No Gifts Please

Published: 31st July 2016

As parents debate the merits of going gift free, Kathryn Torpy explores ways to think outside the gift-wrapped box.

Years ago, I visited a tiny village in Peru’s Andes Mountains. On a blustery day, I saw a group of local children playing with a plastic bag in the town square. The wind whipped the bag back and forth and the children whooped and whistled as they chased, caught and released it. The memory has stayed with me because as their laughter rang out, I marveled at the wondrous simplicity of their game. They didn’t have toys or even a ball, but these kids couldn’t have been happier. This everyday object was a vehicle for their creativity, camaraderie and joy.

I don’t kid myself that my three-year-old would trade her toys for a plastic bag. Thanks to our wide and generous circle of loved ones, my young daughters have an endless array of playthings. But in wading through a swelling sea of Dora dolls, Peppa Pig puzzles and Tinkerbell trinkets, I’ve recently found myself contemplating the phenomenon of modern gift giving.

I’m not alone. A growing movement of parents concerned with cost, consumerism and cramped living quarters are questioning the gifts, gifts and more gifts that come with birthdays, holidays – or for no reason at all. The topic is being discussed everywhere from mothers’ group meetings to the mainstream media.

The no-gift movement

Parents pushed for space in high-density cities have responded with a ‘no gift’ rule, but for me, the etiquette is murky. What if others ignore the request and we’re the only family that turns up present-less? Won’t the birthday boy or girl be disappointed without gifts? And do I need to return the favour to parents coming to parties at our place?

It’s not surprising that parents are polarised on the blanket banning of gifts. And let’s face it, our nearest and dearest (read: grandparents) will likely ignore said rule if invoked. For me, it comes down to values: the reason we give and what we want our kids to learn from receiving. We shouldn’t have to skip the gifts entirely, but we should aim for more meaningful giving.

Experience matters

When buying for our children and others, there are always considerations. Is the item age appropriate? Does it reflect their interests? Will it enable a learning experience? The answer is in the questions. If it’s the experience we value, let’s (quite literally) think outside the box.

Wouldn’t a nine-year-old be awestruck with the freedom to choose a full-day activity? They might want a picnic or a movie, a trip to the beach or the bowling alley. Memories matter most and having a simple wish granted is something they’ll long remember.

Gifts are the perfect opportunity to invest in our young ones’ passions. Are they nature lovers? With a whale-watching tour they can get up close and personal with these majestic creatures. Got an adrenaline junkie on your hands? Get their pulse racing with some Formula Ford hot laps. Are they dynamic little dancers? How about a ballet class?

Labours (and gestures) of love

The constant run of birthday parties may be frustrating, but it can actually help us raise generous children. In fact, receiving and giving can be one in the same.

As a part of their birthday gift, donate to a cause of your child’s choice. They may want to do the same for their friends. Or, encourage (and help) your kids to make handmade gifts. They’ll have fun on the way and hopefully, the birthday boy or girl will appreciate the effort.

The stuff of lasting memories

These no-gift alternatives will help our kids to see that happiness is not about an endless stream of stuff. Giving and receiving should foster kindness, creativity and a sense of adventure. Our young ones won’t so much remember a toy (or a wind-blown plastic bag), as the fun it enabled and who was there to share it.

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