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Giftless Parties

Monday, July 30, 2007 at 7:17 AM

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Kids' birthday parties have changed a lot over the years from small, family celebrations to larger, expensive events with hired entertainment and gift bags. Some parents say they've had enough. They're keeping the party, but saying no to presents and goody bags. ideastream's Mhari Saito reports.

Like many kindergartners, Jane Boyle regularly comes home and breathlessly hands her mom invitations for friends’ birthday parties. Lots of them. Rebecca Boyle says while its nice classmates include everyone at parties, the problem for this mom from Orange is that she ends up buying gifts for kids she barely knows. So she would say to her daughter:

Rebecca Boyle: “See if you can like kind of on the sly ask them what they want.” And one day she came home and said her friend wanted an iPod. And I thought, “okay, that’s really not helpful in terms of what I can get for them.”

It was the umpteenth trip to Target for birthday presents that did Boyle in. So when Jane turned 6 in June, Rebecca Boyle told her they’d celebrate her birthday with presents as a family, but if she wanted a party with friends, there would be changes.

Rebecca Boyle: I said, “I really don’t want to have any gifts.” And she goes, “As long as I’m getting gifts from you and grandma and dad, then I’m okay with it.”

The Boyles are one of a small but growing number of parents who want the kids’ party - just without the stuff. University of Minnesota Family Social Scientist William Doherty has watched birthday parties grow into pricey, themed extravaganzas. Parents told him they wanted change and so he helped start the website “Birthdays without pressure.com.”

William Doherty: There seems to be a trend now to simplify birthday parties and make them less of a consumer event. I’m hearing about that from around the country.

Doherty says some parents ask for donations to charity instead of gifts. Parent Rebecca Boyle said she just wanted to keep things simple: they went to a gym place, played games and had cake. There were just no presents, which to some is really hard to swallow.

Sherri Foxman: I think there should be a ban on no-gift parties for kids. (Laughs)

Sherri Foxman regularly plans no-gift parties for adults as CEO of party411.com. But banning gifts at kids’ parties, she says, is just wrong.

Sherri Foxman: There’s nothing like watching them open up gifts and get so excited. I mean, that’s part of the party!

Okay, a moment of personal disclosure: My 6-year-old daughter Kaiah has been to three no-gift parties so far this year. I’ve had one for her as well. She got lots of questions from her friends.

Saito: So did they ask if they could give you a present?
Kaiah: Yes. But I told them I wasn’t allowed.
Saito: Were you okay with that?
Kaiah: Yeah. It’s okay.

I guess I got off easy. It helps that Kaiah’s friend 6-year-old Izzy Culver says she likes no present parties. Izzy says when friends bring gifts, it changes the party.

Izzy Culver: People are like, “hey, open this present! Hey, open this present! Hey, open this present! It’s a good one.”

Izzy’s mom Joanna Hardis likes when a party is focused more on fun than presents. But she says some friends have a really hard time not bringing a gift.

Joanna Hardis: It’s gotten to be a joke. I say, “please no presents, this year, no presents. We’re going to do it this year” and they just can’t do it.

But it’s not just adults that can have a hard time with changing birthday party traditions, because when the gifts go, the goody bags often go too. Professor William Doherty says dealing with young guests’ reactions can be the hardest part.

William Doherty: One mother told us she decided not to have goody bags, well, at the end of the party this monster child said ‘Where’s my goody bag?’ and ‘This is a rip off.’ So the daughter, the birthday girl, bursts into tears. So are you going to risk that for your child?

Orange Village mom Rebecca Boyle gave out simple favors at her party, but only because her daughter insisted. But Boyle says the party worked great and she wants to keep the “no present” theme going for her family.

Rebecca Boyle: As long as I can… (laughs) I hope as long as she’s getting what she wants from her mom and dad, that that’s enough.

I’m Mhari Saito, 90.3.

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Community/Human Interest

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