“No Gift” Birthday Parties
So, the New York Times Select ran an article July 27 about this “new trend” of no-gift birthday parties. Well, not really no-gift; the article is talking about birthday parties for toddlers and kids where guests are asked to donate to a certain charity in lieu of gifts for the birthday kid.
Because this is one of my “issues,” I cajoled a friend into cutting and pasting the article for me (she had linked it on her blog, but then it’s subscriber-only), but I can’t in good conscience reprint the article on my blog. If you have NYT Select, it’s called “Cake, but no Presents, Please” by Tina Kelley. If you don’t, I’ll summarize (and, of course, add my two cents).
Kelley talks about several facets of this “trend”:
1. How it is “the first hyper-parenting trend that does not reek of wanton excess.”
My first thought here is history. Any other late 60′s/early 70′s kids out there who recall ALL kids birthday parties being no-gift? Like, duh, we just played games and ate cake and maybe did a craft? Gifts came from family, not the kids in the neighborhood. This idea doesn’t seem “new” to me.
But, then I had the thought that perhaps this reporter was born in the 80′s (which made me feel old, but that’s another story). Isn’t that when the gift excess birthday party trend started? Or am I just from a different income bracket than most NYT Select readers?
And that leads to another set of issues, which she taps on…
2. That Miss Manners shuns this no-gift trend, because birthday gift-giving teaches children valuable lessons about giving and receiving.
This came up in a debate a few months back when I proposed the old version of “no-gift” birthday parties to the “natural parenting” playgroup we attend now and then. (See above description.) Some people really want to give and receive gifts. We talked about maybe self-made gifts, or very small gifts (like something from nature, a dress-up item, etc.). However, it seems the realities of dictating gifts still detract from some of the carefree fun that birthdays once were.
My friend (who I consider a fabulous mom) told me her son was invited to a party where they were supposed to bring one of their kid’s toys and do an exchange. Her kid was just a toddler and not in the mood to give away a toy (and perhaps too young for this particular “valuable lesson”), so she ended up buying one. Then, another party said to bring a book undr $8. Same friend couldn’t find a book she liked for less than $10 and found the whole thing a bit annoying. Another friend was going to a book donation birthday party (i.e., bring a book to donate) and she felt pressure to go buy a beautiful book rather than give one she or I already had.
The truth is, by trying to impose this lesson of charity, other lessons we may not want could be inadvertantly taught in the process. And can’t kids learn these valuable lessons from less gift-giving, just not every kiddie birthday party? (More on “lessons” ahead.)
Why is this getting so complicated?!
3. Kelley mentions a website called Birthdays Without Pressure.
I looked at it. I like it. It contains a million examples and lesson plans for parent educators. It actually makes me happy to see that people are organizing around a rant I’ve had since before I became a parent. A sad statement that they need to, but I suppose going in what I consider the right direction. Enough already. Back to basics, folks.
4. She talks about how the charity parties are becoming a competition in and of themselves.
“Kind of like rich people and their gala charity balls,” she writes. I can see it. Kelley also mentions goodie bags, like one party where kids went home with organic EcoBags filled with organic fruit leather and wooden toys. Again, it’s a lovely thought, but human nature (the web site claims this is not just an American, or even a solely upper class, trend) to then feel that you need to provide something on par. This is what prompted the Minnesota parents to start Birthdays Without Pressure, the goodie bags.
Another problem I see with these charity parties is that they still force parents to open their wallet for every kid’s party, this time with a dollar amount for all to see. I don’t want that, for me or from me. Here in California, most of us are house poor. Re-gifting is a savior and budgets are tight. Can’t birthday parties be one less thing we are constantly asked to spend money on?
Plus, these parties also dictate other people’s charity giving. (Isn’t our personal charitable giving supposed to be “from the heart” and all that, not dictated by Mrs. Johnson across the street? And what if it is a cause perhaps counter to someone’s values?) Parents in Kelley’s story talk about the “valuable lesson” of charity, but can’t that lesson be taught within a family? By, perhaps, volunteering time or choosing a charity to donate to at the holidays (that’s what we always did)?
That’s not to say I think we should never ask others to rally for important causes, quite the contrary — but making donation a part of every birthday party seems a bit of a trap, not to mention a somewhat skewed “lesson.” There is no choice involved there. Kelley didn’t go into all of these issues, but I think they are important in this conversation.
In short, I still fall back on the good old seventies townhouse-living birthday parties where kids came and played, and if they did a craft that was their take-home. It was fun. We got birthday cards from friends, presents from family only. I’d be happy to find a group of parents who wants to do this. Kids can make the cards, or parents can buy them (as it’s always been) and the party ends up actually enjoyable and “without pressure” as the Minnesota parenting groups calls it. Anything more becomes a controversy or a competition for many of us, and I think it spoils the fun.
Of course, this will only work if we can all agree, and that may well be impossible. Still, I have hope that our generation of parents can make real progress in the backward direction. Let’s learn from our predecessors. The Earth, the stuff, the relationships, everything needs some simplifying and good old-fashioned thought and care. Less is more and all that. Parties that are solely about gathering with people who care about one another and enjoy the company — what a concept. I swear, it’s fun!
Change isn’t easy, but clearly it happens. It happened in the 80′s and it can happen now. Check out Birthdays Without Pressure and throw in your two cents (no more, no less) here or there. Let’s have this conversation.
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