No Gifts Please: Should Your Child Have a Gift-free Birthday?

When I wrote about Emme’s 3rd birthday and showed off the adorable invitation, you might have noticed that “No Gifts Please” was printed under the date and location information. Yep… We asked people to skip the gifts for our kid’s birthday.

Maybe that seems horribly mean? Here was my reasoning: My daughter is the only grandchild on one side of the family; one of three on the other side. I knew her grandparents and other close relatives would give her generous gifts, and from that alone, she would be receiving quite a bit of stuff for her birthday.

No gifts please

When the guest list for her party started to get a little out of control, I started to think about the added clutter and writing dozens of thank you notes. Based on my untrained medical opinion, my blood pressure began to rise. So I started to think about requesting no gifts.

As you can imagine, the first person I consulted for advice was the entire Internet. And like most things on the Internet, the people seemed divided. Some regarded a parent’s request for no birthday gifts as an affront — they seemed convinced it was a trick. Others were totally on board.

Since the Internet is typically not to be trusted, I asked my IRL mom friends for feedback. Everyone seemed to think it was totally fine. They reassured me that no one would be offended by a “no gifts” request. They also said that people would probably bring gifts anyway (they were right).

I went for it. And many people brought gifts. That’s OK. Some people didn’t. That’s OK too. The people who did bring gifts, brought smaller items. Some people skipped the gift, but brought Emme a small token — a mylar balloon or pack of stickers. Others took the time to write a sweet message in a birthday card.

And it was all good! We did get less stuff, which was the main goal. However, the decision to ask for no gifts did have some pitfalls. People weren’t totally sure if we really meant it (we did), and a good portion of the party goers apologized for either bringing a gift or not bringing a gift. It was definitely not my intention to put any kind of pressure on my friends and family.

So, based on my experience, here are a few tips if you decide to ask for “No Gifts Please.”

How to ask for no gifts please at a child's birthday party. Tips for parents who don't want guests to bring gifts to a child's birthday party.

Keep the message simple.

I thought about trying to get super cutesy with the request that guests not bring gifts (“Your presence is our present,” etc.), but ultimately clarity and simplicity won out.

Make sure you mean it, but don’t be crazy about it.

Some people will end up bringing gifts and some won’t. If the choice people make is going to bother you — either way — just don’t do it.

Don’t send mixed messages.

People will likely ask you if you’re sure about this “no gifts” thing. A friend asked me, and I almost launched into a whole, you don’t have to bring a gift, but you know, people might bring small stuff and you should do what you want. You know what that sounds like? That sounds like I expected small gifts, which are still gifts. And I didn’t. So I just said that I meant the request and not to worry about bringing a gift.

Keep any gifts out of sight.

Often at parties, the gift table is displayed front and center. But if you’re asking people not to bring gifts, displaying the gifts can make people feel uncomfortable if they didn’t bring one. We tucked gifts away under a picnic table, and I don’t think anyone gave it a second thought after they arrived.

Don’t open gifts at the party.

To be honest, I haven’t been to a kid’s party where gifts have been opened in front of guests since Emme was born. When you’re entertaining families with young children, making them sit through an extensive gift opening session can be tedious. But if you do typically open gifts at a party, don’t if you’ve asked for no gifts. That will make people think you weren’t serious about your request and make them feel bad if they followed your instructions.

Emme had plenty to open, and at 3, she wasn’t totally obsessed with the idea of getting tons and tons of gifts — though I imagine that was the last time this will be the case. I probably won’t do it again, but we’ll also probably be transitioning to parties that are more kid-focused that family and friends focused.

A Toddler Birthday Party Picnic

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Untitled design

On August 1, my tiny baby who was basically born yesterday turned 3.

To celebrate, we invited family and some toddler friends to a nearby park for a low-key birthday party.

Truthfully, I didn’t go too far down the road of a “theme.” In fact, I was kind of like, meh, party in the park, everyone show up, we’ll bring the food. But then, I asked my friend Jennifer of Flying Pinwheel to design the invitation, and when she showed me the colorful picnic invite, I knew I had a theme to run with.

But let’s talk about this invitation first.

toddler picnic theme birthday

Isn’t it adorable?

Jennifer sells several reasonably priced printable invitations in her Etsy shop (I was actually torn between this one, this one and the eventual winner). She has 14 design templates available — covering many themes perfect for little kid parties — but she’s also able to custom design an invite if you have something specific in mind.

The process was stress-free and smooth — Jennifer and I exchanged a few emails, and she made updates to the text and a few tweaks to the design to make sure it was special for Emme’s day. She sent me a proof to approve and then final files — one PDF version with that could be printed with the invitations two-up, and one jpeg, so I could email the invite as well. I actually did both, so having the jpeg file was a nice bonus.

Going this route cost me about a third of what I’ve spent on invitations in the past. It also meant I could skip the hassle of waiting for personalized invitations to ship and could do all the printing at home or take the file to the local whatever-Kinkos-is-called-now and have them print it. (I, of course, chose the latter… and it took about 20 minutes). Yay for less hassle!

For the actual birthday, we kept it pretty simple — mostly because I waited until the last minute to do anything other than the invitations. We covered picnic tables in the park with gingham table covers. This was cheaper than buying separate tablecloths; I could cut them to whatever size I needed, and I still have the majority of the roll leftover. I also purchased tablecloth clips, which held the table covers in place and were tremendously helpful as it ended up being a windy day.

Because we were in a section of the park that was far from the playground, we brought toys for the kids to play with, including a few hula hoops and beach balls. We sprang for a bubble machine, which was a big hit (if you ever purchase one of these, make sure you get the refill; the bubbles go fast). For favors, we gave out novelty sunglasses, which proved popular among the toddler set as well.

Joey grilled burgers and hotdogs, and we had a princess cake, off-theme per the birthday girl’s request, from Costco — which got rave reviews, FYI. 

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Despite a quick costume change because the birthday girl fell in the one muddy spot in the entire park, the party was a success. And I’m glad it’s over.

toddler picnic theme birthday

This was my punishment for buying her a new dress for her birthday.

I Am Not a Perfectionist

I’ve always worn my lack of perfectionism like a badge of honor. I smugly assumed I had figured out a secret of adulthood by embracing imperfection.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t work hard or strive for 100 percent in some areas; it just means that I know it’s not realistic to reach for some vague bar that has been set for “life” in the age of Pinterest — that pinnacle of living that encompasses everything from having your kids dressed in the right clothing to preparing homemade, healthy meals each day to maintaining an impeccable physical appearance to excelling at a high-powered career while somehow keeping your house clean.

Nope. That’s not me.

I’m cool with imperfect.

At least, I thought I was.

Then last week, I found myself in a particularly ugly spiral of negative self-talk. I was in the midst of grappling with why I simply could not do anything right ever when I realized, I may not be a self-professed perfectionist, but that’s only because I know I can’t reach that bar.

But perfection is still my bar.

progress not perfection

I expect 100 percent across the board knowing it’s simply not possible then I beat myself up for not being able to do it. And when I inevitably fail (which I knew I would), I get even more down on myself and throw the so-called baby out with the bathwater.

Sometimes, I don’t even try. (What’s the point? Failure is inevitable.)

It becomes an excuse to avoid taking chances and putting myself out there. (Why bother, really?)

And a byproduct of this perfection-seeking habit is ultimately, I don’t believe in myself.

The one thing I’ve been trying to live up to these years is impossible, and I knew that. And yet, I’ve let this attitude of “Life: You’re Doing it Wrong,” get to me.

It was, dare I say, an epiphany. Last week, I deliberately set the bar where that I knew (thought? hoped?) I could reach it and maybe hang for awhile. I cut my daily to-do list down from about 20 items to three or four. I focused on racking up small wins (I did all my training runs! I wrote an article every day! I ran an errand I’d been putting off for 3 weeks! I managed to put dinner on the table a few times!) so I could bank them later as a reminder that I am capable even though I will fall behind sometimes, even when the goal isn’t perfection.

And I reminded myself that this is about progress.

Progress, not perfection.

Five Things To Know About Ellie

BY GENA KITTNER

We have passed T-minus one month and counting till New Baby’s arrival. And instead of thinking deeply about a birthing plan, I’ve concentrated on making arrangements for my oldest while my husband and I are doing the whole delivery thing. Grandma is scheduled to fly in plenty early, but being the obsessive planner that I am, I need back ups for my back ups.

photo (1)

So for any of my kind friends who find themselves caring for Ellie while John and I are otherwise indisposed, I’ve developed a “Five Things To Know About Ellie” list. I should warn you, it’s a bit graphic.

  1. The password to her iPad is EML1.
  2. She still needs a grown-up to wipe after going No. 2, and while doing No. 2, she’ll likely want her iPad. (See No. 1).
  3. She has no food or medical allergies we know of.
  4. She has no concept of time. If she asks, mommy and daddy will be back in an hour.
  5. Popsicles or popcorn solve most problems.

While accurate — and I hope potentially useful — this list was actually fun to put together. I encourage any parent to spend 5 minutes and think of five things a caregiver should know about their child. It’s a fun snapshot of pre-schooler life.


Gena is a Midwest transplant living in TucsoGena Kittnern, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner, and check out her previous posts on Mommy Sanest.

Hey Moms, It’s Time to Lose the Cape

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When I started Mommy Sanest, I did so with the premise that I was searching for sanity in this (sometimes?) crazy world of parenting. What does sanity mean to me? It means dropping the perfectionism, the extreme styles of parentings (too many rules, man), and embracing an attitude of “good enough.”

So when the opportunity to read and review a new book called “Lose the Cape: Realities from Busy Modern Moms and Strategies to Survive,” I, of course, said yes. “Lose the Cape” is written by bloggers Alexa Bigwarfe and Kerry River, two moms who realize that being “supermom” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I love hearing how other mothers manage home and work particularly when they’ve decided that perfection can’t be the goal.

While I received the e-book for free, all of my opinions are my own.

“Lose the Cape” was a super easy, quick, entertaining, and worthwhile read with lots of great tips for moms with kids at every age and stage. There’s so much pressure — mostly from the Internet — to be a perfect mom and many of us get caught up in this ideal. Often, we feel like we’re not measuring up.

Lose the Cape

Granted, I’m kind of automatically on board with anything that combats the idea of “supermom” or “perfect parenting,” but I loved the practical aspects of “Lose the Cape.” Every chapter featured specific scenarios that we all deal with: Being a new mom, the dreaded and never-ending pile of laundry, meal planning, maintaining a strong relationship with a partner, routines, being over-scheduled, not being able to unplug from social media, and more. The strategies and advice, coupled with the examples from real moms, are very helpful. Not all of the advice was brand new, but it’s stuff that bears repeating, and there were definitely a lot of ideas I hadn’t heard before.

But moreover, I loved the attitude of the writers. I had a real sense of, “We’ve got your back,” throughout the book. Clearly they aren’t about the mommy wars, and they believe we’re all in this together. The chapter about “forming your mom squad” really drove this home. None of us can do this without support from other moms — even if that support is just listening to each other air our grievances and strategizing together.

Overall, it’s definitely worth a read for any mom who is feeling overwhelmed or is sick of living up to ridiculous standards and expectations (regardless of whether they are real or imagined). Actually, I’d recommend moms-to-be pick up “Lose the Cape” — this would be a great gift for an expectant mother as this book gives you a clear idea about the reality of early motherhood. Moreover, the book’s solid advice on different stages and situation really makes it worth while to keep on hand throughout the years.