I asked Michelle from doudou bebe, one of my favorite online baby boutiques, to write a guest post. She has amazing taste and some fabulous ideas. I love that she decided to write about birthday gifts. And not just any birthday gifts – she is right up my ally with this take on ideas/tips for the mom who is thinking about greeness, budget and ease of purchase, while still wanting to get something that the birthday child actually will enjoy.
In the early years, I was always excited to get a birthday party invite for the kids: it meant a nice afternoon of playing and cake. For me and for them because back then their friends were exclusively the children of my friends. But as they’ve gone out into the world and acquired their own little circle of friends (humph!), brightly coloured envelopes come home in their backpacks and cheerful emails arrive with RSVP by dates that I will never actually meet.
One of the more difficult aspects of this has been selecting appropriate gifts for kids that I don’t know well whose parents I know even less (if at all). Until you’ve faced it, it seems like a minor thing, but the things we give our kids have says a lot about our values. With my friends, I know pretty well if a craft set will be well-appreciated or relegated to the back cupboard because it’s too messy (or too potentially toxic or too ‘feminine’ for their boy… the pitfalls are many).
I know well how frustrating it is to have gifts that contradict the values that I want to teach my kids – but that the kids inevitably love more than life itself. Recognizing too that our low-plastic, creative play focus isn’t what every family sees as ideal, I’m also trying to use these opportunities to teach the kids about kindness and generosity in the wider world. It’s not easy to balance, but it’s a big lesson so we keep at it.
It doesn’t help at all that asking a 5 or 6 year old what their little friend likes rarely elicits useful information. I once trekked out to the toy store to buy a Spider-Man doll that Isabelle was quite sure her friend really wanted for his birthday – only to find out that the way she knew he liked it was that he had brought the one he already had to show and tell. Sigh.
Nonetheless, with a few years of school under our belts now, birthday season has become much less stressful. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up:
- Set a general budget based on the number of parties you’re likely to attend in the school year and stick to it
- Have your children participate in the selection, wrapping and card-writing for the gift
- Have one or two back-up gifts in case you find yourself remembering at the last moment that you have a party, at noon that day (not that this has ever happened to me, of course!)
- For older kids, gift certificates can be a good option; for younger kids, the idea of a gift certificate is too abstract. Also, the gift preparation that’s so important to your kids largely gets lost with a gift card
- Classic toys will appeal to most parents and kids
- If in doubt, be conservative: if it occurs to you that someone might object, then chances are someone will. If you go for it anyway, be sure to have a gift receipt.
- If you find a cool neutral gift on sale, buy a couple of the same one to keep on hand (but remember that without the gift receipt, if it’s not a really cool universal gift, some of them may end up in the broom closet)
Take heart too – birthday parties are for the kids and they are supposed to be fun. Even if one or two (or even all) of the gifts you thoughtfully purchase and present are never really used, it really is the thought that counts.