Child’s Party Invitation Help / Gift Request
November 27, 2011 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out how to word the birthday party invitation for my daughter.

I was brought up to believe that a gift is at the discretion of the giver in terms of what to give or whether to give at all, so I’m having trouble getting my head around this idea for a child’s birthday party. Can you help me sort it out?

My daughter’s birthday falls very close to Christmas and as a result, she gets (too) many gifts. I want her to be conscious of the fact that she is very fortunate and encourage a charitable mindset. To this end, I am considering how to word the invitation to her party with classmates.

She has been invited to two parties where the birthday girl has requested a cash gift so that say 75% of the money could be donated to her favourite cause, and the remaining 25% could be pooled for her to purchase a gift she really wanted.

I like this idea for 3 reasons:
- Less stuff.
- It encourages empathy.
- It benefits those in need.

I’m uncomfortable with it for the following reasons:
- I was raised to believe that you don’t tell people what to give you.
- I was raised to believe that specifically asking for cash is tacky.

So my question is, which of the following should I do?
1) Make no indication of a preference unless asked.
2) Indicate something like the example noted above (donate 75%, buy one present with remaining 25%).
3) Indicate that she would like to forgo presents in lieu of a donation to X cause (In this case maybe I would buy her a small thing that I know she wants).
4) Another idea?

I don’t want to come off appearing “holier than thou”, I want to acknowledge that this is her special day, I feel uncomfortable with the “request” part of this, and I feel that teaching my child about charity is not something I need to request of other people, and yet I feel like she gets so much stuff this time of year that it’s too much to be truly appreciated.

What would you think if your child got an invitation requesting cash? If the idea doesn’t make you cringe, how would you word it?
posted by lunaazul to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
On my kid's (age 3) invites I write "Your presence is your present. Please do not feel compelled to bring gifts. If you really want to honor Lillian, please join us in donating to the Howard County Itty Bitty Kitty Committee, a charity that she is involved with."
posted by k8t at 1:54 PM on November 27, 2011 [16 favorites]

I'd be horrified to get an invite requesting cash, even if a percentage of it is going to charity. I would NOT be horrified, however, if I got an invite that was worded the way k8t did it, though -- I think that's a lovely idea.

I don't know how old your daughter is, but a friend of mine has her birthday right around Christmas as well, and what her parents used to do was a) give her a lovely birthday gift, of course, because Christmas babies often feel like no one cares about their birthday specifically, and b) have a toy drive at her birthday party, so everyone brought a present that was then given to Toys for Tots for Christmas. She got the birthday presents from her family, so she didn't have to sacrifice her birthday just because she was born close to Christmas, but she also ended up giving a ton of toys to others. It was really cool. (This really only works once the kid is a certain age, though and understand all the toys coming into the house are for other kids.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:03 PM on November 27, 2011 [13 favorites]

Cash requests are tacky. The favorite charity is okay, although it sort of sucks the fun out of shopping for a present and watching the kid open it. I guess this depends on the age of the child. Really small kids don't understand why they don't get something to open, school aged kids like to watch and ooh and ahh and teenagers sometimes pretend not to care.

People will bring presents. If you want to re-gift these, fine, but good luck on prying the plastic sparkly glitzy thing out of your daughter's hands.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:16 PM on November 27, 2011

Asking for cash is a really dreadful idea no matter how you word it. We go with a simple "No gifts please" just because it's so common in my son's crowd that the wording doesn't have to be more delicate than that. It started when they were about seven and none of the kids cared that they weren't getting eight more presents. Also acceptable would be "For those so inclined, a donation to XXX (Kaitlyn's favourite charity) would be be appreciated."
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:21 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Book swap birthday party! Every kid brings one wrapped book and exchange with other kids at party. Every kid goes home with a book. Your kid gets a book.

Or, instead of book swap or exchange, request one wrapped book that will go to charity or they can go all to your daughter.

There are invitation ideas all over the web and articles too. I found one on Slate on how the author's kid rebelled against book swap but it sounds like your daughter will be getting plenty of gifts.
posted by Fairchild at 2:21 PM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

My daughter has been invited to parties that used these approaches:

--bring a book (new or used) that will go into a book swap among all the party guests, so each child brings a book and goes home with one

--no presents please, but we're taking donations to xxx charity if you want to honor the birthday child

--no presents please, but we're collecting supplies for the local animal shelter and would be happy to include anything you might have to give

We've actually had smaller parties for our daughter, and didn't say anything about gifts. My feeling is that part of the fun of being a kid is getting presents at your party! But, about a month before her birthday, we do make a point of going through her current toys and culling out ones that she doesn't play with in order to donate them. That's our approach to teaching empathy and charity...
posted by msbubbaclees at 2:24 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

As you are aware, there is no proper way to indicate "no gifts" on an invitation because it implies the expectation of gifts. You are not supposed to expect gifts at any time; they are according to the rules of etiquette always freely given. Directing the potential giver to donate to charity may sound wonderfully noble but the point is that you are still indicating to the guest that the gift is a quid pro quo for his attendance. That contradicts the meaning of an invitation, which is that you want the guest to attend your event because you hope to enjoy his company.

One way around the implication that gifts are expected is to frame the event simply as a "party" and not a birthday party. It can be a dance or a tea or slumber party or movie-and-pizza afternoon or some kind of themed event. Since it falls so close to Christmas, it can be a "Holiday Party" or "Winter Party," something like that. Obviously your daughter needs to be on board with this idea, particularly the point that she is not going to receive presents even though she gives presents at other kids' parties.

One aspect in favor of this kind of party is that it is sort of "grown up," like the cocktail parties and dinner parties adults have, where nobody has to give anyone a present unless they want to.

Of course, if the tacit no-gifts message doesn't quite communicate to all the guests, then your daughter can emphasize the "what a nice suprise" and "so unexpected" element in her thank-you notes.
posted by La Cieca at 2:26 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Since its close to Christmas, you can ask for presents that will be donated to Toys for Tots.
posted by katypickle at 2:27 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I want her to be conscious of the fact that she is very fortunate and encourage a charitable mindset.

Is she on board with this? You can also have her do something charitable that is outside of her birthday, such as donating to Toys for Tots, the Heifer Foundation or bringing donations to the humane society without having it be part of her birthday.

I can see pre-teens or teenagers getting into the donation thing, but younger than that it feels more like it's the parent's choice and not necessarily the kid's choice. There are a lot of other ways to teach kids about charity.

I also would think it would be weird to ask for cash in lieu of gifts unless everything was going to a charity.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:05 PM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I personally would find it annoying if I received a kids' party invite that either requested money or requested explicitly that I not bring their child a gift. The money thing is tacky and presumptuous. The no-gift thing strikes me as being over-controlling parenting-wise and honestly a little cold, though I know you don't mean it to be.

I do, however, really like the book swap idea. You could word it like "in lieu of gifts, this will be a book swap party! Please bring a new or gently used wrapped book". And then they could either just take turns selecting a book or you could do a Yankee swap, though I could see that getting a little ugly with kids.
posted by imalaowai at 3:14 PM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

Birthdays do tend to get swallowed up by Christmas. You could celebrate her half-birthday.
posted by gray17 at 3:15 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

If I got a child's birthday invitation requesting donations, I would very slightly start to dislike the child's parents.

I'm sure you mean well, but
a) She's a little kid, let her get some damned birthday gifts. It already sucks that she has to share her birthday with Christmas excitement and
b) Teaching your kid that the way to be charitable is to ask other people to donate on your behalf will just lead to more Xing for the Cure in the future. Charity is something you do, it's not something you guilt other people into doing.

If you want to encourage her to be charitable, then adopt a local kid and have her help you select and buy a toy to give away so she understands not everyone is as lucky as she is. Don't forcibly involve your friends, her friends or her birthday.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:24 PM on November 27, 2011 [23 favorites]

(Err, and by adopt, I mean in one of those 'give a kid a Christmas' type programs, not actually adopt.)
posted by jacquilynne at 3:26 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why do you think this encourages empathy? It would be building empathy if she felt she had too much and wanted to share. All you're doing is making her birthday into your charity event.

When I see this type of invite, I never think that a 5 year old said, "gee, I don't want toys." I know it's the parent who's really maneuvering here.

Perhaps a book swap may be a good compromise.
posted by 26.2 at 3:29 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

"As Fifi's birthday falls so close to Christmas, in lieu of birthday gifts this year, we will be collecting gifts for Toys for Tots. If you would like to make a donation this year, we would be happy to deliver it on your behalf."

Be aware this will fly for like... a couple of years. Most of the people I know with birthdays around this time, including my 98 year old grandmother, are resentful as all get out that they actually get screwed on birthdays because people give them one gift to cover both occasions.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:29 PM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

Invitations that say not to bring gifts for kids don't work well in my experience. My kid had an in-law visit and was absolutely buried with gifts, so for the party we tried to do a book swap instead at my daughter's fifth birthday and worded it gently but clearly in the invitation.

Everybody but one parent ignored it, and when one person does the book exchange and everyone else does the gift thing, pretty much everyone feels awkward and a little bad. (We seeded the book pile very generously so it just ended up being an extra takeaway for the kids.) I asked a couple of the parents I know about what they were thinking, and they said, 'Pfffft. Kids like presents, so we brought one.' Nobody really cared what the invitation said.

Maybe there's a way to do it better, but change really does seem to want to start at home.
posted by mullicious at 3:29 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

So my step cousin was born on New Year's Eve. And he always hated a) that it was within a week of xmas, b) on another 'special' day. He's now 40 and it took his now wife several years of making a point of celebrating both Xmas and his birthday in a special way and of establishing little rituals for each to get him over that. He had simply started to completely ignore his birthday as people had other stuff ot worry and be excited about. So please don't do that to your daughter. You can always teach her charity by going through her toys with her regularly to identify some to go to charity etc. It is taking away from her special day. It's not her fault it's close to Xmas.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:33 PM on November 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

Everybody but one parent ignored it, and when one person does the book exchange and everyone else does the gift thing, pretty much everyone feels awkward and a little bad

This is so true.

I honor whatever request is on the invite, but I'm the only one who seems to do that. Then I feel bad because many other people show up with a present for the child. It's awkward all the way around.
posted by 26.2 at 3:34 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't understand how her birthday being near Christmas means she gets too many gifts? IME kids with birthdays near Christmas get less gifts because people have less spare money at this time of year and some people give 'combined' Christmas and birthday gifts. There are ways to teach your child about empathy and charity without denying her the experience of opening presents at her birthday party. If empathy can be encouraged, I'm not sure having charitable donations made in her name is the way to do it.

And yes, asking for money, even as a charitable donation is presumptuous and tacky. Also, some people may be offended at your choice of charity (or disagree with charitable organisations altogether)
posted by missmagenta at 3:42 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

so for the party we tried to do a book swap instead at my daughter's fifth birthday and worded it gently but clearly in the invitation.

We also did a book swap at my son's fifth birthday party, which was wildly successful. We did have a few people bring gifts, but the gifts were books. So it was fine. We actually did T-shirts and craft bags as party favors, so with the book swap the guests ended up taking home more things than we did.

I also want to call our your feeling that she's getting "too many toys". She's really not. She's getting exactly the same number of toys other kids get, just all at once vs. spread out across the year. I have two good friends who were born "at Christmas" (one Christmas eve and one Christmas day) and both report that they got fewer gifts, not more... and, in fact, both report instances where family members wrapped gifts half in birthday paper and half in holiday paper to emphasize that it was a "combo" gift.

If you want to encourage empathy in your daughter, you're really going about it the wrong way. What you're doing is encouraging resentment. Some holiday-season empathy activities could be:

- Purchasing a toy from a toys-for-tots (or similar) holiday tree.
- Having her fill a box with toys she no longer wants and then taking her to donate them to a local charity.
- Having a conversation with her about kids who have fewer things than she does, and asking her to tell you what she thinks would be a good way to help.
posted by anastasiav at 3:52 PM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

As another point of reference, I just talked to my 6 year old and 8 year old about this, and they are super-excited about doing a book swap party for their next birthday (in April). The younger kid looked very nervous until I said he would still get presents from family and that this would just be kids at the party. Then he was completely on board. They both said they'd be fine with collecting items for an animal shelter too. If one of their classmates sent an invitation doing something like that, I think that would be great. If they asked for cash - even for charity, I would be pretty icked out.

On the other hand, I have a birthday right after Christmas, when everyone is sick to death of gift-giving and parties. I always hated that my birthday was so much less of a big deal than other kids'. I never had parties and I never got very many birthday presents. I am not a greedy person and I don't generally care much about getting gifts from people, but my husband knows not to EVER give me a combination Christmas/birthday gift if he wants to continue to be married to me. It's a big sore subject with me.

So if your daughter is old enough to not be disappointed by the lack of gifts, give her the chance to decide for herself what she'd like to do as an alternative. If she isn't on board, it will create resentment and hurt feelings rather than a sense of charity and empathy. And regardless of what you end up doing - make sure you make her birthday a Really Big Deal and not let it get lost in the Christmas noise. Your daughter's birthday is the one day of the year that she gets to be Queen of the World and have everyone's love and attention focused on her. It's kind of a reset switch for all of the 'nobody loves me' feelings that all kids get from time to time during the rest of the year. That's not something to mess around with.
posted by Dojie at 4:03 PM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

While I applaud your wanting to teach your daughter to be a charitable person, I dislike the concept of "no birthday gifts because of the date of her birthday" --- unless, to be fair, you treat all birthdays in your family exactly the same: either no one gets any gifts and all birthdays are used to funnel donations to various charities, or none are. She didn't choose to be born near Christmas, so why should she be penalized for it, while a child born in, say, August gets a ton of birthday goodies plus thier Christmas gift haul?

If I sound a little bitter, I guess I might be: I was born a couple days after Christmas, and spent my childhood hearing every year that I only got token gifts because "oh sorry, but we all spent all our money on everyone's Christmas!" (as I recall, one year I got a hairbrush..... that's it, nothing else....) but my born-in-summer siblings always got repeats of their Christmas piles 'o' gifts.

My point is, be fair: whatever you do for a birthday near Christmas should also be what you do for a birthday far from Christmas.
posted by easily confused at 4:11 PM on November 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

and re: Dojie and the combo birthday/Christmas thing? Don't do it. Just, don't. Again, be fair: you wouldn't give one combo gift to a summer birthday person, so don't do it for a Christmas birthday. (True story: a former co-worker had her birthday on Dec. 24; one year, her husband & kids gave her one boot for her birthday and wrapped the other boot and gave it to her on Christmas.....)
posted by easily confused at 4:17 PM on November 27, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers so far.
Several people are saying exactly what I'm concerned about. Namely, as 26.2 says, it's the parent who's doing the maneuvering or at least that's the perception, as La Cieca says, any indication at all regarding presents is really not in the spirit of an invitation, and as imalaowai says, it's maybe over-controlling, and most especially, what Jacquelynne says...

a) She's a little kid, let her get some damned birthday gifts. It already sucks that she has to share her birthday with Christmas excitement and
b) Teaching your kid that the way to be charitable is to ask other people to donate on your behalf will just lead to more Xing for the Cure in the future. Charity is something you do, it's not something you guilt other people into doing.

... b) in particular, really resonates with me.

To clarify, she's turning 9 years old and we've been talking about this issue. We're actually having the party a couple of weeks before the official day so that friends can attend and she gets to have her birthday recognized. She's genuinely excited about getting a couple of things that she really wants from her family and giving anything she receives at her party to the Christmas Bureau if the charity angle is the way we decide to go. This feels like a total minefield though.

I like the book-swap idea potentially but how do you word that so people understand that it's in lieu of presents?

My birthday is on Christmas Eve so I am intimately familiar with how it feels as a child and am careful about it. She has had half-birthday parties in the past and will probably do that again in the future but at the moment she feels special because of her seasonal birthday and gives no indication that she feels she's deprived. I think it's true that we Christmas babies get more combo gifts and therefore fewer than others over the course of the year but I didn't start noticing that until I was around twelve and so far it hasn't happened to her.

It seems like it's best to just go with the standard invitation and continue our charitable efforts away from her birthday.

On preview, easily confused, point taken. There are only two of us so what applies to her should apply to me too!
posted by lunaazul at 4:21 PM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And phew, I'm so glad I asked!
posted by lunaazul at 4:22 PM on November 27, 2011

Could you perhaps leave out the 'birthday party' part altogether? Or rather, leave her birthday celebration purely to the family, and make this just a seasonal book swap party, with your daughter as hostess? She'd get a party, you'd get the gift-giving problem resolved, plus the ever-so-grown-up title of 'hostess' sounds much fancier than 'birthday girl'!
posted by easily confused at 4:42 PM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

but how do you word that so people understand that it's in lieu of presents

Well, in our case, I had two things in the invitation envelope: the actual invite (day, time, kid's name, location, etc) and then (partly because it was at a children's museum and I had to include some info on parking, admission, etc anyhow) I put in a separate "note for parents" in which I explicitly said "In lieu of gifts, we will be hosting a book swap. Bring a book or two to swap (gently used is fine) and take home a new book or two for your library."

Maybe it's the culture of the parents of the kids we invited, but it wasn't an issue at all. Out of 12 kids we got two presents - one from his best friend & one from his former child care provider - and both those presents were books.
posted by anastasiav at 4:48 PM on November 27, 2011

If you don't want your daughter to get "too many" presents for her birthday, you know, you could just not throw her a birthday party. Her family gives her gifts and you celebrate her special day together and that's all.

Once you throw a party, gifts are implied. I feel like you are trying too hard to make some kind of statement with this and control what should be a fun celebration, so I'm glad to se on preview that you are ditching the idea.
posted by misha at 4:55 PM on November 27, 2011

It all has everything to do with the culture of the crowd your kids hang with. Around here, the parents all knew each other reasonably well because our kids were at six or eight birthday parties together each year. We had all chatted about the expense and waste of kids getting a ton of presents and only playing with three or four of them in the end. Loot bags was another issue! Finally one father decided "No loot bags." Not one kid batted an eye at the lack of loot bags and everything started to change. No loot bags were given out at any of the following parties. Then someone had the courage to say "No presents." It was not on the invitation that first time, it was just mentioned in person. The kids didn't care. They were still going to get lots of gifts from family. Really the whole change was very smooth. But again, that's because the parents had talked about for a few years before we started acting on it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:21 PM on November 27, 2011

I sympathize with the too much stuff dilemma. My daughter's birthday is in February and even six weeks after Christmas feels like too close together. Piling birthday gifts on top of Christmas gifts that are still new has always felt like too much for me.

I struggled with this for a few years, too, but in the end, I decided it was my problem and I had to suck it up. It's kind of scroogey to keep your kid from getting presents, no matter how little they need them.

However, what I did last year was have a much smaller party. Three girls and a sleep-over. Even three gifts was more than she really needed, but it was more manageable. And because the girls were together for a while, the party was much more about their experience together than it was about the gifts.

It started a bit of a trend among her friends, and as a result, there have been smaller parties all around, which means fewer gifts to buy, too. An unintended bonus.
posted by looli at 7:50 PM on November 27, 2011

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