Why?

Had a long conversation yesterday morning with Albus. He wanted to talk about two things: one, when can we get a Wii and why don’t we have one when everyone else does? and two, why can’t he have a friend birthday party with presents?
Well.
On one, at least there are still a few friends in the neighbourhood whom I could point to as being similarly Wii-less. But that’s not really the point. The point is that we don’t choose to do things just because our friends are doing it too. And the reason we haven’t gotten a Wii yet (though we may, eventually) is because Kevin and I prefer to encourage creative, active, cooperative play–and we see our children playing in these ways when they are given the freedom and time to do so. The best moments in my life, right now, are watching my children playing together–all four of them. In this play, they learn how to solve problems, how to compromise, and how to find ways to include everyone. It doesn’t always run smoothly, and there are plenty of moments which cannot be romanticized. I don’t think a Wii would ruin this. But I also don’t think it would enhance it. What I explained to Albus was that if/when we decide as a family to get a Wii, it will only be after we’ve come to an agreement about how often it should be played, and when, and under what circumstances (ie. special rules for holidays? after school? once a week? weekends only?). It would become like the television is for us, and the DVD player: something we have, but choose not to use without considering others activities first.
Did Albus hear what I was saying? Debatable. “So I can get one for my birthday?” “No, I don’t think so.” “So I can get one for Christmas?” “I don’t know.” “When can I get one? Could I get a DS instead?”
Onto question two … Albus is already planning his birthday party (which won’t be till May, on his birthday). “Could my friends bring presents this time?” “No, we don’t do friend parties with presents.” “But why? I would get so many toys!”
Since we started hosting friend parties for the kids’ birthdays (around age six), we chose to request no gifts. Cards welcome. We got a few phone calls from baffled parents who really really really wanted to bring a gift, but everyone has so far respected the request; the way I see it, the gift is the presence of friends. We also don’t hand out giant loot bags afterward, but like to send every kid home with something they’ve made at the party, or a related but inexpensive prop used at the party: ie. one year I found pretty little china tea cups and saucers at a thrift shop for a tea party; another year, Kevin designed and made personalized t-shirts that all the kids wore to a “bike rally.” Nothing fancy. The birthday child gets to the choose the party theme, what to eat, who to invite, what the cake should look like, etc. It’s a fair bit of work for us, and held in the child’s honour, and adding ten gifts into the mix never made sense to Kevin and me. Like over-salting the soup. We also always host a family party for the birthday child, to which aunts and uncles and grandparents are invited–and gifts are brought. They don’t need to mine their friends for extra treasure. There are already gifts in abundance.
Does this sound like an odd, puritanical rule? I appreciate that giving gifts is something that many people want to do.
But we’re trying to live a less wasteful life, less packaging, less of what we don’t really need.
And we live in a country that is enormously privileged and we sometimes forget that and want more and more and more, without recognizing how much we already have. (I’ve observed this phenomenon at other moments with the kids: If I put out a big buffet of a snack, everyone goes greedy, grabbing and hoarding, even though there’s more than enough. If I put out a small and simple snack, the greed disappears.)
By the end of the conversation (which wasn’t the lecture that appears above; sorry to be so dull today), Albus seemed reconciled to the basic principles of doing with a bit less. Somewhat reconciled might be more accurate.
This is just the beginning, right? Of my children testing our family’s principles and choices against what their friends are doing? I recently wrote a review of Craig and Marc Keilburger’s The World Needs Your Kid, and highlighted from the book ten suggestions for encouraging compassion in one’s children. Number two was to know and identify your own beliefs, as parents. It felt in the conversation with Albus that I did know, and I was grateful. But I also want to remain open and flexible to their changing needs, so that kids don’t feel like their living in a totalitarian regime, but in a living and growing ecosystem.
Which is why we might get the Wii, eventually. Maybe this Christmas. Maybe. We’re still thinking about it.

Our Entry for Alternate Lyrics to O Canada
Itchy Scratchy

6 Comments

  1. We do gift-less parties. They’re far less stressful. But we got a Wii last Christmas (for my 15-year-old). It’s rarely played with by anyone.

    I saw Craig Keilburger speak a few times. I look at my own kids’ consumerist attitudes despite (or to spite) my lessons, and I remind myself of my mom’s mantra: never compare and never judge. He’s quite remarkable.

    Reply
  2. We do something very similar to your family. No gifts from the friends who attend the party, but we know that our kids are going to get a few gifts from family members. We have so much already and I can’t imagine each child getting 10 or more gifts each birthday. Insanity!

    Good luck with March break. We might see you at a matinee!

    Tricia

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  3. Maybe see you at playgroup, too, Tricia. I’m hosting here on Tuesday.

    I’m glad to hear other families feel the same way re no-gifts. I don’t think I’m cheating my kids of some special childhood experience that can never be re-created … 🙂

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  4. We also have a no-gift friends’ party, but we fundraise. We ask for a $5donation to a charity that the birthday boy chooses. Griffin chose Right to Play last year, and he got a lovely letter from them expressing their gratitude for his generosity. It really sank home to him that the money had gone somewhere and that he had done a good thing.

    For loot bags, we give home-made cds (superhero theme, hockey theme, baseball, magic, the number three–i-tunes is a wonderful thing!) or we give books.

    You are not alone in the no gift rule.

    I have heard of a company called Echoage, and guests donate on-line. The money is pooled, the birthday child gets one special gift and the rest of the money goes to a charity that the child chooses.

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  5. We have made different choices on both of these, although we only got our Wii this Christmas – and wouldn’t have at all if our kids were younger. I am a Luddite who has little appreciation for video games of any sort, but what I like about the Wii is that it is a sociable activity. Unlike most forms of technology.

    On the present thing, I appreciate the sentiment but I wonder whether restricting presents might actually encourage greed – much like people for whom alcohol was forbidden and who then abuse it. Don’t know. It’s so hard sometimes to figure out when to put countercultural practices into our kids’ lives.

    Gift giving is really important to me too – to choose gifts that really suit the person I’m giving it to.

    I also think that the nature of gifts is – or should be – something non-obligatory, that we give out of joy and love, rather than competition. And that way of thinking also would mean gifts shouldn’t be restricted.

    My 2 cents. Hope my tone – thoughtful and exploratory – comes across, rather than the possible judgmental tone you might read into this. By no means do I think your ideas are anything but exemplary.

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  6. Glad to hear I’m not alone in my birthday party experimentation ..this being our first year to attempt the gift-free kid party. Thought it might be a bit too early to try with our 3 year old, but the thought of 12 gifts#@! (yes, the very introverted mother caved with the socialite daughter’s long invitee list) was enough to spur on the trying. We’ve suggested kids bring along a non-perishable healthy snack item for the foodbank, as I wanted to leave room for generosity and careful choosing (I agree, in part, with Susan above). Will see how the experiment unfolds on the weekend!

    Loved your “party favour” ideas, Carrie, and will be curious how the pot of dirt and seeds go over with our crowd….enough to garner a bit of a reputation at the least, I imagine!

    love the dialogue…

    Reply

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