When good intentions and cultural expectations collide. (verjaardag/flickr)

Dear Hinda,

You thought you were doing your friends a favor by asking them not to bring baby gifts to your daughter’s first birthday party. You even thoughtfully crafted a sentence in the invitation that asked them to please bring a dish to share “in lieu of a gift.”

You should not have hit “send” on your PDF invite.

You thought you were being enlightened and anti-consumerist. You thought you were saving your friends money, a trip to the toy store and the hassle of gift shopping.

Your intentions might well have been sincere, but really, you were just being annoying.

Because, in effect, you unintentionally mandated that your friends bring a dish to share and a gift.

Nice going.

“No one goes to a 1-year-old’s birthday party and doesn’t bring a gift,” your wise friend Ellen said at the festivities, as you both stared at the growing pile of wrapped presents.

But you knew this already! Or did you forget the gift table, buckling beneath the weight of so many gifts at that 1-year-old’s birthday party last winter? “I thought the invitation said ‘no gifts,’” your husband muttered. To which you replied, while slipping a simple card on top of the pile, “People always bring gifts. They don’t listen.”

‘No one goes to a 1-year-old’s birthday party and doesn’t bring a gift,’ your wise friend Ellen said at the festivities, as you both stared at the growing pile of wrapped presents.

You should have known that a simple request on an emailed invitation would be weak ammunition against the deeply-embedded social etiquette that commands us to bring wrapped presents to a birthday party, not to mention a first one. You went to grad school and studied the way cultural hegemony works. You went all cerebral on yourself and cast your daughter’s birthday through this highfalutin lens. Your reasoning went like this: we feel compelled to obey social norms (in this case, bringing gifts), even if it’s not in our best interest (in this case, needlessly spending money while contributing to toy box metastasis). So you innocently asked friends and family to buck societal expectations.

Who do you think you are?

Apparently, you fancy yourself part of a growing trend of parents who write some version of “your presence is present enough” on their tots’ invitations. You have no proof that such a trend exists, mind you. Which didn’t prevent you from conjuring one in your defense when explaining your stance to your mother and sister, who thought you’d gone goofy.

I know. I know. You got freaked out by the 2012 UCLA study detailing the extent of our clutter-crazed culture. But if you don’t want gifts for your child, then don’t throw a first birthday party for her.

And that link you’re considering adding to next year’s invitation? The one suggesting a donation to a charity instead of a gift? You think you’re spreading the material love to others. You think you’re ahead of the pack on this one.

Get over yourself.

Didn’t you read the New York Times story from 2007 about the havoc that such a request is wreaking on birthday parties everywhere? It’s resulted in a new breed of competition over whose birthday raises the most dough. Besides, if you do that, you’re all but requiring that your guests make a donation, schlep a dish to pass and bring a gift.

Not cool, self.

If you’re so concerned about those who don’t have any presents on their first birthdays, then make your own donations.

At your child’s party, just let your guests have their cake and eat it, too.

Remember. This is America. Any attempts to curtail consumerism are futile.  TWEET Besides, that glow-in-the-dark unicorn pillow your sister-in-law gave your kid is really something.




Tags: Family

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  • Did you Consider

    I totally disagree with this. We’ve been having parties for our kids and asking for no gifts for many years and it is fine. Our kids are okay with it, and for the most part our friends are too. Some can’t help themselves and bring gifts, and that is okay, just not our preference. There is always the exception for the grandparents of course.

    I have gone to my friends’ birthday parties,and honestly I am horrified. It is just too too too too much. Overwhelming. I have no room for it in my house, the kids are excited about most of the presents for a day.

    I can’t take it. It brings our family little joy to get all of that stuff. So, why ask for it.

    • Lawrence

      Exactly why this article is not all that useful. Just trying to make a story out of none. Asking for no gifts is just fine and usually hassle free.

      • llgmak

        Ummm…I thought this article was obviously satire. Especially this line: “This is America. Any attempts to curtail consumerism are futile.” Just take a deep breath and relax, because she was just probably laughing off the fact that people are going to bring gifts whether you like it or not. SATIRE ALERT!

        • Lawrence

          SATIRE: the use of humor and exaggeration to expose and
          criticize people’s stupidity or vices.

          My point is that there was no “stupidity or vices” that needed to be exposed, because it’s not an issue or problem, as most of the comments here indicate.

  • Did you Consider

    I am also shocked by this comment: But if you don’t want gifts for your child, then don’t throw a first birthday party for her?? Really?? So, the only reason to celebrate a birthday is for presents? Not to spend time with family & friends, and mark a special occasion, and have birthday cake and put on silly hats? That’s the part I enjoy…

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      Her point was, even if you want to through a party without the intention of your child receiving gifts, people are going to bring presents and there’s no way to prevent it.

      • holstin

        I have to agree, I went to a first bday party where is said Not to bring a gift, I brought a really nice card instead, and imagine my surprise when they started opening gifts! I left because I was too embarrassed to have somebodyopen my empty card.

  • Loving the gift free party

    I completely agree with you, consider. Birthday parties, especially for one year olds, are the best time to celebrate time together with family and friends.

  • minimalist

    This whole article just makes me upset. I can’t remember the last time that I felt compelled to buy a gift for someone just to meet “societal expectations”. If a parent does not want gifts, they are NOT just saying that to make a point – they probably don’t want more clutter and meaningless junk that will cause anxiety and headaches for years to come! Enjoy time with each other, because taking the time to even GO to a 1-year old birthday party is definitely a present to us.

  • N

    I always take people for their word – no gift means no gift. Not everyone wants tons of kids crap. I also found the tone of this completely obnoxious.

  • datch

    Or maybe there was nothing wrong with the invitation and you just hang around with a lot of consumerist people. I have both sent out and attended parties with that stipulation, and it was no problem. People came, everyone, including the birthday child, had a great time, and no one brought gifts.

  • Esme Green

    My solution to this was not to throw an enormous party for someone who was too young toveven know what a birthday, party, or gifts were. Save it for a few years until they can appreciate it.

  • Jackie Ferrara

    Rich people problems. Too many gifts.

  • Not so superior

    Apparently people no longer know what satire is. Seriously I enjoyed this mother’s article. I found it funny and a more than a little bit soaking in observational humor. I say let’s laugh at ourselves and our senseless need to emulate perfection. Hey supermom never looked better with cake in her hair and a little egg on her face.

    • holstin

      As did, I think the question was, it says specifically no Gifts on the invite, yet why do people still bring gifts??

  • Maresenn

    It’s my party and I can “…” If I want to. As the parent of 2 kids who are blessed to have as much as they do, I want them to experience the gift of friendship and time spent with those we care about. Because I know there are people who don’t like this approach and are insistent on giving a gift, we suggest making a donation in our children’s names to an organization of great importance to us. I see this as win-win. My kid has a great time with his friends, the parents can hang out with each other, and the organization gets sorely needed funds. Bottom line, though: folks should be free to have the party they want – with gifts or without.

  • Maura

    Sorry! I don’t like the mountain of unnecessary plastic toys… So I have said no gifts in the past. But the “in lieu of” approach is gauche.

  • downtown21

    It’s true. I especially dislike being told to donate to someone’s charity. I choose when to give and which causes to give to.

    And frankly, when someone asks me not to bring a gift I assume they are too lazy to send a thank you gift later.

    • NoFightingInTheWarRoom

      When you give someone a gift you expect a thank you gift in return? I hope you meant card…

      • downtown21

        Yes I meant a card.

  • NoGifts!

    Oh please. I have asked people not to bring gifts to my kids’ parties for years (admittedly, I’ve never asked them to donate or bring a dish in lieu) and MOST people comply. My kids don’t need more gifts. They get plenty and their friends don’t need to bring them more. It is perfectly appropriate to have a party and ask people not to bring gifts. I wish more people would do it.

  • Aaron

    “It’s the thought that counts” is a two-way street!, haha.

  • jm

    I just did this for my daughter’s first and only one guest listened. All of it is still in a pile unused. She received 4 bathing suits and already had 6 from other two daughters. There are no receipts to return anything. I try to give hand me downs and no one wants them even with tags. The waste is unbelievable.

    • jefe68

      You could donate them to a charity. End of the waste problem.

    • Cythina Lang

      You don’t want more bathing suits? Then be helpful in your invitations instead of complaining post-factum! Plant suggestion for the kind of gifts your child would particularly appreciate (talking books? gift certificates to Legoland?) rather than just saying that it’s OK not to bring anything. You know that most people will bring something anyway…

  • llgmak

    How can we “end the mommy wars” when the mommys (mommies?) are taking themselves to seriously to laugh and relax at this sarcasm? But maybe I only recognized it because my parents took my children away on vacation last weekend, so I was able to binge watch Orange is the New Black last weekend. Ahhhhh….