Kids' birthday parties, and one great idea

My cousin and her husband have three little girls, Addie, Parker, and Charlotte, and together they make a pretty awesome family. They live in a Chicago suburb in which they’ve founded a pretty great circle of friends, many of whom have various kids of their own, too. Kristin, who is a breath of fresh air in a world of helicopter parenting (or, a new term I recently learned, snowplow parenting, whereby the road ahead is constantly cleared for children), makes me way less scared about becoming a mom someday. She has a coolness and a joy about her that says “none of us know what we’re doing all the time, and sometimes it’s all a little nuts, but if you’re happy and you’re kind and you're having fun, everything seems to fall into place.” She and Charlie don’t take themselves too seriously, which is also quite refreshing to see.

Her two older girls are at the age where there seems to be big birthday parties all the time. And I remember this, too, from when I was a kid. Remember the invitations? The goodie bags? The cake, the games, the presents? They happened often, and the numbers were never small. Oftentimes, everyone in your class was invited!

Kristin told us how they do kids’ birthdays among their friends, and I found the idea so interesting! Instead of buying a bunch of $20-and-under gifts for each child’s birthday party, and enduring the stress that goes along with shopping for some toy or other item, they each contribute between $10 and $20 towards one big gift for the birthday kid. All the friends and parents could brainstorm an idea for a gift, or perhaps there’s one thing in particular they all know the child would love to have. For instance, in Kristin’s kids’ world, one boy received a razor scooter from all of his friends. Another girl received an iPad. Think: bikes, skis, electronics; bigger ticket items that are purposeful, intentional, and pack a real punch, but are no more costly for each gift giver.

I can understand how receiving one awesome gift may seem over the top for young kids, but isn’t opening 15 separate gifts also over the top, combined with feeling a little bit wasteful and robotic? I love the idea of, say, a handmade card from each birthday guest, with one big combined present at the end, instead of tearing through a card and gift wrap just to see what each package holds inside.

I think I’d love knowing that our money was going towards something truly useful and meaningful to a child. It feels like the next best thing to presents not being involved at all at children’s birthday parties. But we know gifts are fun and they seem as ingrained in the birthday tradition as cake, so this feels like a really tasteful idea to me.

I’d love to know what you think. Does it feel like too much, in a principled sense? Or do you like the idea of less-is-more?

PS: The principles I'll teach my kids, and Babysitter guilt


One of my favorite moments ever captured: my friend Michelle blowing out her cousin's birthday candles. Thanks, Shell, for photo rights :)