I remember a time when I had a toddler and kindergartener, and I declined a child’s birthday invitation because I didn’t have time to get a gift. I live in a rural area and a trip to a store with gifts can be 30 minutes each way. Ever since then, I have added a note to my children’s invitations that says something like, “No gifts necessary.”
I didn’t do this because I oppose presents. Birthday presents are fun, and of course, children love them. I just wanted to make coming to the party easier without any obligation to shop, spend money and wrap a gift.
But after my son’s 8th birthday party last week, I have decided not to put that note on future invitations. First my son crossed out “no gifts necessary” on each invitation before handing them out. He apparently told his friends, “My mom put that there but you can ignore it.” So we wound up sending a confusing, mixed, and somewhat hilarious message.
When his teacher told me what my son had done, it actually made me feel proud and happy that he is clearly settling into his new school. And it reminded me that he is turning 8, so he now knows how to read and how to pick up a pen and edit.
In the following days, I had some additional conversations about it. One mother from his class said to me, “I am a rebel, I bought a gift while I was at the store today.” I explained that I was just trying to make gift giving optional.
But I realized that by trying to make it easier on the parents, writing instructions about gift giving actually made it harder and a lot more awkward. Some parents really want to teach their children how to give gifts. Others feel uncomfortable showing up without one. Some children want to make handmade gifts. Some may wonder if gift giving would really offend me, if it is against my religion. The whole thing is really sticky.
My mother probably had it right when she said to me, “Why do you put that on there, opening presents is so much fun.” I have to admit, sometimes it is better to keep things simple.
The party turned out to be a huge success with almost his entire class sharing the fun. They sang happy birthday in English, Spanish, and (with my prompting) in Hebrew. My son pulled out another unexpected very 8-year-old trick, and blew out all his candles with an untied balloon he had in his hand.
And he did get a few gifts, some gift cards, many lovely handmade cards, and some cash from piggy banks. But I get the definite sense that my little note caused some confusion, and I have to admit he loved opening the couple of actual wrapped gifts.
So my son won this one and we won’t be adding that little footnote to any more invitations. It’s awkward, it’s confusing, and it seems to create more angst, instead of less.