Gifts or No Gifts? That, Apparently, is the Question

I recently read an article bashing parents for requesting no gifts at birthday parties-and my blood was boiling! Why do opinion pieces like this get us parents (or at least this parent) so worked up? Like so many other opinion pieces this day, criticizing a parenting choice we make like requesting no gifts for our children’s parties often feels like a personal attack on us as parents. If you’re like me, you don’t make these choices lightly.

children giving girl a birthday giftOften there’s a lot of thought, and sometimes even research, that goes into the choices that we make, and we can feel personally attacked when someone doesn’t agree with what we feel is the right or wrong choice for our family. 

I could probably go on and on about the psychology behind the sensitivity we feel as parents (and humans) when someone criticizes our choices, and maybe I will at some point, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. 

Today I want to talk about children’s birthday parties and whether or not we should bring presents, or, and this is a big or, if any of these choices are even anyone else’s business. 

I always request no gifts at my children’s birthday parties, but that is not to say we are a no-presents family. I love receiving presents and I love giving presents. My kids are the same. They enjoy receiving presents as much as they enjoy picking something out and giving it to someone. When my 4 year old excitedly asked to pick out a present for his 2 year old brother’s birthday this year, I literally wept with joy. 

My husband and I love to get presents for each other and our kids, and we would never ask grandparents or cousins not to buy presents because they love to and we know they would just do it anyway! 

Why I Request No Gifts at Birthday Parties

However, my idea behind no gifts for birthday parties was pretty natural. I didn’t really give it much thought. It just felt like the right choice at the time so I went with it.

Like many families, my oldest turned one in April of 2020 and when we had to cancel the birthday party I had been planning for months, I was devastated. Grandparents and family sent presents and we opened them over Zoom as we ate cake and sang happy birthday from afar. It will always be a special and unique memory, but not necessarily one I would have hoped or wished for.

Fast forward to the next year and I was so excited to get to have an in-person birthday party for my two year old. We invited a few friends, neighbors, and family members and held it outside at a park.

And I made the request that didn’t seem at all controversial to me at the time: please, no gifts. Just bring yourself! We can finally meet up again! We just want to see friends and celebrate our baby. No one was weird about it. No one questioned why I would make this decision or who it was for. Almost everyone brought homemade cards, which I thought was really sweet. We got to spend some time with our neighbors again, sing Happy Birthday and eat cupcakes. It was perfect. 

As the years have gone on, we’ve had more families move into the neighborhood and our kids have accumulated more friends. We want to be able to invite everyone in the neighborhood and all of our son’s preschool classmates to his birthday parties, but I don’t want the thought of having to purchase 14 birthday presents every school year to deter people from feeling like they can attend.

We also have so. much. stuff. Between two little boys and multiple gift giving birthdays and holidays every year, we just don’t need more stuff. Over the years my policy on gifts at our kids birthday parties has gone from something that just felt natural at the time to a more intentional choice.

There is No Wrong Choice Here

That isn’t to say you’re wrong if you don’t choose to request No Gifts for your child’s birthday. I don’t care and have no judgment either way! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved when we receive a birthday invitation that explicitly states not to bring a gift, but when that’s not the case my kids love thoughtfully picking out presents for their friends and it’s no problem.

Even when we state no gifts, a few people will still bring gifts anyway and that’s fine. Obviously, my kids aren’t going to be mad about it! And I’ll even admit that if it’s a close friend’s birthday party we’re attending and they’ve stated no gifts, I will maybe still bring a small book or card for the birthday child anyway. 

The TL;DR point I’m trying to make is, do what makes you comfortable. It’s your child and you know what’s best. I’m happy to bring or not bring a present to your child’s birthday party, and I invite you to do the same for mine. In the end, we all just want the same thing, which is to celebrate our beloved child and eat some cake. 

That being said, let’s hear it! What’s your vote? Gift or no gift birthday parties?

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Sean Watson
Sean was born on a cattle ranch in Colorado and grew up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. She moved to the Texas Hill Country with her parents and siblings after receiving her BA in Psychology from Ripon College in 2010. Starting in Kerrville, and eventually making her way to Fredericksburg, Sean spent the year after college dabbling in both social services and the service industry, never quite finding the right fit, but knowing her passion was in service. While living in Fredericksburg, she also met her future husband, Will, and they both eventually ended up in Austin and started dating a year later. While in Austin, Sean found a passion for the practice of yoga. After her initial 200-hour teacher training with Gioconda Parker, she started teaching in 2012, and less than a year later, it became her full time career. Sean has enjoyed teaching and training both domestically and internationally for almost a decade. Meanwhile, Sean and Will got married in May of 2015 and Will’s job moved them to the Clear Lake area of Houston a few months later. Weeks before their 4 year anniversary, they welcomed son Liam {April 2019}. Sean went from full time to part time yoga teacher and, after March 2020, has been teaching yoga exclusively on the online platform, Patreon. Sean and her family are excited to welcome a second baby boy in January 2022! You can follow her on Instagram @seanellenwatson for adorable family photos, yoga content, and things she thinks are funny.


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