When I was growing up, it seemed like everyone around me had everything. What began as an obsession with Pogs, Beanie Babies, and Tamagotchis later morphed into a love of Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and Ugg Boots. It wasn’t enough to have just one, either — I wanted a collection of all the pretty things. When I became a mom at a young age, suddenly my superficial obsession with material objects ceased — because it had to. After all, who can prioritize brand name clothing and designer handbags when you have a child to feed and college exams to study for? Motherhood had hooked me in an entirely new way, and I knew that I wanted to raise my daughter Hayley with stronger values than I had.
On Hayley’s first birthday, my mother helped throw her a beautiful birthday party with all of our close friends and family. It was simple, but I had spent weeks agonizing over the details. When the night of her birthday came, I realized that I’d forgotten one important piece — an actual birthday gift. I had been so caught up in finals, the party planning, and the holidays (she’s a Christmas baby!) that I hadn’t actually purchased a tangible present for her. It then hit my eighteen-year-old self — she didn’t need one. The party we had organized and all the love she was showered with was the best gift that I could have given her.
When her second birthday rolled around and we were planning another party, this time with her toddler friends, I had the same thought — could the party, itself, be her gift? After all, parents spend quite a bit of time and money planning and executing parties and special days with their kids for their birthdays. Who decided that there needed to be a tangible item to go with it? Especially one that will likely be long forgotten at the bottom of a toy box?
As the years passed, the tradition stuck. Hayley has had some amazing experiences for her birthday, including fun trips to Sea World, Lego Land, Disney, and most recently, Beverly Hills and LA for her 13th. Some years, her birthday party was her gift because that’s what she wanted. The same common theme has stuck, though — we do not give tangible gifts as birthday presents in our home. We now have two little boys that we continue the tradition with. Each child gets a party and a special day with us, but no accompanying toy to unwrap. We feel like they get enough toys year round, as well as from their birthday parties and our family members. We’ve even begun requesting experience gifts from family, too — memberships, classes, and passes for play zones. Aside from books, which we always welcome as gifts, we want them to grow up and value experiences over things.
Here’s the truth — I can’t tell you every gift that I’ve given Hayley for Christmas or what she received in her Easter baskets, but I can tell you what we’ve done for her birthday every single year of her life. We strive hard to teach our children to value people over possessions and experiences over things. I don’t want them to get caught up in the race of chasing a perpetual happiness that doesn’t exist, because once they obtain that “must have,” it’ll just be onto the next thing. Having experienced this firsthand during my own childhood, I wanted to break the cycle with my own kids.
Don’t get me wrong — we still love presents in on our house! I am in love with Target and all things home decor and shopping, but I try very hard to strike a balance between my love of material possessions and my desire to raise kids who don’t need them quite like I did. Living where we do, it can be tough — but I hold firm to these values and hope that one day my kids will fully realize why I insist on our “no birthday gift” policy. If you’re looking to take a step in this direction, here are some experience gifts you can consider for your kids this year for their special day:
- Zoo membership
- Special day with them at the park — have a picnic and fly a kite!
- Lunch date at their favorite restaurant
- Thinkery membership
- Movie Passes
- Aquarium Membership
- Gift certificate for Schlitterbahn
- Weekend staycation somewhere kid-friendly, like San Antonio or Waco
- Gift certificate to Rolly Pollies, Almost Grown, The Coop, or another indoor play zone
- A day of art at The Art Garage or Color Me Mine
- A kid-friendly cooking class
Do experience gifts save money? Not necessarily. For us, that was never the goal — it was simply to shift the thinking of what we can do together as a family to create a fun memory, rather than what I can pluck off the shelf from Target. Those special toys are such a fun part of childhood, and I’m grateful that we have some amazing grandparents in our lives who are more than willing to help in that department. In my thirteen years of parenting, though, I’ve still never given my children a birthday gift — and I don’t plan on changing that policy anytime soon!