Advice: Do my kids have to bring gifts to every single birthday party?

We are looking at maybe 40 of them this year. That really adds up!

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My two children are starting to get invited to lots and lots of birthday parties. Aside from the financial aspect (30-40 presents a year adds up!), I also am pretty anti-consumerist. Is it tacky to show up with just a card? Or some gently used books?

C.L. / Cambridge

I am so deep on your side I’m practically the goalie, my friend. But I shopped this one around to an ideologically diverse group of parent friends, and we are wildly outnumbered. Unless “no gifts” is specified, bring a wrapped gift, however small. (If wrapping paper bugs you — it does me! — have your kids color designs onto recycled newsprint or butcher paper, or wrap the gifts in bandannas.)


The presents themselves can be very inexpensive. Books and art or craft supplies are always a good gift option. Who doesn’t like some colored pencils and a new notepad, blank with possibility? You can pick up a year’s worth of goodies at a single go at a dollar store or post-holiday sale or remainder rack, and it really doesn’t matter if every kid gets pretty much the same thing. (This is one of those social areas where doing the uninspired bare minimum is perfectly acceptable, and will probably earn you some street cred among the cool parents.)

“Gently used books” sound good in theory, but unless obvious great care is taken to match the book with the recipient’s interest, it looks like you’re taking advantage of the occasion to do a little Marie-Kondo’ing. Also, people tend not to notice gradual change over time — what may look “gently used” to you may look like a vintage edition of Germs and the Giant Peach to someone else.

Thirty to 40 birthday parties a year, though! That seems like rather a lot. Do keep in mind that an invitation isn’t a legal summons. Time and energy need to be budgeted as much or more than money does, and it’s never too early to start teaching your kids about any of them. You’re all entitled to decide you’re partied-out, RSVP with a polite no, and do your own thing.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.