Be The Parent Who Puts 'No Gifts' On Your Kid's Birthday Party Invite 

It isn't easy being a disrupter. With any new trail you blaze, you're bound to face backlash. But it is 2018, and I just feel that this is a year for bold gestures. It is time.

Photo by amy gizienski/Flickr

On your kid's birthday invitation, write, "No gifts, please."

I know this has always seemed like one of those things that's "nice in theory". Maybe you've seen other people try it and miserably fail. The New York Times reported on the no-gift birthday party trend a decade ago, and how it caused confusion and strife and mild trauma.

Perhaps you've even considered doing it yourself at some point. I know I have every time I've planned a party for my five-year-old daughter. We have a lot of stuff, and it would better to have less of it. (Have you heard that fewer toys to choose from helps kids play more creatively and the new toys might be spying on them anyway and it's amazing what young brains can do with junk?) Anti-consumerism! Altruism! Enlightenment!

What You Don't Need At Your Kid's Birthday Party

Birthday parties: children daydream about them, while their parents often dread them. Before social media, parents had nothing to compare their kids' parties to, aside from a cursory glance at friends' events during drop-off and pick-up-time. Not to get all nostalgic, but some of my favourite birthdays were at the local McDonald's.

Read more

And yet - timid shrug - you can't not have birthday gifts, right? My daughter, like all children, loves opening presents, and many of the items she has received over the years from kind, thoughtful friends have been well-adored (and for all the other stuff, we say a sincere "thank you" and quietly place it onto the re-gifting shelf). It's a deeply embedded social norm to give and receive gifts on birthdays. And what about grandma? What do you tell grandma? How do you just alter tradition?

You just do.

What's pushing me across the line is this Twitter thread by a woman who goes by Moist Towelette. Last year, she wrote, in a deeply vulnerable way, about how alienating it is to be poor or broke when all your friends are financially comfortable. In the thread, she linked to a previous discussion where she talked about how hard it is when her kids are invited to birthday parties.

Here's the full thread:

The kids were invited to a birthday party this weekend and I absolutely hate that I have to get further into debt to buy this kid's present.

But I will. Because I've been that kid who attends birthday parties with a really cheap present, or none at all, and it's so embarrassing.

And this kid's parents are well-off too. Between them, they probably earn at least 3x more than I do. And have wealthy parents. Sigh.

Then when my kids get expensive birthday presents from other kids I feel terrible because I know I can't return the favour.

Please think of who you're inviting and whether they will be able to afford a gift. Buying gifts can add to/be a financial strain for some.

As much as I'd love to show up empty-handed, I don't want my kids (or others) to feel like they are the odd ones out. I just can't.

The thing is, you never know who might be struggling. By writing "no gifts, please" on your invites, Moist Towelette explains, "People who can and want to give you something still will. But it gives an out to people who can't."

There are ways to appease those who really want to give something. The most popular one seems to be to ask for donations to a particular cause and let people anonymously contribute what they afford. (Just don't write "in lieu of". It's a kids' birthday party, not a cotillion.)

If friends text you and ask, "Come on, do you really mean no gifts?" say, "Yes, I do." My friend wrote "No gifts, please" on the birthday invite for her one-year-old son, and she was firm with it. She even messaged the guest list a couple of times to remind people. At the party, I didn't see any gifts - just a stack of birthday cards. As a guest, the gesture didn't seem tacky or strange - I, for one, appreciated that I didn't have to buy another stuffed giraffe that would probably end up in the charity donation pile within a few months.

As for grandma, she can buy the kid a present. It's fine.

And as for how to explain it to your kid, talk about how it's just so fun to spend the day and celebrate with friends. That's what matters. Give your own gift if you want to. Or even better, an experience.

You may cause some confusion at first, but all change does. Ultimately, we'll all thank you. It is time.


    Sorry, the out is, if you can't afford a gift (and there's plenty of creative ways - thanks to LH - to make inexpensive gifts that are still meaningful) then don't attend.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now