I have written before about my quest to declutter our home in recent months. Less is more has been my philosophy for quite some time now, and it has caused me to rethink several areas of my life. I’m trying very hard to resist clearance rack clothing that will soon fall apart; we’ve gotten really into local toy swaps both for getting rid of outgrown items (and to acquire new toys), and I’ve unsubscribed to almost *all* marketing emails telling me about sales and coupons (aside from grocery stores) so I’m less tempted to buy things I don’t need. The one thing that has been a challenge? My kids’ birthdays. My sons are fortunate in that they have lots of people in their lives that care about them and want to give them birthday gifts. However, they simply do not need the number of gifts they receive from their friends and family. So, they donate birthday gifts to charity.

Now, before I’m called “The Grinch of Birthdays” and/or “The Meanest Mom on All of the Earth”, let me explain:

1) Their family members still give them birthday gifts. Their grandparents, aunts, and uncles spoil them more than enough.

2) They donate all gifts given to them by friends at their birthday party.

3) They do this willingly, without prodding or a requirement from us.

I realized early on in this parenting gig that birthday parties, namely ones involving kids and their friends, are tricky. My fellow blogger Vivian touched on this as well recently. Do you invite the whole class of 20 kindergarteners? Siblings included? Do you realize that’s, like, forty children? Do you invite a small number of kids that your child is friends with? Divide by gender? I don’t know! 

So, my rule is this: My kids can choose either A) A small party of 2-3 close friends doing something fun (such as the movies, or mini-golf, etc) with gifts from their friends, or B) A huge party, including as many children as they want to, but less “fancy”, and gifts must be donations to an organization of their choosing.

So far, both boys have opted for “B”. My 6-year old, who loves cats and wants to be a cat vet, had a cat-themed party and collected donations of cat food and toys for the humane society. My 4-year-old, who was hospitalized this past February for abdominal surgery at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, decided to have a superhero party and collect new, unwrapped toys for children staying at the hospital. Both boys still got gifts from their family members, and both boys were truly beaming when they dropped of their post-party donations. In fact, the humane society even gave my 6-year-old an amazing “behind the scenes” tour of the facility, even letting him play with a really adorable, fuzzy kitten. There is little more satisfying to a child in the long-term than doing something good and actually seeing the people (or kittens) who benefit from it.

In my eyes, this is a win-win. The kids get to have fun with all their friends without having to pick favorites. All the kids in their class are included, which is especially nice if you’re the mom of a shy child (and I am!) who may not often be included in birthday party guest lists. The kids learn the satisfaction of helping others. Parents with childcare issues (I see you, single parents and weekend-working parents!) don’t have to decline an invite simply because they have no one to watch a sibling– since we just have cupcakes, juice, and playtime, I let parents know that I don’t mind at all if siblings come, too. Parents can relax and not panic about buying a special gift for my sons, because hey! Just bring us some Meow Mix! 🙂

Our ideas for future “donation parties” include…

*Donations of “party supplies” to food pantries for kids whose families use the pantry’s services

*Asking your child’s teacher for a classroom wish list and donating special project items

*Donating pajamas to an organization such as this that serves children in shelters or foster care

*Donating pet food to a pet food pantry so owners don’t have to surrender their pets due to financial troubles

*Donations of favorite books to our library’s children’s collection

So that’s our take on birthdays these days. Does anyone else do charity parties? Any good, local organizations that elementary-school aged kids would connect with that we can look into for next time?