A Birthday Present Manifesto

Pippin (violently) hugs a gift-giver at his third birthday party

If your kid is coming to my kid’s birthday party, it’s ok to bring him a present.

Sure, he definitely doesn’t need anything, and you won’t be barred at the door if you don’t. After all, he doesn’t need the present, but he does need practice in the business of giving and receiving.

See, I believe strongly that while I don’t want my kids to become materialistic little monster people, I do want them to grow up gracious and generous. And part of those virtues is exercised in physical ways, with concrete objects, giving and receiving.

In a perfect world, the gifts I give at children’s birthday parties and my own children received wouldn’t be big or fancy. (Again, they don’t actually need Stuff.) But I also know things get busy, and sometimes you don’t have a chance to carefully shop with your preschooler for a discount picture book or a tiny trinket, or have your kid make something thoughtful and handmade. Sometimes you just need to snatch something off the Target shelf. That’s fine, too. But if you can go cheap, then I don’t have to feel stingy when I go cheap on your children’s presents. Let’s not escalate things, shall we?

But at a little party, the kind my kids have, they get to open a handful of presents, and look the gift giver in the eye, and say they like it, and thank you. (Politeness doesn’t always equal charity, but it can.) Later, they will put away the gift among their things, and maybe free up some space for it by giving away a toy they no longer use. They will write a thank you note, too, or scribble-decorate one, as the case may be. And when they’re at your kid’s party, they’ll bring a gift they chose themselves, and practice patience in watching your kid open it, and I’ll smile over their heads when they commit some inevitable faux pas.

I know other people feel differently about this stuff. The invitation says “no presents, please,” or no gifts are opened during the party, lest the pint-sized guests grow jealous. I’ll respect the rules of your family, of course, but I just want to say: I think there’s still a place at children’s party for gift-giving between children, patient and earnest and polite.

Baby Pip opens the ever-appropriate gift of wontons at his first birthday


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