Avoiding Birthday Gift Excess
Berkeley Parents Network >
Avoiding Birthday Gift Excess
The birthday season for my almost-six-year-old is upon us,
and just like last year, I'm not sure how to handle the
gifts. We feel like it is very important at this age to
invite his whole class at school; but when we did so last
year, he ended up with 25 gifts. We appreciated the
generosity, but to me it seems so wasteful for a child who
already has a million toys to get 25 more in one fell swoop.
On the other hand, he sees receiving gifts from his friends
as an important component of the event. He always helps to
pick out gifts for his friends, and he wants his friends to
do the same for him (or at least, he wants to think that
they do). We don't want to do a gift exchange, in part
because I am not close to some of the other parents and in
part because I feel like it takes away from the birthday
child's sense of being special that day. This holiday
season, we convinced him to donate a part of his allowance
(how much was his choice) to a charity of his own choosing,
and we periodically cull his clothes and toys and he helps
us to take them to Goodwill or to give them directly to
needy families. But the concept of the joy of giving is a
tough one for a kindergartner, and it's going to take him a
while to really get it. Should I give him one more year of
gifts and next year have a ''party'' with just a couple of
close friends? Or do I just say ''no gifts'' on the invite
this year and try to explain it to him? At what age do you
expect a kid to understand this concept?
Mom the Party Pooper
For my 6-year-old son's mostly-whole-class (was basically just boys)
birthday last year we worded the invitation with something like ''no gifts
please but cards welcome.'' My son was fine with it all. I brought up the idea
a month or so before the party and we talked about it before invitations went
out. I didn't frame it in terms of greed/guilt/etc. but pointed out he'd still
get plenty of gifts from family and that he already has a load of gifts from
years past that we don't always play with much.
It really was not big deal and it was a relief in terms of planning the day. The
connection to his friends via gifts was not lost as many made cards. We gave
away goodie bags with few stickers/tattoos/prizes in each, but in retrospect
that was unnecessary.
Why not invite people to combine in groups of 2-3 and give a gift together? Or,
why not do a ''bring a book take a book'' swap -- fun in that the kids each
bring a wrapped book and then they reach in the basket to take one home.
We always have put ''No gifts, your presence is your present''
on the invitations. Our boys (9 & 11) get so many presents
from their relatives that they don't miss getting them from
friends and they have never complained . My husband and I
have never given them presents, either. We just have way too
much stuff as it is.
If you don't want the gifts, you have to say ''no gifts''. One thing that might
make it better is that if you're inviting 25 guests, someone will probably not
notice the ''no gifts'' line and bring one anyway. So your kid would get one or
two, most likely. We had the same dilemma and after one year of too many gifts,
many of which did not get used or even opened (my son has unusual tastes and
the many Legos he received held no appeal) I told him that if he wanted to invite
the whole class, it had to be a no gifts party. He wanted the big guest list more
than the gifts. If the guest list is ten or fewer, we allow gifts. Even ten gifts is an
awful lot, in my opinion, but we settled on that number.
You could do a book exchange, where each child brings a new or used book and
each child goes home with one. It doesn't address the issue of your child's
friends shopping for special gifts for him, but it's a step up from no gifts at all.
Too much stuff, take a stand against it (and while you're at it skip the goody bags )
One parent we know had a book exchange for their son's fifth
birthday party. Everyone brought one wrapped book, and they
left with one wrapped book. Worked out great!
Why don't you give your son a choice: you can invite the entire class, but no gifts
OR have six special friends who bring gifts. I did the book exchange one year
when we invited everyone, and my 5 year old still got many special presents
from family. (If you do the book exchange, make sure you have some extras in
case guests forget OR if someone brings an unexpected sibling.) I explained to
my daughter that the point of the party was to have fun with friends, and that
she'd still have lots of presents from family, and she was okay with that. I also
never had my child open gifts at her parties, so that cut down on the focus on
gifts as well. I also think you can introduce the concept of ''this is what we do in
our family'' which comes in handy on so many occasions!
Another mom against too much!
My boys from when they were 5 were given the choice of a big
party that they can invite their friends with a book
exchange or a small party (maximum 3 friends) with presents.
I explained honestly why - difficulty in writing 20 thank
you letters, too many toys, environmental waste, Mommy going
crazy. They handled it well. Last year they chose big
parties. This year they chose small parties.
Also a party pooper
I'm not sure why you feel that a gift exchange takes away the specialness of the
day but are open to saying ''no gifts''. We did a gift exchange for my daughter's
kindergarten birthday and it was a huge hit. I simply told her that we were
inviting too many people for her to get a present from everyone. On the invite
we specified to please bring a gender-neutral toy of about $10 so that things
would be somewhat consistent. Apart from a few parents who didn't pay
attention to the invite and brought large girly presents, everyone loved it -- the
other kids liked getting a present, the other parents liked not having little junky
goody bags, I liked not having to take home a million presents, and my daughter
was just happy to have a huge birthday party with her whole class. Our family
celebration was separate so she got her presents from us then.
Seems to me you have 3 options:
1) don't invite the whole class (this has become common, but
I think past kindergarten it is pretty silly)
2) ask people to donate to a favorite charity of the
birthday child (animal charities are good)
3) both 1 and 2
Be brave! All of these options will relieve your stress
about the excess
My kid's birthday party invitations requested ''no gifts please'' when they were
3,4,5 and so on. The point of the party is to celebrate with their friends, have
fun and enjoy food, not to get a bunch of gifts. He is NOT to young to say ''no
gifts please''. By the way, I let the family members bring gifts. They are
generally better in-tune with my kid's needs and likes plus understand our space
If that makes me a party-pooper, so be it!
I am appalled by the influx of gifts at Xmas and
birthdays. I am also not crazy about buying gifts for
friends' kids, because I think there's a good chance I'll
get it wrong and it will result in yet more clutter in our
I usually stipulate on my kids' party invitations: ''No
gifts please. Really. Cards appreciated.''
If there is a nonprofit you feel strongly about, consider
starting a Firstgiving page (www.firstgiving.com). You
can ''invite'' parents to make an online donation in honor
of your child's birthday to a nonprofit that is especially
meaningful to her. My daughter has always got a kick out
of this, and frankly I think most parents of guests would
rather make a $10 online donation to a good cause, then
make a trip to the mall.
I didn't think I'd enact the ''no gift'' rule, but I decided
to do it this year. We have only had small parties for my
son, so we did not do the ''no gift'' rule in other years.
This year, he turns 7 and wants to invite the whole class to
Pump it Up. I told him if we have a party that big, we have
to request no gifts. He was a bit jarred by this, but I told
him that he'd still get presents from his family. I,
personally, spend so much time weeding out toys, I'm willing
to forgo the etiquette where you aren't supposed to dictate
the guest's option to gift or not. I think most parents are
relieved NOT to have to buy a gift. At age 6, the birthday
parties are CONSTANT.
no bday gifts this year
The answer is simple- specify no gifts on the invitation, clearly and
emphatically! Our daughter is the same age and this has always been our
policy. She knows that other children receive gifts and we give (very
modest) gifts to her friends, unless it is specified. As parents, we need to
show leadership to our children on these issues. If we don't want to raise
yet another generation of materialists, we have to actually show our
children that material items have no meaning- friendship does. In addition,
I have heard from many of the parents of my child's friends that they
appreciate this policy. It provides those families with am opportunity to
discuss the value of friendship over a toy.
Friends before toys
I completely agree that most kids just don't need more toys. In
kindergarten, we did a wrapped book exchange instead of resents and a
goodie bag. Your child can pick out the book he wants to contribute. Each
guest brings a wrapped book and at the end of party, each guest picks a
book to take with them as their goodie. Everybody, kids and parents loved
the idea and it worked out perfectly. Good luck!
Fan of present-less parties
I'm interested in seeing other responses, because we're in
a very similar boat. I keep thinking that next year's
party will be smaller... and then it's not. Our partial
solution last year (when our son turned 5) was to let him
open all of the birthday presents after the party (the
better to write thank you notes!), but only let him play
with a few immediately, and let him pick another one each
week after that for what seemed like forever. That helped
with the overwhelming onslaught of toys, but didn't change
the final outcome. We also try to do a modest toy purge
every few months. I'm really tempted to request only books
one year - but haven't been able to sell that idea yet.
One solution to excess gifts is to invite fewer children.
Some follow the rule of age - 6 year birthday party means
6 guests, 7 year is 7 guests, etc.
Do the gift exchange. Bday kid gets first pick. That way you
also don't have to do goody bags. I'm so SICK of buying
presents for kids I barely know, like some sort of admission
into a party. He'll understand, and his very close friends
will probably buy him something anyway and drop it off
another day (that's what happens with us when we do it,
anyway). For the exchange, a ''theme'' works well--art
supplies, dress up clothes, superheroes, etc.
We also don't need a plethora of gifts, but it is sometimes unavoidable. So
either do a book swap ( whether you know the parents or not, I'm sure
most of them if not all would agree to a book swap) where everyone after
the party ends up with a book. Or, just donate the items you don't need
and explain to your son later or before the party that he can help you
choose which to keep and which to donate. My kids also know we can
recyle new gifts by gifting them to someone else at a future date.
Also there's no reason not to just invite a few close friends this year
instead of the entire school.
The ''no gifts''request at this age seems hard especially when you get gifts
for his friends. You can't really control the amount so best to donate some
Also don't need the clutter and excess
There is absolutely no reason you need to invite the entire class to a birthday
party. I have three boys, and have never done that...neither have any of their
friends. Just have him invite a few close friends, and be done with it. As an
alternative to a party, ask him if there is an extra-special activity that he would
like to do in-lieu of a birthday party. This past year my 10-year-old, who is a
huge Green Day fan, asked to be taken to a Green Day concert with his best
friend instead of a party. Worked for me!
Mom who has been there
I've posted about this before, but I will state again that
the only success I have had was to convince my daughter
that she would enjoy a present from me, from my husband
and from grandparents, and she could choose where to
donate other presents. I have never had success asking
other parents not to give presents-in fact one time only
ONE family did that and I would have been humiliated if it
had been me. I specifically stated one time that we did
not need presents, but would be happy to take their
donations of NEW toys or new/used books. The new toys we
brought to Childrens Hospital (they don't take used toys),
and the books we brought to a local school where kids
don't have books at home. It was a good experience, and
really reduced the amount of Stuff that we received, and
that other families had to put money into. (In fact, it
appeared that some of the families donated presents that
their kids didn't need/want.) I think you need to figure
out a good direction for the kind impulses of families who
are invited. Let your kid choose a good charity and let
him know what a great thing he's doing.
I think it is important to invite the whole class,
especially if the school is community oriented. However, how
about having your child learn about ''giving'' and charity on
his birthday. Is he too young to choose a charity that his
friends can contribute to? Animal shelter, local zoo,
parks, trail improvement, libraries, sports, schools - He
would choose something in line w/ his interests. Just a
social worker always
My son's 1st birthday is coming up next month. Against our better
judgment, we're planning on having a large party, mainly because
I have a lot of extended family in the area who have only met our
son once or twice (some, not at all).
Anyway, for my baby shower last year (also a huge event), I ended
up getting so much stuff that I really didn't need (way more
beyond what I registered for). I ended up returning many things,
donating quite a bit to charities, and trying to cram the rest
into drawers and closets in our small-ish home, hoping I'd one
day use them. Christmas was also like this.
I really do appreciate my family's largesse; however, I don't
want the same thing to happen for my son's birthday. We have so
many things already, and as I mentioned before, our house is on
the smaller side. I can't even imagine where we'd put all the
gifts my son would get for his birthday. Also, some of my family
are not that well-off, and I'd hate for them to spend their
hard-earned money on things for our son that he may not use.
My question is, is it rude to say on an invitation that we'd
rather not get any gifts? Also, what is the best way to word this
to avoid hurt feelings, etc? I realize we'll probably get some
things anyway, but if we can write something on the invite, maybe
we can avoid the avalanche o' stuff we don't need.
Thanks in advance for any and all advice.
Too Much Stuff!
I think it is perfectly acceptable to write ''no gifts, please''
or ''your presence is the only present we want!'' on the birthday
invitation. We did that for our son's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd birthday
At least in the circles I travel in, it is fine and not
uncommon to include a line on the invitation that says ''No
gifts please--your presence is your present.'' And yes, you get
gifts anyway, but at least you have floated the option in a
gracious way. Another way to re-emphasize the point would be to
include something like ''we'll be making a First Birthday memory
book for baby, so cards, photos, poems or blessings are
welcome.'' That gives people who want to contribute something a
non-bulky way to celebrate the day with you.
Enjoyed Our Baby's Big 1st Bday Party
YES! You can absolutely say no gifts please. Some suggestions: ''The gift
presence is present enough! No gifts, please.'' or ''No gifts necessary.''
optional'' Now here is an interesting question--can you ask for a donation
college fund? 'In lieu of a gift, please feel free to make a contribution
college fund at_____'' If most of these people are related to you--it may
What do other people think about the college fund idea?
Too many gifts no good
My son's first birthday is this weekend and I wrote on the
invitation: Please celebrate with us... (No gifts, please.)
I think this is perfectly acceptable. I like that people don't
feel like the party is an opportunity for us to rake in the
presents, and I've been to a lot of parties where I've felt
guilty for not bringing a big enough or clever enough gift. It's
just not about presents for us and our one-year-old certainly
doesn't care one way or the other.
I hope it's okay to ask for no gifts because we did the same
thing! We wrote a simple ''no gifts please'' on the invitation.
We did still get some stuff, but not nearly the volume or
requiring the same fanfare as we would have. We felt like we
wanted the birthday to be a celebration, our baby didn't know
what to do with gifts so it wouldn't be fun to watch them be
opened, and she was sort of in between toys developmentally and
more worried about walking/running/exploring... which is free!
too much stuff too.
This is it. There are too many presents for the wedding, presents for the
shower, presents for the first birthday. Then they peter out, even from
love you and love your child deeply. Seriously, birthday 2 on up it is a
different ball game. I don't entirely understand it, but that is the way
it is in my
experience and my friends' experience. I vote for smiling, writing thank
last time, then sigh with relief. Children's Hospital is a great place to
This too shall pass.
We did exactly that. On the bottom of the invitation, in small
italics, we wrote ''no gifts, please''. Don't know if others
thought it rude, but nobody said anything. If memory serves (17
years later), we did that for both 1 and 2-year birthdays, but
relented by 3.
One of our friends found the perfect solution to the first
birthday gift dilemma: They asked everyone to bring a wish,
poem, kind thought, blessing, favorite memory, etc. for the kid,
to be put into a scrapbook for him. It made people feel like
they were still bringing something, which I think is one of the
reasons people bring gifts even when you say not to (which is
fine to say, btw -- I don't think anyone will be offended. We
did it for our son's first bday, and most people respected it,
or brought something simple, like fresh strawberries or a
homemade gift.) For older kids, we've had friends ask that we
bring a book to donate to a charity, or a plant for their
garden, things like that.
Wish I Was as Clever as My Friends
Saying ''no gifts please'' is against official rules of
etiquette, so I guess it depends on whether or not you care
about that. We did this for our daughter's first birthday
party because we had two older kids and lots of cousins that
handed down everything (clothes, toys, books) and we did not
need or want lots MORE stuff. Of course our daughter has
absolutely no memory of that day so she does not feel cheated
and we asked people who really wanted to spend money for the
occasion to please donate to their favorite charity. It was win-
win as far as I am concerned!
We are in the same position and have found that ''No gifts, thank
you'' works best. At first I was considering ''No gifts, please,''
but the ''thank you'' is more polite, I think. You will, of
course, still receive some gifts, but it is nice for your
invitees to feel as though you want them there to celebrate and
not just for the gift they might bring. Happy 1st Birthday!
gift-free and happy :)
People want to give something - Here's what you ask for:
Ask everyone to bring two letters to your child's 1st birthday.
This is there gift. The first letter should be an experience
they have had with the child during this great first year. It
could be about the birth, or the first time they pulled to stand
up using the table or the messy cereal, whatever.
The second letter is some piece of wisdom to pass on to the
child as they grow older. The piece of wisdom could be about how
to ride a bicycle, choose a life partner or learn to swim.
Let the participants know that you will put them in a book that
your child can use for years to come.
The Best Gift My Child Ever Received was Wisdom
I think it's all right. It's about having them there to honor your son,
not to have them
give him gifts. One way to say it is, on the bottom of the invitation
presence, but no presents.''
How about saying, ''Please no gifts. Instead bring a favorite
dish to share.''
Or ''...Instead bring your camera to help us take pictures of
this memorable event.''
Or ''...Instead please bring a letter to (baby) so we can make a
treasured book for (baby).''
Or ''...Instead please bring a blanket for a blanket drive for
Or ''...Your presence is presents enough!''
Or ''...Instead consider making a donation to (fave charity) in
I, for one, LOVE when invitations say NO GIFTS! It beats the
hassle of trying to figure out what ''the parents'' will like!
At my child's first birthday, she was given much too much. I
actually didn't have your forethought to realize that 50 plus
guests = that number of presents! I felt sheepish and overwhelmed
as my child lost interest after two presents and I spent a great
deal of time opening the rest of them.
For my daughter's second birthday party, I had a much
smaller affair. I wrote on the invitation, ''Your presence is
present enough.'' Still, practically everyone gave us a gift. I'm
of the mind now that people really enjoy giving things. After
I've politely requested that they refrain, I feel I would be
spending precious energy to micromanage people if I went beyond
The key difference between the two birthday events is the
small number of people that I invited this time around. Five
presents is much more reasonable than fifty. Another choice I
made was not to open any of the gifts at the party. And I had a
good excuse: The party was only two hours long and we just didn't
have time. The first birthday is unique...the rest of the
birthdays will probably be much more manageable. Politely request
no gifts. Then prepare yourself (WITHOUT GUILT) to take the
excess to a charity where it will certainly be appreciated.
I don't know how helpful this can be but I just think it's a
fantastic idea and can perhaps alleviate some of your
concerns. I was watching a morning show a few months back
where one of the co-host had the same situation as you. By
asking for no gifts she just put information for donation to a
charitable organization (children's organization or
something). I don't know exactly what one would put in such an
invitation but it can be along the lines of ''We are indubitably
greatful to have such caring and wonderful friends and family.
For our sonís birthday, we would like to share our good fortune
with those in need. In place of a birthday gift for junior
(?), please make a donation (of your preference) to... such and
such organization. Thank you in advance for your
thoughtfulness as kindness is your greatest gift to us (pretty
sappy but maybe something along those lines).'' You can maybe
even add a quote at the end. The donation could be a toy or
money of any amount - this can accomplish many things: your
son can avoid getting gifts he doesn't need, the donation can
go to a good cause, family members who are not well off can
donate within their means and you would save alot of space in
your home. Despite what etiquette is used in your invitation,
I think (if you consider doing this)the thoughtfulness
associated with giving others in need are enough for your
guests to not be offended by the ''no gift'' rule. Best of luck
It's certainly not rude to say no presents! In my mind, it's
polite. And, I think a good, simple, light-hearted way to
convey this is to say ''No presents, just your presence!'' or to
write a short line saying: ''Please no gifts. You have blessed
us all overwhelmingly in this past year so we really want this
to be OUR thank-you gift to you!''
Warning: some people will bring gifts anyways and say ''I know
you said no presents, but...'' which is great. But try to keep
these out of view (don't make a big stack or table of them!)
and don't open in front of everyone. There's nothing worse
than not bringing something because it said ''no presents'' then
watching as the mom and kid open a pile of presents!
We did that for my younger child's first birthday and it seemed
that most people were very happy to oblige! If people really
feel the need/desire to bring a gift, they'll do so and you
should graciously accept it. Another option would be to make it
potluck so that if people really want to bring something, they
can bring food.
Also have too much stuff!
How 'bout ''in lieu of your generous gifts, we'd love you to send a gift
to Blank Charity.''
-the givers may like doing this?
I think it is absolutely OK to request no gifts. We did so for our son's
think we used the line, ''No gifts, please, just the pleasure of your
was all that we (and he!) wanted.
Happy without gifts
Yes, it's fine. I completely agree with you about all the
stuff. We've been trying to get family to be ''less generous'' as
I end up donating perfectly good toys for lack of space. It's
crazy! However, I think you really need to be politely firm in
your message to friends/family. The first time I had a ''no
presents'' party, everybody except 1-2 people still brought
something. Next time I do this, I think I need to add more
details like we don't need anything and we don't have room for
more things! Good luck.
Can't we just skip the presents?
I am the mom of a happy 2 1/2 year old who I've been trying to
raise in a non stuff-crazy way, i.e. for her birthday parties we
ask the other kids to not bring presents and i don't get her a
lot of toys or other things she doesn't need.
However I'm in a quandry about what to do about gifts in two
1. Other kid's birthdays. I don't want her to show up to other
kid's parties without a gift (my mama did raise me right) but it
seems to be sending an odd message-that we give gifts but don't
receive them. I'm wondering if others have found a middle ground
on this. Making something (she's only 2 after all and I am not
very crafty), bringing a toy of hers she'd like to give to the
2. My mom and Christmas. My mom loves, loves, loves getting
everyone too many gifts and all the unwrapping ooing and ahhing
that goes with it. I (as you may guess) totally hate this but i
do love my mom. I've tried to set some limits with the volume of
gifts she can give my daughter but i can't really tell her what
she can give everyone else. Nor do i want to put my kid in a
situation where she gets a book and a pair of pjs while others
seem to have cleaned out entire department stores. Suggestions?
Thanks so much,
I'm right there with you! Our small house plays an extra factor in
needing to limit the amount of ''stuff'' that comes in.
My compromises so far - I take a book as a gift to other birthday
parties. I figure it's small, generally not expensive, and promotes
reading. As for the grandmother's, I've tasked them with buying clothes
for the kids. I literally buy no clothes for either of my kids. Their
grandmothers keep them well-clothed with birthday, Christmas, and other
random gifts of clothing. Then I give my mom a very carefully selected
short list of 1-3 toys per kid at Christmas that she shares with other
family members. Books and art supplies are more likely to gain my
It's working ok so far, but my son will be 4 soon. We've asked for no
gifts at past birthday parties, but it will take a little more work this
Another non-materialistic mama
I had to respond to this one. We have the same problem. Not so much
with the gift issue, but with trying to raise our 3-year-old son to not
be an ''overconsumer'' in an overconsuming culture, with grandparents
who LOOOOOVE to shop for kids things.
For other people's gifts, we have him give something of his own, or we
For his 3rd birthday, we asked people not to bring gifts, or to make
something rather than buy something. It didn't work - people LOVE to
buy nice gifts for an appreciative 3 year old, and he ended up
completely overwhelmed with gifts, and really into all the gifts as well
(to our horror - but I think we were too idealistic).
The bigger issue for us is my mom, who cannot not shop. I say bluntly
to her: we don't need anything - don't get tons of stuff. I complain to
her about when other people (like my grandmother) give us mountains of
things, and my mother commiserates with me, but goes ahead and buys tons
of things. Nothing dissuades the woman. Our solution so far has been
to actively, with our son, donate a big chunk of what we get, and talk
about how lots of people don't have what they need, lots of kids don't
get many toys, and the fact that we have all these toys and clothes
means we should give what we don't need away.
I think the bigger issue, which we'll be dealing with more as our son
gets older, is that we have a difference of culture. My partner and I
are trying to cultivate a culture of non-consumption as an ethical,
moral decision. My parents don't have any understanding of the issue as
an ethical one - for them it's about how much they love to get things
for him, and there can never be too much. Unfortunately conversations
with them about this as an ethical choice are difficult, because they
are sensitive to criticism, and this implies a criticism of them.
Anyway, if you can, I would encourage you to talk to your mom about the
reasons behind wanting her to get less stuff. Even if you can't, I
think the real solution is to always talk to your daughter about your
own ethics in this issue, regardless of how much stuff she gets for the
holidays. I agree that it would be hard on her to get only a few gifts
when everyone else gets a lot - I've seen that backfire, and turn kids
into BIG materialists. Like anything else (sugar, alcohol), being too
restrictive can cause kids to rebel. But if their ethical upbringing is
consistent, they will be alright.
The other day I was on Babycenter's bulletin board for kids born the
same month as my son, and someone posted asking what everyone was
getting their kids for Xmas... you would not believe the sheer amount of
stuff they were getting an 18 month old!! I felt almost guilty for being
a small gifting mom... out of necessity as well as out of prinicple. I
wouldn't worry about the mixed messages over bringing gifts to a party,
children should learn to give without the expectation of reciprocation.
however, I have never gone so far as to limit the gifts that other
people get my son. If, twice a year, my family or friends want to ooh
and aah over ''things'', I wouldn't worry too much about the potential
side effects for my child.
Remember that it makes people feel good to shop for others and give
gifts... as your child gets older you could always, as I plan on doing,
take a certain amount of gifts and donate them to needy children. that
way your child learns how to recieve things with graditude and how to
graciously decide that someone else needs this or that thing more...
just my thoughts. Good Luck...
I think if you want your daughter to non-materialistic you should allow
her lots of gifts and don't make an issue of it. Then she won't have to
rebel against you, and have lots of stuff when she's an adult.
While I admire you for not bringing up your child in a material world, I
don't think that necessarily means ''no gifts.'' Etiquette rules say
that you shouldn't dictate to guests to a party or wedding what or if
they should or should not give gifts. I think it might be more important
to teach your daughter that all gifts from others should be appreciated
but not expected and that giving a gift is a good thing.
Unfortunately, in our society, it isn't the gift giving and getting
that's a problem, but the DEMANDING of the gifts, the type of gift, the
re-gifting, the attitude, the lack of respect and appreciation that is
more of the problem.
That said, when your daughter is invited to a party, purchases a simple,
age appropriate gift. It does not have to be ellaborate or expensive.
Just teach her that it can be nice gesture to give. Or, make something.
As for receiving, my mother is also one of those people who loves to buy
gifts. She sends my son gifts when his other cousins have birthdays, for
every holiday. It's a bit ridiculous. But, hey, it makes her happy. I
just try and keep it under some control and will teach my son to be
gracious but not to expect them.
But, while I don't consider myself to be overly materialistic, I too
love giving little presents. I give plants, organic things, things I've
made, interesting pieces of art. Cards. A copy of a poem that fits the
occastion. For kids, I try to select wooden toys, non commercial, overly
Good luck navigating the material world.
I am not materialistic either but define it in a different way.
I find things and tools very helpful to create something new. I also
don't like to spend much money on anything, because we don't have it and
because it is unnecessary. But what is so bad about receiving a gift
from someone? Do you object that care and love is occasionally
expressed/manifested in an item which will make you remember the giver
fondly or do you object to the items that are given? I always insert a
special sheet in birthday invitations what kinds of gifts we would like
or not. (i.e. yes to art supplies & craft projects, but please no barbie
dolls). If your child gets invited to a birthday party, please bring a
gift or don't even go. I always call to RSVP and make sure I talk in
person to the parents and try to find out/balance what an appropriate
gift would be for the child and what I am willing to buy. It can be done
sooo smoothly. And why don't you let your mom buy items that you would
need to buy for your child anyway or let her give you the money and you
get them? I don't know what you mean by you being raised the right way.
My world is not divided in right or wrong. This issue is only as
complicated as you choose to make it.
another non-materialistic mom
Rather than giving used, handed-down gifts to your child's friends,
encourage your child to make simple handmade gifts, or a personalized
handmade cards or letters to her friends as birthday gifts.
Just a suggestion
There are books on what is called Love Languages and Gifts is one of the
five. (Quality Time, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Words of
Affirmation) I respect your intent in a materialistic world. I just
want you to remember that people like your mom feel loved and express
love through gift giving. Having the conversation about your preferred
way to be loved, like doing things together (quality time) is a way to
respect both. How about passes to the zoo or children's musuem? Going
somewhere to do artwork or play. Cards and gifts that are made are
always wonderful!!!!!!!! Help your child identify the love languages of
others so she can give what they would most appreciate. Some kids just
appreciate you being there, or a kind word, a hug, or anything wrapped
in a box. I think the tradition of gift giving can still be valuable,
but not by buying expensive gifts. It is about being a thoughtful,
caring, generous, human being.
I try very hard to make special occasions not all about gifts, too, but
really, it's fun to get things, and if my parents want to give gifts to
my kids, I try to indulge them. Regarding your mom, maybe you could
keep some of the gifts for later, and give them throughout the year? I
remember when my daughter was two, my parents got her a bunch of stuff
for Christmas, and she just stopped opening things after a while! She
got tired of it. When they saw that, they scaled back considerably. If
too much stuff is given while we're at their house, then lots of it will
stay at their house (makes travel easier, too, because there are always
toys at Grandma and Grandpa's!).
For birthday parties, we always give books. My daughter enjoys picking
out books for her friends, we give her books as gifts, and it means a
lot to her to give meaningful things to her special friends.
For her birthday, we only invite a couple of friends out for special
activities, so any gifts are minimal. We don't do big parties. She
does get things from family, and we compensate by only getting her one
thing from us (usually a book). When she outgrows toys, we donate them,
and talk about the kids who will get to play with her old toys, now that
she's done with them. For the holidays, we talk a lot about what she
will be giving her family and friends, and especially talk about what
they would like, and why we give gifts to special people. I guess we
try to mitigate the "gimme" complex by modeling giving as best we can.
Hope this helps. It's hard, I know.
I don't have a great answer for #1 (bringing gifts to other kids'
birthday's), but I struggled with #2 with my own mother. Although we do
have some gifts in our household, my mom equates money/gifting with
affection. I didn't want her spoiling/buying my kids. I never wanted
my kids to greet her by looking behind her back to see what she brought
them. And, we have too much stuff as it is. So I made the following
rule (perhaps a variation of it will work for you): My parents can buy
each one of my kids 3 presents per year. They can split it out any way
they want - say, 2 at Christmas and 1 at birthday - but the limit is 3.
Of course, the first Christmas was the hardest. When my parents arrived
at my house for our family celebrations, I saw that their trunk was
loaded with gifts. So I helped them select which gifts were coming in.
The rest stayed in the car.
Boy...was she mad, but the benefit has been substantial. My mother was
forced to create a relationship with my kids that didn't involve
bribery. She now makes sure she is well-stocked with activities and
games they can do together when she visits.
She started purchasing for herself the same books that are in my kids'
library and she now calls them once a week to read with them over the
phone. She involves them in her scrapbooking activities, and her
cooking, and so-on.
Taking away over-gifting has helped her become the kind of grandmother
that she wanted to be...one that is in relation with her grandkids. And
my kids have a pure and genuine love for her. And I have less stuff to
pick up each night. ;-)
Hope this idea helps you. I can't wait to read the other responses.
Been there...or close to it
I feel your pain with the grandmas, but I'd try to put yourself in the
shoes of others when dealing with gifts for your child's friends.
There's nothing wrong with a healthy, non-competative gift exchange
between friends. A small, hopefully meaningful, gift is a classic way to
Many cultures rely heavily on this kind of exchange for mutual aid. I
think the problem comes along when people, especially grandmas, seem to
be either competeing with gifts for favor of the reciever, or when gifts
seem to be standing in for, rather than symbolizing love and time spent
together. (As a few others mentioned, too many gifts are overwhelming
and spoil the fun. If you can stand/direct their choice in clothes ask
grandmas for clothes for the kids). So, for other kids, just buy a
simple book or very small toy that you think is nice, not extravagent.
This way the friend will be able to accept the jesture of friendship,
without feeling that you are owed something in the future. As you know
from having a small kid, its surprising the small things that they
Unless its mututally agreed by the parents before-hand, I wouldn't give
a used gift because this can be socially akward for your child, if the
other parents/kids don't understand.
Just one more thought on this topic that I didn't see previously. My
son will be three in December, and we plan to ask birthday party guests
to bring gifts appropriate for donation to a charity. We haven't chosen
the charity yet, but it will probably be a local women's shelter. I
will contact the charity to see what it needs/wants, and include the
details with the birthday party invitation. I already talked to my son
about this, and he is on board with the idea (at least in theory).
Hi! I think this is relatively easy to address. You should deal with
it kind of like religious differences- explain to your child that we do
X and other people do Y. So, we're taking a gift to their party because
that's what this family does but we don't do gifts at our parties
However, as your daughter gets older, she'll quickly get wise to what's
going on with others and definitely could feel slighted.
So, I do this....one toy in, one toy out for donation. Use those gifts
as an opportunity to pass along your good fortune.
I would absolutely, absolutely not stop your mother (or anyone) from
giving gifts, even lots of them. You can easily manage what you do with
the gifts once they are in your care. There are so many ways to use
that stuff to do good for others, so let your mom get her fix, let your
daughter connect to her, and then you teach the values- not unlike what
you would do with any other inappropriate gift that you would receive.
People give the gifts because they love you and your daughter- don't
reject that love, just figure out how to pass it along!
changing the world one toy at a time
Our almost 4-yr old has been attending birthday parties for the
past year or so and this year we'll have a party for him for the
first time. I've read the archives with great ideas about doing
a book exchange, etc. to avoid a bunch of presents which he
really doesn't need. When I discussed it with our son, he burst
out crying saying he doesn't want any kids to bring anything
home with them. I haven't really pursued the issue but I need
to start thinking about how to pull this off (bday in January).
How can I convince him that giving a present is as fun as
getting one? I'm afraid he sees a party as being all about
presents. Should we just do a book exchange and hope that he
doesn't freak out?
Well, maybe your son is reacting to the idea that everyone else will be essentially
getting presents along with him: in other words that he won't feel like the special
birthday boy. Birthdays for children let them feel like a king/queen for a day,
though there are a lot more elements to this than presents (cake, candles, having all
of the guests of your choosing, choosing the activity etc.). There is an implicit
exchange in most birthday parties: the host provides the party, and --in
exchange--the guests bring gifts. If you are going to take away his presents,
maybe you could find another way of making him feel like the special one. Or
maybe you could just talk to the other parents about getting smaller gifts for your
son, if that's what you're worried about.
We had wonderful birthday parties every year for my two boys
(now 12 & 13). Lucky for us their birthdays are both in the
summer so we'd stake out a corner of a favorite park (Totland
when they were wee ones; later Alvarado (great creek) and
Orinda Community park) and invite everyone we knew - kids and
adults - for a BBQ. We requested NO gifts until they were about
7 or 8 years old. They never missed it (although some of the
other parents would inquire as to whether or not my boys were
being ''punished''!) and everyone had a great time. Most kids
have waaaay too much stuff anyway. It's a thought....
A birthday party without presents seems excessively Grinch-like
to me, and I suspect that's what your son is actually reacting
to. Why not encourage your invitees to give him things like art
supplies, tub tints, books or music? It isn't perfect
etiquette, but I bet the other parents would understand.
I also have an almost-four-year-old and I think four is too young
to understand this concept, even though it is very noble. He may
well feel as though he is being punished if he is not allowed to
have presents at his birthday. For my son, he didn't even get
that presents are at birthdays till the past year, so it seems a
little unfair to take away the presents as soon as he starts
getting the concept. I think the other party attendees also may
not understand why there are no presents. Instead, why not just
invite fewer children, let them bring presents, and then use the
opportunity to teach your son the equally important lesson of
accepting gifts graciously.
By the way, about half the birthday parties I've attended in the
past year have had the feature of no present opening till after
all the guests leave. I personally love to see the presents
being opened and I'm always disappointed when they stay wrapped!
I guess the idea is that no child will feel bad that their
present is not as good as other presents, or maybe it's meant to
diminish the gift opening frenzy, but I just want to say right
here how much fun it is to watch people open presents at kids'
bdays, wedding showers, Christmas, and everywhere! It's fun for
Mom who loves presents
It sounds like your son is due for a birthday party with a bunch
of gifts! He's seen other kids celebrate their special day, and
been showered with fun toys; in my opinion, as a mom of 2 and 4
year olds, let him have his birthday party, and any gifts that
people want to give him. You can always see what he doesn't play
with right away, and tuck them in a closet to be re-presented
later on when he tires of the favorite ones. I think he'll be
very disappointed and resentful even, if you throw a book party,
when what he really wants might be a Rescue Heroes Firetruck or a
Singing Elmo. Save the book party for when he's older and can
appreciate the theory behind it. This only comes once a year,
and when you're 4, it's a Big Deal!
A Berkeley Mommy
We did a book exchange for my daughter's 7th birthday and it was
a big success. She had a choice between a big party with exchange
or a small party with gifts. She chose the big party.
Four seems pretty young understand and appreciate a book
exchange. How about a very small party or request small
gifts/books from attending friends?
I think he is too young to learn this lesson. Let him enjoy
getting all the presents, as he gets older he can begin to
understand this. My 9 year old has been disappointed by a lot of
gifts that he doesn't value, so now prefers a smaller party,
where the joy of the party is in sharing a special day with
I think you should accept the presents. My son just turned 4,
and it is such a self-involved age that I doubt you will be
able to convince him that NOT getting a lot of presents
wouldn't be a tragedy. Plus, most of the fun is in receiving
and opening the gifts. Then, if you don't want to deal with
all of the ''junk'', ask your child to select a few favorites,
and donate the rest to a charity. I find that my son loves to
pick out clothes and toys that doesn't need anymore when I tell
him that it will be going to another little boy who will also
Hmm. Many years ago when my son was small I got a very good book
on giving birthday parties for children. The author, a very
sensible woman, has a lot of advice on what games are age
appropriate. Before about age 8 or 9, most kids will feel that as
the birthday child they are entitled to win all games. Thus it is
best to use non-competitive games at this age. The author points
out that sharing and the fact that others can win games are good
lessons to teach, but you don't have to do it on the kid's birthday.
So I'd say, lighten up a little. When you son is a bit older you
can start with book exchanges and such, but for now just make up
some kind of goodie bag for the kid and let your kid enjoy his
gifts. A couple of weeks after the party you can gently point out
to him that he doesn't play with them any more (because he
probably won't be, at that point). Do this for a few years and by
the time he is 8 maybe he will see the rationality of sharing and
It's not just about presents- it's about cake and sugar, too
(but that is exciting for the kids, as is playing with their
friends.) I have thought about this every time the birthdays
come up (my daughter is 6) but never thus far done a book
exchange because I realized my daughter really loved the things
other people had picked out for her and was proud to have a
stuffy from her favorite friend, for example. It was very hard
for me to give up control over which toys come into our house
but then I found we could just get her one or two small or
special presents and the rest come from the party. And we've
stowed some away for plane/ car trips, rainy day activities,
etc. when it was great to have something ''new'' (you could also
give some away to children in need.) If you do do a book or
present exchange you could put in a few extra so your son gets
to take home say 3 books and everyone else one- and I would
suggest NOT opening at the party as that could cause upset about
what others are taking home. And I don't know if this is going
too far but you could ask everyone to wrap the books in brown
paper,like from a grocery bag, I may be over-thinking it but I
imagine kids being disappointed if the birthday child doesn't
get the book they brought, etc. Or if you can keep the party
smaller there won't be as much stuff. i have been able to make
the cakes myself with very low sugar and think of simple
hopefully useful and not cluttery junk party favors (flower
seeds, burn a CD of favorite tunes, markers) but have not yet
done a gift alternative. I'm thinking somewhere between 7 or 8-
12 there is more social consciousness developing and that would
be a good time to try something meaningful about the gifts; but
by all means it is worth a try; if everyone understands the plan
I think it will end up being just as fun. Good luck!
presently ok with presents
I understand your frustration. I am not sure how the book
exchange will go over with him. That could be a side part of the
party. You could put in the invitations a small note about small
gifts being appreciated. That way parents know that a small
token will be a better idea. At 4 I think all children have
those feelings. Parents will understand. You could also have
some thank you notes written up so that a few days after the
party your son could 'sign' his name and you could make a bit of
a game of it. I am not sure if goodie bags are done for that
age but I never liked the idea of them. You could also make the
party a short and sweet one.
Good Luck and remember that your child isn't the only one who
thinks of the presents as the only part of birthdays.
Judging from your 4-year-old son's negative reaction to your
suggestion about a book exchange party, it sounds like he's not
ready to handle a large birthday party with numerous guests and
presents. Too many opportunities for conflict and the ''gimmes''.
How about a smaller birthday party where he can invite a few
(ie, three or four) of his closest buddies? Then he'll have to
focus more attention on each of the few special gifts he does
receive, and thus avoid the whole gift orgy thing in the process.
Also, while a book exchange party (or any variation on this
charity/sharing theme) is a great idea, especially if the idea
originates from the child, if your son is not into it and you do
it anyway, he will resent it. Personally, I think it's an
equally good lesson that while it's good to be a giver, it's also
good to be a recipient--that is, a gracious recipient who says
thank you, doesn't act disappointed when receiving an item he
already has or doesn't want, and shows pleasure (but not the
boastful, gloating kind) in receiving gifts from friends, etc.
This is a good thing for your son to practice in company of just
a few friends.
Oh, and don't forget that your son's friends will be going home
from the party with little goodie bags. Let your son help pick
out some of the items for these bags, and tell him that he'll be
in charge of handing them out to his friends. That'll take care
of the ''giving'' thing.
I think your son's birthday party should be for him, and not for
you. Meaning, he cannot be expected to understand your adult
ideas about excess. Besides, maybe it would be fun for him to
receive some presents on his birthday. Perhaps these presents
will be useless, but so what? If he tires of them quickly, then
you can give them away to a charitable organization. Next week
on Christmas my children will receive numerous useless gifts, and
will be absolutely giddy with excitement. It will be thrilling
for them. Like you, I dislike excess, but to me it's worth it:
Watching children open presents twice a year is magic in itself.
As for the book exchange, let's be serious: for children, it IS
much more fun to receive a gift than it is to give a gift. Your
son will learn in his own time how fun it is to give a gift. I
do agree with you that birthdays shouldn't be all about presents
(and of course, neither should Christmas), but I am an adult.
My daughter will celebrate her 7th birthday this month, and I'm
trying to find a way to honor the occasion that doesn't require
her to acquire a pile of storebought items. I am still reeling
from the excesses of my elder daughter's best friend's party,
which featured 24 kids,and two dozen presents which the birthday
boy hasn't looked at nearly a year later (nor did he ever write
thank you notes for all the unwanted stuff. Sigh.) I don't want
to go that route.
We already risk social opprobrium by having ''small'' parties (6-10
kids). Even so, we still often find ourselves overwhelmed with
stuff. I don't want to be the Grinch, but I don't think that my
children, or indeed most kids in our circle, need more stuff. In
the past we have requested that presents take the form of books or
craft supplies. That has helped. But even still....there must be
another way? Can we request that the children come empty-handed
but make something? Or that they chip in together on one thing?
Has anyone successfully navigated this issue in a way that kept
both birthday child and guests feeling like they participated in
the appropriate ritual?
Mother With Plenty
I heard a great
idea for birthday gifts. A group of parents some where in Albany
or Berkeley have birthday parties for their kids. Each kid
(including the birthday kid) bring a gift and each kid takes a
gift home. The birthday kid gets to hand out the gifts (still
wrapped) and gets the cake and the song but everyone gets a gift.
I have been waiting to share this! thanks. margy
I totally understand where you are coming from not just with
birthdays but with other gift giving holidays as well..
Something that we do that is pretty fun and helps us pick a
theme is to choose a charity, My Kids love animal shelters and
tha ASPCA, and ask the kids and family members to bring
donatable items to this charity.
We had a great puppy themed party doing this and the local
shelter made out like a bandit.Can't wait to read others ideas.
Here is how we did it for our son one year (although I think he
was a little older -- maybe 10?). He wanted fifteen kids to
come play football. We asked him how many of the gifts that
kids would bring that he thought he would really love -- he
guessed around five. We told him we would get him five great
gifts of his choice (within reason, of course) if he would agree
that we would put ''no gifts please'' (or something like that -- I
think we came up with a nicer way of putting it) on the
invitation. He agreed and it was really great. No pressure on
the other parents to come up with a gift, the kids brought cards
and just played.
Have you considered doing a book exchange? Every child attending
the party brings a wrapped book, and every child leaves with a
(different) wrapped book. No overwhelming pile of unneeded
presents, no goody bags, just lots of happy kids with a new book
How about a book exchange? Every child brings a wrapped, age-
appropriate book and every child gets a new book to take home.
My children were born on my birthday so we have a big bash
together every year and that might give me an odd perspective. I
always state on the invitation that ''your presence is present
enough'' I don't like the idea that a party invitation is a gift
request form. Last year we got lots of flowers because people
don't like to come empty handed but they were gorgeous and
enjoyed by everyone at the party. I encourage you to restrict
presents on the invitation. Just ask that everyone come and have
I agree that birthday gifts can get out of hand and obscure the
reason for celebrating in the first place. Friends of ours
recommended their approach that we have used successfully so far.
All the kids invited to my daughter's party are asked to bring a
wrapped book. Instead of my daughter getting all the books, we
have a book exchange (make sure this is spelled out in the
invites so the parents are on board). The kids love going home
with a gift, and particularly when they are little, they love
unwrapping the gift even more. Be sure to have an extra
wrapped book on hand just in case someone doesn't read the
fine print and comes with a huge stuffed animal or some other
obviously non-book gift. Our daughter has enjoyed unwrapping
hers in the presence of the other kids and so far hasn't
complained. We've only done this for her 3rd and 4th birthday to
date. For her older birthdays, we plan to allow her to invite
one or perhaps two really good friends for a special event - a
weekend camping trip, a trip to an amusement park, high tea, or
similar special activity. With the number of invites reduced to
a very small number, it doesn't appear to be a party from which
others are excluded; rather, it will (hopefully) be seen by
others as a kid who doesn't have birthday parties, and by our
daughter as something extremely special for her. Good luck!
We have attended a few parties where the family requested gifts
for $5 or less, to be exchanged, one each for each child who
attends. This works well, provided you shop for an item appealing
to boys and girls. It might be a good idea to pick up a few
extras just in case a parent forgets. This way, every child
leaves the party with a present, and its fun to have everyone
For the birthday boy or girl, you can have regular presents at
another time, perhaps before the party, so they don't feel
For our daughter's next birthday (she will be seven) we have
suggested one of two things. One, she may take ONE friend to
someplace special (the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, for example, or
Marine World) in celebration of her birthday. Or two, she may
have a slumber party with two or three friends. She is quite
pleased with these choices!
Tired of the Party Stress!
I appreciate your dilemma, which we're already anticipating even
with a 9 month-old. We find the prospect of accumulating
unneeded things kind of depressing, and not refelctive of our
family's values. Friends of ours with a 6 yr-old son have, from
the beginning, requested that instead of bringing presents to
the birthday party, people create a page (distributed in advance
with the invitations) for a ''birthday book.'' The page can
include drawings, photos, messages, etc. I don't know whether
this will work indefinitely, but so far it's been great, and the
boy has wonderful and PERSONAL books for each of his birthdays.
I agree that all these presents are too much! Not sure if this
will help, but we have given parties or attended parties where
the following worked. Admittedly, in some cases, you have to
start the tradition when the child is small:
* Limit number of party guests by choosing special party activity
or location that precludes the hordes (e.g, ''Only 5 fit on the
boat.'')--and that birthday child really lusts after.
* Ask each child to bring a book and then do an anonymous book
exchange, so every child goes home with book as their goody. This
also eliminates the proliferation of goody bags filled with stuff
that litters your house and breaks immediately.
* Ask each child to bring a can of food for a local food bank or
a book for a children's charity. Nearing xmas, a wrapped toy for
charity would be welcomed many places. This also teaches kids
about service to others.
* Place an absurdly low dollar limit on gifts in your invitation
and ask people how creative they can be with the limited funds.
* Give a party with one or more other children with close
birthdays and then tell guests to bring just one gift that could
work for any of the birthday kids. At the party, birthday kids
take turns picking gifts to open, so they each take home fewer
Good luck with all this. Remember, a party is a big gift right
there!! I have also waged a one-person campaign by bringing
modest gifts ($7 or less). It seems so many parents spend so much
and often the child doesn't really care--and we can't keep up the
re: birthday present excess. A friend of mine persuaded her 7
year old daughter to give her birthday presents to a charity -
in this case, Children's Hospital. All the invitees knew ahead
of time that the majority of the presents would be donated (the
birthday girl got to choose one present to keep), and had fun
shopping for the less fortunate kids the presents would
eventually go to. The birthday girl got to be very proud of
herself for doing such a noble thing, and was thanked not only
by the hospital, but even mentioned in a newspaper article for
her generosity. I think it was a great idea that everyone was
I too have struggled with the Birthday Party Excess problem, and this
is how I have solved it. We do a party ''grab bag'' of gifts. In the
invitation I ask each party-goer to bring a gift, wrapped, for $10 or
under. We put all of the gifts in the laundry bag, and at the end of
the party, each child draws out a present. Buy something yourself, so
your birthday child also gets to pick from the grab bag. Also make
certain that each child brings a gift. One birthday 2 sisters came who
only brought one gift, and that left us one short. This works out
really well and also avoids the watch-the- birthday- child-
open-their-gifts activity, which, I feel, only further emphasizes the
material aspect of the occasion. Also, my kids still get plenty of
gifts from relatives, so noone feels ''short-changed.''
I'll be looking forward to hearing the answers you get, as
this is a big concern of mine. So far, we've gone the route of
having very small birthday parties, and/or saying on the
invitation, ''no presents, please.'' Let me just say that I
endorse your goal 100%, and I think most parents will
agree. I don't think it is Grinchlike at all. I far prefer parties
without goody bags and gifts. One compromise that I've
heard of is to specify a kind of gift that is inexpensive and
small. For example: if you want to bring a gift, please bring a
matchbox car for Jenny's collection, or a charm for her
charm-bracelet, or a utensil for her to cook with, or a tool for
her toolbox, etc.. That way people can participate in the
gift-giving ritual without it becoming an orgy of comsuption. I
love the idea of asking for homemade gifts only. At our
house, we're trying to do ''recycled holidays'' -- in which
family members give each other only gifts that are used,
recycled, home-made, etc., anything other than bought new.
The gifts are much better and the holidays more enjoyable.
But I'm not sure how you would translate that concept into a
kid's birthday party, since it assumes a certain amount of
prearrangement and mutual coordination. Anyway, good
Congratulations to the thinking mom who asks ''How Much IS
Enough?'' which is also the title of an excellent book on excess.
I raised my kid on a limited budget and that's turned out to be
a blessing in disguise, as we were unable, thank goodness, to
shop or acquire much.
Americans are seriously out of whack on consumption. 24 kids,and
two dozen presents at a youngster's birthday is excess. The boy
who was clearly overwhelmed by this and hasn't thanked anyone or
looked at many presents a year later was not done a favor.
If there is indeed risk in your circle of ''social opprobrium'' by
having small parties (6-10 kids as you said), then I would be
questioning who those friends are who disdain a child-scale
event of modest proportions. Is this a model of behavior for
future generations in a world with limited resources? Looks like
a teachable moment for all parties, from the kids who don't need
more to the adults whose sights are set on uber-shopping &
training their children to imitate them.
How about an ecology or simplicity theme party featuring hand-
made gifts, plants or trees to plant outdoors, books on
conservation, or donations to poor kids in Africa or Latin
America as an alternative?
Resources might be
www.simpleliving.org/ (has a children's section)
You are on the right path and can set a much higher tone for a
celebration than more stuff and junky toys that are soon
forgotten. Good job and good luck, Mom!
My siblings and I had ''public'' birthday parties every other year
(there were four kids being raised on one very modest income). On
the ''odd'' years we had a family outing, and on the even, a fairly
simple party with home-make cake. My favorite birthday party was
when I was 8; the focus was making our own ice cream sundaes -
each kid brought an ingredient, and it was a huge mess and lots of
fun. Those were simpler times, I guess.
Anything that makes the focus on being together and celebrating,
rather than acquiring stuff, sounds great to me. I very much
liked the idea of making a birthday book at the party - that's
something we've thought of doing based on our daughters' preschool
and kindergarten school traditions. I also love the book exchange
- we have asked in the past that presents be restricted to books
or art supplies, but doing it as an exchange would also be a great
way to skip what my friend calls ''kiddy litter bags''. We have
tried in the past to limit the ''kiddy litter'' by having the party
bags contain one major item - like a flashlight for my October
birthday girl. Nonetheless I don't like the way kids line up at
birthday parties with their hands outstretched for their loot, or
the way the guest of honor rips through presents with a panting
horde around her. How much better it would be either have an
exchange, have the gifts directed to a good cause, or just skip
the stuff altogether!
Thanks for all the good suggestions. If even just a few of us
simplify, perhaps the idea will spread...
Great topic! I have enjoyed reading the responses thus far and will take
the suggestions to heart as well. In the meantime, while we haven't dealt
with the excess issue, we did deal with the issue of opening presents at
the party problem last time around. At our daughter's 4th birthday party,
we talked to her ahead of time and told her we would not be opening the
presents at the party so that she and her friends could spend all of the
time playing and having fun (it was at the Oakland Zoo). By the way, we
forgot to mention that to the parents before the party, which would have
been a good idea in hindsight, as their kids were all asking when the
presents would be opened. In any case, all the parents thought it was
WONDERFUL that we weren't going to open presents at the party. One
of them, in fact, said she was going to do the same thing at her
daughter's party, which she did just recently very successfully. I
personally hate the frenzy, envy, jealousy, etc. that goes with the public
opening of the gifts and we have vowed never to do it again.
Can you stand one more message about this? I recently attended a
fifth birthday party where the parents handled the situation
really well. First, as suggested on this list, they did not open
the birthday girl's presents at the party. Second, they played a
game in which all the kids sat in a circle and passed around a
large bundle containing wrapped presents (one wrapped present,
wrapped again, another wrapped present, the whole thing wrapped
again, etc.). The mom played music; whoever was holding the
bundle when the music stopped unwrapped the bundle and took out
the present that was there. Then the music started again and the
bundle was passed around until all the presents were gone.
Needless to say there were enough presents for all (two bundles,
plus extras in case anyone didn't get one). The presents were
small, and everyone had fun unwrapping them with all their friends
watching; plus, everyone got something to take home! We're going
to try it at our next party.
RE: Joint birthday party for 2 kids:
My sister-in-law recently had a birthday party for her 4 year old son and
ended up inviting 40 children (because her son had just moved from the 3 yo
to 4 yo room at school and wanted to invite all his "friends"). Well, the
thought of one child potentially receiving 40 gifts was disturbing to my
sister-in-law so on the invitations she
stated the children would do a gift exchange. Each child was to bring a
"gender-neutral" gift within a range ($10-$15, or whatever feels
comfortable), and gifts would be exchanged at the party. I don't recall
the mechanism for exchange (numbering each gift and having the kids draw a
number from a bowl would be one way). Perhaps you and your friend could
provide two or three extra gifts for the
birthday boy and girl.
As it turned out approximately 25 children attended my
nephew's party and the gift exchange worked really well. I like the idea
because it demonstrates to the children that it is fun to give and receive.
In your situation, parents wouldn't have to worry about whether or not
they know both children and whether they should bring one or two gifts.
this page was last updated: Nov 23, 2013
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network