Wow, I've finally found something that was easier to do with the twins when they were toddlers.
September 24, 2012 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Help me navigate the etiquette of my twin boys' upcoming birthday party.

I have twin boys who will turn five in November. For the last few years, we've thrown them a birthday party, usually at the zoo, and requested donations for the food pantry in lieu of gifts. My husband and I reasoned that it would be a burden for families of the kids attending the party to buy (potentially) two gifts rather than one, and we didn't want to do that. It seems greedy to us.

The twins aren't having it this year, though. They've been to other birthday parties - lots of them - and seen the big table full of gifts at each one. A couple of weeks ago, we went to a combined party for two girls in their pre-K class who have the same birthday, and there were two gift tables.

What's our best move? We could keep the philanthropic angle from previous years and maybe get two five year olds having twin meltdowns on their party day. We've talked with the boys about how a party is about having fun with friends, not about getting stuff, to try to mitigate the meltdown potential. Alternately, I'd thought of saying "one gift maximum, please" on the invitation, but it's tacky to mention presents at all in an invitation. We could just send a standard invitation and let each family figure it out for themselves. We could randomly send half of the invitations out for twin 1 and half for twin 2, but they're both in the same classroom so the kids will all know both boys. Neither my husband nor I have even ever been to a birthday party for twins, so we're lost. Help me askmefi!
posted by terrierhead to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Would your boys go for a present exchange? This is what I do for my two children (4 and 6). Each child coming to the party brings a gift (we do books) and each child (including yours) leaves with a gift. You could set a price limit. This takes care of dealing with the mounds of plastic toy garbage crapola, your children do receive something and (bonus!) there's no need for loot bags because all of the other children leave with a present too. My kids also always know that they'll be getting stuff from the family of course.

Having said that, my 6yo went to a birthday party for his twin friends this year and we bought two separate gifts without even thinking about it.
posted by Cuke at 8:23 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wouldn't mention anything about gifts to the attendees at all, and let the boys divide the loot at the end of the party.

If I were invited to a party for twins, I would most likely give either two identical gifts, or something "big" meant for two or more children to play together. I certainly wouldn't feel annoyed or burdened by the fact that there were two birthday children.
posted by apparently at 8:24 AM on September 24, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: As a twin, just send invitations to "Billy and Johnny's Birthday." People will probably bring a little present for each kid and not give it a second thought. Since they're buying two gifts, they'll likely scale the budget accordingly.
posted by Katine at 8:24 AM on September 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: apparently: I wouldn't mention anything about gifts to the attendees at all, and let the boys divide the loot at the end of the party.

Yeah, I agree with apparently entirely (heh). If my daughter was invited to a twin party, it would be kind of a fun little challenge to try and find something that would be used by both of them, or we'd just get two identical smaller gifts. No big deal at all.

If you are worried about the accumulation of crap, you can ask your kids to donate or trash one old toy for each new toy that they are getting. You can rationalize it as needing to "make room" for the new stuff if they are resistant.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:30 AM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: they're both in the same classroom so the kids will all know both boys

So, it wouldn't be such a burden for them to give two presents, would it? It's not like the class size expanded by 1 to fit one of the twins. Kids that age tend to be friends with a very limited of kids, i.e. the other kids in their class. If this class didn't have your kids in it, but had two other unrelated kids instead, there would still be guests going to those parties. By consolidating two twins in a single party, you're actually burdening people less overall, because they're free to give one joint gift that the two can enjoy together (like a board game).

However, don't explain any of this to the guests or parents!

Just stop worrying and let whatever happens happen.

There is no need for any kind of Byzantine system like a "one gift maximum" or randomly mailed invitations or a "present exchange" or a "price limit."

This is just a children's birthday party. You're not building a centrally planned economy here. Other people are able to make their own decisions. They'll do whatever they do, and you can assume it'll all work out fine in the end. You don't have to plan everything out.

By the way, food donations are really inefficient.
posted by John Cohen at 8:31 AM on September 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: If I were the parent of one of your boys' classmates, I think I'd have an opinion about how to give birthday gifts to other peoples' kids in general--that is, I'd feel happy/annoyed/resigned/excited/whatever to buy birthday gifts for my kid's peers, and it wouldn't make a difference whether it was two gifts for twins at one party, or one gift for each kid at two separate parties.

I think you're overthinking this because you don't want to burden other parents, which is nice, but unnecessary and (I think) kind of unfair to your boys. I don't think that kids need or even deserve a ton of birthday gifts, but it's nice to celebrate each kid even if they share a birthday.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:33 AM on September 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think you should just trust the other parents to manage their own finances and shop within their budgets.
posted by drlith at 8:35 AM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Your kids are getting old enough now that they're going to start resenting being treated like one entity and being expected to share things that other kids get their own of. Birthdays are just one part of that. If there were two children in the same school class who happened to share the same birthday, there would be two parties, and anyone bringing gifts would bring a gift for each child. It's not fair to your kids that they don't get to have the experience other kids have just because they happen to be related to one another.

If you want to feel less guilty about the "burden" you put on other families, just make sure that when you receive reciprocal invitations to the birthday parties of your children's classmates, you buy two gifts for those children, one from each of your sons. That way, everyone is getting the same number of presents they've given out. In fact, now is a great time to start teaching your kids individually how to pick out thoughtful presents that they think their friends would enjoy. Also, make sure that each of your boys writes a separate thank you note to each child who attends the party, regardless of whether a gift was given.

Your kids are two separate people. Let other people treat them that way, and make sure that you're treating them that way, even if it's a bit of a hassle for you. You want them to love being brothers, not resent one another because they're sick of being treated as a single unit. This is just the beginning, and it's better to start now drawing that firm line of respecting them each as individuals.
posted by decathecting at 8:36 AM on September 24, 2012 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Gosh, the whole point of a birthday is to be feted and given gifts. Receiving gifts is one of the social graces we must learn and you're robbing your children of that.

Of COURSE they want presents, and it's not greedy to want them. Certainly they give them to other kids. It seems mean to deprive them of such a simple childhood thing.

So have something in a park (so you don't have to clean up the house for a bunch of kids), don't ask for contributions and let parents worry about what they're going to get for your boys.

There are lots of multiples out there now, and we'll all navigate our gift giving just fine.

If you want to emphasize charity, once they get home to arrange their swag, get them to give up some older items for donations.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:53 AM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a twin who shared birthday parties with my sibling for years, please let them accept gifts. I think the charitable donation is a wonderful angle, but doing it just because they share the same birthday makes it seem like a punishment. Personally, we hated sharing most gifts, and my parents hated most duplicate gifts because invariably one of us wouldn't want ours/would break it and steal the other one, with similarly unhappy end results. (Also, my sibling and I were not at all alike, so we generally resented the implication that we were the same kid just duplicated...hopefully your children are on better terms!) And please do not invite half the class for each kid.

In general, I think most parents have a general idea of how much they're willing to pay for classmate gifts that's sort of organized for the size of the class or a general pool of items to gift for birthdays, so the chances are good they'll either scale down or just pull two items out of their box o' gifts or whatever system they use. As your kids grow up, you may see more opportunities to turn this towards charitable giving. We stopped having joint parties for the most part around third grade, but we were in different schools and with very different likes; the one exception was renting a small hotel pool later on, but we had separate locker rooms, cakes, and sides of the bleachers. Our parents also gave us the option of doing separate "cooler" things with a couple of friends instead of parties, which worked well: I went trail riding in the mountains for an afternoon, we went out for Thai food/dancing, and so forth. I teamed up with a friend with a close birthday to go to a Murder Mystery dinner once, which was really fun. You'll probably see more joint birthday parties with friends as they get older, and I've never seen two gifts for those as an imposition.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:53 AM on September 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Look at it this way:

People are going to buy exactly the same number of presents for the kids in their kids' classes at school, regardless of whether any of them are twins. That's determined by class size and who has parties, not by whether those kids are related to each other.

The fact that the families in your kids classes have to buy two presents the same weekend for the same family is largely irrelevant to this economic calculus -- they'd have had to buy the second present some time. And if it is relevant for cash flow reasons, they will buy each of your kids something cheaper than they would otherwise have purchased.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:55 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a twin. in general, my mom didn't say a thing and let other families decide -- some gave us two identical gifts, some gave us two personalized gifts, and others just gave us one thing to share. any of the above were fine with us.
posted by changeling at 9:14 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

My best friend growing up was a twin. Her parents decided that the kids would switch off each year for parties: one would have birthday parties on the even years and the other would have parties on the odd years.

I tell you that NOT as a suggestion, because I always thought it was weird and unfair. All of their friends had birthday parties every year with presents. My friend and her twin felt left out. I know I would have felt the same if I were in their shoes. Never in a million years would I have felt burdened by bringing an extra present for my best friend's twin brother. He's her brother! I see him all the time! It's his birthday too!

I was also very close friends with triplets. Guess what? The three of them had a birthday party every year (a big shared one), and I always brought three presents.

Granted, I was young enough that my parents were paying for these presents, not me. But my parents are incredibly fiscally conscious — "if you have it to spend, then you have it to save" and all that — and they never blinked at bringing three presents for the triplets. Because there are three kids, and three friends.

You are a very kind and socially aware person to think of how expensive this may be for the party attendees. But in this case, I think the right thing to do is to leave it up to the attendees decide how they want to handle the number-of-presents issue, as previously suggested in this thread.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 9:21 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Those advising to relax, have a party, and let the other parents figure out their approach are right on.

I totally get why you would be concerned on these multiple levels just from having one, and can hardly picture how much more intense navigating these things would be for two. It's a bit a of a rat hole, though, as you've discovered - you start to get concerned about one part and then you're chasing down multiple stressful angles, and suddenly it's a complicated heap of decisions!

You're not robbing your kids of anything, you're not being mean. You're doing the best you can with the situation and trying to do right by them and others at the same time. Parenting is hard enough without that kind of hyperbole, eh?

I'm very much hoping you do take the approach of just letting whatever approach the other parents want to take be all right. It'll remove a lot of stress from you and will teach your little guys how to be gracious no matter what happens, which is a lesson that takes a very long time to learn for most.

Good luck!
posted by batmonkey at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't worry about it so much, I am willing to bet most parents will take it in stride, not even think twice, and simply split the budget they would have spent on one present over 2 smaller presents, or simply come with one present to be shared. I think you are worrying more about it than any of the parents buying presents will be.
posted by wwax at 9:41 AM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: It's great that you're trying to be considerate of people's budgets, but remember that time, attention and energy are also limited resources for parents. Frankly, having to depart from the standard gift-giving routine and figure out some sort of special twin-specific gift dynamic for a party (where is that food pantry, again? do they really mean I only bring a gift for Kevin and not Aidan? how is a "present exchange" gift different from a regular one?) sounds like kind of a pain. I'm not rich, but I'd gladly trade the cost of two $5 toys from Target for the blissful ease of being able to pluck them out of the present bin 10 minutes before we leave for the party.
posted by Bardolph at 10:32 AM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: Twin speaking. Most of the kids already probably see your sons as a singular unit - my ideal parents would have do their best not to propagate this in any way. Unless both they and others understand that they are each a unique individual (no matter how many similarities they do or don't share), they will most likely end up choosing unique and somewhat overblown identities to differentiate themselves by themselves. This robs them of getting to live out their real identities.

Sorry for my deviation from the topic at hand: What about twins who don't share a bedroom? Who gets to keep the toy/book/game? Little kids have a hard time working out joint physical custody. If they do share a bedroom, your boys might not share a bedroom a few years down the line. What about if your boys have completely separate interests (this possibility becomes more and more likely the older they get)?

Personally, I would leave the invitation blank as far as presents go, expect people to bring presents however they're gonna bring 'em, and answer any questions that might arise (sometimes other parents are thoughtful and kind enough to ask in this situation), I would state politely that, unless it's something they can both use which stays on neutral ground (eg trampoline, basketball hoop), we would appreciate if they could bring something for both boys because you guys are trying to help them to feel like individuals and they already have to share a brithday :)
posted by jitterbug perfume at 10:33 AM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: I struggle with this too. I have triplet boys who will be five in December. They're in separate classes at school, and I'm inviting all of the kids from their classes, so we're looking at the potential for sixty guests, not including their neighborhood friends. And considering their birthday is three weeks before Christmas, well, you can see why this can be a problem.

But. They're kids. And no matter how you put it, some people will bring presents. So I just let them. And we give presents. And we donate some of them, and some of them I put in a (locked) closet and bring out throughout the year.

At least next year they should be old enough to decide which friends they want to invite, and things will be more manageable. But I got presents at my birthday parties when I was young, why shouldn't they? Why should they be treated any differently from singleton kids? We bring gifts to the parties we go to, so why shouldn't they get the same?

One thing I'm doing this year, since they're in separate classes, is having four separate invitations. One from L, one from O, one from M, and one from all three. So their classmates will only get an invitation to ONE boy's party. I don't want them thinking they need to bring three gifts, when they only know one boy. So hopefully that will help. We'll see.

But I see that's not your situation, so I'd just invite all the kids and let the parents figure it out. When we go to a birthday party for twins, sometimes I bring SIX gifts. Six small gifts. But usually I just bring two medium-sized ones, and I never bring just one, unless it's obviously sharable. I did that before I had multiples too.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by pyjammy at 12:37 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I talked with my husband and sent him a link to this question. We've agreed, and gifts it is. Thank you all.
posted by terrierhead at 1:13 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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