By Rinny Yourman
When it comes to children’s birthday parties, I confess that I am a bit of a curmudgeon. I love the idea of two hours of fun, but in my ideal world we’d eliminate the party gifts and goody bags.
I have a hard time understanding the need for gifts, where so many of us blessedly have too much as it is. My kids do not lack for toys, nor do their friends. And as for goody bags–really, what is the purpose of giving them? Especially since we usually fill them with cheaply manufactured tchotchkes that are tossed, lost or broken by day’s end. Imagine the reduced environmental blight if we eliminated goody bags entirely.
However, until my miserly ideals catch on, I live in a world with birthday party gifts and goody bags. And, while we’ve gotten the goody bag gift down to a science (we gave away soap one year–I mean, who can’t use soap?), we’ve also made the experience of receiving gifts a more thoughtful one for our children.
When our daughter had her first birthday party, at age 5, the last thing we wanted was for her to tear through 12 gifts right after the party concluded, then slog unhappily through the seemingly endless writing of 12 thank you notes. Our hope was that the process of receiving gifts and graciously acknowledging them would be meaningful for her. So my family developed three birthday party gift rules:
1. The birthday child may open only one gift per day. As I’ve learned, this doesn’t stop the birthday child from looking at unwrapped gifts in gift bags, but that’s OK.
2. The birthday child should write a thoughtful thank you note that same day or, at the latest, the very next day. In our family, an acceptable note thanks the gift giver for attending the party, thanks her for the gift, conveys enthusiasm for the gift and thanks the child for her friendship.
3. If the next day dawns without a note for the previous day’s gift, the birthday child may open a new gift only after she writes yesterday’s thank you note.
These rules have many benefits. They help the birthday child to enjoy and appreciate each gift, without feeling overwhelmed by too many gifts opened simultaneously. The joy of savoring is something we tend to overlook these days, with so much emphasis on fast, big and many. Moreover, the birthday child is more likely to write a thoughtful note expressing real gratitude when she knows there is only one to write each day. As an added plus, slowing down the pace of opening gifts enables the birthday child to extend her celebration far beyond the big day.
Because we set these limits when our children were young, we haven’t had any push-back (yet). They know to be thankful that we continue to throw birthday parties for them and that we are willing to invite a large number of friends. We don’t skimp on the fun–my daughter’s circus-themed party this year was a big hit with her friends–and I know our children appreciate that.
Birthdays are a big deal for our kids. While the emphasis is on enjoyment, I’m glad we’ve decided to help them savor the joy with a few limits intended to make these celebrations of life and friendship all the more meaningful and memorable.
Rinny Yourman, a parent educator in training, has served on PEP’s board of directors.
Thanks for your thoughtful article! You make some important points. Coincidentally, our family has adopted a similar approach to opening birthday gifts. The birthday child writes a thank you card after each gift is open. He (we have three boys 🙂 can then open the next gift as soon as he likes with no particular daily limit. Often the opening process takes several days and, we think, pleasantly prolongs the joy and surprise of gift opening as well as emphasizing the importance of dwelling in gratitude. We encourage the boys to write thoughtful notes to their friends, expressing appreciation for their friends attendance at the party and participation in the celebration and also specific thoughts about the gift itself. They often include photographs of the party (we try to take pix of each child who attends) so we can then share the gift of fond memories 🙂
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