Presence Over Presents: Please Don’t Buy My Child a Birthday Gift


Ironically, gift-free, guilt-free birthday parties keep me present.

We had a big party for our kiddo’s first birthday. It was great to get together, but it was also very overwhelming. Planning, partying, opening, thanking… I was grateful, but I was also exhausted in all the ways moms (especially new moms) can be.

In all the time leading up to it, during it, and afterward, I was so stressed that I mostly missed out on actually enjoying it. From then on, I’ve opted for easy, low-key birthday plans that are inclusive and special in their own right. I’ve found the key to making them work for us is requesting no gifts from guests and planning no gift bags in kind.

Nixing party gifts makes life easier for all caregivers.

After the initial experiment, this style of celebration has proven to be the perfect fit for our family. Birthday after birthday, our kiddo enjoys his party with his friends, separate from any gifts he may receive from select people in our lives. And his friends’ families continue to tell us how much fun they have, especially without the added stress of prepping for our parties. So, now it’s become our tradition.

Navigating a gift-free party doesn’t have to be challenging. Though each family’s reasons for choosing this approach are likely to vary somewhat, most are just as likely to be rather relatable. Here are some of our top reasons for requesting no gifts at our birthday parties.

We want to make it as easy as possible for guests to come.

Money. Time. Energy. These resources are often at a premium for many families.

Taking away the burden of shopping, purchasing, and packaging a gift removes a barrier that could stand in the way of an invitation being accepted. To be as inclusive, understanding, and gracious as possible, we simply forego that hurdle altogether.

For those who feel uncomfortable attending a gettogether empty-handed, we suggest that their kiddo make a drawing or that they can write a note. If they’d still like to do something more, we mention perhaps passing along a secondhand book that they’ve enjoyed—either to borrow or for keeps—in hopes of making it clear that there’s no need for any monetary expense.

Typically, if someone does arrive with a gift, we put it to the side to open after all of the guests have gone home. This ensures that we don’t make any of our guests feel uncomfortable or “less than” as they measure themselves against others in a public gift opening. Later, we follow up with gift-givers privately, often sharing reaction photos or videos along with messages thanking them—first and foremost for their time, and secondly for the intention behind their gift-giving.

We value relationships over belongings.

We are privileged to have what we need, and we have a lot of stuff that we don’t! As parents, we can handle choosing any material gifts we think are appropriate for each particular celebration, and grandparents tend to cover the rest! What we feel can rarely be in too great of a supply are attention, affection, care, and love. For us, building memories together is far more heartwarming than anything we could buy at Target. For this reason, we invite those we care about to join us in celebration, without an entry price. To us, the cost always has the potential to be too high.

We all deserve to enjoy ourselves.

Insisting that guests don’t bring gifts actually brings me relief. As a busy mom struggling and juggling many responsibilities, planning a party can take over my life in a way that doesn’t bring joy to anyone!

Taking gifts out of the equation helps alleviate any guilt I may have about keeping things simple. This helps me focus on creating an opportunity to bring our favorite people together, to take time to enjoy ourselves. Instead of an expensive, time-consuming spectacle of activities and goodies that can all too easily become completely overwhelming, we can just relax and reconnect while the kids run around entertaining themselves just as they do every day at recess.

Above all, it empowers me to enjoy myself enough to celebrate the guest of honor in the most loving, caring, and mindful way I can.

And fun is had by all. Without too much fuss, for any of us.


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