Is a Giftless Birthday a Birthday?
For my oldest son’s 7th birthday we said no gifts. We asked him to pick a charity (he chose the Humane Society in honour of our cat) and we donated some money to it. He was fine about it until his little brother’s birthday a few weeks later. Then all hell broke loose, because his brother invited his entire class over and there were a ton of gifts.
He cried for hours. I felt bad for him because we had suggested the no gift policy and he had reluctantly agreed. Why had we denied our sweet first-born presents? Because our house is full of stuff and he had a small party with friends who had no-gift policies of their own. Was it fair? Probably not. Did he learn a lesson in giving? No.
Why did we allow gifts at his brother’s party? Because we assumed at the age of four he wasn’t able to understand the spirit of giving and since his brother lords over all the toys in the house it’s nice for him to get some stuff of his own.
There are lots of reasons to avoid having 20-or so gift bags littering your house; most gifts are forgotten in moments, only one or two really get played with; it is a constant cycle of spending money and wasting time, and let’s be honest most birthday presents are crappy. Other than those few moments of crazed present opening your kids is deliriously happy. The gift policy is one that I struggle with.
A friend of mine was absolutely disgusted when I mentioned going gift-free. Her argument is that you are only a kid for a short time and you should do whatever you can to make your kids happy and feel spoiled and feted on their big day. She brought a gift despite our policy and my son loves her now.
In response to this issue, two Toronto moms started Echoage as a way to deal with the desire to get off the gift giving cycle but also acknowledge your kids’ birthday with a present. The site collects an online payments from guests, takes a 15% administration fee and then splits the rest between a charity of your choice and a cheque in your child’s name. You and your child choose the charity from a list including: World Wildlife Federation; Second Harvest and Nelson Mandela’s Children Fund. And you get to go out and buy one substantial and meaningful gift. They like to say they are turning a child's birthday party from a "getting" experience into a "giving and getting" celebration.
The average donation is $20 and my son’s friend was able to go and get a bike with his party money. The lovely leprechauns at Echohage do everything electronically so the invites and even thank-you notes are sent by email; less gifts, less time and less garbage. Sounds like a gift to me.
If you or your child is interested in having a party (birthday or otherwise) that raises money for a charity, many not-for-profits will help you out and send you posters and information. Free the Children goes one step further and will send you a whole party kit for a Celebration for Change party that has invitations, a poster, and party checklist.
Would you ever have a gift-free birthday party? Do you think it teaches your child the joy of giving?