Being “That Family”

Some days I’m not sure where or when we crossed the line into being “that family”.

Was it choosing home birth? Cloth diapering? Getting rid of so much stuff? Selling our car?

At some point we decided that the more conventional path might not be the right one for us.

Growing up all I wanted was to be normal.

There wasn’t really a chance to blend in. Ever. I was taller than my teacher by sixth grade. I was the kid with no winter jacket. I lived in a house with a broken washing machine in the driveway.

Normal is boring, my mother would say. Who wants to be normal?

I do, was my response. All I wanted was to be just like everyone else. Guess jeans and a Club Monaco sweatshirt and somehow shrinking six inches would be a great start to being normal.

Eventually I accepted that normal wasn’t going to happen. Eventually I even liked that at least we had a story. While it wasn’t your run of the mill childhood there was enough good and enough love to balance out the terrible.

We’re having an almost normal third birthday part for our son.

In the past we’ve quietly celebrated the day of his birth. A cake and a song. No gift.

This year we want to mark the day with his little friends. I debated it for a while but after going to a few lovely third birthdays I knew I wanted to send out invitations and celebrate.

We’re simplifying a few things: activities instead of crafts, a homemade treat instead of a loot bag and I’ve already outsourced cupcakes after having a vision of myself piping frosting at three am (piping with what? We have no cake making supplies.). I’ll be almost seven months pregnant at the time of the party. I have no qualms about taking some shortcuts.

Almost normal except we have asked guests not to bring a gift.

We’re inviting quite a few people and if they all brought a gift it would double Henry’s toy collection. Possibly triple. Opening that many gifts would also be overwhelming and he wouldn’t have the time and focus to appreciate each one.

So I made a little note on the invitations: Your presence if our present. No gifts please.

Sure, some people will think it’s odd. Or that we’re denying our son some fun. But I’ve had to stop caring about what other people think. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect their opinions or try to understand them. It means that I’m not hurt when other people have negative opinions on our choices.

We’re not total kill-joys.

We are getting our son a gift this year.

I’m really excited about it. I know from seeing him play with a friend’s toys that he will be thrilled by it and use it a lot.

My normal parent confession: I’ve been thinking about him receiving this gift for a few weeks already. The excitement and joy on his face. What he’ll do with the gift once he has it in his hands. This really is a wonderful age for gift giving.

It’s taken 30+ years but I’m finally okay with being different.

I hope our friends come to the party and have a great time. I hope their impression was that it was fun, the kids had a great time and the food was tasty. I hope they don’t focus on the no gifts, no traditional loot bags and the lack of helium balloons.

If not, if the focus is on what isn’t there instead of what is, I’m okay with being “that family”.

I’ve been “that family” all my life.

 Anyone else falling into the “that family” category? Does it bother you?

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  • I’ve been lectured about how “we’ll need to be comfortable going against the norm” as we raise our kids – the norm of this conversation being jam-packed kids schedules. I avoided an argument but really wanted to tell this person – “We garden, CSA, limit presents, toys and gadgets. We don’t have our TV hooked up to even receive the local channels, and already choose family time over anything else. I think I’m going to be okay with explaining to people that my son is not in 5 sports, 3 music lessons and 2 advanced language classes at the age of 6.” Sometimes I can’t understand when people don’t get that sometimes it’s quality over quantity, particularly for kids!

    • Simplicity Parenting. Such a good read and gives some solid examples of why families need down time, less stuff and lighter schedules. You know, like the 80’s :) Of course, we still had a lot of things back then but five year-olds weren’t enrolled in Mandarin class, gymnastics, art and ballet.

      • It is funny that you used Mandarin classes. In Macon, Ga the public school now is making K-3rd grade take Mandarin. I guess some how it is going to make the children speek properly and also some how keep them from taking knives and guns to school. Only part of the reason why we homeschool. Love your blog and this post. We have been working to cut down on things and up our time spent with each other and your blog is a great help with doing that.

  • We have had traditional birthday parties for our 6 year old his entire life – I hate the presents – the cheap gonna break in a week ones – they drive me crazy. I have been trying to think of a way to limit the number of gifts (like only gifts from family – there is no way Grandma is going to be okay with the no gift thing) by asking each family to bring two dollars instead of a gift so Trace can purchase something he REALLY wants instead of some more junk. I know it would make us “that family” and I would be okay with it – but how would my six year old feel?

    With the new little one on the way we are going to start out the minimalist route and continue in that fashion as long as we can – wishing I had embraced minimalism 7 years ago instead of two!

    • Toonie Parties are popular in Canada. Each kid brings a two dollar coin and then the birthday kid gets to buy something with their gifts. Might introduce that party concept to the Isle of Man in a few years. :)
      I think your six year old would be excited to buy something they really wanted. And I think his friend’s parents would be relieved to not have to shell out time, thought and $20 for a gift.

      • We had a ‘gift exchange’ at my daughters 6th b-day party this year. All the kids brought a small gift and we played a game where the kids sat in a circle and we read a story about Mr. and Mrs. Right. Everytime we said “right” the kids passed the gift they brought to the right and every time we said “left” they passed it to the left. It was hilarious and the girls were in fits of giggles the whole time. Everybody left with a little present: some nailpolish, a notepad, some markers…it was really nice.

  • I have to comment, this post is SO RIGHT ON and I can completely relate! I’m even super tall and although we had the means, my mom was not into buying me the clothes or purses that I thought I needed to “fit in” back in junior high. Add in a big nose (I now love my big nose,btw) and this was me too! :) Your blog is awesome; so inspirational! We are now “that family”… my sister and friends say my house looks “like we just got married”. It’s funny though, I used to get so stressed out about them coming over to visit and now I can actually relax with them. I know that any mess that all of the kids make will be quick and easy to clean up! Our kids are 15, 11, and 5 yrs and having no gifts is so great- less financial stress for guests, less clutter for you and most importantly, a BETTER party for Henry. The gift opening is often the time when the kids fight and get so emotionally frazzled! Good for you!! It”s so freeing to get to that point of not being so worried what others will think and doing what you feel is the right thing for your family?! It’s like a world of possibilities open up! We have our “dream”house for sale and I’m so excited about downsizing WAY down and hopefully not having a mortgage…. everyone thinks we are completely crazy. Maybe that means we are doing something right.

    • Really agree on the hosting is so much easier. I don’t worry about kids coming over and dumping out the few boxes of toys we do have. Takes just a few minutes to clean up. And I don’t need to clean for the day to have someone over for coffee.
      Smaller home and no mortgage = freedom. Very smart of you!

      • I did a toonie party for my 5 yo last year, it went wonderfully until a) the shopping trip to spend her $28 when she thought it was enough to buy out the store and b) when she was invited to several parties the same month and the kids all got oodles of presents. Although she was very happy at her party, she wondered why the other kids got stuff and she didn’t which made me feel pretty awful.

        I’m not sure what we’ll do this year but I cannot stand all the crap kids are given at b-day parties. We didn’t do loot bags either because I personally hate loot bag (landfill) toys. We had the kids decorate gingerbread men and then wrapped them in pretty cellophane and tied ribbons on – that’s what they took home.

  • I get some snarky comments from family over some of our things. Like the time I said “no gifts for Christmas” and my mom didn’t talk to me for several months. Ugh. Luckily, my friends are all on the same wavelength – or somewhere on it – and I have a great support system and understanding there.

    • We’ve been lucky that family has been quite respectful. Also, moving overseas has really helped stem the random gifts. Grandmas tend to think twice before posting something that cost them $20 when the shipping cost is $50. :)

    • Speaking of Christmas: What to do about Christmas?

      Except for my sister, no one else in the family, on either side, is married with children, which means the adults still buy for each other, or there’d be no ‘proper’ Christmas, you know? My husband’s family in particular expresses affection through gift-giving, and there’s no way that I could be the one to suggest something different for gift-giving – I’m not the proper person to do it.

      For us, that means buying gifts for 15 immediate family members, plus our two small godchildren. And that’s just the “absolutely have-tos”…

      Thoughts? Suggestions?

      • I just stopped doing it all. We do gifts within our immediate family – husband, me, daughter – and that is it. I had my big Grinch Out year of ruining Christmas as I was accused of, we enjoyed the smaller scale of gifts & less commercialized Christmas season, and everyone got over it by the next year.

        You could start now and talk about how this year you want to be about giving, maybe adopt one of those Angel Tree families/children (we’re going to do this year, our library has one), how you are trying to have less toys/things/etc. Really build that up so then when people start talking about gifts, it won’t be such a bombshell that you would like no gifts please and won’t be participating in gift giving either. There might be hard feelings the first year but open communication (not the case with my mom & her extreme reaction) would help get you through it.

        Also, if they don’t respect your wishes, that is a tell that their gift giving is for them, not for you. So don’t feel guilty about donating items soon after the holidays.

      • I get small presents each year – or, if possible, I make some. We speak of really small (and consumable) presents here – something like a jar of home-made jam or ONE bag of tea from the tea shop or something like that. I also have no problems with giving five people each one jar of jam or a bag of cookies. It is about the gesture anyway, and the gesture is there. They all don’t really have a need for anything in particular anyway, so a jar of jam is as good if not better than a kitchen gadget which will never be used.
        This year, we’re also giving out “wish lists” for christmas, as we know that we will get SOMETHING anyway, and I’d much rather get some coffee or chocolate of a favourite brand than get some mugs or a purse that I will drop at the thrift store anyway.
        My family is still not really getting that I want nothing but a little treat anyway, but it’s getting better year to year and there are less and less unwanted gifts and more and more consumables.

  • And all the no gifts “policy” I try to do over holidays and I still went a little nuts on making a Fairy/Unicorn/My Little Pony birthday for my girl’s 3rd birthday. :)

  • We are. Started 4 years ago with food. We started eating really differently than everyone else and shifted our budget priorities to allow it. Whole, organic food has made such a health difference for us. We came into marriage with no debt and have no credit cards so we’ve kept it that way. This spring we had a home birth and are doing cloth diapers. We’ve borrowed almost all baby accessories which is lovely as we give them back. We just had a massive yard sale this weekend and sold our tv after not watching it for a while anyway. We’d sell our cars in a heartbeat if we could bike everywhere, so we’re working on figuring out if we should move to make that happen. We’ve been selling things like crazy, hoping to downsize in the future. And we’re already trying to find a game plan for Christmas gifts and future birthdays. Thanks for all the inspiration. My husband and I are constantly sharing your posts.

  • If we’re not “that family” just yet, we’re well on our way. For my daughter’s seventh birthday we had each guest bring a gently used toy in lieu of a gift. We then played a game to exchange the toys. This got me out of having heaps of junk given to my daughter and having to give away those ridiculous loot bags. My daughter wasn’t embarrassed or disappointed, she’s used to our minimalist ways by now. I did get some comments from other parents, but we’re used to those by now too.

  • We had a big party for our 3-year-old also this year (also her first party, & I was also 7 months pregnant!). I also asked for no gifts, but several people brought them anyway. For the most part, those that insisted on bringing presents seemed to bring smaller gifts than they would have otherwise, at least.
    I’ve noticed that in our community (military stationed overseas) no-gift requests are common. And it’s always a huge relief to me when I’m attending a party!

  • My family and friends ignore me and bring gifts anyway so I’ve gone the route of asking for life experience items like gift cards to her favorite restaurant or adventure, batteries and refills for the things we already have, etc.

  • We’ve recently started putting minimalism to work in our house and are living the freedom it brings! We’re talking about asking for 1 or 2 gifts each for Christmas, especially from my mother-in-law, who goes overboard. She loves to have a pile of presents that doesn’t even fit under the tree, but then a lot if it ends up being random things we have no use for and cheap toys that break in a week. Any suggestions on introducing this concept to our families in a way they will be on board with?

  • No-gifts is a very common request around here for little kids. My friends with older kids tell me it’s harder to do this once the child gets to be school-aged. We’ll see. I still haven’t thrown an official birthday party for any of my children, so I’m a weirdo anyway. My daughter just started pre-k, and is the only kid in class not to have been in preschool for the two years before.

    I don’t mind being different–always have been, especially with a name like mine. I’m also the fattest in my social group, the poorest, and have the loudest voice, so I’d better be okay with being “that mom” or else I’d be pretty lonely.

  • My boys will be 2 and 5 next month, and I want to have a “no gift” request, but my husband doesn’t even want to hear it. I like the Toonie Party idea, I’ll bring that up if the no-gift policy doesn’t stick; I live in Israel, so here it would be a Ten-Shekel Party 😉
    I don’t mind receiving art supplies, tickets to a zoo, museum, or show; but having a combined birthday can double the already-overwhelming amount of toys we have, especially when guests might feel obligated to bring two gifts. I don’t mind being “that family”, since I’m in a foreign country, I can just say it’s a custom in my country and leave it at that; but how do I get my DH on board? He’s already calling me a killjoy and we didn’t even send out the invitations!

  • We are “That Family” in a number of ways, but not in the no gifts for our daughter. We started the path to being That Family just a couple of years ago, and by then our daughter was already well entrenched in popular kids culture and all the toys that go along with it. We’ve started teaching her (and leading by example) to value experiences over stuff. It’s hard to go backwards once they have a lot of stuff. We’ve been doing mini purges every few months to get the toy situation under control. It’s an ongoing process.

  • Your third birthday party sounds wonderful. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is immunity to peer pressure. I speak as the mother of two teenagers, and truly it has made a huge difference to the choices made and friends chosen.

  • This post struck a chord for me too as we just held my daughter’s 5th birthday party. Also, I was acutely aware of not fitting in when I was growing up but I now realise that it was an essential part of making me who I am today!
    I’m trying to minimise things too although more slowly and gradually – more of a get something new, give something old away approach. We live overseas too and will be moving again in less than a year, so I’m keen to leave this country with less than we arrived with.
    I am finding minimising the toys is harder as the kids get older because “you can never have too much lego” – if they could only have one toy, I think we would all chose lego because it’s so versatile. But it is always tempting to buy more because you know you can build a whole unique town and keep adding too it and playing with it. And it’s not a good toy for borrowing/lending as the pieces will get lost and mixed up…other than that we are definitely cutting down the numbers of toys (don’t tell me daughter though – she’d a total hoarder! I really have to start working with her to not save every stick, leaf, piece of paper and rock that she comes across!)
    I don’t like junky presents for birthdays so I would like to request no gifts but everyone here is very materialistic! I feel ridiculously minimalist in comparison! So goody bags are expected too – but how not to fill them with cheap junk? No easy answer there, but I’m just inviting a small number of guests who hopefully don’t care too much!
    For little kids, particularly when the parents have requested no gifts, I will often mix up a batch of home-made play-dough in their favourite colour. I was taught not to go empty handed and it’s nice to give a gift that will be used creatively and eventually thrown away but it’s not junk! And hopefully my kids and the birthday kid will play with the play-dough together – something that’s difficult with many other toys.

  • Oh how I wish we were ‘that family’… I really am trying to pare down our home, but it is SO difficult, especially with a husband and inlaws that have the ‘more is better’ mindset. I can’t even count the number of birthday and Christmas gifts that go straight to the donation box…

    Luckily, we are only expecting our first baby, so I have four more months to get it all figured out. I did make it through five months of pregnancy without buying o rbeing gifted a single thing, so that’s progress!!

  • We chose to have a very small birthday celebration with our 5 yr old son this year. We met my cousin’s family at the zoo and had a wonderful morning with them and their children. I forgot to say “no gifts please” so they brought him one. We got him 1 gift he had been asking for. And then he got a couple from friends and other family members. All in all, he didn’t get overloaded, thankfully.

  • That was an awesome blog post! I love your take on being different! Being different is beautiful – sometimes it’s quite lonely but it is beautiful! Thanks for sharing your heart – hope your party rocks! Hugs, Heidi

  • It seems like you are having second thoughts about your decisions and how it will affect your kids. Will they be saying the same things you did when you were little, and are you worried they won’t feel normal? It’s so hard going against “normal” society and taking a stand for what you believe in for fear of being “that wierd mom”. Parenting is hard! As much as I try and fight the “norm” my son still comes home from first grade begging to get the next best thing…every.. single.. day. Even though I taught my boys from day one that life is so much more than having lots of things and keeping up with the Kardashians, peer pressure wins. I think sticking to what we know is best for your family and showing a good example is all the matters in the end. They will get it….eventually. Even if it’s when they are thirty+ and raising their own kids. You are doing a great job :)

  • We have so much family close by that with just the family parties, my kids get way more stuff than they need. So for their friend parties, I say something like, ‘please no gifts, but if you would like to bring something, you can bring a needed items for the local homeless shelter”. I have found that parent really like this idea, their kids get to pick something out and do something nice for someone. And frankly we have more time to party and not have to sit and watch someone open presents.

  • I don’t think no gift parties are odd at all. We didn’t throw parties for our kids until they were 4, didn’t allow gifts until they were 5 and school aged (at that point it becomes difficult- as every other kid gets presents, so party = presents unfortunately). Now we limit birthdays to every other year, and have family (which means 2 parents/2 kids- we don’t have relatives here) parties on the off years. I dislike receiving the gifts. A lot of them don’t work properly, are poor quality or are not useful to us. I don’t want to push my children to this- but hope for the eventual day when I can say- let’s collect money for _x_ charity. Grandparents and relatives are welcome to send gifts- they usually know that the children want! A lot of times at parties, I see $$ being given or gift cards, and I’ve grown to like this idea. The child can ‘save’ up for a bigger, single thing that is valued, versus all the crap. Daughter turning 4 in December. She is starting to describe her ‘party’- to -be in great detail. Meanwhile I am hoping to not have one at all!

  • I’d love to hear your success rate. We have always asked for no presents at parties, and I’d say that at most it has decreased the present load by 25%. Our friends simply bring presents despite what we write and e-mail. In part I am sure because we bring presents to their parties (although almost always books). This year I am considering either asking for only art supplies (we will certainly at least use these up) or making a note that all gifts will be donated to a local charity. I don’t know if it’s just the culture where we live (the big city), but when I ask friends about the “no gift note” they say that they wanted to bring something, so they did.

  • The birthdays and gift giving holidays are so hard. I try to politely request simple toys at least (balls, crayons, things that don’t need batteries), but I always feel like we’re walking such a fine line between offending our friends and family (which is not my intent as they’re trying to be loving) and being overwhelmed with gifts (which then quickly get donated, but still so wasteful).

  • I think more and more people are moving toward the “no gifts” route, even non-minimalists, as the trend in our area is to invite a whole class of children. That is 28 families in our daughter’s case! Way too many gifts, and from people who don’t necessarily know your family well. But the other trend I can appreciate is not opening gifts during the party, which enables parents to return or donate gifts without hard feelings. Last spring one of our friends threw a last minute party and included a “no gifts necessary” clause (partly so people wouldn’t feel they had to scramble, and partly because they live in a small apartment and really don’t want more stuff!). Since the child was a very close friend of my daughter’s and she REALLY wanted to get him a gift, we chose to give him movie ticket vouchers. I think “experience gifts” are a great way for people who WANT to gift to do it without adding to a pile of disposable, interchangeable STUFF.

    • I would actually appreciate either a no gift party or a gift party. Having guests bring gifts and not opening them seems rude. I want my child to understand the joy behind giving and not just giving because it is required.

  • I’m going to forewarn you that there WILL ALWAYS be people who bring gifts despite the invite specifying otherwise. We’ve been having no-gift parties since the boys’ births. What I’ve found that works, especially with friends is to ask for something for a charity. For example, we donated baby food to a children’s shelter for our youngest son’s 1st birthday or asked for monetary donations for animal-related charities (always went with the birthday theme, like sea turtles or gorillas or the local animal shelter where the birthday was held). I find this method allows people to bring something over nothing. The hard part, you’ll learn, is that your child might feel stiffed as he goes to other parties where children are receiving gifts and he’s not allowed gifts from friends at his party. We’re trying to deal with this right now. It’s a tough thing to explain. However, we do still give a small gift and relatives ALWAYS give gifts, so it’s not like he gets nothing. We also try to explain the importance of helping others along with the theory of enough-ness. Good luck–it’s definitely a hard thing for kids and will leave lots of questions/frustrations/issues along the road!

    • I agree, our 7 year old just asked to give up her birthday for the water charity appeal. She has raised over $200 so far but as that serves 11 people she wants to give up christmas and all other birthdays until all of Africa gets clean water. we’ll see where that goes. Sorry off the point opps. She did still have a party and several parents said they already have a gift for her when they were invited, others bought a gift and some money. She ended up with a lot of stuff. Her nanny who normally sends money decided to send a gift because she didn’t agree with what she was doing. I think she thinks I am brainwashing her. I think what you are doing is great. The only problem is that as more us us join you you will no longer be “that family”.

  • We had our first birthday party this year, when our son turned four. We invited four families, and each family brought a gift. But when we went to each of those kids’ b-day parties this year (also turning four), most of them had tons of people and got stacks of presents. After the party, our son picked out some toys from his room to give away, to make room for the new stuff.

    We’ve decided to start going on family adventures instead of gifts and/or parties for Christmas and birthday celebrations, starting this Christmas. Instead of getting presents for our sons, we’re planning to take them to the museum of natural history and spend the day there (a weekend just before or after Christmas). We’ll go to the 3-D movie at the IMAX, check out the planetarium, and go out for dinner in the big city. Our son is already excited about it, and it’s 3 months away. For his 5th birthday next spring, we’re thinking about a mountain railroad day trip. Whatever we come up with, we think it will create more lasting memories than a stack of toys.

    We’ve been “that family” for a long time too. Homebirth, cloth diapers, green smoothies, working from home, biking/walking all over town, shopping at Goodwill… yep, we’re “that family” and we love it! :-)

  • I limit what does come into the house. The girls (ages 7 and 3) pick what toys leave if they want to keep some of the new ones coming in. At their actual birthday party, I don’t allow gifts to be removed from packaging, just unwrapped. The girls get excited for the gift and then move on to the next. It saves time and lets us get on to activities and it also allows me the ability to re-gift if I know the item isn’t suitable for their age, not something I want in my home, or save it for a Xmas gift.

    I’ve already been labeled weird/odd as I allow 4 gifts (with a total spending limit of $50) per child at Xmas (something to read, something to wear, something they need, something to share) and have asked all grandparents to send money for activities/sports instead of gifts. They feel awkward sending no gift to open, but I have found they love that the girls have had swimming lessons, soccer, and gymnastics due to their contribution. Weird can be good.

  • We had a joint birthday party for our two boys a few weeks ago, ages 9 and 7. Some families at our school ask for charity donations instead of gifts, and as nice as that sounds, it’s a bit pretentious because the charity is usually the parents’ selection. It’s a nice gesture though. For our party, we simply said no gifts, asking instead for a drawing or poem from each child. A few people brought a gift out of habit, but overall, it was very nice to keep it simple. The boys each had a nice gift from us and some presents from the family. It’s still more than we needed to bring into our home, but I’m thankful we don’t have double that from their friends. And a party favor? We did away with those years ago. Kids only like them for 5-10 minutes, and parents can’t stand them. The fun memory of the party is plenty.

    • I’m curious as to why you see asking for donations as pretentious. Also, how do you know the parent selected the charity? Why does it even matter? Using the word “pretentious” about this situation assumes you are seeing these families are doing it to look good or make a good impression. We do donations for birthdays and for completely unpretentious reasons. As for who chooses the charity, isn’t it better that one is being chosen over telling a child they should get a huge influx of toys? Isn’t it better to instill the value of helping others along with the value that they already have a good life, so why not help out another? Or maybe you are just feeling judged by NOT asking for donations at your children’s parties. I’m not sure what it is, but I do feel quite upset that you see those situations with such a harsh eye.

  • It’s funny… I totally relate to being “that family” and then we moved again and right now we live in a triplex with one other family. That family is very much like our family. Two kids, both just a few months older than mine. (4 & 1). No TV, vegetarian, one car family, both dad’s commute with a bike, walk everywhere that’s less than 2 miles away, cloth diapering, limited toys.

  • I think we might be “that family” handing out raisins instead of candy on Halloween…! I don’t want the leftovers hanging around my house, and I think it would be asking too much of a 2 year old to resist sampling what we’re handing out.

  • I think we’ve become THAT family! This year I have decided on a formula for Christmas that I hope to stick with as a family tradtion: one gift, one book, and candy for Christmas. I want to keep Christmas about God, family, and sweet memories that are all about the simple things in life. Christmas was my favorite holiday growing up, but even without Santa Claus ( I was never told), Christmas morning was a frenzy of ripped paper and chaos. I LOVE buying gifts for my kids!!! Its so much fun…but last year I ended up with too many by collecting them throughout the year. It was just too much for them to enjoy. PLUS their birthdays are in Dec and Jan! I still have yet to formulate a plan for gift gifting for that, but I think I am leaning towards your idea of no gifts for the parties. I want them to enjoy whatever few they DO get, and having too many would be overwhelming ( they are almost 2 and almost 4). Thanks for your great advice as always!!

  • I go back and forth on this. On the one hand, I don’t really like being inundated with gifts that are often overwhelming, space and kid-wise, but at the same time I’ve always been told that putting no gifts on an invitation means you were expecting people to buy you gifts in the first place. Even though, obviously, people are going to bring gifts to a kid’s birthday if you don’t tell them not to. It’s just a strange etiquette conundrum that makes me uncomfortable. I didn’t really want gifts for my last birthday, but my family enjoys giving something, so I asked everyone to donate money towards buying a backpack for a Wounded Warrior through the Wounded Warrior Project. It was nice — everyone who would’ve normally bought a gift was able to show their love by just giving a little money towards it, and I was able to help a cause I passionately support instead of getting things I didn’t need. I think with my son, we are going to ask for experience-type gifts for Christmas and his birthday (which is Feb. 3, so right after Christmas!). If people don’t get him those things, that’s okay. I’m not going to stress about it.

  • We are “that family”…my inlaws blatantly do the opposite of what we ask – ALWAYS. For my sons 1st birthday we asked that no gifts be wrapped – a 1 year old doesn’t know how to unwrap and it is just a bunch of trash (at this point we were just the vegetarian environmentalist family). My inlaws brought a huge gaudy gift bag with a big balloon and made a snarky comment, “we don’t bring gifts unwapped, it’s rude”. We had 2 nephews before our son was born and knew the mounds of Christmas gifts of ugly clothes and stupid toys that would come so we sent a list and said, “no clothes, no books, no stuffed animals please – he has more than he needs at this point” – bet you can guess all the gifts were exactly what we said not to give and at that we literally had no less than about 50 gifts! His 2nd birthday we asked that a canned food item be brought in lieu of gifts to donate to the local food bank but told our family that if they wanted to give him something to give money towards his college fund. In comes the inlaws with a huge gift and the snarky comment of “sorry, I didn’t think a can of beans was appropriate for a 2 year old and he won’t know we got him a present if we put money in his account”. The next Christmas we flat out told them. Do not get him anything not on this list, if you do, we will return it or give it away. They thought we were rude (I was, but come on they bring it on themselves) but they did better and didn’t buy the things we specifically said not to, but still bought way too much. This year, my husband took his mom out to lunch and told them that we are trying to teach our son certain values and that even though they do no agree that we would like them to please abide with our wishes without blatantly trying to go against what we ask. We asked them for Christmas to purchase 1 gift and that all other gifts will be returned or donated. Luckily, the school that our son goes to has the majority of families being “that family” and nearly all invitations we receive specify no gifts or that a donation be made to a charity. This year is his 3rd birthday, we do go all out on parties (decorations, food, cake, pinata, etc) but want to instill the celebration of his life and want to teach him his parties are about being with those he loves and cares about and not what he will get from them.

  • I love this post, and the birthday party you’re planning sounds perfect.

    We too did not have first or second birthday parties for our daughter. Her third was combined with a friend’s in a park with all their shared friends. For her fourth, fifth, and sixth, we did more traditional parties, but asked for “no gifts.” After receiving some gifts at her fourth, we decided to give friends an option to donate to charity. For her fifth, we collected supplies for a local animal shelter (included the “wish list” in the invite), and for her sixth, she had a “wish list” of her own on UNICEF’s inspired gifts website ( We still got a few gifts, but for the most part our guests were happy to have an opportunity to spend their money in a meaningful way.

    Happy birthday to your little one!

  • My Dad & step-mom mentioned a few years back that love consumable gifts as they are retired and do not want more ‘stuff’. So I love the challenge every yeat of getting something they can use up!
    But I am an emotional creature and often revert to shopping or food when I am feeling down. For me stuff is a way of showing you love someone, and I love having things that people bought for me as it keeps me closer to them. So, having no gifts would be very hard for me. But I LOVE the idea of Toonie party and think I will incorporate that into my son’s next birthday (he’ll be 6 and is learning about money).
    This is a great thread and it has helped me to see things from a different perspective. Thank You

  • My son is only 3 and to date we have only had family birthday parties. I encouraged everyone to only buy something small (because I have some family that will refuse to buy nothing at all), a book, or some applicable clothing for the upcoming season. And I ‘m ok with people thinking we’re a little odd. My son does go to daycare and parents have invited us to parties, and we go because I like that he gets to see his friends outside of school and have extra fun, and I don’t always bring a gift. If I do it’s usually something craft related for the child to have an activity of sorts to do. People keep asking me when I will have a party for my son like they do (bouncy places, kid play stores, etc) and I just tell them maybe when he’s older.

    My family stopped buying presents for each other, only the children, years ago. And I grew up in a working class, paycheck to paycheck family and even now our gifts are smaller or centered on something we really know the child wanted or needed.

    I’m ok being this way and I realize that not all of my family and friends will accept it. I try not to stress too much when they go against my grain.

  • I hear you on so many points. And we keep it simple, the party. Asking family for experiences or consumables instead of crappy plastic toys…. but when it comes to Birthday’s it is their day and I don’t want them to grow up being “that kid” from “that family”. I grew up being from that family like many of you have posted. And while I have turned out well and my life is a happy one, I remember the pain it caused me as a child, the hurt I felt and the wishes to just be normal. I don’t want my kid to go through that just because I don’t want presents cluttering up my house. Let her enjoy the presents, some of them might even be really thoughtful quality gifts. When they break they get thrown out. I limit the number of presents by limiting the number of friends and I let her be a kid and enjoy her day. Mommy’s habits and desires do not have to be hers.

  • This is great.
    But even your commenters surprise me, maybe it’s a North American or English-speaking thing, as I remember birthdays from my childhood in England being events, too. Not that we took gifts or got goody bags in those days, it was all about the party dress, the games and jelly-and-ice-cream!!
    My girls grew up in Switzerland and although they had a few parties over the years, often other kids had never been to a party before, so no expectations to fulfil. We had some nice times because of this – yes, once we had 28 kids (the whole class) over for homemade pizza, but other times it was a few chosen kids or just one or two best friends. I always asked the girls if they wanted to have a party for their birthdays and often they didn’t even want one because it’s not the norm here. They were happy with a family day out or a special meal. When they were as young as most of your commenters, we only ever had coffee-cake for the grandparents, since I have no siblings and my husband only has one much younger brother, so the gift-giving didn’t get out of hand and the grandparents/great-grandparents would ask what they wanted or give money for them to save or choose a gift themselves and we could club together for something bigger, better quality if we wanted.
    Christmas was another matter because our international family dictated multiple celebrations but we did get a handle on it all after a few mad Christmasses and it has become a popular family event with only a very few, often homemade/homebaked, gifts among the most immediate family (my three daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 2 grandchildren and us) and the attention is on the lovely food and having fun together.
    NB I have now almost completely finished up all my gift paper, so in future, either no wrapping or brown paper with natural ornaments… yay!

  • We are that family that is not normal.
    When my son turned 5 we had a big birthday party with all his friends and family. I was overwhelmed by all the gifts he received. It was too much. For his 6th birthday, we said he could have a small party with 2 friends and family or a big party with lots of friends but no gifts from his friends. He chose the big party and we asked friends to bring food for our local food bank. Everyone felt better about bringing something and we took a trunk load of groceries to the food bank the next day.

  • I can totally relate to this one… not in terms of birthday parties, but in terms of the whole being “normal” thing. As a kid I would have given anything to fit into that category… it always seemed that I was the freak surrounded by an infinite sea of picture perfect Brady Bunch families. Over the years I came to see that having the “pretty picture” didn’t actually mean that they were happy.

  • I am sooo with you!!! First, I must say I really enjoy your blog, I have read it for years, I find we are similar in many ways…one of which, we are tall…a hair under 6′! Also, I have not one, but two daughters who will be 3 in October. My husband and I normally dont get them gifts either because we have alot of family in the area and we usually have a celebration with them and although I tell them not to go overboard, they always do. This year I was contemplating throwing them a party including some children their age. I wanted to do some kind of activity “playdate” without the expectation of gifts. The gift thing was one of the reasons I decided against it. Even if I wrote something like that on the invitations, which I wouldnt hesitate to do, I bet some would still bring gifts. I will be curious to see if that happens to you?? I was discussing with my husband recently about kids birthday parties as it seems that we are invited to them often, and many of them are for twins! I said that I really dont like going to them because you are expected to bring a gift…or two for twins…and that I can’t imagine that the parents even want their kids to get that much stuff. He thought I was being judgemental and said just go get them a $10 gift and go to the party, I said that is exactly it! We can’t afford to be going to several parties per month and what is the point of a crappy cheap present. I would love to go to a party and enjoy the company and watch the kids have fun doing some kind of activity and not have the expectation of a gift. I think that would be a breath of fresh air!

  • We are also “that family.” I can’t remember when we started the “no gifts” thing for birthdays, but it has stuck. Our now 7-year old son actually prefers it. I wish more families would do it! I dread picking out books & toys for my kids’ friends with the uncertainty of “Does he/she already have it?” The birthday child is always in so much overload to begin with, what’s the point? You are not alone. I just wish others would respect the wishes of the inviting family…we’ve had about a 50% success rate with the “no gifts” message on the invitation…

  • Growing up we always had family birthday parties. Cake, ice cream, a few gifts and that was it. When we had our daughter, we would get her one or two things and then do something special that she wanted to do. One year it was going to the zoo. Anyway, I was in for a shock when she started grade school. The parents were trying to outdo themselves with each passing party. The last straw was the pink limo pulling up in front of the school at dismissal and blocking off the whole parking lot. My daughter cried and cried that she was not allowed to go get a makeover with all the other 7 year old girls. I soon came to be known as the ‘odd’ mom, but I’m ok with that and now that my daughter is older, she get’s why we don’t play the ‘game’.

  • I so agree with your post! My son is 4 and for all his birthday parties we have requested no gifts, but still, he gets gifts. Its as if most people don’t even read that line in the evite. I am all for getting him 1-2 quality toys and not a bunch of cheap-ish plastic toys that don’t hold his interest longer than 1 day. I love getting invited to birthday parties that also request no gifts, since I hate shopping for kids’ birthday gifts. I know that they already have everything that they could want and what could I possibly buy him/her that they actually would like and would last, without breaking my budget? I also wish parents would stop with the favor bags, too. They spend money on cheap trinkets that are quickly thrown away and I hate filling the landfills with those. Maybe if its completely edible or useful….sigh.

  • we are “that family” and we’ve gotten quite used to it. our kids parties usually involve a free outing that peoples of all ages can join, with some grub that we provide. we have also used the ‘your presence is present enough’ phrase and have found that people are keen to ignore it. so now i’ve started to add a little to it. for my daughters 5th birthday our invited stated ‘your present is preset enough, but if you must, Nata enjoys pretty rocks, pre-loved books and tape of all kinds.’ totally kept the crazy to a minimum.

  • I really like this post! We’ve been having toonie birthday parties for our girls now for three years running. The first one was strange – people didn’t quite ‘get’ it. By this past year (where many of our daughters’ guests had participated before), people understood. It’s an education process. We may be ‘that family’ but we’ve settled in, and so has everyone around us, so it is our normal. In fact, rather than feeling like the outsider in our differences, I feel so incredibly okay because what we are doing is conscious and genuine and truly ourselves.

  • Oh, yeah. We’re “that” family. Our girl is 13, and we have always asked guests not to bring presents–the good thing is, they get used to it. You might want to expect one or two guests to bring a gift anyway, thinking you’re just trying to be polite. Some people over the years have brought very small things they don’t _consider_ gifts, clearly uncomfortable with bringing nothing. (We eventually gave some family/friends permission to give her something homemade–that made them feel better.) But for the most part, we have the kinks worked out by now. We’ve never had a conventional kids-come-over-and-have-cake-and-pin-the-tail-on-something birthday–always an outing, so I think that helps throw people off their usual game enough to believe we really, really don’t want gifts. Good luck!

  • As I read the comments, I wonder if there were more of “us” out there than we realized as we were growing up. Maybe we just compared ourselves to the children that had everything because we were envious, and maybe it just seemed like we were way outnumbered, when in reality there were other kids just like us that we didn’t notice because we were too focused on the kids with all the “stuff”. Maybe we were the “normal” ones after all….just a thought. Also, kids don’t “need” anything other than you…your time and attention. Literally.

  • With no offense intended, I wonder if you’re coming from a really ‘American’ place over this? Living in New Zealand, what you’re describing sounds foreign to me!
    We celebrated our 2yr olds’ b’day in March. It was low key afternoon tea at home. Family and his 2 best little friends (who’s Muma’s happen to be 2 of my best friends) came. Gifts were either suggested (by me, when I was asked), or very thoughtfully given ones that were much to our liking (puzzles, books, good quality wooden toys). There were no goody bags, no ‘theme’ and no OTT decorations – just a few balloons.
    Children’s b’day parties are meant to be about THEM, not about the expectations of others. I feel it’s important to decorate, invite friends and have your child feel extra special for that day. To celebrate their birth, and their life. Balloons, handmade decorations (paper chains, bubbles, ribbons, pom poms etc) will all set the scene for your child to feel so special and worthy of celebrating, and your guests will be thrilled at all the handmade love that’s gone into the scene. Simple food and some fun activities will keep everyone happy. Then send them home with a piece of birthday cake in a napkin – one of my fondest memories of b’day parties growing up (I’m 36yrs old).
    If all that is not the norm’ in your culture, then it’s up to people like you to bring that norm’ back!
    Good luck :)

    • I’m confused by this comment. And not because I am Canadian, not American.
      This party will be about my son. There will be activities he likes and food that he enjoys. I think he will really enjoy it as will our guests.That’s the point of the party. Even if there are no balloons and no gifts.

  • We recently went to a birthday party with such a stipulation (the boys are 4) and while I would have been happy to oblige, my son was in no way satisfied with the idea of just taking a homemade card. We finally settled on a little foam rubber ball, bought as a fundraiser for a children’s charity. I was glad we did; many others completely ignored the request, and my son would have been very disappointed had he not had his own little package to give. At his own party, we got several small packages of Lego, which is so multi-functional in our playroom I don’t count it as clutter, a board game (yay, togetherness, away from the tv) and several secondhand books. At this age, the kids are so delighted to present their gifts, I can’t bring myself to say they shouldn’t. And generosity is an important lesson to learn.

  • We are one of “those families”. We stick out in my husband’s family, not so much in mine and our community has a fair number of families like ours. We are frequently invited to “no gifts please” parties and we respect and understand the rationale behind it. It sometimes feels awkward in that we don’t do the same. My kids have a minimal amount of toys and birthdays are one of the only times in the year when they get presents. We don’t have families and friends raining presents down on them…so perhaps that is why i am open to gifts?

    Our parties are small meaningful events. Presents are often very thoughtful or handmade. I love that the child giving the gift has clearly spent time making or selecting the gift for their friend. I am nervous about my eldest daughter’s birthday though. There will be school friends this year and judging by the presents at some parties this year, plastic and cheap seem to be the name of the game. I don’t want to be rude asking for specific toys or NOT specific toys….at the last party my I arrived to pick up my daughter and she took me aside and asked ” mom, have you ever heard of a place called Toy R Us? “. Oh dear!

    Our loot bags are small and handmade or homemade. We celebrate Solstice (which makes us very much one of those families for our family) and we keep that very much in the spirit of celebration in the company of the ones we hold dear. There is one gift for each of my girls and they make my husband and I handmade gifts. The prepping and making of the gifts is the most endearing part I find. Christmas is another story…on my side my sisters and I draw names for the nieces and nephews. Each child gets one gift and gives one gift. Adults do not get presents. On my husband’s side excess and chaos reign. Children are presented with enormous piles of presents. More is better. My kids actually had to ask for a break. I am at a loss. We’ve discussed it…at least they sometimes try to abide by our wishes (ie they understand noisy toys will be returned or can stay at their house). I donate most of it. The kids don’t even notice. Then they do a gift exchange for the adults. The results is lots of wasted packaging and cheap useless gifts. I hate it. It goes against everything I believe in. At least I wrap all of our gifts in reusable bags etc….

    Sigh, our kids will learn from our choices and hopefully respect what we are/were trying to do in the end. Thanks for the post!

  • This is an issue I often think about, even though I do not yet have children.

    It doesn’t matter how often or in what way I tell my mother not to get me more than one or two Christmas gifts, I always end up with a gargantuan pile of presents that I have no need for. Sometimes even multiples of the same thing in different colours! She has always enjoyed gift-giving – it’s her way of showing she cares – but I’d rather just eat a nice meal together or play a board game. Sometimes I feel as if I come across as spoiled an unappreciative, but at 28 years old, I think I am surely able by now to express my preference for fewer THINGS.

    So, naturally, I am worried that when our first child arrives (my mother’s first grandchild), the kid will be inundated with stuff before it’s even born, and will accumulate a crazy number of gifts from her as the years pass. I’m eagerly taking on board all the suggestions and advice from your posts and from readers’ comments!

  • I think what you’re doing is great. Most kids today are growing up expecting so much and valuing so little. My nephew turns 9 this weekend and I told him I didn’t want to buy him something this year, but instead take him somewhere for his birthday. His response, “Oh, I really like laser tag. Could we go play laser tag? And then maybe play a couple of arcade games?” Now we’re both excited to spend the day together, and really that’s what it’s all about.
    Keep going against the grain!

  • For my daughter’s party one year we asked guests to bring some cat food for the local animal shelter. My daughter was thrilled when she was able to hand it over and know she was doing something good. It also allowed people to bring something to the party. All around, a win-win. Love the idea of a lego or book party also. We have also told neighborhood kids to bring a book/toy they no longer want.

  • I’m sure your son will enjoy his party, whatever you choose to do.
    It seems to me that you feel uneasy as you are trying to control what ‘might’ happen. You can express your choice with your polite note about presence/presents. You can certainly discuss your choices with those who might ask about them. But you can’t control the choices other people make. Some cultures have deeply embedded habits of gift-giving which are tied up with showing respect and consideration to others. Some people feel unhappy about joining a group activity where they have not contributed to the event. Why worry about this? You will, clearly, exercise your right of choice over whatever gifts you don’t like or want for your child. Why not accept that things happen that we simply can’t control, and enjoy yourself and the fun you are planning for your family? Choose to have a great time and don’t fret over the details!

  • We are “that family” too. Wish we could all live in the same neighborhood so we wouldn’t stand out so much! Or so that our kids wouldn’t complain that they’re the “only” ones who do chores, don’t have personal electronics, or go to bed early, etc.

    Thanks for making us all feel a little less alone.

    • I feel frustrated that even our close friends are getting their kids hand-held nintendo thingies for Christmas…it’s like there’s no solidarity in my world supporting a choice to avoid video games. So of course my older kids are asking and we’re the meanies.

  • You’ll be happy to hear that Toonie parties are taking over the Vancouver ‘burbs. I had one for my daughter two years ago, and since then I think every party the kids have been to except two have been Toonie parties as well. My younger daughter just got an invitation for one from someone outside our circle, so that tells me it’s not just us and our friends eschewing the mountains of plastic; it’s catching on across the board. So in this particular thing, “those families” are becoming “normal”.

  • I always joke that I accept being “the crazy one” in the family so it doesn’t bug me that they all think I’m crazy! Amazingly, we’re not the crazy ones of our friends because we seem to have influenced a lot of people to stride off of beaten path too.

    I didn’t do a party for Peanut’s first or second birthday. I let the grandmas give her cake an gifts at the regular Sunday dinner (I asked them to minimalist gifts, which sort of worked). This past birthday though, we did a Tangled themed party. We stuck to the rule of the age they’re turning plus one for the amount of guests (and a couple of siblings came too) and they had a blast. We also did “no presents, just presence” and Peanut could have cared less. There was absolutely no joy killed. Have fun preparing!

  • What a great blog post. Two of my kids have b-days only a few days apart so the present situation can be chaos, especially if both have a party. We went to a b-day party for a little boy a couple of years ago and about 50 kids were invited. Instead of gifts, the parents asked everyone to bring pet food to donate to the animal shelter. My kids had so much fun picking out what to donate. They still got to bring a “gift” and the parents weren’t stuck with more toys than they knew what to do with!

  • We ARE that family – for Cason’s first we asked for donations to the local Alpha organization (teen moms in need) instead of gifts. For his 2nd this year we are going to Disney’s Ft. Wilderness to avoid the party hoopla. I hope for his 3rd we will do the same and ask for no gifts. Our children need memories not mementos!!!

  • We are often That Family too. We often do things quite differently but food is our big thing. We try to make everything from scratch with whole foods. I must say, I’ve always been a bit of an outsider, and though I try to embrace it, I find it to be a lonely road. I think I still feel those feelings of the desire to be normal.

  • We tried doing the ” no gifts” thing with our kids for their parties the first few years. We even put “your presence is your present” on the invitation and explained that we wanted their birthdays to be about friends and fun and not presents. Unfortunately, year after year, people would still bring gifts. I would whisk them away as soon as they cam in the door, but the people who followed our wishes felt bad abut not giving gifts. My kids were younger then and wouldn’t care if they got presents, but now after going to other parties, they would definitely feel jilted. I feel so bad because the parents spend their hard earned money to buy cheap plastics toys that all too quickly end up in the garbage or donation bin. Very little of it entertains the kids. So, I hope it goes better for you than it has for us. Maybe I will suggest the ” gift of experience” for their next birthdays…movie tickets, gift certificate to the ice cream parlor, etc.

  • We are “that family ” too. Our kid’s b’days fall within a few weeks/days of each other. What works for us is on the child’s actual b’day, they get to pick their favourite meal for supper, have a simple cake, have our family & maybe another close family over for supper, and open gifts from immediate family (we ask for no gifts from friends, especially because their b’days fall so close to Christmas).

    Then, at a later date, we throw a huge party for all three kids. This allows us to invite as many friends as we want, and we can also invite all the kids in each family, because really, when siblings are involved, usually all the kids are kind of friends anyway. There is an average of 30 children, we rent a facility, send out digital invitations, have three elaborate cakes (plus two plain cakes just so there’s enough for everybody including parents!), and my children get involved my painting and filling treat bags (we send the kids home with a juice box & raisins or something like that). The afternoon is just to celebrate our friendships and have a super fun day. It is not necessarily about my kids, but it is about appreciating our friends and in a way throwing THEM a party. I want my kids to think about others. We ask for no gifts, but want to send our friends home with a treat.

    It is a tonne of work & a bit of money, but it ends up being less than three separate parties. I have done three separate parties before and it was WAY more work and not as much fun. Plus, it also took up three precious Saturdays.

    One of my mom’s friends said her little brother was born on her b’day, and she always loved it. She thought he was a special gift to her. I thought that was such a good attitude. Now, I would never make my kids share a cake or presents (although we do presents very minimally), but if kids can’t blow out candles side by side, something is wrong.

    This being said, I know our take on birthdays/gifts is pretty far out there, but I know our friends’ kids look forward to a huge annual party from our household (especially in the dead of winter), our kids don’t complain, and at the end of the day, we can’t take on too much so as to overload ourselves and we also want to do things that are in line with the values we want to instill in our children.

    People have respected our “no gifts” request for the most part. The kids usually get handmade cards and occasionally some stickers or candy from a few people. What I find disheartening is that a few years ago, more people seemed to be on the “no gifts” bandwagon, but as their kids got older, they said gifts were okay. They said their kids wanted gifts. Since when do children get to decide things like that? I think when kids are older and a bit more aware they would like a few gifts, but gifts from immediate family are plenty enough. They don’t need from every child attending their party!

  • Good for you!
    We also have always asked for no gifts…and people still bring them. However, I feel I can tactfully do gifts after the party and privately instead of it being a huge part of the party. I have been to too many parties where gifts were the focus and the child seemed to ignore the people. They were so excited to find out what they would get! I feel proud that for my kids they think that their friends being there are the best part. That is a success to me.
    The gifts still come (at least in our experience), but I believe people feel free to do something smaller. My kids have gotten craft supplies often instead of some piece of plastic junk. And people mean well, I have to remind myself!

  • We had a no gifts party for my son’s 6th birthday party. His school at the time was very small and we needed to invite the whole class (24 kids) plus a few outside friends. The prospect of 20+ gifts to open and put away was too much. Some brought gifts anyway, and some told me that it made them uncomfortable not to bring a gift. So this year, for his 7th birthday, we had a book exchange– every kids brought a wrapped new book and then chose one to go home. Everyone felt good about bringing something and it took care of the issue of goody bags– the book was their party treat. I loved it.

  • My family is actually not doing presents for Christmas this year. It’s mostly due to everyone’s finances, but it works for me anyway, as the only semi-minimalist in the family. Instead, we’ve just decided to do more activities together, as we feel that’s more in the spirit of the season.

    By the way, Rachel, finally catching your episode of Househunters International right now! :-)

  • We are “that family.” The one whose kids wear patched jeans to school. The one who brings kale chips instead of potato chips to the potluck. The one who doesn’t own a television….

    One things I have LOVED doing with my kids for birthdays is to have them choose a cause they are passionate about, then have guests bring gifts that support that cause. We had one birthday where my child was crazy about the library, so he had his friends bring school supplies for the library’s after-school program. I had another child worried about hunger in the community, so his friends brought canned food that he got to personally deliver to the food bank.

    Some people brought a gift in addition to the donation, although we made it clear that the donation was the only gift we wanted them to bring,

    Another idea I love (but that has not been successful for me) is to have family members purchase items from Heifer International in leiu of gifts for my children. So far, grandparents have always bought things for my kids instead. (sigh) Maybe someday.

  • DD#1’s b-day is January 1 – she certainly doesn’t need more gifts right after Christmas. When the kids were small it was standard that there be no presents; as they got older it was harder to refuse. This past b-day we asked for a donation for the local food bank instead of presents, & kids brought a few items each (non-perishables). It made DD#1 very proud to deliver a big box of items to the local food bank – in our community 1 out of every 4 kids accesses the food bank and it is the charity we support the most.

  • I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to confuse of offend you. None intended, and I hope your son has a wonderful day! :)
    I think I meant that the culture you’re eschewing seems ‘my idea’ of mainstream American. Maybe we should call it ‘mainstream western world’! Good on you for going against the tide, and I really do hope that your ‘way’ becomes the norm in your family and culture in years to come.
    Peace! x

  • We choose home birth too and we are defiantly “that family”. Everyone would pull my husband aside and ask him how he could let me hurt myself or the baby. They wouldn’t ask me, the pregnant woman since they did not want to upset me. He would ask them what information they were basing the assumption on. They couldn’t answer that question. Everyone was healthy and the birth was without complications for either of us. The only thing it was was long, long enough that I would have been guaranteed a c-section in a hospital around here.

    I think you become “that family” when you stop going with the flow, start thinking for your self and taking actions based upon the conclusions you come to. It makes people uncomfortable at best and defensive at worst. It makes people have to face their lives of going with the flow, and sometimes it hurts to think that something could have been different or better.

    • You also have to be prepared to face everyone if something goes wrong. They will be the first to tell you that they told you so. They may have made just as many mistakes or had just as many bad things happen to them, doing what everyone else is doing, but you’re in the spot light if you are doing something different when it happens to you.

    • One of the reasons we didn’t tell people we were having a home birth. 😉
      We were lucky that there was some great data from a recent large scale study on home birth vs. low-risk hospital birth in our area. Later when people asked and had comments about home birth I could refer them to the study that showed lower rates of hemorrhaging, fewer incidence of severe tearing and a few other perks from home birth. It also showed that the infant mortality was equal to or less than a hospital birth.
      If I’d gone with a hospital birth I would have been induced. Who knows how that would have turned out…

  • Personally, I enjoy the gift-giving on a LIMITED scale. It’s been nice since my son (age 12) is getting older and is coming to appreciate the value of one special gift from us over lots of smaller gifts. He’ll even say he’d rather all the extended family go together on one big lego set rather than receiving several smaller sets .
    We generally don’t do friend parties since he’s an introvert and rarely wants one but he did have a backyard camp-out with a few friends the other year and one gift he received turned out to be alot of fun. One friend brought one of those multi-packs of fireworks which my husband set off for them that night. Fun party activity for pre-teen boys and gift consumed before party even ended= everyone happy and no clutter! We are fortunate to live in an area where big parties are just not the norm so that definately makes things easier. My son’s friends simply don’t have parties very often.
    I’ve been enjoying reading your blog, as I’m really just starting to learn how to live more simply. It’s hard to change long-lived habits and I don’t see us ever living quite so simply as your family, but it is so inspiring and motivating to see a peak into how other’s live and learn from them.

  • I put almost that exact scentence on my 1 year old’s invite for his birthday this last weekend. We STILL got gifts. I even had someone tell me they brought a gift because they thought it was highly inappropriate to have put ‘no gifts’ on the invite. I didn’t say, but I found it highly inappropriate of her to BRING a gift when I asked for none! We are going to be setting up a savings account for our son and for future birthdays we will be making that available for people who feel like giving.

    And for Christmas we saw a good idea from a friend. She printed out a sheet of cute paper with something like the following:

    Dear Santa, (for Grandma, Grandpa, etc)
    For Christmas this year,
    I need: ______
    I want: ______
    I’d like: ______


    I think that may work for my family. They usually always buy off our Amazon lists, but often send other stuff, too!

    Thanks for this post.

  • Yes, we are “that family.”

    And we even associate with “that family” families, and to them we are “that family.” So, we are the fringe of the fringe.

    I actually feel very normal. I feel happy, satisfied with my life, and overall. . . just. . . contented.

  • We have definitely fallen into “that” family many times.
    First, we rented an apartment for 7+ years with our kids. All the friends I know have own a home or rent one. I have been asked many times, why don’t you buy? or you should rent a house? (we didn’t have the downpayment at the time, and we really worked hard to try and put as much down as we can plus we weren’t even sure if we wanted to stay in the area long term)…but that wasn’t all. I also had comments like “If I lived in an apartment I would go crazy!” or “Your kids must drive you nuts living in an apartment.” We actually liked renting an apartment. I lived in an apartment for 15 years and it never bothered me. We had all the amenities like a gym, pool, gated community, lounge area.
    I was fine with all of this until the comments came in. .

    Another was that we owned 1 car during those 7+ years. I would wake up early with my hubby, get the kids ready and drive hubby to work. Then drive back home or just take the kids to the park…I would be at the park around 8:30 in the morning. But again, we didn’t mind. I actually think it was good for all of us to wake up early and get out of the door instead of staying home and have the morning pass us by. Plus, I was able to squeeze in some shower time while hubby would get dressed and the kids played.
    But again…it was OTHER people’s comments that would get to me…”how do you survive with one car?”…”I think would get a divorce if we had one car!”…

    We also did the “please no presents” birthday parties. Some of our guests would call and text just to confirm that this was in fact what we wanted. Others would bring a gift anyways and would say “come on! it’s a kids birthday party!”…..nothing more uncomfortable then that!! The funny thing is that our kids never asked…”where are our presents??” . They knew we would get them the gift that they have asked for. And living in apartment there is really no reason to be stocking up our living room with toys. On another surprising note, because these were low key parties..with 3-4 friends. I have had my friends tell me how much more fun it was because it wasn’t so crowded and they felt it was a nicer experience.

    Today, I really don’t care what people think or say about our choices in life. There are things that might seem “odd” but really the way I see it is, it is our choice for a reason. We don’t need to go with what the majority does or thinks. That is not how I want my kids to be. I want them to be comfortable enough with themselves that they can block out all these negative “noises” and be happy with whom they are.

    Love reading your site!

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