Why I've banned birthday party gifts for my son

I recently received an invitation to a child’s birthday party that read:

Come one, come all! 

We will be celebrating you-know-who’s 7th birthday party on Saturday July 13 @ 1p.m. We will have an inflatable water slide for the kids, please bring them some swimwear. 

Instead of gifts this year, we will be asking for donations for St. Joseph’s Children’s Home. Please see the enclosed list of items the orphanage is in need of. 

We are very excited about being able to help the kids at St. Joe’s, and very much appreciate everyone’s support!

I could not believe what I was reading! A 7-year-old was giving up his birthday gifts? NO FREAKING WAY. I immediately called the hostess to RSVP, and to let her know what an amazing idea I thought this was. (Read: Find out what her son had done to be punished like this.) She said she was sick of the whole unnecessary cheap crap gift giving that goes on at a child’s birthday party, so she decided to try something new. She admitted that she was a little concerned that the idea may upset her son, but to her surprise, he actually loved it.

We then went on to discuss the headache of buying a gift for a child’s birthday party, especially for a child you barely even know. Nothing sucks more than being the mother of a girl trying to find a gift for a boy you do not even know, or vice versa. Still, damned be the parent that is ostentatious enough to add a child’s birthday gift wish list in the invitation… So instead, all of us parents on Saturday morning stand in the toy aisle, cussing the party under our breath, trying to find the right gift in the right price range.

I’ll be the first mum to stand up and say gift buying for a child I do not know sucks. It even sucks buying for my friends’ children. Even though I can call and say what does your child want/need, I always get back, “Oh don’t worry about it, you don’t need to bring anything.” Of course I reply with, “OK… I will be that one asshole that shows up to the party empty-handed.” Everyone knows gifts are a big part of a child’s party, you CANNOT show up without one!

I digress…

The day before the party, I went shopping for the items on the wish list. As I filled my cart with the items from the list, I was imagining the happiness my art supplies and musical instruments were going to bring to the orphans. I strolled past the miserable confused parents in the toy aisle and wanted to brag. Granted, I spent a little more buying the wish list items than I would have on a regular gift, but it was still more than worth it!


When my family arrived at the party and set our gift bag down next to the other bags filled with wish list items, I was astonished by the display of generosity. Collectively, it looked like we all had completely covered the entire wish list, and then some. Throughout the party, all the parents were talking about was what they brought, how great the idea was and how wonderful it made them feel being a part of this party.

I was still a little concerned about how the birthday boy was going to feel about not getting any gifts at his party. But to my surprise, when the usual time came to open gifts and have cake, the birthday boy was given a couple of VERY nice presents from his parents. He then graciously thanked them, and the party attendees for bringing so much for the orphans. It was clear that at just 7 years old, this little boy knew that it is much nicer to give than to receive.

As my husband and I drove home from the party, I told him that from now on I wanted to donate our son’s birthday gifts too. He completely agreed. We discussed how we would pick a different children’s organisation to donate to each year until our son was old enough to choose on his own.

While this is the first time I have ever heard of a child donating all of their birthday presents, I hope it is not the last. I certainly know that myself, and the other parents at the party are already planning this for our child’s next party. Imagine the life lesson our children will learn about giving from a young age. Imagine the impact it will have on charities across the globe if this practice were to become the norm. Regardless, I absolutely love the idea of donating my son’s birthday presents, and plan to make it the practice in my house for as long as possible.

What do you think about the idea of giving gifts to charity rather than the guest of honour? How would your kids react to the idea?

April McCormick is a freelance writer and blogger. She co-authors the blog First Time Mom and Dad with her husband.