Recently I attended a birthday party for my 5-year-old son's classmate. I found myself chatting with another parent about how our kids end up with an enormous number of birthday gifts from these parties, which each of their classmates usually attend bearing presents for the guest of honor. When I asked this fellow parent how they handled the influx of goodies (in addition to gifts from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends), he shocked me by revealing that he and his wife spirit away the gifts from his son's birthday party, hide them, rewrap them and give them to him for Christmas! While I understand the impulse, I feel a little uncomfortable about this plan. What do you think?
Perplexed Partygoing Parent
Kids these days are showered with more toys than they could ever play with - it's a wonder they're not stressed out trying to schedule quality time for each and every Pokeman. Combine the abundance of gifts with the scarcity of storage space in most Manhattan apartments, and you'll have to start shoveling a path down the hallway every day so your kids don't get buried by their own fun. Not to mention that some parents try mightily to impress upon their children the fleeting and superficial value of material possessions, which is tough when they're clutching the hottest items from the Toys 'R' spring catalogue.
Your question, though, isn't how to stem the flow of toys, but whether this dad's creative solution is ethical or icky. Should unsuspecting parents be unwittingly funding the Christmas bounties of their children's classmates?
The problem here isn't really the re-gifting. It's hard to fault a parent for throwing up their hands and saying "enough" to the steady stream of gifts for their little ones. Especially if this particular kid's birthday falls in the months leading up to Christmas, which I'm guessing it does, it can be an exercise in parental failure to go out and find a whole new lineup of gifts when their child has just received everything on their wishlist weeks before. Despite what your 5-year-old has told you, there are a finite number of stuffed bunnies that will fit with him in his twin bed.
What's irking you is that most parents forking over $59.99 for the latest Wii U game for the birthday kid du jour expect to be simply reciprocating what other parents will later do for their kid, not playing Santa. Technically and etiquette-wise, a giftee is free to do whatever he or she wishes with a gift (provided the gifter has received a thank you!) But this arrangement, premeditated as it is, seems like a breach of the social contract that's been set up among your circle of parents and offspring.
The solution, though, isn't to scold this parent, nor is it to let that tidbit spill to the other parents at the next coffeehouse meet-up. If it truly bothers you, the whole culture of gift-giving among your kids' friends needs to shift. Maybe that means sending an email to the class list asking that parents collectively agree on a price limit for classmates' birthday party gifts, or a no-gift policy, or even a collection for a local charity in which the kids could get involved (like a neighborhood food bank).
But that's assuming you want to deal with that inevitable headache and some potentially nuclear fallout from the kiddos. If you want to maintain the status quo but don't feel right about your gifts being recycled through family holidays, just pick out thoughtful, nice presents for your kids' friends, and get them engraved with their birthdate.
Do you have a pressing neighborhood question for Margaret? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Ask Margaret."
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