Although we all know it is impossible that everyone has babies in October and April, why does it always seem that we are suddenly swamped with birthday parties then? There is festivity in the air now with the leaves changing colors, Halloween celebrations at school and more birthday cupcakes and sugar rushes than any of us would ever wish on a teacher.
With that slew of birthdays comes the tricky navigation of birthday gifts: how much to spend, what girls like at that age if you are a parent of boys, is his mom going to shun me if I get her son a toy gun, a drum or a video game?
Those are the easy questions. Go with your gut. Don’t overspend.
These days, the tough ones are:
• When the invitation says no gifts, what do you do?
• When the invitation says, “Johnnie would prefer a donation to his favorite charity,” what should you do?
• Are gift cards tacky?
Now, before I launch into my opinions here, you should know I am heavily biased toward letting our kids enjoy the experience of giving and receiving gifts from their friends. One day of ridiculous abundance a year is not going to spoil them, and as a 46 year old whose interest in birthdays is rapidly waning, why not let them enjoy birthdays to the extreme while they have yet to imagine a wrinkle or hip surgery?
Also, my kids love to give their friends gifts they know will make them happy. What’s better than a huge grin or a “this is awesome” when a friend opens the present you picked out?
Plus, an added benefit of gift giving is learning to write thank you notes. A lost art and quite lovely.
With that said, here we go.
When the invitation says no gifts, what do you do?
The dilemma here is especially challenging if you are new to this particular social circle, because you do not know if the good friends will sneak a gift in despite the admonition not to. Then you feel bad that you didn’t grasp the club rules. Depending on the situation and how well I know the family, I either follow their request or I get the child a book that I think is especially wonderful. It’s just a book, right? No parent will be upset with you for giving that.
When the invitation says, “Betty would prefer a donation to her favorite charity,” what do you do?
I am a cynic, and as a cynic, I believe that only the rare child came up with that one on their own. I involve my kids with philanthropy based on our family values and interests, and sadly, I often forget to make the party birthday donation anyway. I almost want to rebel against this one on behalf of the birthday girl and get her something ridiculous. But…. that will definitely be frowned upon. So I usually get Betty a really special book about the concept of giving or philanthropy or reaching out to others in need. It’s just a book, right?
Is a gift card tacky?
I tend to be anti-gift card, but I have to say, my kids are so excited to receive an iTunes, Target or Game Stop card that I am bending a little on this one. Yes, I think it’s tacky. Yes, I just purchased my first one for a birthday party next weekend. I know this family is pro-gift card, so I am confident it will not be frowned upon. For families I do not know as well, I would forego the gift card for a more traditional gift.
While writing this article, I know that there are many parents who disagree with me. Even my closest friends will shake their heads, having suffered the book gift when they specifically requested no gifts.
So I am hoping that Mile High Mamas readers offer their more graceful approaches to the birthday gift dilemmas we face today with this always-strange, delightfully festive October- November flood of birthdays now upon us.
Jennifer Kelly is a freelance writer and mother of three boys. In 2010, she founded Penny Jar Kids, which creates Global Giving Kits to engage children in philanthropy while learning about the cultures they choose to support.