Everyone knows someone in their lives who, when asked what they want for their birthday or Christmas or Hannukah or housewarming or whatever, will reply that they don’t want anything. Usually, these people are being polite and do want something but are either too humble to ask, or it’s too expensive to ask someone to buy for them.
Or they want something weird and don’t want you to know that they want it…
There is, however, one group of people who, when they say “please don’t get anything” are 100% serious: Parents.
This year, when my younger daughter turned 1, we threw her a party. We were inundated with requests for gift suggestions. I have no idea how my wife responded to these queries, but I answered them all the same way. “Your presence is gift enough. Please don’t bring presents.” When it came time to open presents, I hovered in the corner of the room and did not allow any packaging to be opened beyond gift wrap. While this may seem heartless, I assure you, there is method to the madness.
Here is a list of reasons why you should listen when parents say “please don’t buy things for my children.”
1) You Don’t Know What Toys They Hate
A quick Google search will reveal the universal hatred that exists among parents of small children for the woman who voices all of the toys from V-Tech. Her pre-school teacher intonations make kids giggle and make parents want to go on a killing spree that would make Manson cringe and say “Jesus! You need to relax!” We used to have a ball from said company that, if not shut off properly, would randomly scream for someone to play with it. Way too often, we have been woken by the spherical plastic abomination yelling “ROLL ME!!” at 3 am. Said toy now resides in the attic. In a vat of holy water. Surrounded by a ring of salt and candles that must be kept lit at all times. Surprisingly, the upkeep of this setup is less stressful and annoying than the toy.
There are certain toys that are awful and you just don’t know what they are until you’ve had them in your house. Also, not all parents want to pigeonhole their daughters into princess stuff, or their sons into cars and Bob the Builder. On top of this, some parents may have rules about toys that make noise, or don’t foster imagination, which leads right into…
2) They Would Rather Promote Creativity
Some parents don’t let their children watch TV. Some parents have texture issues and don’t want paints or Playdough in the house. Some parents don’t want toys unless they foster imagination and creativity. An example of this would be something like Lego bricks. A child can create anything they have in their minds and there are sets that don’t have predetermined end-products so the child isn’t sent in any particular direction. These help stimulate various centers of the brain that allow children to explore their imaginations in ways that other toys simply stifle. The creativity toys don’t even have to be as open ended as Lego. It could be play kitchens or workbenches where the kid pretends to do whatever they want.
If you do a Google image search for “girls toys” it takes until page 6 until you see something that isn’t pastel. That toy is a plush cake. For “boys toys” you will find mostly cars and construction machines (if you ignore all of the homoerotic links.)
3) They Think That Outfit Is Ugly
It is a commonly documented fact that people have very different tastes in fashion. What you think is an adorable outfit, may be perceived as though you are hoping the child will be beaten up at day care. There is always that aunt at the holidays who gives you a knitted sweater with the image of a muskrat serenading a moose on the front. You get this gift and have to smile and thank her profusely for her generous gift and keen fashion sense.
4) They Are Trying To Teach Their Kid To Appreciate Gifts As Special
Our society has become one of instant gratification. It could be that the parents of the child for whom you are buying presents want to instill a sense of appreciation of gifts and an understanding that gift receiving is special and should not be taken for granted.
A child who receives gifts regularly may not appreciate them as much since they know another one will be arriving shortly.
Perhaps that’s why I squander my paychecks…
Lastly, but perhaps the most important:
5) Their House Is Full
Much like the well-intentioned grandparent at a family dinner, what you are offering simply does not have a physical space in which to place it. New parents are given literally thousands of items from books to clothes to toys to As-Seen-On-TV organizer crap. Some of it is new and returnable if you don’t open the packaging for them. Much of it is hand-me-down stuff that holds sentimental value for SOMEONE and is very difficult to leave by the side of the road.
When new parents say “please don’t get them anything” what they may be saying is “GOOD GOD!! I have so many children’s things in my house that I think a Toys ‘R Us may have exploded there!”
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Most people are polite enough to thank you kindly for your gifts. Therefore, it is up to you to ask yourself a questions while wandering the aisles of Target before a party:
“Which would be better for this child: a $20 outfit/toy, or a $20 donation to a college fund?”
(This post can also be found on Justin’s blog)