Birthday parties need not be indulgent

04/11/2012 5:00 AM

04/11/2012 9:42 PM

In a world where children can register for gifts at Toys R Us and where lavish, over-the-top birthday parties have inspired reality television shows, it’s nice to hear about kids like Nora Lo Nigro.

The Wichita girl will turn 9 on Saturday, and her birthday gifts likely will include dog treats, laundry soap, spray bottles and peanut butter.

For the past several years, Nora has asked party guests to bring donations for the Kansas Humane Society instead of gifts for her.

“It’s never too early to start being philanthropic,” said Nora’s mom, Laurie Lo Nigro, a special-education teacher at Robinson Middle School.

I saw Laurie recently at a neighborhood Easter egg hunt — yet another example of unbridled avarice! — and she told me about her daughter’s birthday tradition.

Maybe you could write about it, she told me, not to brag on Nora but to plant a seed with other local parents and kids: Birthday parties can be fun without being indulgent.


According to the Minnesota-based parent group Birthdays Without Pressure (and just about every mom and dad I know), out-of-control birthday parties are a symptom of a larger problem: a consumer culture of excess and entitlement.

If you’ve ever complained that birthday parties are too stressful, that your children receive too many gifts or that gifts are too much of a focus at parties, here are some ideas you might consider:

•  Explain to the birthday child that they already will receive plenty of gifts from family members, so the friend party is just for fun. Write “presence/no presents” on the invitation.
•  Establish a routine of family-only parties most years and larger, “friend” parties every other year or every three years.
•  Like Nora, ask invitees to bring something to donate rather than a gift. Include a list of common items from the charity’s wish list, or direct guests to the charity’s website.
•  Ask guests to bring their favorite new or used book to donate to a local library or shelter, or a canned food item for the local food pantry.
•  Plan a volunteer service project as your child’s birthday party. Talk to your child and choose one that is fun and fits his or her interests. For example: plant flowers in a public area (with permission), make cards for soldiers or hospitalized children, assemble supply kits for the needy, knit baby hats or bake cookies for a local charity.
•  Give your child one nice present instead of several. Explain that the party itself is part of the present.
•  In lieu of a gift, ask invitees to bring a favorite memory that they share with the birthday child. They may choose to draw a picture that reminds them of the memory and bring it.
•  Make a certificate giving the birthday child the gift of a special outing with a parent, such as to a museum, science center, the zoo, camping, etc.
•  Establish a fun and meaningful birthday tradition within your family. For example: the birthday child gets breakfast in bed, selects the menu for dinner (or the restaurant for dinner out), or gets to choose a special activity, such as bowling or a movie.
•  During birthday dinner, each family member shares something they love about the birthday child.

For lots more ideas, go online and search “Birthdays Without Pressure.” (The group’s Web page is hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Social Science.)

About Suzanne Tobias

Suzanne writes about family life on Thursdays. She has covered local news for The Eagle since 1990. Suzanne is a native of North Carolina and earned an English degree from North Carolina State University.

Find her on Twitter: @suzannetobias

Contact Suzanne at 316-268-6567 or by emailing her at

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