I was attending a kid’s birthday party about 10 years ago, watching as the guest of honor, surrounded by 20 other children, opened gifts. A child would enthusiastically hand her a package, she’d rip it open, say “thank you!” then set it to the side where her mother organized them and wrote important info on a notepad. When the gift portion was done the kids returned to the bounce house and continued the fun they were having before the present portion briefly interrupted the party. These shiny boxes of princess crowns and lip gloss and barbies she already had sat in a neat pile while the children ran in the sunshine and enjoyed each other’s company.
Then it hit me—kids don’t need all this stuff. They just don’t.
At some point small, casual gatherings of children for cake and punch turned into elaborate parties with tents and magicians and catering and … and … gift registries.
The first time I received a party invite with a gift registry I considered it to be strange, but thought it would make shopping for this child I barely knew much easier, so maybe I’d pick up a little something special. When I perused the list and realized the cheapest item was $50, I was shocked. Where are the fun card games or socks or books? My standard birthday gift is a donation to charity on behalf of the child, and I quickly realized this may be frowned upon in this situation.
Children who get everything turn into adults that expect everything.
I was stupidly enraged, and was tempted to skip the party altogether. The expectation irritated me. This was a huge party, the entire class was invited, and this kid was gonna rake in every last thing he wanted. Now, I’m all for kids having something special for their birthday, but 30-something specials? It seemed a little excessive. Maybe it's just me.
I emailed the mother and asked her what charity I could make a donation to on behalf of her son and she replied with, “He’s really not that into the charity thing yet.”
OK, now I definitely wasn’t going.
Let’s take a moment to think about this. Children who get everything turn into adults that expect everything. I know several such people who have an absolute temper tantrum if things don’t go their way. Their birthdays? Each and every one should be more special than the last and their spouses spend months planning the “perfect day” to avoid the doghouse. It’s a reign of terror wrapped in flowers and jewelry, and it’s disgusting. I can understand doing something amazing when you are inspired, when you find the perfect thing, but requiring people to honor you in a manner that you personally deem fit seems slightly insane.
Now I know what you are thinking. I’m a cheap buzzkill who has no friends. Kids hate me and I give crappy gifts. Think what you want, because when it’s my birthday and my friends take me to a taco stand and we drink beers from bags and sit on the sidewalk, I have a fantastic time. I don’t expect gifts and I don’t feel ripped off if I don’t get everything (or anything) I want. Enjoying the company of people I love and laughing and jumping in a bounce house in the sunshine is enough. I wasn't showered with gifts as a child, and I'm OK with it.