#MommyTalks | No Return Gifts, Please!

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Do you like the concept of return gifts for children’s birthday parties?


Honestly, I don’t. When I was a kid there was no such practice of return gifts for birthday parties. And even though I really feel ancient now, it’s the 90s I’m talking about. So, how come things have changed so much now? Or, were we in the small towns lucky to have been shielded from these trends?


I remember we used to attend birthday parties without expecting gifts in return. In fact, birthday parties were for catching up with friends and having a good time while gorging on delicious food. Return gifts were hardly worth any consideration to us. In fact, I first learnt about it after having moved to the city. Yes, we did take presents for our friends but that was not with the expectation of being given something in return. But nowadays there are hardly any birthday parties without return gifts. It has now become a norm and often linked to the parents’ status and standing in the society. And to be honest with you, it’s not the right message we are sending our kids. I don’t like this one bit.


Don’t you think that with these practices we are teaching our kids that if we give a gift to someone we should always expect something in return? That joy of giving is being marred with the subconscious want of a gift in exchange. It has become a barter system.


Let's celebrate birthdays without return gifts. Let's not make it a give and take transaction. #mommytalks #birthdays Click To Tweet


If you ask me, we are doing to birthdays what we have already done to weddings. A few years back one of my friends who was about to get married ended up exhausted with the long list of gifts they had to give to those attending the wedding and the relatives on both sides. An added pressure and not to mention an added financial burden especially when it comes to weddings.


Don’t you think that with these practices of return gifts we are teaching our kids that if we give a gift to someone we should always expect something in return?


The Great Indian Wedding is already an outrageous display of grandeur, an exhibition of status with the joining of two souls shoved right at the end of the priority list. As if that was not enough that we are now conditioning small kids to grow up thinking it’s not a good birthday party if they come back without gifts. We are making them believe that you cannot have a birthday party without giving back something. That somehow it’s a shame to have no return gifts on their birthdays.


I think it has more to do with parents. If you ask me, I’d love a birthday party with no gifts exchanged. But I know that is perhaps not right. A kid deserves to get presents on his or her birthday but we need to teach our kids attending these birthday parties that return gifts are not necessary. In fact, if anything, the latter is unnecessary. And if we want to give back anything for the gifts that our kids receive on their birthdays we can do that later on occasions that demand the same.


I haven’t had a party on M’s birthday yet. Last year we were off to Goa to celebrate her first birthday, just the three of us. This year will be her second and we plan to have a celebration at home with close family members only. But when she grows up and asks for a party, I’ll definitely arrange one for her but with no return gifts. And will try to ensure that she politely declines any return gifts for parties she attends. Of course, only time will tell how successful I’ll be. But I can at least try?


Am I wrong in thinking this? Doesn’t the whole idea of return gifts speak of a give and take transaction which shouldn’t be something we end up teaching our kids?


Do we really need to give return gifts for birthday parties? What are we teaching our kids by doing this that when you gift something always expect something in return? Isn't it wrong?



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20 thoughts on “#MommyTalks | No Return Gifts, Please!”

  1. It’s a perfectly sensible decision, Naba. At Gy’s last party, where she turned 11, I decided against gifts as well as return gifts, primarily because it was a surprise party, but also because I was a bit tired of wondering what to gift kids in return. The fact that they came for a party should be enough for the kids as well as the birthday kid.

    That said, if there HAS to be a return gift I would rather gift a plant or a book. This way, kids at least get something useful. It’s a bit of a risk, honestly, but maybe we can be the parents who break the mould.
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  2. Exactly my views. In fact we used to bake cake at home and mom would make all the special desserts and yummy chinese food for my friends. And then we would play silly games and that was it. And this was in late 90s. How times change!
    Rajlakshmi recently posted…Zentangle Inspired Art – MetanoiaMy Profile

  3. Exactly my thoughts, Naba. I could never understand the need of return gifts. That too all these return gifts are unusable after a day or two. Waste of money and space, in my opinion. When we celebrated Kanna’s first birthday, we didn’t give any return gifts. I know how odd we might have appeared to the guests. This time for our little one’s first birthday we gave a book as return gift for all the kids. As you said, in my childhood there were no return gifts. Getting together to cut the cake, sing the song, eat, play and enjoy, that was it. We returned with a joyful heart, that was it.

  4. I used to think the same way about return gifts in birthday parties but then I had to give in to D for his first ever birthday party I organised this year. Given a choice, I would not have even organised a birthday party even this year in the same way as I had not done until now. I gave books in return gifts. Some appreciated, some didn’t. I got feedback from parents. Children and parents not liking books is heartbreaking for me to hear.
    I will tell you the sad part. Every birthday party is judged in my complex right from what was served as food (was there pizza or plain biscuit and chips), what Designer cake was ordered, what were the gifts (the parents circulating or passing the gifts their children might have received in their parties have the lowest rating) and what were the return gifts. You are right, hence. It has become a display of the parents’ status.

  5. Goodness that sounds like so much pressure, we don’t have that policy in Australia, or at least none of the parties we attend do this. We do give a small bag of lollies or a cupcake for the child to take as they leave, but never a gift. It sounds like a status thing about parents competing to show their money off. I was sad to hear what Anamika wrote in her comment too, it all becomes so judgemental #mg
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  6. Oh, I couldn’t agree more, Naba. In fact, I was among the first parents who enforced no return gifts. But you know, the kids who come feel very disappointed as everyone else keeps giving return gifts. Even my kids expected return gifts when they went to other parties. So, I don’t really know how to rectify this situation. As you pointed out, we never had this tradition and it was so much better. Besides, I was tired with all the stationery that came into the house that could not be used.

  7. I agree to some extent but as Rachana said kids get disappointed when theu don’t get return gifts. Even my children liked getting return gifts when they attend someone’s party. I don’t think it’s a big deal to give return gifts but i only feel that parents should give something useful to kids like books and stationery instead of showing their status through those gifts. As Anamika mentioned i also feel sad that everyone judges the parents who give the party from what cake they buy to what snacks they serve.

  8. I hate those return gifts. I would rather have the kids enjoy the party and not bring in any gifts. Now, thankfully, my kids are over the birthday party at home age. I let them hang out outside at a nearby restaurant.

  9. I so agree with you, Nabanita..and I feel it is the right decision you have made.
    When I was a kid, mom would bake a simple cake, decorate it as simply as she could (which I loved incredibly!), and cook some other stuff to go with the cake and I and my friends would gorge on the food, play games and have such unadulterated fun!
    I, too, don’t follow the concept of return gifts. Kids ought to learn to enjoy another’s birthday party by simply being there with their buddies and seeing the happiness on their faces. The word,’transaction’ that you used, is apt for this new custom we have begun. Wonder who started it in the first place!

  10. We don’t do that in the United States. The custom, which not everyone follows, is to write a thank you note to the gift giver. Having to give gifts to everyone who brought a gift seems to be awfully expensive!

  11. I only heard about this concept recently. While we were growing up, we barely had a party let alone give away return gifts.

    I think the concept of return gifts were created by parents as a matter of showing off their status and comparison. It is difficult for everyone to keep up with such a tradition. Kids are disappointed with the comparison and they are very soon exposed to the concept of status, riches and distinction. Not a good way to bring them up. If it is a birthday, just attend and enjoy and wish the concerned. No expectations, just genuine wishes.
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  12. I don’t think that this concept of return gifts has hit Holland and I hope that it doesn’t. I do think it is an opportunity for parents to show-off their financial status a chance to say look how well we are doing. #MG

  13. This whole return gift idea began pretty innocently with a small handmade/homemade gift or maybe a pencil-eraser set or something – just a token to say thank you for coming. And look at the monster it has become! At one party recently the kids were given small beanbags to take home. Imagine that!!! I started abhorring the idea and the cheekiness with which children demand a return gift. The worth of a party seems to depend on how wonderful the return gift is. You’re right birthdays shouldn’t be about giving and taking – they should be about having fun. I am glad you’ve decided to go against this trend Naba. More power to moms like you.

  14. This not common practice in the UK, but I certainly don’t like the idea of it. Here we tend to do little party bags for the children as they leave the party, in mine I put a piece of birthday cake and a balloon.
    #The MMlinky

  15. I had actually never heard of giving gifts in return – we do have a goody bag system here in the US at kid’s birthday parties. It’s a small bag worth about $5 with some little things in it. I never really understood it, except it made kids happy. But most parents loathe it and I don’t blame them. #mg

  16. I couldn’t agree more! In fact I once told all the kids who attended my birthday party that if they gave a gift to my child, I would gift it there and then to the next child as a return gift! That birthday my child didn’t get a single gift from her friends. I was thrilled because most of these gifts were useless pass ons and at one party we got 4 of the same gift!!!!
    I also didn’t give any return gifts to those who attended my daughter’s wedding. I hope they didn’t think I was a skin flint but honestly, I didn’t want to bust the bank giving worthwhile gifts and my guests could do without cheap gifts from me. I’m sure, if nothing else, this will be the wedding memory they cherish and remember – the wedding where we got no return gifts!

  17. I dont know if it’s a new thing, but it’s certain rampant. And whilst I don’t agree with it, and I certainly am with you 100% on the ‘kids shouldn’t have to expect something back like it’s a transaction’ thought, sometimes it’s because the wrong expectations have been set by parents in the first place.

    And while kids may not value the return gifts so much, I have heard parents bicker at (rather after parties) where there weren’t return gifts. So, I guess it’s a thought process. Like there has to be something for them to come to the party or soemthing. Really weird, isn’t it?

    Oh well.
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  18. I do tend to think this practice stems from being part of an increasingly materialistic society where everything comes at a price and and with a price tag! When moms who don’t believe in such things break such practices they stand out like sore thumbs amongst other moms who do! I’ve been through that myself. It is sad but true. Most people go with the flow these days for fear of being unpopular. It takes a lot of courage to not follow such practices, Nabanita!

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