This is a topic I’ve really struggled with. In some of my friend circles, gifts are welcome at children’s birthday parties, while with others, the invitation always reads “No gifts, please.” I can fully appreciate the parents who ask guests not to bring gifts and their reasons for doing so:
- The birthday boy or girl already has enough toys at home.
- The family’s home is small and they’re just maxed out on space.
- The parents don’t want to trouble their friends, make anyone feel uncomfortable, place a financial burden, or send even the subtlest of messages that party guests are being invited in exchange for a gift.
I’ve given this topic months, even years, of thought and am taking an unpopular position by siding with the moms who welcome gifts—not expect them, certainly not require them, but welcome gifts. Why? Because next to a cake and candles, a stack of presents is part of the fun of having a birthday! As a three, four, or five year old, coming home from your birthday party with the car full of gifts that YOU get to unwrap and keep is such a moment of excitement. The childhood years of pure, innocent joy are so short. Unwrapping birthday gifts is one of those moments of joy that I want to give my kids and all the kids in our life. I will more than happily bring birthday gifts to every birthday party we are invited to, and I really, wholeheartedly appreciate when friends bring gifts to our kids’ parties, too.
It is truly not the size or price tag of a gift that matters. The dollar store is bursting with interesting odds and ends that make for great kids’ gifts: mini cooking utensils, interestingly shaped ice cube trays, a comb & brush set with a turtle on the handle, balls of all sizes, etc.
Gifts don’t even need to be store-bought. A homemade checkers set made of painted pieces of cardboard or bottlecaps is hours of fun to make and receive. Flowers planted in recycled cardboard egg crates are another idea. A woven friendship bracelet (mamas who were children of the 80’s will know what I mean!). A felt bookmark or felt-covered notepad would suit kids of all ages or even adults.
Some parents may believe teaching children that birthdays and presents do not go hand in hand helps them learn to be less selfish, more thoughtful of others, and more grateful for the things they do have. All good points. I believe there are ways to welcome gifts into birthday celebrations while also teaching gratitude, a spirit of giving, thoughtfulness, and appreciation by involving my children in both the giving and receiving of gifts.
I realize not every child’s family and friends will be able to afford to throw him/her a birthday party or buy gifts. We make regular donations to children’s charities to hopefully make a positive impact on some of these families. At the same time, I’m advocating the birthday joy that presents bring for all the children in my life.