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This holiday season is it any wonder a parent has done something that has gone viral on social media, whether it’s the lavish Christmas light displays to compete with the neighbors, the one making news speculated as capable of being seen from space, the newest addition of the family wrangled into a Santa suit, an elf onesie, Fido sporting reindeer antlers, postings of the fight you got into on black Friday for that must have toy in your house. Well here is a parent viewed as putting you all to shame, not giving into the consumerism of everything these days, trying to instill strong values and morals into her children, making them good people, or at least that’s the idea behind what she put on her daughter’s birthday party invite, “no gifts please.” Almost complaining her child’s birthday was 11 days before Christmas, stating adding something else to everyone’s already busy schedule seemed mean; mommy blogger goes on to express how tacky she finds it when parents include gift registries or lists of what the child wants, while concurrently speaking about what a sigh of relief reading no gifts on an invite was. “No need to try and figure out what some kid I barely know would want and possibly crowding their house with crap they don’t care about.” A move lighting up nearly every parenting blog and even earning a spot on Good Morning America’s ‘the verdict is out’ segment generating mixed feelings among the public. Many agreeing with the mother, doing everything from blasting consumer holidays, special occasions, the accumulating of stuff, stuff and more stuff, to sharing their own stories as to why they do the same or similar things to commemorate their child’s birthday. Yet closer examination of both the blog and public reaction not only demonstrates the negatives of anti-consumerism, but seems to automatically confuse a typical birthday party, a handful of gifts, themed napkins, plates and cups from the local party shop with lavish parties costing thousands of dollars.

Oh where to begin in pealing back the layers and layers of problems with, not the intention but the concept; easiest, one would suppose, would be the mother’s attitude. If you read the original blog you see how much of it has to do with how close the child’s birthday is to Christmas, how busy those around them are, going so far as to include her soon to be 11 year old has never actually had a party; less because she has never asked for one, and more because “birthday parties aren’t my thing,” not alternatives that make a child feel special on their special day, teach giving over materialism. Next she describes her daughter’s shock at the no gifts request embodied in the following quote meant to assure readers, as well as perhaps herself, she gets it, but does she really? “She looked at me as though I had just told her mermaids eat unicorns for breakfast, and I get it. Part of the fun of having a birthday party is the presents, but if we’re going to do this party thing, I want it to be about her spending time with her friends doing something she loves – not about inviting as many people as possible to get as many presents as possible. She isn’t going to lack for gifts come December 14th, and she certainly doesn’t lack in the stuff department even before her birthday. Quality over quantity. That’s the idea.” Still mom’s framing of the situation reeks of a parent who made inferences and assumptions about what their child wanted, what their motivation behind wanting to do something was instead of asking; did she truly want the party for the possibility of more presents or did she, what it meaningfully sounds like, simply want the experience of a birthday party streamers, balloons, a cake, additional friends, stupid party hats and noise makers, presents on par with what she would normally get? More likely, her sudden interest stemming from she’d seen her sister have one, attend one or many. Was her reaction to no gifts about not getting gifts from her friends, a would be new phenomenon for her, not collecting more loot, presents, things or did she think, because you said that, if she had a party, she wouldn’t be receiving anything from mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, the people, family who usually gave her gifts on her birthday? Did she think she was going to be deprived of a special gift from one of the aforementioned individuals traditionally given on her birthday and only on her birthday? Could she yes, at 10, tantalizingly close to 11, know, understand, comprehend one or 2 of her friends will be disappointed at not being allowed to get her a gift; further there is no indication, from the writing, there was any clarification as to what her daughter meant by party, how many people she wanted to invite listed in the same paragraph, references to a discussion on a limited number of friends, classmates she would be permitted to ask to come, descriptions of a lavish, over the top party she had attended and wanted her mother to duplicate. Nor any conversation snippets given surrounding what gifts she wanted for her birthday; were they low cost items or more high-end electronics, games, name brand clothes? Did she request a lot of items or just one medium expense item? All sounding like a mom who believes she’s been overindulgent to her daughter and suddenly needs to scale back, or sadly been too frightened, consumed by other parenting blogs, stories from fellow parents and fallen into the anti-consumerism makes better citizens trap as opposed to deciding on choices for her unique family.

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Then after a short detailing of the gymnastics party planned complete with themed cups, plates and an awesome cake, reads the virtual diatribe expounding on the difficulties in purchasing gifts for parties your children have been invited to; hints the quote about finding a gift for a kid you barely know. Except hold it; you don’t know your child’s friends well enough to buy them a basic gift, but you’re going to drop your child off at a birthday party there? Extremely bad form; parents should always know who their child’s friends are. It is good practice for the tween and teen years when knowing who their friends are, who is influencing them, what is allowed, valued in their friend’s homes is a critical necessity to not only keeping them out of trouble, but also making sure they don’t pick up bad habits, bad manners or, in the rarer cases, a penchant for criminal activity. Forgotten in all the hubbub is the child who was invited, who if they know their friend, can probably tell you exactly what they want, provided you listen. Another easy solution, the one she touted using, gift cards. Of course this parent is full of contradictions that don’t make logical, practical or emotional sense; she begins the blog talking about the first time she ever saw no gifts on an invitation, her grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary, them merely wanting to enjoy friends and family; a single paragraph later she tries to impart nuggets of wisdom saying “I’ve finally figured out that when someone is really important to you, you bring them a gift even when they tell you not to.” Huh, she opened implying we should give those important to us gifts sans asking, even defying their expressed wishes, failing to relate it to you give a gift by showing up, you yourself are the gift when you make an appearance; going on to complain regarding the effort it takes to find a gift for a child’s party, simultaneously calling it tacky to include a list of wants or a gift registry, leaving most of us screaming make up your mind. Underscoring the spirit behind mom’s choice is not about values, creating memories, choosing people over things rather a vibe pointing to utter adult selfishness couched in morality; mommy doesn’t want to bother giving you a party and doesn’t want to expend the energy of giving her daughter an experience of attending classmate parities. She’s also getting invites that require an RSVP, where the gift card admission came in; causing most to acquaint this with an affluent suburbia problem not average kids, parents and parities.  Another strange inconsistency, she tells us her daughter has done the 3rd grade party circuit; however, at 10 turning 11shouldn’t she be in the 4th, possibly the 5th, grade? Even accounting for the December birthday causing her to start school at 6 would place her in 4th; typo?  It took looking though the author’s information paragraph to discover the child she was writing about is the oldest, not youngest. While the mention of Vivi might throw off some readers, sister was an easy conclusion in context to what else was said, though unclear was who exactly was supposed to have done the supplied grade’s party rounds taking into account the child’s age; a cursory read might have you thinking the sister was in 3rd grade. Things that make you go hmm.    

Notably absent, especially in an era characterized as so punctuated by consumption, acquiring things, things, things are instances of parties her daughter went to, was invited to, containing the outrageous, an entire circus, someone in a Disney princess, Monster High costume, elaborate games, prizes, not one but 2-3 bounce houses or an elaborate dance floor, preparations in the hundreds or thousands of dollars; because those do exist, much to the chagrin of average, normal parents. Neither was there a situation provided, contrary to comments, of a party invite, one she wanted to attend, where her whole class was invited, ratcheting up the costs considerably. And yes there is a line, there is an area known as too far, but none of what the mother planned, nor the daughter wanted, had it also included gifts, would have reached remotely close to that; as there were a dozen similar aged children projected to come not 2-3 times that. Missing too, unlike multiple comments, the scantest, mention they were unable to afford birthday presents, party trimmings, were always presented with a hardship doing both birthday and Christmas at the same time; again putting the focus back on mom’s absolute disinterest in the whole affair. Adding to the out of touch, off feel of the blog extoling the parent’s choice, seeking validation for it truthfully, is her complete misunderstanding of the modern use of the gift registry; it used to be, back in the day, when we were all children gift registries were only used, only available for weddings and babies allowing new couples, new parents to alert wedding, baby shower guests to what they need and prevent getting 5 toasters and no hand towels, 15 outfits and no diapers. Because gift givers gleaning their ideas from said registry, are then supposed to present the registry list to the store clerk to ensure the item is removed from the list, having already been purchased; a system that has, at least partially, replaced the old school list to Santa, taken pressure off adults remembering the answers to what do you want for your birthday. Functioning as designed they inhibit overlap, generate ideas, removing hassle for the giver, yet our Mrs. Scrooge of a parent is not alone. Many tweets, e-mails to Good Morning America consisted of parents saying they would flat out refuse to buy a gift, let their child attend a party where there was a gift registry; it was too much according to them. On the opposite side, a parent whose son had a gift registry at Toys R Us with the understanding he would not receive everything on the list expressing ease for the giver in being given options to choose from. No gift mom ending the blog by explaining she felt some parental guilt about not letting her child rack up the presents on her birthday; correction mom’s guilt stems from an entirely different source difficult to pin down.  Hard to know whether she is recognizing, real or imagined, she’s tried to buy her daughter’s love, if she is woefully insecure her daughter will like the gifts gotten by her friends more than those of her mother or is she just cold, aloof.

Worse sometimes than our 21st century, must make good people by…neo-parent are the commenters’ responses; repeated suggestions recommended giving to Toys For Tots, the humane society and other charities if you felt compelled to give. Good idea but it should be an act initiated by the child, not forced by the adults. They will do this independently when shown a cause that effects children like them or is something they love; children have requested money donations for their grade school classroom’s fund raising to give desks to children in Africa through charity organizations like The Kind Fund, asked for money to help give simple personal transportation devices (PETS) to disabled children, people overseas, asked for food donations in lieu of gifts for classroom food drives for local pantries, Christmas baskets, but they need to do it of their own accord. Alternative activities offered up via comment posts included one where everyone brought seeds and planted a garden, a family went to museums, aquariums local outing destinations of the child’s choice, organizing a block or park party with kites, activities wonderful instances of memory making, comradely without a giant price tag, without it being about receiving gifts, but never underestimate the power of a few balloons, streamers, party hats, themed cups, napkins, plates a store bought, decorated cake and presents from friends willing to bring one. Instead prevailing support comes from parents who either “have to” find other choices, decline invitations with registries, decline altogether lacking the funds for $10-20 gifts repeatedly, one mom whose friends all got pregnant in the same month, kids all play together and “couldn’t” afford all those gifts at once, or who like our example mom, actually have more of a problem with the effort involved than the potential gifts themselves. Another recurring culprit cloaked in moral high ground, adults who can’t exercise their problem solving skills to handle friend gifts at a party or mixed up the word party and thousands dollar extravaganza. However a bag of balloons can be purchased for less than $5 in most places, streamers for no more than $3 a roll, pick up 2-3 colors and you’re good to go no just for this year but next year, the year after as well; dido with the balloons, if you get a big enough package. A basic multi colored banner that says happy birthday can be bought once and stored for future use cutting down on cost. Themed party packs including place/table mat napkins, cups, plates, window decals and so forth are usually sold for roughly $50 serving 8-10 people or you can buy items individually based on need. Most grocery stores, Super Wal-Mart have a plethora of cake choices to choose from in a large enough size everyone can have a piece and you don’t get saddled with too many leftovers; Neapolitan is a good choice of ice cream allowing choice, accounting for allergies while not breaking the bank. If cleaning your house for a dozen or so rambunctious grade schoolers is too much, consider local party venues; Chuck E. Cheese is often a hit and does parties, some movie theaters have games and or a party room for rent and not all of them are $300 like the ones listed in the video segment below.           

Those actually having children turn down invites for want of a gift to bring, is there an old toy your child has in good condition they would be willing to part with, flea markets, thrift and discount stores offer choices at low cost, teaching them to give thoughtfully something wanted, needed or to be used often, no matter the price tag.  Looking for videogames, electronics or movies, nearly every major city has game shops where they buy, sell trade, offer used games; does your child receive an allowance, have them buy the gift with that, if they want to attend. Let your child make their friend a gift if they are so inclined and don’t discount your child’s original ideas on what to give. I myself have done both when receiving unexpected gifts having little or no money to reciprocate. I once made a mask from wrapping paper and left over Mardi-Gras beads brought home after a party held at my mother’s work; I was shocked to find it years later hanging on my friends wall in her fist apartment. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a graduation party and I bought my friend a pen, owing to her love of writing, and a bottle of blowing bubbles knowing her love of them too. My mother questioned my decision since it was a high school graduation, but I stuck to my guns and was vindicated when, in a room full of milling guests, she opened my gift and excitedly said, across an entire room, how did you know?  Too many times what happens is a child is invited to a party, has an idea to make something for their friend, buy a simple gift based on a want they confided to them they probably wouldn’t get from their parents, because they thought it silly, too babyish, fill in the blank, and rather than listen to the child, parents buy a gift based on keeping up appearances in the neighborhood, showcasing family pride, affluence, taste exc., then want to place consumerism blame on their child. Part of the problem seems to be parents who possess no idea how to teach their kids to politely accept gifts they do not like or how to handle duplicate gifts, being “inundated” with “crap they don’t care about.” Here is a perfect opportunity to teach your child giving to others; if they receive two of the same thing, ask them if they have a classmate, a member of their church or Sunday school class who might appreciate it, a kid in their neighborhood who is less fortunate and might like it. Besides those options there is always your local goodwill, Salvation Army type organizations happy to have your good condition unwanted items. Too, it shows them what to do about unwanted, in good shape clothes, toys, books exc., they have no use for instead of hording them, letting them clutter their room, their closet, collect dust; a far better lesson than simply removing gifts from a party. More reasonable commenters got it right; there will be plenty of situations where this daughter isn’t getting presents when she’s older, circumstances can change on a dime, the recession years have taught us just how quickly you can lose a job, how difficult it is to get another one, how you can be one medical expense away from losing savings, home, everything.  Further those less well-off should welcome, and usually do welcome, opportunities for their child to get gifts when they can afford none, allow them to have a sufficient number of gifts coinciding with the experience of a birthday party even if it comes from somewhere other than mom, dad, family. Not talked about by any of the commenters championing our blogger mom is the child for whom giving the gift is important because this is the first friend they made in a new city, their first chance to attend a friend’s birthday party, first real, true and will turn out to be lasting friendship they’ve forged.

Outshining by far the vehement cruelty toward children, toward birthday traditions in America, most of the western world was the following comment left to someone who had the audacity to suggesting every child deserved a birthday celebration according to traditions; flabbergasted, squawking that children deserve food shelter and beds, education, love and respect deeming birthday parties and presents extras, niceties, bonuses in life not mandatory. All visceral reactions begging the question, when does a kid just get to be a kid? And remember we’re not talking about a parent who openly states they cannot afford a party, presents, that’s why they don’t do one, but is intensely focused on teaching a lesson that the child shows no signs of needing to learn or indications they haven’t already mastered it. Looking at the larger picture it likewise leads to the question why did a woman begin giving birthday parties to children living in a shelter that morphed into the non-profit Birthday Wishes doing so across 175 said places; if birthdays are so unimportant, if giving gifts to the birthday child is so wrong we suddenly are to be cajoled, shamed purportedly logically reasoned out of letting a child’s friends dare give the gifts, then why is that part of a camp for siblings in foster care? Each child is given the chance to choose a gift for their sibling(s) and give it to them because they often don’t get to celebrate their birthdays together as brothers and sisters usually do; why was that included in the camp via donated gifts?  The answer, they say a need; interestingly enough evoking responses about making kids feel special, important for a day, if only for a couple of hours, restoring normalcy to a shelter child, a feeling on connection to a sibling they wouldn’t otherwise get to see, be able to get a gift from, give a gift to in semblance of their birthday if not on it. But we shouldn’t give birthday gifts if they cost money, sure, you’re feeding our materialistic culture if you do, sure; with obviously no thought to what else you’re feeding, a child’s spirit perchance by reinforcing someone cares, loves them, thinks about them, sending the message they matter in a world so big compared to them. Oh for shame if we do such a thing; most people thinking, god I hope not. Parents should do both what they can afford and what is reasonable; just because you can afford thousands to throw a party doesn’t mean you should. At the same time an overwhelming percentage of parents can afford balloons, napkins, cups, plates a cake, a few gifts and no one should dictate whether or not others want to give to their friend at a birthday party. I was struck by something Dr. Oz said on his show segment about caregivers avoiding burnout; he said it was selfish not to let others in, let others help because it robbed from the person wanting to give, something to think about.