No Gifts, Please!

No Gifts, Please!

Am I a jerk to boycott presents at kid birthday parties?

Dear Care and Feeding,

Our 5-year-old daughter gets invited to so many birthday parties. It started out as just good friends, but now in pre-K, she’s invited to all of her classmates’ parties.

Over the past few years, we’ve gone through some financial struggles and also receive too much stuff from family, so I made a rule to not give (or ask for) gifts. For birthdays, we host big parties because they’re fun, but we always explicitly request no presents. This year, we had some new attendees (classmates) whose parents we had never met and insisted on bringing something. One mom pushed for things my daughter likes, so I suggested art supplies (crayons are cheap! We’ll use them!). Instead she came with what looked like $25-plus worth of gifts!

Recently I attended a friend’s son’s party and, per my rule, didn’t bring a gift. The birthday boy asked, “Where’s the gift you brought?” and I said, “Well, we didn’t bring one.” He asked why not. I felt like such a jerk—I don’t want to have a threshold of how well we know a kid to get them a gift, and I don’t want to give everyone terrible, cheapie gifts (they should be thoughtful if anything!). I don’t have the time or money to be giving gifts to all kids! Am I being a jerk for not bringing gifts at all? Is a handmade card enough?

—We All Have Enough Crap


Birthday parties are stressing everyone out. Enough is enough! I think you have a sound policy for your family: please no gifts, and we won’t give any in return. I find it irritating when people insist on bringing gifts despite the clear request that they not, but it’s well enough intentioned, and it’s their $25. I don’t think you need to do anything other than accept them graciously and send a thank-you note.

The giving is a little more complicated! I think it’s lame when parents invite the whole class—though that is increasingly the expectation—because there are bound to be families who are basically strangers to you. It’s weird to receive a gift from relative strangers, even if you can think of it as a gesture that acknowledges their hospitality. But a kid’s birthday party isn’t a wedding and shouldn’t cost $250 a head, and if it does, don’t invite strangers!

It’s the role of the parent of the birthday kid to teach them not to demand gifts at their party. Grandparents and close friends can shower them with presents; the attendance of their more casual playmates should be gift enough. I’m sorry that kid made you feel like a jerk, and I wish his parents had explained this all to him.

Anyway, you’re not a jerk for not having the time or money to invest in the special day of children who happen to have been born within the same year and ZIP code as your kid. Make a nice card and don’t waste another second feeling guilty about this.

What are your thoughts?


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