Why Are So Many Parents Today Doing Present-Free Birthday Parties?

The other day, my daughter met me with the most excited look on her face when I picked her up from daycare. I quickly realized why when she handed me an invitation for a friend's birthday party. My daughter was ecstatic; she didn’t stop talking about balloons, cake and fancy princess dresses the whole way home. When I opened the invitation, I saw three words that seem to be more and more popular on birthday party invitations these days: “No gifts, please.”

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Personally, I totally understand why some parents have decided to forgo the traditional gift-giving experience at birthday parties- and I plan on doing the same when my daughter’s birthday comes around. I have several different reasons why. First off, my daughter doesn’t really play with toys the way I did when I was little. Sure, she has some dolls and gadgets, but she rarely spends much time with them. Because she’s in daycare most of the day, I try to spend as much time with her as possible when I get home from work. When we go out, we’ll often go to the park or to the pool. If we stay home, we’ll color, read or do some puzzles together. If I give my kid the choice between any of the activities I mentioned, one of her toys, or some time with the tablet or in front of the TV, screen time wins. Toys simply don’t have the same appeal that they did 30 years ago, and they find themselves collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. To me, it’s a waste of money to give my daughter something that she’ll end up never using.

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Another reason that I’m not the biggest fan of gift-giving at birthday parties is the social pressure we put on our kids to first give adequate gifts- and secondly, to graciously accept every gift without insulting the gift-giver. I grew up with strict parents, and I remember hating the act of opening gifts. I never showed enough emotion or gave thanks enthusiastically enough for my mom. On the other hand, my mom was the type of person who only gave practical gifts, so I was always the lame kid who showed up to parties with socks and mittens. I don’t ever want to put that kind of pressure on my daughter, and I don’t want any of her friends to feel left out for something that they have no control over. That's mainly because at this age, it’s the parents who are selecting and paying for the gift.

If you receive an invitation that tells you not to bring a gift, please respect the parents’ wishes and don’t bring one. If you don’t want to show up to a birthday party empty-handed, ask the parents what they would like. Offer suggestions- maybe some books, puzzles or clothes would be appropriate. Maybe you can contribute to the party itself by bringing a fruit platter or helping set up decorations. Another alternative would be a gift certificate to the birthday kid's favorite activity or restaurant.

Times have changed since we were kids, and parents are making different lifestyle choices than our parents did. If parents are clear that they don’t want any presents, it’s safer to bring nothing at all than to force an unwanted gift on them and their kid. They will all thank you for your consideration!

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