Earlier this week, a birthday party invitation came home in my youngest son’s backpack. I cringed because I hate social interactions and also because I knew the party was likely to be on a weekend and my husband would not want to pull the kids out of their very expensive, already paid for ski lessons. I reluctantly opened the invite but there was something different for me to obsess over this time (instead of my usual anxiety and panic over how and when to RSVP.)
This invitation included a little note asking that in lieu of a gift, we contribute $5 (per child) to cover party expenses.
I have to say, I was surprised by what I was reading. I couldn’t really believe that we were being asked to chip in for someone else’s child’s party. The party was scheduled to take place at one of those big bounce house centers that smell like sweat and feet but the kids love. I kept thinking… if you can’t afford to have the party at that location, have it somewhere else, or at home.
I’m sorry but I don’t want to pay for your kid’s birthday party (TBH, I can barely pay for my own kids’ parties).
I know, I know, it’s a winter birthday and sometimes it’s hard to have a large number of kids in your house… but there are still plenty of less expensive options. We have two kids with winter birthdays and we had a similar dilemma in December. We actually went right down to the wire planning my son’s 6th birthday party because we kept going back and forth as to whether to have it at a gymnastics center or at our home. My son’s birthday is 10 days before Christmas, so we were hesitant to plan a party that required a deposit and a certain number of kids to be paid for upfront for the weekend before Christmas.
Ultimately, we decided to host at our home. We had a pajama party, served pizza and popcorn, and showed, “The Polar Express.” Almost every single kid in the class showed up. Lesson learned… if you plan it, and there is pizza, they will come.
My issue with asking for money instead of gifts is that I wouldn’t ever show up to a child’s birthday party without a gift for the child. I don’t think a preschool-aged child would understand why he is not receiving gifts at the party like all of his friends did at their parties.
So now, I’m still purchasing a gift… and also throwing in additional money to pay for the party.
My bigger concern here, though, is what has happened to us as a society that parents are in a position where they feel the need to crowdfund their child’s birthday party. I partly blame Pinterest for making parties appear much better than they actually are. There is nothing wrong with an at-home birthday party where everyone wears a party hat, eats cake, and plays unstructured games using their own creativity. No parent should feel they have to rent out an overpriced center or hire a face painter/juggler/clown/contortionist/genie/unicorn for entertainment. Things have officially gotten out of hand.
Can we get back to basics? Please?
To ensure that I was not being narrow-minded, petty, or cheap, I posed the scenario to my besties; some of whom have children and some who don’t. The general consensus was that it was a tough situation. They could see the logic behind asking for a contribution towards a party, but also felt it was delicate to directly ask for money. Most agreed that they would, of course, still bring a present for the birthday boy.
One friend forwarded me an article about “Fiver” parties. That got me thinking, there are actually two situations where I would have no problem contributing $5 (or more) to a child’s birthday party:
At a fiver party, the guests are asked to contribute $5 towards one larger group gift that the child actually wants. The child is presented with the gift at the party. Everyone is happy. So, instead of spending $20 on a lousy toy from Walmart, Target, or the dollar store, you contribute to something the birthday boy or girl wants or needs. This is genius. I’m totally okay with this because I wouldn’t feel pressure to still bring a gift and, since the child still receives a large gift at the party, she isn’t left wondering why none of her friends gifted her anything.
2. A Donation to a Charitable Cause
I would absolutely bring a donation to a charitable cause in lieu of a gift. I think this is an especially cool idea if the child is old enough to understand, is involved in the selection of the charity and helps track the donations, and is moved or motivated by the cause. Again, here, one of the keys for me is the child’s understanding as to why he is not receiving a physical gift. It would be even cooler if the child and his friends could be involved in presenting the donation as well. If the kids are the right age and emotional maturity, it could shift their entire perspective on gift giving going forward.
The next time you open an invitation to a party from one of your kid’s classmates, I hope there are only pleasant surprises. Personally, I hope to be surprised by more low-key birthday parties and new clever and generous gifting ideas. That’s my take on this surprising new birthday party trend.
Tell me, have you ever been asked to contribute financially to another child’s birthday party? If so, what was your reaction? Has your child been invited to a birthday party that you thought had a great new twist on giving? Please share your story in the comments!