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Why I Won't Give My Toddler a Birthday Gift

Photograph by Getty Images

I know this stance is extreme, miserly even, but I feel pretty good about having celebrated my son's second birthday without buying him a gift. Even though it hurt a little just to type that sentence, I stand by letting this birthday pass without a gift from Mom and Dad. Hear me out before condemning me to mom hell, though, won't ya?

This little guy is the youngest of three, which means we have a home full of toys already. Train table? Check. Cars and trucks? Check and check. Stuffed animals? Coming out of our ears. Musical instruments? An orchestra has nothing on us. Art supplies? Oodles of the stuff. Books? Um, we've practically opened up a branch library.

We have everything and anything a young toddler could want or need. It's obscene, really.

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We're also at a phase of our family's life where we're trying to shed some of the things, the stuff, that seems to accumulate in a large home. Closets are full of things we don't use, storage bins are stuffed and the home office doubles as a room-sized junk drawer.

It's not healthy, I tell you. Too. Much. Stuff.

What a 2-year-old really wants is you. You.

That is not the lesson I want to teach my children. Happiness does not come from stuff. Boredom is not solved by more stuff. A good life is never defined by the stuff you have. Is 2 too early to learn these lessons? No. If anything, 2-year-olds know this innately. It's us older folks that seem to forget it.

Have you spent any time with a 2-year-old recently? They've got this minimalist thing down, my friends. They are as happy as a pig in pudding with a cardboard box, an empty egg carton or random containers they pull from the recycling bin. Gift them a shiny new toy, and they are more fascinated with the box it came in. The beauty of 2-year-olds is that they don't expect things or stuff from you.

What a 2-year-old really wants is you. You. They want a happy face, undivided attention, hugs and cuddles and love. That's it. They are genius, really. Masters at living full lives and being grateful for what they have, not wishing or wanting for things they don't need.

Our party guests gave him a table full of gifts, too, but he paid no attention to them.

We could all take a page from that 2-year-old book.

Lest you think I am the worst mom ever, I am not. Our littlest enjoyed a beautiful butterfly birthday party full of cousins and cupcakes. He sat at the head of the table while a room full of friends and family celebrated him being here on earth for two full years. He beamed back at us while we sang him the happy birthday song and cheerfully destroyed the lovingly frosted smash cake I made for him. Our party guests gave him a table full of gifts, too, but he paid no attention to them.

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Less is more, folks. My family just got schooled on that by our youngest member, a newly minted 2-year-old. He inspires me. Maybe he will inspire you, too. Does your kid have a birthday coming up? What are going to get them? Maybe a kiss and a cupcake is all they need.

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