There are two things about kids’ presents and birthday parties which bother me. It is a real blessing when a child has friends who invite him/her to their parties. Still, sometimes, when the daycare, pre-school, and classroom groups are big, these parties can suddenly become weekly commitments. Add the neighbors, friends from hobbies, and other connections. It is often the mom who takes care of the gifts. At least for me, it is tricky to try to figure out what the birthday boy or girl would like to have. Does the present honor the values of the family? Maybe the present is not gender-neutral enough for one family. The other one does not allow any Disney figures. TV is an absolute no-no in the third family, and the fourth one expects intellectual gifts. How much money can you spend on people’s presents every month?
Secondly, parties get pretty big quickly because the child does not want to be unfair. She likes everyone and invites everyone. And of course, being fair and friendly is what parents want to teach. The number of new toys and supplies is suddenly overwhelming. And yes, other parents might have really put effort and time into purchasing them. After all this, we try to talk to our kids about overconsumption and materialism – Nailed it.
Plastic-free presents are usually more environmentally friendly, safer, probably recyclable, and long-lasting. To find such items for babies and toddlers takes less effort than for older kids. Just get wooden blocks, instruments, rattles, or some clothes. But how many of those items does one baby or toddler need? The best part of the gift from the baby’s perspective is probably the rustling paper anyway! Mentioning the plastic-free wish in the invitation can feel complicated. For the relatives and closest friends, you can maybe give a wish list. But for the other parents, you barely know it might feel like causing extra trouble to the searching side. On the other hand, you have stated the values of your family clearly, for once.
Donations instead of a gift
If the child feels a strong connection to some cause or philanthropy, s/he might enjoy donating his/her gift forward. In this case, it is a good idea to mention this in the invitation, offer a link for donation, and set a low maximum amount for cash if people want to operate that way. I would guess this might be a relief to the moms trying to figure out what to buy for this particular friend this time.
Fiver parties happen in North America, Australia, and Europe, at least (my Googling skills in other than English and Finnish are somewhat limited). The idea is that guests bring (maximum) 5 dollars or Euros instead of toys. This way, the birthday kid can purchase one item that s/he truly desires, and the result of overconsumption does not hit the house so badly.
I love this idea. The child gets something s/he needs or wants, but also learns the value of money. The house is safe from clutter, and the ideology of the family is respected. The guests do not need to figure out what to bring, five dollars or Euros is often much less money than would be spent on a gift, and the presents don’t take too big of a party’s role.
No present at all
Honestly – this one is hardcore, and it probably would not work for every kid. No matter how humble we wish, our kids to be or become, children like presents because they bring excitement. The question is, how many, how often, and what kinds of gifts they receive, and do they understand to appreciate it. We have visited one or two parties, where the request was “no gifts.” The parents had explained the reasons for their choices, and the lack of presents did not show out at all. Also, maybe this COVID year has changed the whole party idea too. As children have not seen their friends almost at all, their preferences and expectations have probably shifted.
This year, as the COVID is still here and we did not have a birthday party, I did not need to try to figure out what to ask, how to ask, and if I made other parents feel uncomfortable. I think my favorite version – and the most suitable for my child for the non-COVID future – would be a combination of a fiver and a non-plastic party. That combo offers the guest a choice and helps avoid overconsumption and clutter, which we find essential.
Of course, there are always people who find it rude to ask for money, in any form, for any cause, and this is a tricky game for sure. Some parents are writing on the forums that they won’t come to the party if the birthday family is requesting money as a present. Also, I realize that some people enjoy searching for the perfect gift, packing and giving it. Do we want to ruin that experience for them?
But what comes to the fiver parties and donations – there are reasons behind this money request, and those are not big or selfish ones. All these options are aiming at some greater good that we need for saving this planet:
- decreasing and avoiding waste
- avoiding overconsumption
- saving nature’s resources
- teaching minimalism
- saving effort
- understanding the value of money
So, even if it feels that people get offended pretty easily nowadays, focus on your values. What do you want your child to learn, what you want to value, and how do you want to help the Earth? There are so many occasions in our lives where we can choose the Earth without extra effort. It’s your choice.