What do you do when you receive an invitation that requests no gift for the birthday child? Comply and risk being the only person who arrives sans gift? Or bring one and face the ire of parents who wonder why no one can follow directions anymore?
Do you request no gifts when you throw a party? A friend gave me her perspective during an email conversation (remember those? They fell somewhere post-verbal, but pre-text). She said:
“I think any kid in a middle or upper-middle class neighborhood probably has more toys than they need as it is. Or in less well-0ff areas, well it could be a financial hardship to expect friends to bring gifts. So either way, I think it’s just tacky to not ask your guests to refrain from bringing a gift. But you have to be firm about it. Say something like, ‘Our Grace has a room bursting with toys and clothes, so please bring only your smiling face!’ That has worked for me.”
I tend to agree that most children in western nations could use a lesson in living simply. I have tried various techniques, with varying degrees of success. For my oldest child’s first birthday, I put, “Your presence is your present!” on the invitation. Most guests brought gifts anyway.
If you are looking for an approach with better success rates, here are a few ideas:
** Ask friends to bring a bag of cat or dog food, and have your child make a welcome donation to a local no-kill animal shelter.
** Ask for unwrapped gifts that will be donated to a toy drive or child crisis center. Or wrapped items that fulfill an Adopt-A-Family wishlist. This works great for a November or December party, when gift drives are very active. If you think your child will be tempted by the site of all the new toys, request they be for the opposite gender from your child’s (request girl toys for your son’s party, for example). Call around until you find a shelter that will allow a tour when your child arrives, or at least a peek at how some families live. Seeing the small bunk and few stuffed animals that are the sole possession of a child in a long-term shelter will make it easier for your child to part with the toys, and will really drive the ‘giving’ message home.
** I would never deprive a family member, especially a grandparent, from the pleasure of surprising their grandchild for their birthday. But you can limit the focus on consumerism by asking others for gifts of time. Trips to the zoo, a bike ride and picnic, an art lesson or lunch date will be remembered much longer than the latest toy or cute outfit.
This is the approach I took for my son’s dear friend at her 6th birthday party. We gave her a coupon in her card, good for one lunch and play date. [TIP: You may want to schedule a specific date ahead of time with the parents, because her mother said that the birthday girl asked every day for weeks if today was the day that she would get to cash in her play date coupon!] When we finally sorted out the scheduling, I took both kids and my toddler to a local toy play place, where they got to dress up in costumes, and play in pint-sized ‘houses’ and ‘businesses’. And Mommy got to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and work on her laptop! I did pause long enough to get some adorable photos of them, though, which is something I wouldn’t have if we had just given her a toy.
What do you think? Do you bring a gift even if the invitation requests none? Any other ideas for how to handle the party gifts issue?