Kids' birthdays are fun. They are a time for balloons, fairy bread, noise and general merry making. They are a time for wiping chocolate smears off little chins, playing pass the parcel, and giving gifts that the kid will discard in five minutes, choosing to play with the wrapping paper instead.
Or, for some parents, it is a time to send strident emails, with lists of approved presents and instructions for inclusion of receipts.
Yes, one family in the States forwarded detailed directives to their family members about what to buy their son on his forthcoming first birthday. The email, uploaded on Reddit, listed the following regulations:
- To buy only stipulated gifts, or seek approval for others;
- No more than two gifts per household;
- No books other than one specified;
- No personalised gifts (to prevent kidnapping, obviously);
- Receipts to be included with any non-approved gifts at any time of the year.
(Bear in mind, this email was sent before the actual invitation. One can only imagine the dress codes, time restrictions and behaviour requirements specified on the invite itself.)
Now, to be fair, we have all hoped for, or even requested, certain gifts for our kids. I remember wanting a particular playset for my (then) two-year-old, and being delighted when a group of friends asked me what they could buy so I could request it.
But the 'asking' was key. My friends asked me, and I answered. I didn't give unsolicited gift instructions because it would have been presumptive and rude.
Having said that, I have received invitations on which a parent has stipulated 'Little Johnny is saving for a tricycle, so feel free to make a contribution in lieu of gifts'. And that's just fine. It is polite, it is discretionary, and there is certainly no requirement for gift-givers to include a receipt so that unwanted items can be returned for cash.
What appals me about this email is the sense of entitlement. Gifts are, and should always be, optional. Gifts are a bonus. They are an expression of love and of celebration. A gift is valuable because of the thought and care that has gone into it. Demanding certain gifts screams of privilege, and the whole exchange is turned into a transaction, about as meaningful and personal as paying for a service.
And essentially, it deprives everyone of joy. It robs loved ones of that warm, fuzzy glow one gets when choosing a special gift for a child, and seeing that gift unwrapped. It robs the child of unexpected gifts, and of the valuable lesson of receiving uninspiring presents. After all, we all need to learn how to be gracious when we get our thirteenth Dora doll, or a book on rainbow lorikeets.
Most of all, it robs the entire celebration of fun. Birthdays are supposed to be fun. Presents are supposed to be fun. Toys are supposed to be fun! Not everything in life needs to be tightly controlled. Sometimes it's okay to let go.
Perhaps the greatest gift this one-year-old could receive is for his parents to lighten the hell up. Grab a stuffed toy and yet another book, eat some cake, pop some balloons, and focus on what's really important. Your little boy is turning one. Celebrate. It's a precious, precious gift.