegh and her mother. Sayegh adds that “sharing experiences, whether you are near or far, means the world to a grandparent,” so she suggests taking this gift one step further and reading the book together. Then you’ll each “make time for conversation and discussion,” she explains, which your grandmother would love more than the book itself. While your book choice might depend on your grandmother’s interests, Brit Bennett’s critically acclaimed The Vanishing Half comes recommended to us by avid readers and is being turned into a miniseries on HBO.
If your grandma happens to be a bird lover, Davis suggests gifting a book from the Audubon Society. “A lot of grandmas are really interested in being in nature, and it’s something that you could share with your grandchildren,” she says, adding that one of her own GaGa Sisterhood members sketches birds with her grandchildren. (If your grandma already has a bird book or you want to add on to your gift, we also have a guide on gifts for bird lovers, too.)
This journal is an excellent gift for new grandmothers. Davis received one from her own daughter and liked it so much that she gifted it to one of her GaGa Sisterhood members. Divided into two parts, the journal helps prepare for the initial stages of grandparenting and provides creative prompts to reflect on special first moments as a grandparent. Davis also notes it could be a sweet way to announce a pregnancy for a soon-to-be grandmother.
Davis also mentioned this journal that’s meant to be shared between grandmothers and granddaughters. Like the above, it has different writing prompts for recording special events, and it also provides spaces to make lists, draw pictures, and offer advice. Davis, who has two for each of her granddaughters, says it’s a great way to bond with them, and adds it could be mailed back and forth between long-distance grandmothers and granddaughters.