It's birthday season at our house. They start April 29th and continue through June 9th. When I was growing up my parents didn't do birthday parties, just a cake and presents, and I never felt deprived that I didn't have a yearly party with friends. A side note, I do remember having one party in first or second grade. It was one for both my sister, whose birthday is the day after mine, and myself and I recall we each got to invite a fair amount of friends too.
So here it is, birthday season and I start to stress. Why do I do this year after year? I hate to say it, but I'm so fixated over the party this year that I checked a few books out from the library to help guide me. Funny thing, they are really quite helpful. They suggest a short window of time for the party, which I opted for the suggested hour and a half. This way I will feed them kiddie unhealthy foods, play a few games then send them on their way. Oh, and I will take photos just so I can document that I had parties for my children. But why is this such a big deal to me when I never missed having them as a kid? Granted my oldest daughter is very excited for her party and has been helping with the planning every step of the way. But I am certain she would be just fine having the family together over cake and a few gifts.
The horror of planning happened when I read my soon to be five year old the invite. The last line reads, "no gifts please". She replied with "But Mom, that is the best part. Why did you add that?" I explained to her that she has too much stuff that she doesn't play with, what's the point of having more. I also said "the reality is that a party is really for friends to come together in your honor to have cake and wish you well". I also added "your parents and grandparents will be giving you gifts and we aren't skipping that, so really it's just your friends that won't be bringing gifts". With that she understood and accepted it.
A friend told me that was a harsh idea when our kids go to so many parties where kids open so many gifts. Or shall I say "tear" through them without even glancing to see what is in the box. But I explained that it is a pact that some friends and I made where we have agreed to accept an invitation that says "no gifts please" and stick to it. My sister in New York had a party for her daughter years ago that I attended and thought it so strange that her daughter didn't open her gifts from the girls that attended. She plainly stated, "that's just the way they do it around here". After that, I thought it was brilliant. What an idea. This way kids aren't crying that they don't have anything to open since it isn't their party. The books say that kids love to see their gifts opened, but I really sense they don't care when it's all said and done, they just remember having fun, playing games and eating cake. Off to make the dalmation pinata....
I've often thought that a "no gifts or re-gifts only" line would be a nice way to handle gifts for a party. It's funny, though -- I think that "no gifts please" has become socially acceptable in this culture of plenty and excess, but I have a feeling that adding the "re-gifts" option would tip you into the slightly eccentric category. For me, that would probably be okay, since I seem to be settling into that category anyway. I do think gift opening is fun and think that encouraging "re-gifting" among kids actually teaches some positive ideals -- letting go of things that you own, sharing something that you have liked with a friend, and preparing something in anticipation of it making someone happy. And of course, there's always the "homemade" option, which I think is seen as okay even under the "no gifts" umbrella. Isn't it?
I agree, a homemade gift can fit under the no gift category no problem. I do admit, I love the re-gift idea. It sounds a little crazy, but it makes so much sense. Who need a new in package doll when one from a garage sale for 50 cents is always more popular anyway. My neighbor came over tonight to discuss a gift for my daughter since she asked for a breakable tea set. I was shocked first of all that she even missed the tea set that fell from a high shelf one day to end in shattered glass and tears, but I was even more shocked that she had the nerve to ask my neighbor for a replacement. My neighbor asked since it said "no gifts", if she could take my big five year old on an outting. I said, yes, that would mean so much more to her than any material item you could bring, so thanks in advance. But she also came with another idea that a friend did for her child. She had a book exchange instead. Each child was asked to bring a favorite book and then each child had a gift to open and leave the party with. No gift bag full of cheap junk and sweets, it was something worthwhile, a good old book.
P.S. I really want to add that I'm not passing any judgement on others that have gifts at their parties. I do understand it's the norm, but I just think my kids have WAY too much stuff and we haven't recovered from the Christmas whirlwind yet. They just got so much stuff from everyone, including myself, that I really think they stopped appreciating gifts. It really was the gift opening frenzy where they couldn't even take a minute to recognize the gift before moving onto the next one. Things need to change around here!
Interesting that you would PS this. What connects a choice to a judgment? And why would your "no gifts" choice be any more of a judgment than one's choice to be a vegetarian or to live in the city? Or for that matter one's choice to be a meat eater or live in the suburbs? I think that the more we examine and act on our own beliefs, the more we empower others to do the same.
I was meaning to state that I haven't witnessed someone's kid opening gifts in a frenzy which inspired this article. My fear was that someone reading this was thinking in the back of their mind, "was it my kid that made her change her mind about gifts". The judgement was only towards my parenting, not others.
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