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Are Birthday Gifts Bad?

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Guest blogger Jessica Katz: As my daughter's first birthday approaches next month, the invites for other first birthdays are coming in as well. We have gotten a few invitations that have said "no gifts"; in lieu of gifts, they are taking donations for a charity of their choice. One was collecting diapers for moms who can't afford diapers. If they can't afford diapers, should they be having kids? I mean, diapers are sort of a basic. If they can't afford those, how will they afford food and medicine?

baby with birthday gift
I felt bad for the little kids who will be turning one without a single gift to unwrap. And then I felt a sudden anxiety: Was I being politically incorrect by letting people give my daughter presents? Was I being greedy? Who knew there were so many rules when celebrating a baby's birthday? I was already worried that people would frown that I was serving a non-organic, sugar-laden cake. 

I asked one of the "PC" moms why she was banning gifts from the soiree. The answer? "I felt like people will think that I am asking for gifts by throwing a party. My son already has a lot of toys, and I really have nowhere to put them." 

Another mom told me, "It is the right way to teach your children not to be greedy and materialistic." Now, when I was a child, I was never asked to bring a donation rather than a birthday gift. Everyone knows you have parties to get gifts. And of course, gifts are good. If people don't bring my daughter birthday gifts, she won't have toys: My husband has banned toy-buying. But would she be seen as a greedy monster because she opened presents at her party? 

What happened to the excitement of picking out a birthday gift for your best friend? To proudly taking it with you to the birthday party, hoping she opens it first and it is her favorite? To going through your birthday loot after the party is over? To the fine art of writing thank-you cards and mailing them after the festivities? In short, what happened to the birthday traditions we always knew?  

Asking for donations gets awkward. How much am I supposed to ask people to donate? What's the appropriate amount? I find joy in picking out a gift for someone; the donating thing robs me of that joy, too. And children need toys. Toys age with your children, and therefore new toys are needed. A birthday is a great time to get them, even if you need to store them for a while. 

As far as I am concerned, bring on the presents -- and let them eat cake!

next: Are Mental Health Days for Kids OK?
24 comments so far | Post a comment now
KS November 22, 2010, 10:14 AM

Maybe if you would stop being so judgemental of other people you would stop assuming they were being judgemental of you. Not everyone is built like you and most people are happy to give. Especially considering the fact that whether you give to a charity or give a present you are still spending money on behalf of the birthday child.

Christina November 22, 2010, 10:17 AM

For the first couple of birthdays, I don’t think it’s a big deal to let people bring gifts. It’s fun, and not terribly expensive to buy things for kids that age. Now that my twin boys are in preschool, we find it preferable to state “your presence is your gift”. First, because we all attend so many parties now it really becomes a significant monetary outlay. Second, they already get so many gifts from family members, we just don’t have the room. Third, because I think my boys are old enough to learn how to be good hosts - part of which is to NOT expect gifts and to be gracious when someone thinks to get you one. Personally, I’d much rather see a handmade card from a kid than a brightly colored piece of plastic.

Sara November 22, 2010, 12:07 PM

I hate the no gifts line because it doesn’t teach kids to learn to give and it doesn’t teach kids how to have manners and be polite when they do receive gifts. I prefer when parents ask for books if the number of toys is a problem (as they are cheap and no one can have too many).

I wouldn’t care if my daughter didn’t receive a gift when we went to a party, but my daughter would be disappointed not to be able give a present to her friend.

Gemma November 22, 2010, 2:47 PM

I agree with this article in so many ways I don’t even know where to start. With the holidays approaching, I’ve been seeing numerous articles about teaching kids the true meaning of Christmas and how it’s not about the presents. That’s certainly true, and it’s something I’d like to instill in my kids, but I know that the presents are what they most look forward to. So, when their birthdays roll around, I want to let them honestly express themselves. For my family, Christmas is a religious holiday, but a birthday is a birthday. That means presents! Yay! And cake! Yippee! And ice cream and treats and a birthday crown!! WOOHOO! I like the frenzy and excitement that are for my kid and my kid alone. A birthday is a special day to celebrate YOU. You want presents? I’ll bet you do. I do, too. Who doesn’t like getting presents? Why should we feel guilty for giving our kids presents? Or a cake made out of sugar (instead of, say, beets)? Sure, everything in moderation, but the last time I checked, birthdays only come once a year. So yes, let your kids get excited about presents. And let your kids enjoy OTHER kids’ birthdays, too. Let them, as the author said, enjoy picking out the perfect toy (the heck with practicality!), and enjoy wrapping it, and enjoy the party and the junk food and the games and the noise. Long live the traditional birthday!!

Anon November 22, 2010, 2:56 PM

Your kid is one. She will have no memory of either opening a present or donating money. You cannot teach her to be greedy or giving at this age. Don’t sweat it.

For older kids (say 3 and up), I think it’s mean to push them to give instead of having presents. I don’t think it teaches compassion so much as guilt and possibly irritation.

If you really want to teach giving, do it yourself. Give up something you really like for a month and save the money in a jar to give to charity. Or tell all your relatives, you don’t want gifts this year. Or drive a clunker and give the difference to charity.

Katie November 22, 2010, 4:22 PM

I try not to judge anyone’s parenting style because every family is different. So as far as that goes to each their own. I will be allowing people to give my kids gifts if they want but if they don’t bring one it wont be held against them. If someone wants to do charities thats okay too.
What I take issues with. You’re very elitist attitude in the first paragraph. Yes, it does seem common sense and basic that kids need diapers. But your judgement that “if you can’t afford them you shouldn’t have kids”? How do you know what their situation is? Maybe they’ve fallen on hard times, who knows. It is NOT YOUR PLACE TO JUDGE THEM or who can have kids. I applaud the mom who thought to seek that as a donation gift.

Sandra November 22, 2010, 4:35 PM

I was always taught that saying anything about a gift on an invitation is unacceptable. My sons first birthday is approaching and if people bring gifts that is fine, if they don’t it’s fine, and if they show up with a paper saying they donated to save the habitat of wild pandas in his name that’s fine too. It is their money and I will not tell them what they should do with it.

Mia November 22, 2010, 7:46 PM

I find it awful and judgemental to question a charity that helps those in need like the one who helps mothers who can’t afford diapers. Did you ever stop and think that maybe at the time they decided to have children they had the means to buy diapers but maybe because of sudden lay offs and unemployment they are struggling? That probably never crossed your mind. I hope you never have to be in a possition where you need help from a charity because I know you would be unable to deal with the situation. As for the rest of your article. There’s nothing wrong with birthday presents.

Todd November 23, 2010, 7:30 AM

Yeah, the first paragraph was kind of gross. Kids are a blessing and if more people gave a crap about others, there wouldn’t be so many people in need.

Leah November 23, 2010, 7:59 AM

KUDOS to the first paragraph - YES if a woman can’t afford diapers she should NOT be having children. I don’t work 2 jobs to pay for other people who can’t afford kids to breed!!

This just shows how crazy PC and lacking all common sense we’ve become - it’s okay to promote irresponsibility in not having enough money to afford to care for your own children but somehow it’s wrong to bring a birthday present to a party? WHAT?

Katie November 23, 2010, 8:06 AM

To Leah,
Lets turn the judging tables on you maybe, see you feel? You don’t have to work two jobs to put a roof over your kids head and food on the table. You do it because you want to, because you want to be more comfortable, get more things? That makes you materialistic and greedy right? And it also means you don’t have enough time for your children because how could you possibly have enough time if you work two full time jobs? And if you never see your kids whats the point in having them, maybe you shouldnt have kids because your greedy, materialistic, and too involved with your job to give them the time of day.
I’m judging right? I’m way off base right? I dont know what your situation is or why you work two jobs or if your kids are well adjusted? So how in the world do you think you even know what someone else’s situation is? Why they can’t afford something basic for their child?

Anonymous November 23, 2010, 9:46 AM

I personally hate the “give to charity instead of giving a gift” mentality. When I give to a charty it’s because I feel moved to do so and when I give a gift, it is because I want to. Please don’t tell me that instead of a gift, give that money to charity because most likely I will not do it. Giving to charity should be heartfelt and not an obligation. Beside, I can give to charity 364 days a year but on YOUR birthday, I will give you a gift.

Leah November 23, 2010, 10:21 AM

Wrong Katie. I work two jobs so other people like yourself don’t have to pay to support my children. I work two jobs to teach my children accountability and responsibility, instead of people like you who seem it’s okay to just breed and expect others to pay their way.

Your comment only serves to validate my original statement. People have become so lazy, entitled and illogical to think that it’s okay to willfully give birth KNOWING they are unable to provide basic care, but a competent, responsible parent is wrong to think it’s okay to give/receive birthday gifts.

Ashley November 23, 2010, 10:25 AM

100% agree with the ENTIRE article and doubly agree with Leah’s comments.

Our society has become so backward tht things that are just plain WRONG (sorry, can’t afford diapers, don’t have a baby) are seen as justifiable while something as simple and innocent as a birthday present is somehow materialistic? I fear for our future.

Anonymous November 23, 2010, 10:26 AM

I think Katie was one of those moms who wanted people to pay for her kids.

Tara November 23, 2010, 11:06 AM

Leah, while I guess I agree with you more than Katie, you missed her entire point. She “judged” you wrongly ON PURPOSE. THAT was her whole point. So to start off your second comment, “Wrong, Katie!”…yes, she was. She was trying to be wrong to show that maybe you were wrong in your judgment of other families.

Katie November 23, 2010, 11:27 AM

You did miss my point entirely Leah, that being that it doesn’t feel good to be judged when I know nothing about you or your life. You know nothing about people who are in a particular situation. And, that being said I can afford diapers for my child. Thats right only one at this point because it’s what we can afford. So,see, once again you are in a rush to judge people who you know nothing about. I hope someday you get that point

Karyn November 23, 2010, 12:11 PM

SOrry Tara and Katie -some “judgement” or rather as the rest of us refer to it as COMMON SENSE is necessary in this day and age. IF a woman can’t even buy diapers she should NOT be having children!! Seriously, I can’t believe people…

Anon November 23, 2010, 12:12 PM

Come on people, have some charity and mercy here. Of course you shouldn’t have a baby if you can’t afford it. But things happen. Things like housing bubbles and recessions and people getting sick and divorce.

And are you saying you never, ever had sex at all until you were married AND had enough money to have kids? And that if your husband lost his job, you would stop having sex?

CosmoGirl November 23, 2010, 1:58 PM

At anon, I do actually know one couple like that. They waited several years before they had kids. But I also think the wife did it just to please her husband because she doesn’t like kids. So I wouldn’t be surprised if she stopped having sex years ago lol.

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