"Old Fashioned" Birthday Party - Long - with Another Question as Well!

Updated on July 26, 2010
W.T. asks from El Cajon, CA
22 answers

My sons' birthdays are coming up in October. The will be three and one years old.

We usually do just family and close friends at my mom's house (our yard isn't party friendly) and serve cake and ice cream with coffee and lemonade. And that's it....no goody bags, we ask for no presents (Close family brings gifts on their actual birthdays and we give them gifts of course). I blow up balloons and have bubbles on the table since my older son is bubble crazy.

There are places to run around and toys to play with, but that's it. My son has loved it and his little friends have been happy too. The adults all wander around visiting.

So what's my question? I keep getting invited to all of these parties for little ones where the parents have spent a minimum of a few hundred dollars for the venue or the entertainment. What happened to just celebrating? I feel like everyone is one-upping each other.

My hubby and I talked about doing something special every year for the boys' birthdays as they get older: a weekend at the beach or camping, etc but keeping birthday parties to a minimum. Plus we start preschool this fall so I assume if I invite one new friend I have to invite them all. Wanted to add that we will still do parties every year, just nothing fancy.

AND! So I get an invitation for a birthday which CLEARLY states no presents. We show up and are the only people who did not bring a present. I was a bit embarrassed. We ask for no presents for parties and I get annoyed when people bring one.

Opinions? And anyone who just wants to be plain mean, please don't reply! I have noticed that some moms are just plain mean responders when someone's lifestyle doesn't meld with theirs! I just want honest answers to see how off-base I am (or not).

Thank you!

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all of the responses! It's nice to read that I am not totally off base.

Two things I wanted to clarify. One, I have nothing against venues. I know some don't have access to a yard and I totally get the don't want to clean the house and the yard and prepare the food deal! I just have been to some really over the top parties for 3 year olds where the venue was pricey, the food was top of the line and EVERYONE (adults and kids) were told to be in costume and then of course, there's the gift.

As far as my no gifts policy. I do it for 2 reasons. One, I have a number of friends who truly live paycheck to paycheck and even an extra $10 is too much to spend. I would rather they come than not come without a present or spend $10 on something my son won't play with. The other reason is that I am very careful with what my children play with. We try to do healthy wooden toys or at least healthy well-made plastic ones. I purchase very little and buy mostly used, as it goes in line with our lifestyle of low consumerism. We also encourage roleplaying and don't allow guns or the like at this age.....

I write a poem for every birthday invitation. For my son's 1st birthday I encouraged a book be brought with a personalized note inside if people had to bring something. This year it is Matchbox cars. That way people don't have to buy something, they have an out, but if they must, then they can spend little and know it's something that will get played with at our house.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Don't feel bad! You were honoring their wishes. I don't know what the deal is with the other present bearing parents. It's actually an insult to the hosts who requested no gifts. Don't you think?

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

My son is 10, and since his first birthday party I have always written on the invite and told people when they were RSVPing ~NO GIFTS~. My son has too much stuff and always gets everything he wants and more from family, really no need for more 'stuff'. If some people do choose to still bring a gift we don't open them at the party. We open them later and always mail thank you notes to everyone.
I have done them all, small home gatherings and large productions. Now since my son is older I give him the option. He can have a large production and that is 'his gift' or he can choose no party and I will give him the money I would have spent on a party as his 'gift'. Just depends, last year he wanted the money and no party and this year he wanted the 'whole enchilada' at Laser Tag. I also don't do goody bags anymore. I did for about the first 6 years. I don't think boys are as into them as girls, at least not in my experience.

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answers from Orlando on

W., we are definintely living in the age of bigger is better I guess...we don't do over the top birthday parties either but have been to some that I absolutely could not believe that parents would go so overboard. I kept thinking to myself "what did this kid do so special to deserve this"? LOL I think there is definitely some feelings of trying to show off or outdo other parties but that is very unlikely to change, only get worse because that is the kind of society we are, very materialistic (even at the point of not being able to afford it). My almost 12 year old daughter and I were absolutely cracking up yesterday watching an episode of "My Super Sweet 16" on MTV yesterday. If you haven't seen it, it's about these turning 16 year old divas who come from very weathy familys that throw these parties that can range into the $100,000+ price range. At the end, the girl always gets a luxury car from her parents. Frankly, I'm embarassed for these people because they look like morons. That being said, I haven't attended a party like that but have been to a few where the parents were clearly trying to impress the adults rather that just celebrate the child's special day.

As far as not bringing the gift when it was requested, don't give it another thought...you did the right thing. If the people asked for no gifts and some showed up, they should have made a nice little sign near the gift table saying they would be donated to whatever charity they choose.

Anyway, don't fall into feeling inferior because you are having less lavish parties, there are many of us out there that don't buy into all the over the top hype and aren't fooled by those huge expensive parties.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

For my daughters 2 yr B-day we had a party at GYmboree - our house is not really big enough for a party with 8 or so kids. I specified No Gifts on the invitation and made sure I told the parents when I handed them the invitation - every one brought gifts anyway. Had you been a guest - you would have gotten my heartfelt thanks.

To me a party is to celebrate with friends, not to see what you can get, what you do at your parents sounds just about perfect to me - family friends and fun.

Today's world seems to emphasize getting more, and upstaging your neighbor. Such totally wrong values that it scares me for my daughter's generation.

It sounds like you and your hubby have the right idea... don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

My daughter got invited to a friend's party when they were 3. I asked the Mom by phone when I rsvp'ed if there was anything special her daughter might like for a birthday gift. She stressed, nothing, please do not bring a gift, we only want your company. This was a simple, home party, and I wanted to honor her wishes, so we just came. Well, EVERYONE else brought gifts, and my daughter and I wanted to disappear when everyone was gathered for the production of the birthday girl opening her gifts. I just felt humiliated, and my daughter confused at why we didn't bring a gift. I think it is fine to say "no gifts please" but then if some people bring them anyway, do NOT open them at the party in front of all the guests.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

you are not off base... I do "backyard" parties (whether indoor or outdoor), and I try to do something like a pinata with a "cool" cup to put it in for "goodie bags". I don't like goodie bags and almost refuse to give in to them. I don't feel the need to spend hundreds of dollars to "entertain" other people children, it is a celebration of a birthday. Today's parents seem to have gotten away from the reason for the party and WHO it is for. The other kids get THEIR day, too. Cake, ice cream and a few games (again, depending on the ages). Simple. Don't get angry if someone DOES bring a gift though, just accept it graceously, and say thank you. They were the one either NOT reading the invitation or just not honoring your request.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Unfortunately it is the way of the world these days to have birthday parties for you kids. I have to admit my kids have had them every year of their life. It is something that I enjoy and they do to. It is not a financial burden for us either. I don't try to one-up any of their friends parties-I go with what my kid is into each year. I always hope that people won't judge me for this decision as I never would judge them that they don't have a party ever and we invite them every year.

You should just carry on with what you are doing. There is nothing wrong with celebrating that way-it sounds like fun and very enjoyable for your kids. But just be aware as your kids get into school that they will start going to a TON of parties and at that point may ask you for one. So at that point maybe consider one every couple of years. Doing something special for their birthdays will be just as good as a tradition as a party every year and maybe better. Less stress for you that's for sure!

I hate it when people mention anything about presents on the invite. Esp to not bring one because you are put in the situation of not knowing what to do and perhaps making your kid feel bad as the only one without one.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

You are lucky you have family to celebrate with! I only wish we had family around us, but we don't. I didn't do birthday parties until my kids were in kindergarten. Before that, they really didn't have many friends to speak of and could really care less if there was a party. To be honest, I can't say I enjoy throwing birthday parties....and for this very reason. By the time you spend all that money on the party, there's no money left to buy gifts for your own child! It didn't take us long to figure that out...LOL! SO, I ask the kids if they want the party or the gifts. They really can't have both - big party and all the stuff on their wish list (they don't usually get everything on their list, anyway, but they'd get more than they would without party) Then, it's up to them if there's a party or not. If they choose no party, then we'll maybe have a few friends over to spend the night, rent a movie, go out to eat, etc. Once they turn 10, they no longer have a choice. The older they get, the harder it is to entertain them. I can't fit 12 -11 year old boys in my house, and to hold it anywhere else is way too expensive - the kid would get NO gifts! This has worked pretty well for us so far.
The goody bag thing is soooo annoying. First of all, I don't expect one when I send my kids to a party. I don't think there's a need. They've already had enough sugar with the cake/ice cream. Then, although I hate to sound unapreciative, but the goody bags are full of a bunch of junk that just ends up in our recycling bin, anyway. Am I a fun-hater? Possibly. But, I really don't see the need. For my daughter's last birthday, she wanted a skating party. We invited about 15 people to the party. The week before, I came down with bronchitis, my 10 month old was also sick and the day of the party, my husband had to be with my 11 year old at his basketball game, so I was on my own with all these kids. I was wiped and had been all week, so I didn't have time to go shop for items for the goody bags! I figured I'd find out how that went over when we sent our guests home empty-handed. The only thing I noticed, was when people went to leave (a couple of them, anyway), they kind of paused after they said good-bye, like, "Ok, we're leaving, do you have to hand something out?" I thanked them, and that was that. Of course, they could have all gone out to the parking lot and trashed me and my lack of goody bags, but I sooo didn't care at that point. Since I had planned on handing out a little bag of something, I hadn't put on the invitiation "No gifts". I get the feeling that if you don't hand out bags, you don't expect gifts, which I think is crazy. When a kid has a party, it's their day. When their friend has a party it's THEIR day. I've already thanked the guests for coming, fed them and hopefully they had a great time. Now I have to send them home with a present, too?? I have no idea when that changed, because I don't remember goody bags when I went to parties as a child. My thoughts are that I'm out of the "one-up" game, because with 4 kids and one income, I absolutely can't afford to! If that rubs parents the wrong way, then they are welcome to chip in to buy crappy little goody bags for the party! I would never go so far as to rent a pony, bouncy house, etc. That's just too much. We just had my (now) 10 year old's party and since it's summer, it's so much easier to plan. Silly string, kiddie pool, sprinkler.....it was a blast and super cheap. Now, one idea I've seen is to ask for a canned food item to donate to the local food pantry. I really liked that idea and if my child agreed to it, I could see putting that on the invitation in lieu of "No gifts". I know my 10 year old wouldn't go for it, but my 11 and 8 year old might. Keep doing what makes you and your kids happy. If they start asking for a party, then you can re-evaluate. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

You should not feel off base at all. Every family is different and do different things. You just do what is right for your family.

I do recall, especially when my daughter was in preschool and early elementary all the parties and some were very elaborate.

We've always had parties, some at home, some at another venue. We have no family here, we do have a lot of friends so we celebrate with friends. As for goodie bags, I never did those. Instead, I used different things such as a box of sidewalk chalk, art set with paper, sand pail with sand toys, and gift cards (McDonald's, etc)

We did throw a big 13th party and I'm planning a big Sweet 16 (not a $100K one though, LOL). We always say "no gifts please" OR we say "bring a can of food for the food pantry, or something for the animal shelter"

I'm sorry you feel so many people on this site are mean. Hopefully you will have positive input here.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chattanooga on

Why do you feel bad about the way you do birthday parties? My 6 yr old has had "friend" parties (from school--we have very little family nearby) over the last several years. We have done them at home in our living room, with traditional pin the tail on the donkey (well, the star on Tinkerbell's wand :) and a few other games, hot dogs, cake & ice cream. We do allow presents because that would crush my daughter to not get presents, but I do not let her open the packaging at the party & we return a lot of them & use the money to let her pick out one nice gift (& I don't feel one bit guilty about it). We do invite the whole class, but we have never had more than 1/2 come...usually only about 12 kids.
If someone can afford to have their kids party at the jump-house place, so be it. I don't judge them any more than I want them to judge me for having my parties at home. If we can't afford to bring a gift, we just don't go to the party. As your kids get older, they will start getting a LOT more invites. We pick and choose which we will attend. My daughter has been to "venue" parties but has never asked to have one...yet. Last year she opted for a shopping trip to the Mall with a Bear from the Build-a-Bear instead of a party.
There are always going to be people who bring gifts when the invitation says "no gifts'...in fact, most people will bring a little something. If it makes you uncomfortable to be the only one, then I would suggest always bringing a very small gift...a book, or little box of candy.
Don't worry about what everyone else is doing! Do what's right for your family :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I had the type of parties you are describing while growing up and I loved them family and friends at my house...playing in the yard, cake/ice cream, and a few gifts.

I am now a mom that does have parties at venues...like McDonalds or Chuck E Cheese, etc...because cost wise for us it does end up being cheaper and just plain easier.

By the time I clean my house to party perfect and my husband does the same on the yard, then buy the food and party supplies...host the event that honestly stresses my husband and I out...we never seem to get to enjoy the party itself as we are making sure everyone is okay and has drinks and getting the food out and keeping an eye on all the kids...I don't get to visit with everyone...then have to re clean the now dirty house, when it is all over...to us the pay of of having a place do all the work so we can enjoy the party is really priceless.

Oh and there are 13 grand-kids...so just family is is huge, then add my mommy friends and their kids and maybe husbands too. Our house is bursting at the seams.

I am not trying to one up anyone, it just works better for us not to have it at home. McDonalds is by far the cheapest...and the venues go up from there...but you only pay for the kids, and the adults fend for themselves.

I have no idea about the present thing because I have never seen a child's birthday party invitation with no gifts written on it. I think if I received one, I would have a gift in the car, just in case for some reason everyone else showed up with one. But I don't understand not taking the birthday child a small gift...that to me is just part of a child's birthday party. I am curious why no gifts on your invites?? Don't get mad at me...I am just curious.

I wish we could throw a simple party at home but for our family it just doesn't work out very well.

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answers from Houston on

I think everything you are doing is great!!! and you are by no means off base!!! I love the good ole fashioned parties. The venue parties make me a nervous wreck. I feel like I am refereeing the whole time!

I started my son from the get go with the "no-present" policy. I have had several people (mostly family) not agree to it and get him stuff anyway. In my opinion he has enough stuff and does not need more! Therefore, I compromised. I now say instead of "no presents", "in lieu of present, bring a book". My son adores books and now has an amazing library that is all his own! Once he outgrows them I will either donate them or re-gift them! Further, I now take a book to all the parties we go to. I pick them up at the bookstore when they are on sale and keep them on hand to have for the next party



answers from Houston on

Part of me wishes that I could do things as simply as you but another part of me knows how my son (who is now 10) has always loved to get a variety of gifts, many are things I never would have thought he'd like so I never would have bought for him or told family to get for him, so he may have never had the chance to explore whatever that gift is/was. I don't understand why someone would not want their children to receive gifts, that is one of the best things I remember about my childhood was birthday and Christmas presents!

My son turned 10 in April and I had another baby last year. I decided his 10th was going to be the last birthday "party" and we went all out, we had over 100 people (I have alot of friends and they all have kids). I am guessing we spent well over $1000 which is ridiculous, but I feel like he will remember that day forever and he had a blast and that was the finale. From now on, we will have sleepovers with 5 or 6 kids and pizza and I will probably make him a cake. Nothing big. On the part where you ask about inviting one or inviting all, I think that is up to you. I used to invite the whole class but they never came, usually none came. I started telling my son he could pick up to 5 kids from his class to invite (your child sounds young so you may just ask the teacher who he plays the best with). This worked out well for me. Goodie bags are a waste, I have always done them and always wonder why because they add up quick and I know most of it gets lost or thrown away. I don't put candy in mine, just toys. Half the time (at my parties or other people's parties) I noticed that the mother forgets to hand the goodie bags out until the party was almost over and many kids were gone so it was a major waste of time and money. For my new baby, I am going to try to go more toward your route with simple parties, then I can spend my money on more important things. I hope you don't think I was mean, just gave you my honest opinion.


answers from Milwaukee on

I completely agree with you. My daughter started preschool last year and she did get invited to 3 birthday parties; 1 was a their house but the other two were at a place where you have to spend at least $300 or more to rent & pay for food. We were going to go to the one at the house but my daughter ended up getting sick so called with a no, we RSVP no to the other two, if they were a good friend we would go but they were just in my daughter's preschool (one was not even in the same room as her). None of the invites said 'no gifts' so in that case I would just pick something within the $5-$10 range with a gift receipt.

The 'no gift' statement should be used more. I know that my daughter has enough toys so she really does not need anything else, of course the relatives and us are going to get her something but I always stick a note in the relatives invite that mentions that if they do bring a gift to please leave it in their car till the friends have gone home since it is a "no gift" party.

Our house is small so having parties does not always work, especially if it is raining, so I have been making it a habit to have them at a park. There are tables, a place to play and I bring a simple lunch & cake (sometimes a pinata or other simple games). Everyone has a blast and since it is so low key everyone has a good time, and if people talk about the "lack" of money put in to it whatever I am not made of money and we are saying no gifts... we just want our daughter to have a good time for her birthday party with her friends that she wanted there.

Every once in awhile we may do a bigger "fancier" party but those will only have ever 10 years or so. I know we will do a "big" (which may be only medium for some) party for my daughter's sweet 16 because it is also her golden birthday so that ONE will be super special, but that will morethenlikely be the only one that is "bigger" then the past or future birthdays.



answers from Fort Wayne on

My girls are roughly the same age as your kids. We do big parties, but that's just because I have a HUGE family. This is the first year we're inviting any type of family friends to my daughter's birthday (the baby will be 1 on Sunday) and that's just b/c one is our babysitter and the other is a close friend of mine that is also close with my girls. We don't do goody bags or even really decorate. We just get together and have a lunch, cake and ice cream. I'll admit I do spend a couple hundred dollars on the food, but not entertainment or anything like that. When my girls get school age, we'll probably do more elaborate parties.
Everyone is different. Some people prefer the large themed parties with lots of entertainment and gift bags, others prefer a more laid back approach. It doesn't make yours or theirs "wrong" or even weird, just different.
If the invitation states "no presents" I would honestly still take something small. If you feel like you did something wrong or were embarrassed, I'd send something in the mail. It could just be a gift card for $10 or something.


answers from Provo on

Sorry, I'm a little late to this response, but I just was invited to a friends son's second party and it's going to be a dancing party. Make a good playlist on itunes and some speakers and call it good. I loved the idea and thought you might like it since it involves very little and is a great exersize. I applaud your greener lifestyle and I'm trying to be a bit more green myself! YAY!



answers from Boston on

My favorite Birthday parties are the back yard parties!! Nothing like a good cookout or just cake. I do not like to come empty handed when it says no gifts so I will make brownies or cookies!


answers from Saginaw on

I don't believe people are trying to one up each other. I just think its a combination of how they were brought up celebrating and how they feel a birthday should be celebrated. I think its fine if you prefer to do a birthday celebration the way you prefer, but I don't think you should automatically assume the other types of birthdays are to one up others.
For example, my sisters husband was brought up with basically no birthday party and no emphasis on a birthday. Yes maybe inside their immediate family they ate dinner (like every night) together and then had a cake but that was about it. Our family celebrated with friends, family, dinner, cake and presents. He thinks it ridiculous that my sister invites his/her parents, and his/her siblings to a party. He thinks that's over the top.
So while yes, some people go all out for a party and some keep it small and simple when it comes down to it, really its for the child(ren). And while you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to throw a party some people prefer it that way.
And as far as being the only person to not bring a present to a party that requested that, I wouldn't feel embarrassed in the least. I am sure the people throwing the party did not care, and appreciated that you did the most important part and came to the party.



answers from New York on

you're not off-base. the don't bring gifts thing usually people ignore. i do. i always send a gift.
our b-day parties until this year were quite elaborate. this year my girls had a friend and i treated them to a nice outing. for backyard parties in the past, we have cooked up food for everyone, has slip n slide things set up, bounce house (my own. if i didn;'t have one i would have NOT rented one), so very simple. had drinks, snacks and cake and ice cream. i know this is elaborate in my book but not as elaborate as parties we have been to. i do what i can afford. that is it. i am not competing with anyone.
your party sounds great.
ps i have never done goodie bags. i don't see a point in giving kids junk.
and everytime my kids get goodie bags they go in trash can as soon as we get back. usually goodie bags have candy, chocolate bars or junky things we don't use
so (see? i am not being mean) your party sounds great.
if you are hellbent on getting goodie bags use oriental trading. cheap and well cheap stuff too. :)



answers from New York on

If you're REALLY against presents, perhaps instead of saying No Presents, give the people a suggestion instead - donate to a charity of your choice or something. Or bring a toy to be donated. Though make it clear on the invite.

Personally, even if an invite says no gifts, I take something (though something smaller - books are usually my "no present" gift of choice). Just like I take a hostess gift when someone invites me over to dinner.

I think if your parties work for you...go with it.

But be prepared for your kids to grow up and have more friends and want to have them involved. Eventually your kids are probably going to want to invite their school friends.

I had a party every year growing up but I don't think my Mom went all out. We'd do hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill and a birthday cake. We'd play happily.

That said, unless you're going all out and having a party at a place where you have to pay money (which you may pay, but it seems much easier) even big parties don't have to be expensive!!

All you need is a broom to limbo. Some dance music. And a piece or 2 of poster paper for pin the tail on the donkey!!



answers from Pittsburgh on

I understand your point of view and agree with much of what you are saying. We have parties for our kids and up to now have just invited family -about 30 people. (We did just have a combined party at the Little Gym last week, however, as we earned a free one with our membership points. We invited the cousins and added a few school friends to meet our alloted amount of guests.) I feel fortunate that with summer birthdays we can plan outdoor fun - BBQ, swimming, lounging around in the sun. They are very laid back events and, we think, lots of fun. I imagine as they get older we will somehow more regularly inorporate friends into the mix.

I also try to emphasize the celebration and being with family and friends. Some family members have tight budgets and don't bring presents. If my kids ask me about it I simply explain we don't invite people to get presents, we invite them for their company. If they bring a present that is a bonus. If I were to get invited to a party in which I was asked not ro bring a gift, I would opt for a small gift or book and a card. I understand about toy overload (we have way too many toys) but feel out of place if I don't have some token. For me there is a joy in buying a gift for someone special.

I don't dislike venue parties or think that having a venue party is necessarily over the top. As others have pointed out the simplicity and spaciousness is a big bonus for some people. And I have to admit, not having to clean before or after the Little Gym party felt pretty good. :)

I have known a few people to put on extraveganzas. It's not my style from a hostess standpoint, but I'm happy to attend if they invite me! LOL

I say do what feels right to you in planning your parties and instill those beliefs in your children. There are many ways to make the celebrations special. At our house it is homemade birthday cakes - pinball machine, Shrek, ladybugs, guitar. Believe me when I tell you they are not masterpieces, but my kids think they are awesome. Best wishes to you!


answers from Little Rock on

I wouldn't feel bad at all. I understand what you were trying to do. Because at the ages of 3 and 1 the kiddos don't nessarly know what is going on, ON that day except that they are having cake and a bunch of people are singing to them. I would call the families that you invited a couple days before to make sure that they don't buy a gift. If some of your family buys them gifts ask them to save it for Christmas concidering that it is around the corner.

When our girls were younger they didn't recieve that many gifts from us. It is not because we didn't want to, just cuz we couldn't afford much. And a coulpe of times my MIL or AIL would by these big and exspenive gifts. And at first I was upset and felt awlful about it. Now they are in the teen yrs. I say, well "Ask them for it." (They started it and I will go with it!!!!) It put more food in the house and we are able to give them alittle more of the little things that they want and needed.

So Don't fret over this. Just do what I do and them waste thier money and you can get your children what they really need.

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