The Argument for Adopting a 'No Gifts' Policy at Kids' Birthday Parties

My friend is planning her son’s eighth birthday party and before she hits send on the Evite, she’s debating slapping a “please no gifts” on there. Her son wants to invite his entire class plus a few others which is nearly 30 kids. My friend is hosting the party in her backyard and doesn’t want to exclude anyone so she OK’d the guest list but she’s concerned about the presents. Because she thinks getting 30 presents for your eighth birthday is kind of…excessive. And when she imagines the giant table of gifts overflowing with brightly-colored packages and over-sized gift bags, she also imagines feeling embarrassed. It’s just too much. Especially when her son will also be getting gifts from family members. But is it rude/presumptuous/confusing to tell people not to give a gift?

She was thinking of asking guests to bring some gently-used sports equipment instead that she and her son will donate to a local sports charity that helps families in need. That way people don’t feel awkward showing up empty handed, she doesn’t wind up with a houseful of Legos and Beyblades her son won’t even realize he has and she can teach him about giving back to others. Seems like a great idea to me but no parenting decision is ever that easy, right?

The first issue: When she tried to explain the pay-it-forward concept to her son, he was into it but when she clarified, “it means none of your friends would give you an actual gift,” her son fought back tears. I know this kid and he is sweet and very good-hearted but he’s still eight and the thought of a party with no presents probably felt a little strange. Sad, even. I get it. Presents are fun! And everyone else gets them! I asked my son, who’s six, what he would think if we did some kind of charity project with the gifts for his next birthday party and he said, “yeah, I think it’s a great idea to donate some of my presents…like the clothes. I’ll keep the toys!”

The second issue: She worries how she will come off to the parents. She doesn’t want to seem pretentious like she’s trying to make a big, save-the-world point with her party or holier than thou—i.e., look what I’m teaching my kids and all you other moms who accept the Transformers and Frisbees are not as good as me. Do you think people would think that? Honestly, some probably would. The no gifts thing can also be confusing to other parents and actually make more work for them. Do you still bring something small? What if you can’t find old sporting equipment? What about the mom who didn’t read the invite closely and rolls up with a giant Nerf gun and makes everyone feel like they somehow screwed up? And some people just plain like to pick out and give gifts. Kids, especially. Is it OK to take that away from them? I don’t know the answer.

I do know that when I was a kid, you opened the presents in front of the whole party but nowadays they do it after so it’s very impersonal anyway. I also know that when it comes to gifts — for Christmas, birthdays, etc. — the law of diminishing returns kicks in pretty quickly. I am completely of the mind that kids have way too much stuff and that we all need to simplify. But who’s going to go first? My friend and I

talked for a long time yesterday and it’s a tough call. Will she offend people? Upset people? Upset her child? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Have you ever had a “no gifts” birthday party? Would you? Ever been invited to one? Do you think it’s OK?