Thursday, 13 June 2019

Birthday Party Etiquette

I’ve found that after college, it’s hard to make friends as an adult. People become comfortable with the groups they have and don’t really look to add new members. I had somewhat been promised that once we had a baby, I could gain some Mom Friends. Shortly after Kate was born, I started attending a weekly Moms group and the group would go out for lunch after then session. I would enjoy chatting with these other women, but we never exchanged numbers or made plans on our own. I didn’t see myself having much in common with these women other than our babies. So that didn’t really work out. I would recognize some moms during the Day Care drop off, but I never had the time to start a conversation as I had to rush off to work. Then Kate started to get invited to birthday parties for her classmates. At last, I was chatting with other moms and making play dates with her school friends

I started buying gifts for these parties. I felt like it was the price of admission to the Moms Club. Once I bought a gift even though I had no idea who the kid was. I went gender neutral as I wasn’t sure by the name if the child was a boy or girl. As Kate became older, I started involving her to select a gift and explained how we give gifts as birthday presents. Then just days before Kate’s second birthday party we received an invite for a party and the Mom wrote “No gifts, please” at the bottom of the announcement. I some what questioned she can’t really mean no gifts? What if I was the only one who didn’t bring a gift? I figured it was better to error on the side of commission than omission and selected a gift to bring. When we arrived, there was a small pile of presents, so I added ours. *

A few days later, it was time for Kate’s party. I didn’t make any mention about gift on the invite, but directed those who brought a gift to set them at a designated table. We decided not to have Kate open her presents at her party and we would stretch it out by having her open one or two a night. As I was keeping track of who gave which gifts to write thank you notes, I noticed that the mom who requested no gifts at her daughter’s party did not give a gift to Kate (even though we had brought one for her daughter’s party and for the record, we never received any kind of a thank you). Suddenly, it hit me. She really did mean no gifts! (Kate was later invited to the party for their older child and this time she capitalized NO GIFTS on the invite, just to make it really clear.)

It started to make sense to me. I could understand why a mom might not want birthday gifts. More stuff in the house, maybe the grandparents and other family members go overboard and they don’t need any extra gifts. Maybe they consider the party experience is enough of a birthday gift. Whatever their reason, if the mom writes ‘no gifts, please’ she means no gifts and to bring a gift would be violating the Mom Code. However, I noticed we received some other invites that were a little less clear…  ‘in lieu of gifts, please bring a book’… um that is a gift, you’re just specifying what you want. Or ‘your presence is the only present we need’. That is not exactly the same thing as ‘no gifts, please’. Thinking it was; I didn’t bring a gift to a party and was one of the few who didn’t bring a gift, and I felt a bit awkward. Although I did note that others who attended were much longer term friends and I has only started hanging out with this mom and her kids (friends from the gym) so maybe her message was just to make sure no one felt obligated to bring a gift. 

Then this really got me thinking; should I be requesting ‘no gifts, please’ for Kate’s party? Is this the thing that is done now? Am I going to be shunned for accepting gifts? While it has not been the intention or purpose of Kate’s birthday parties, I’ve appreciated the gifts we’ve received. Firstly, Kate doesn’t get gifts from her grandparents or any other family members, other than my aunt and uncle and cousins, who we invite to the party. Secondly, as her birthday and Christmas are about six months apart, I can get her to have a good clear out of toys she no longer plays with, so she can make room for incoming new things. I’ve also started having her participate in writing thank you notes. (My mom used to withhold my gifts until I had completed my thank you notes, and I’ll probably start doing this with Kate in a year or two). I also like getting new ideas for toys and games from other parents sharing what their kids enjoy. Additionally, when we’ve need to buy a gift for someone’s party, I’ll have Kate help with the shopping and wrapping, as I explain how we give gifts when it’s someone’s birthday. 

Then there is the issue of reciprocity. There is a brilliant episode of The Big Bang Theory where Penny informs Sheldon that she has a Christmas present for him. He is resentful,  as now he has to get something for her. “You’ve not given me a gift, you’ve given me an obligation!” His plan was to get a bunch of Bath and Bodyworks gift baskets of differing values, determine how much her gift cost, give her the basket that corresponds to that amount and return the rest. When Penny’s gift turns out to be a napkin used by Leonard Nimoy; Sheldon brings out all his gift baskets to give to Penny, although he admits “It’s not enough!” If Kate is invited to a kid’s party, are we obligated to return an invitation? Does the same thing follow with gifts? For Kate’s party last year, I really wanted to write on the invitation ‘no gifts if you’re a no gifts mom’. Instead I came up with ‘gifts appreciated, but not expected’. I found that we received gifts from most, but not all guests. I also notices that some of the simplest gifts (sidewalk chalk, WaterWOW books) were some of the biggest hits. (Interestingly, one of the moms who did not bring a gift to Kate’s party, used my phrasing on the invite for her child’s party) 

My good friend Amy, is a no gifts mom, so I might ask her why she is a no gifts mom and get some of her thoughts, but I’d also love to hear from you. 

*I started (but never finished) a post about the mess at this person’s house. The grass in the front yard wasn’t cut, but there was a weed whacked lying on the ground. I don’t know if their model is as easy as ours for a kid to use. They had a small playhouse that had slats and shingles falling off. It was hazardous. Kate and I ventured inside to go to the bathroom and we encountered a very dusty treadmill in the front hall, that obviously hadn’t been used in sometime, but there was a turquoise bra on the floor, which I imagine was left during the last use. The kitchen looked like it had been renovated recently, not that you could tell as every inch of the counter was covered in some kind of junk. I took a peek on their outside deck and saw their charcoal grill was right next to the kids water table and there were ash flakes in the water table, because who doesn’t want their kids to play with carcinogenic materials? I was trying to describe this mess to Myrtle by referencing the episode of Friends where Ross dates a messy woman, but after seeing that episode recently, I have to say this place was worse. Anyway,  the gist of my post was going to be -is a messy house a dealbreaker for a play date? 


  1. Gift giving can be such a minefield! In my extended family, Christmas time can be so expensive when we have to get gifts for our siblings plus their partners. So then we said we would do a "secret santa" and each couple only had to buy presents for another couple. But then I found out some people were still getting me a gift so I ended up being stressed trying to find some thoughtful last minute gifts for them! By the way I haven't really made many new mum friends either. It was nice having mum groups at the beginning but at some point I realised all we had in common was our kids.

  2. I think we are just now getting to the point where I might meet a few mom friends. I think it somewhat has to do with the kids age. This group of boys, my son and two others, have been in class together since they were babies but just now are at the point where we may get them together outside of daycare. They all turn 4 in the next 3-7 months. Bowen actually tells me he wants so and so to come over now so we'll see! Gifts are such a tough topic because you wonder what the other person 'really' means. Like the comment above about Christmas. We would say no gifts but then my sister would still get gifts so I quite trying to over think it and now we just buy gifts and call it a day! haha

  3. Oh man, we are inundated with gifts in December! Twin birthday party on the 23rd, and then Christmas. My conundrum is that I don't know if I should be taking TWO gifts to birthday parties, since I have twins. If they come to our party, they are bringing two gifts (one for each), so does that mean we need to take a gift from each twin to their friend's party? We have only been taking one gift from the both of them.

    As for the messy house being a deal breaker, I think it depends on the extent of the mess. My house is messy, as in cluttered, but isn't unsanitary. There's been a few houses I've been to over the years that I would never in a million years want to eat anything from their kitchen! It would definitely be a complete deal breaker for me is if I wouldn't want to step foot into their bathroom that has never seen a toilet brush or if their kitchen is beyond disgusting.

  4. I think it's kind of awkward and weird to say NO GIFTS (as opposed to "don't feel obligated", which is quite reasonable. To me kids' birthday parties are in part about learning reciprocity and social niceties, and it's just convention to bring something to a party, even if just a food item or something. A nice alternative is a "fiver" party where guests each bring $5 and it goes toward a bigger present. There's ways to reduce gifts that aren't weird.

    Mind you, some people just are weird and there is nothing you can do about it. My mom friends are pretty easy going, but my husband told me a story from his childhood. He went to a classmate's party and everyone brought presents for the birthday boy. However, his parents didn't allow him to open any...not a single one. They put them all in the basement in their original packages so they could sell them later.

  5. Gifts are tricky. My thing is I have parties for Olivia and keep it to family only (because our families are big and a November birthday means we're always stuck inside). However, we're invited to our friends' parties and that means giving a gift, even though then when it comes to Olivia's birthday... she doesn't get one from them. Which I know isn't the point, but it's still annoying. And with a November birthday, I'm finding we're drowning in toys for her birthday and Christmas and I usually am selling them a few months down the road.

  6. Oh look. I logged into my blog for the first time in years. haha.
    We got so many gifts at last year's birthday party. It got a little out of hand. I now understand why parents put that on the invite. My husband has wanted to say "no gifts" for years, so this year I might put some sort of gift disclaimer. I've actually had a couple families ask for Disney gift cards (if you are a gift giving family) instead of toys so they can take the kids to Disneyland. I might try that. I actually LOVE when I see that because a gift card is way easier than trying to figure out what some random kid might want as a present. Also, elementary school has been the key to me finally making some real mom friends. It's been so great.

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