The Great Birthday Gift Debate

I didn’t even know there was one!

But I recently attended a workshop with other mothers of young children in which the focus was how to keep their play spaces organized, functional, and conducive to learning. And during the discussion, one mother raised the question of how to handle the onslaught of toys their kids receive as birthday gifts. Another mother suggested asking their guests not to bring gifts (which was the solution I had been thinking as well) and the torrent of responses that followed was, to me, quite surprising. Another mother surmised   that tempering gift expectations may be easier in older children but that it would be harder to explain to her two/three year old who’s thinking, “OK, where’s my gift?”  Some nodded in agreement while others (including I) respectfully disagreed that a toddler should be given more leeway. How is it that we even get to a point where a 2 year old learns to expect gifts?

Before this conversation, I had no idea that birthday gifts was even such a hot-button topic! But apparently it is.  I’m always of the mindset of “Hey, whatever works for you”.  I think parents are entitled to give their kids the most extravagant parties that they wish, or, as in my case, none at all.

Well, I I wouldn’t say “none” exactly. The days that my children were born are absolutely precious and sentimental memories to me, which is why we certainly still acknowledge them, but generally in a much more low-key and personal way. The Hubs and I are choosing to refrain from official birthday parties for our kids simply because we do not want them to have any notion whatsoever that they should expect others to give them guaranteed parties and gifts every year just because they were born. So instead we will typically make an “event ” of preparing a meal of the child’s choosing (for Matty’s 2nd birthday we enjoyed his at-that-moment favorite meal of chicken nuggets and french fries–and salad!) and a (badly decorated but great tasting) cake that I frowned over and yelled at all day long (but still had a great time making). We invited over exactly three people (the Hubs’ childhood friend and his wife and daughter) who we had been meaning to invite over for dinner anyway. And it was much the same for Lila, who was Super Excited All…Week…Long for her last party, and by “party” I mean homemade cheeseburgers made by Hubs, another (badly decorated but great tasting!) cake by me, and two family friends that were in town for the weekend. She wore her favorite pink frilly tutu around the house all day long and jumped around in excitement and pestered me endlessly while I made her cake. And that was it. She is definitely aware that most kids receive gifts on their birthdays, but so far I have yet to hear her lament the lack of gifts given to her. I have only witnessed complete and unabashed, unbridled joy simply from having a day in which she is celebrated with love, time and togetherness with her family.

I tried. They tasted good, anyway

I tried. They tasted good, anyway


Lest anyone think we are party poopers, please know that  I love a good party just as much as anyone else. And I think parties for kids are actually fun.  That’s why we will have those too. We are just choosing not to attach them to the child’s birthday. Instead, we’d rather have a big picnic in the park with streamers, balloons, cupcakes, and party favors for something like, say, the arrival of Spring, or an end-of-summer/Back-to-School cookout. Or a “Just Because” party like the Elmo-themed one we had for Lila one random day in March when she was in her Sesame Street phase. The focus was just to have a few friends over to play and have cake and we came up with party favors and gifts to give to them to thank them for coming!

Lest anyone think that the Babes are going to be deprived and maladjusted, or that we are marking them to be “weird”, fret not. I lived a childhood in which I never, not once, celebrated a birthday or (gasp) Christmas, either! And I am living proof, still standing to this day, that its really just not that traumatizing. Firstly, its really hard to yearn for, or feel like you’re missing out from something that you’ve never done. I never felt slighted or left out. Sure, I recall a moment or two as a 7 or 8 yr old when there may have been some cool new toy that I really coveted and I would think “man, i really wish we celebrated Christmas so that I could get that toy” but truly, it was a fleeting thought. The next week I wouldn’t even remember anymore, and months down the line I’d likely end up with that toy anyway. For good grades, for good behavior, and simply because I was a kid and my parents wanted to treat me,  I received toys all year round for various reasons and for no reason at all.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, another workshop mom mentioned that one time she tried the “no gifts” thing at a party and that some parents showed up with one anyway. And to that I think, sure, there will always be the parent that is unable (or unwilling) to grasp the “no gift” request and would bring one anyway. And that would be perfectly OK. That is what one could consider a true birthday surprise. The child would likely enjoy it and appreciate it just that much more instead of it ending up in a heap with all the other toys they already knew they were getting; and what better way to teach true and genuine graciousness and how to properly give thanks when receiving a present one did not expect!

So with all that being said, please don’t feel sorry for The Babes that they wont be having conventional birthdays! If we’re asking you to come by, then believe us when we say that we are really, truly pleased and excited to just enjoy your presence and good company on their special days. And I am A-OK with you having any type of event you see fit for your celebrations! This is our choice, but of course it may not be yours. So If you invite us, please know that we’ll most certainly come and enjoy the cake! And unless you expressly prohibit it, we’ll even bring a gift!

5 thoughts on “The Great Birthday Gift Debate

  1. Your approach is refreshing. I think all the gift and party competition is for the *adults* involved and kids merely learn to take on their parents’ attitudes. Don’t people remember how much fun a kid can have with a cardboard box?! Or pots & pans?? (Not that I’m suggesting you give your children a cardboard box…(!)

    Well said.


    • Thank you!
      how funny you mention cardboard boxes. We are in the process of moving and brought some into the house last night and the Babes were drawn to them like magnets. They started coloring on them and pretending it was their “rocketship”. And on any given day, my boy (who has no shortage of toys) picks up the most random inanimate household objects lying around (e.g. a hairbrush, a bottle of lotion, a spoon, a plastic coat hanger) and repurposes them as puppets or action figures and plays with them for hours! You hand him an actual toy, and he’ll put it down and go back to his own options! Sometimes I shake my head over the oddness of this, but then shrug and accept it as a great reminder that they really dont need a fraction of what we think that they do, and that they can be brilliant improvisers when left to their own devices.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The “Elsa Cake” and Party |

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