Tuesday, February 01, 2011

An Appropriate Birthday Gift: What Say You?

This past weekend my eldest daughter went to one of her best friend's birthday party. The day before the party we went out to buy a birthday gift for her friend, and this is what Lindsey decided to buy.

Her friend has lots of toys between she and her younger sister (sound familiar?), and Lindsey just couldn't pick something out that she wasn't sure she didn't already have. So she ultimately chose three figurines of animals that she knew her friend liked. I'm sure her friend will finds lot of different ways to play with these.

It took us a very, very long time to pick out this gift. Part of the challenge is that I try to spend a certain amount of money per birthday gift, and these three little tiny figurines were up to that limit. They seemed ridiculously expensive to me, but they look like a $5 gift. So Lindsey still kept looking for something that seemed more substantial to fill the gift bag. But we couldn't find anything that was just the right price point without getting way past our budget.

By the end of the shopping trip Lindsey had decided that the gift she chose was good enough, and that her friend didn't need a big gift to know how much she meant to Lindsey.

It got me thinking about the excess that gets lavished upon our kids for birthdays. The gifts, the parties, the goodie bags. We've been guilty of it ourselves, spending hundreds of dollars to host a birthday party somewhere other than our house, pushing little plastic bags of crappy toys into little hands as the guests walk out the door. We've now reduced gift bags to passing out balloons that we bought for the party, if even that.

When Lindsey turned four I convinced her to have a no-gift party. We asked guests to bring a donation to Children's Cancer Research Fund. She thoroughly enjoyed the party and all the activities, but after all the guests had gone she asked if the following year she could have presents.

I would love to continue to have birthday parties for my girls -- they love the party itself and the time with their friends. But I don't need to have my child receiving 10 or 11 gifts from their friends for their birthdays. Yet if I banned gifts, they would be so disappointed. And how do I make this fair, when the eldest has had two more birthdays than our youngest? Do we continue to allow the younger one to receive gifts for a couple of years after we've cut the older child off?

What are your thoughts? How do you handle birthday gifts from your kids' friends?


  1. First, that gift is GREAT! Bigger isn't better. Kids love having little dolls, animals or action figures to carry around and play with. Rowan almost always chooses a small hand-held toy over something big and complicated.

    Second, by all means continue hosting your birthday parties AWAY from your house. We hosted Rowan's party at the YMCA this year, and it was great (and not quite as expensive as other venues). The lack of mess to clean up and space to run around made the cost worth it.

    Third, I think that "no gifts please" is totally reasonable. Just explain that her present is getting to go to a fun place with her friends. Think about it. You are already spending money on the fun experience! Additional toys aren't necessary. One of Rowan's friends had a no gifts party, so Rowan just made him a homemade card. When he came home with Kyle, he reported that all the other kids did the same thing! Much more meaningful.

    Fourth, I doubt your younger daughter will realize that she is getting cheated out of a couple of years of plastic toys. I'd let go of any guilt there.

    Maybe you'll start a new, lower-expectations trend among your neighbors and friends! (visit www.birthdayswithoutpresure.org)

  2. Great ideas, Angie, thank you! I love the idea of the homemade birthday cards as the gifts -- Lindsey loves making them for her friends and enjoys getting them too.

  3. I say.....I am not a fan of gifts myself, but for the sake of the kids, we do gifts...they love to give and recieve, and I remember loving the gift part myself as a kid....who am I kidding...I still love to give and recieve!
    I let the girls pick out whatever they choose for their friends, with some parameters, and it all seems to work!
    I remember that no gift party, and it was a good one! I am hoping that I will teach the girls to give more, and feel lucky to have what they do.....we shall see how it all works out as the get older!
    I am with the homemade cards.....we have not bought one for a child in a long time....saving some money there:)

  4. GREAT GIFT! i really like those animals and my kids have a ton. I bought them each one for Valentine's Day... but I forgot where I put them. WAIT! Just in the nick of time. I remember they are in my trunk!

    Have a GREAT day!

  5. I know one mom who asked the kids to bring ART SUPPLIES as a gift to the party. That could include toilet paper rolls, or ANYTHING else for crafts. Low cost and her girls used them.