Is it Tacky to Ask for No Gifts Please ?

August 22, 2017

bee box parties no gifts please party advice blog

Every birthday party in our house ends in a scene that would not be out of place in a world where the boxing day sales were attended only by children: a mountain of plastic toys beeping and flashing being set upon by a small child high on the excitement a once in a year gift haul and a plethora of sugar. And every year I wonder to myself, if this is really what birthdays are about? Is this wasteful? Am I teaching my child to value material things too much? Which other ways can I second guess my parenting skills on an already stressful day (hey, its what we do)?


And I wonder what would happen if we just said no more. No more gifts that will either be used once and never looked at again, or used intently because they are ‘the most epic gift ever’ for precisely one week before…you guessed it, they are never looked at again. No more spring clean in anticipation of the gift haul, no more anxiety about the kids in Africa that don’t get fed while my own child drowns in a playroom stuffed with gifts as if it were the IKEA ballroom.


Can it be done? A no gift birthday? Is there precedent? Will we be expelled from the cool parents’ clique for being fussy, or exalted to head-cliquery status for our brave descent into new and unchartered territory? (Side note - am I actually in the cool parents’ clique?)


So why does no one ever follow through? I mean, it sounds like a great idea, right? And I’m sure I’ve heard whispers and murmerings from the playground at pick up time; hushed voices daring to suggest the unthinkable act, pushing against a tide of titanic strength bouyed by the threat of social media parriah-ism.


Most importantly, can someone please be brave enough to try it in the next month or so before I have to gear up for the next annual celebration of the great escape from my womb?


And when said brave person reports back, could they please explain how it works? A cute message on the invite? A picture of a puppy saying ‘all I need is love and cake?’ A picture of Comrade Stalin with a speech bubble noting ‘good soviets use only what they need!’ And let’s be honest, after a week of preparation and several attempts at a most likely ill formed cake that sort of looks like a Pikachu (but is meant to be a dinosaur), the real question is…how will my kids react when there is no present mountain to climb after the sugarfest, and do I have enough wine to withstand that tantrum?


How, as parents, do we navigate the ‘no gifts please’ birthday party?


Here’s the thing. We need to consider both our present hungry children and the parents of guests, and as guests it can feel a bit disconcerting to not contribute to a celebration. One particular chocolate company designed an entire ad campaign around the idea that grown ups feel compelled to bring something, anything, to a party and not show up (gasp!) empty handed: what to bring when you don’t need to bring a thing.


But, for both the birthday child and the guest, the no gift party can prevail if expectations are well managed. For the children, a party line such as ‘this birthday party is going to be so ‘epic’ that we won’t need presents’ is a good place to start. (Is epic still the word, or am I going to sound like my dad did when he dropped ‘rad’ into every sentence all those years ago?) Focussing on the event that your party will undoubtably be makes the experience the real gift. And, attending parents will probably feel more comfortable if you express your wishes for no gifts in similar terms. Be genuine about the fact that this really is a celebration, and that a group of your child’s very favourite people is all the presents you need. At least, that’s what I’m going to try in a month or so. I’ll start prepping the birthday boy now…

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