This got to be a problem this Christmas, because I have several sets of small child siblings to buy for. Very small child siblings. I am, I flatter myself, good at buying presents for little kids. I know about various picture books with dinosaurs and pirates and knufflebunnies; I keep track of where to buy toys that come with spaceships and toys that roll into little magnetic balls and toys that build a million different things that aren't pictured on the box. I even found some soap in the shape of Hello Kitty this year for a little extra, making me officially awesome in the eyes of my Hello Kitty-obsessed goddaughter.
But when the gifts are going to siblings, it's not the same as buying for a kid and then buying for another kid. I have learned--oh how I have learned. There are times when it's okay to buy one kid books and the other toys, for example, and times when it is not. (Buying the older, more mature kid who freely and joyfully admits to reading on his own a toy, and then his younger, supposedly pre-literate sister books? Not so much.) And then there are all the things it's awesome to buy for an 18-month-old...that you already bought for an 18-month-old last time they had an 18-month-old, and you have no reason to think they've thrown the thing in the garbage since. So then you have to come up with something else. That won't be too redundant. And it can't be something somewhat too old for the littler kid that they can grow into, because if you do that, you've de facto given the older sibling two presents and the littler one zero. If it's too directly age-appropriate, they'll grow out of it in five seconds flat; if it's not limitedly age-appropriate enough, you risk the older, bigger kid sidling up and taking it over.
("I don't think that's a big problem," said markgritter, himself an oldest. Hah. I watched it happen.)
And if you have opposite-sex siblings to give gifts to, and you look and say, "Well, what don't they have around the house already?", the answer is often highly gendered. And you really don't want the message to be, "Big sib is the oldest, so they get the cool stuff: the telescopes, the building toys, the best books. And you get the really gendery Girl/Boy stuff, which frankly kind of sucks." Even if they will not, before they are out of preschool, see the suckage--that's kind of the point. They won't. But I will.
This will all be so much easier in just a few years, when the younger siblings in question can say, "Auntie Mris, I want a--", or their parents can say, "You know, he/she is really into--" and then I can go off and get that sort of thing, or something tangentially related to it. Four-year-olds--contrary to our culture's common beliefs--have opinions and interests. Eighteen-month-olds do, too, they're just not as good at expressing them in advance. Moral of the story is not to get too attached to them adoring any given present, I guess; I have that one down for all the kids. I just...I think it comes down to not being comfortable with intrafamily conflict over presents. It alarms me. Probably if I'd given some other kid a good whack to make them let me have my Ewok Village back, I'd feel more comfortable about this, but I didn't, so I don't.