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Your child was invited to a ‘no-gift’ birthday party. Here’s how you should respond

"Your presence is our present" parties can be confusing, so we turned to the experts.
Open Blue Gift Box On Salmon Background
Should you respect the wishes of the child's parents and not bring a gift? Javier Zayas Photography / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Recently, I made the mistake of asking my nearly 9-year-old daughter, Nora, if she would consider a no-gifts birthday party.

“You’re kidding, right?” Nora replied.

When I didn’t immediately respond, she repeated the question — only louder. And was her voice quivering? 

“You have a lot of stuff,” I said, motioning to 63,000 unopened puzzles and art kits.

Plushies cover the floor of my third-grader’s bedroom. They are crammed on her bed, and in baskets throughout the house. And then there are the figurines. Don’t get me started on the figurines, which no one cares about until they are in the mouth of our dog and then suddenly they are the most important thing.

Maybe this is why “no presents but your presence” parties are so confusing to me. As a Gen Xer, it feels weird showing up empty-handed. Apparently, I’m not alone in feeling this way. When I asked my friends on Instagram, 25% said they ignore the no-gifts request.

As one person wrote, “They’re kids! Let them live a little!” 

Evie Granville, co-author of “Modern Manners for Moms & Dads,” offers a different take.

“Parents have lots of reasons for saying, ‘no gifts,’ and they can be complex,” Granville tells “For example, some are particular about the types of toys they allow in their home — but there’s no polite way to convey ‘nothing plastic’ in an invitation. It’s easier to just say, ‘Your presence is our present.’

According to Granville, while you should honor the request, she notes that there are some workarounds.

“You could bring balloons or a big, swirly lollipop. Think about things that will disappear in a few days,” Granville says. Gift cards are another good option, but make sure they focus on an experience. 

“A certificate to your local ice cream shop or a trampoline park are both safe bets,” Granville says. “That way, you’re not bringing clutter into someone’s already overcrowded playroom.”

Etiquette expert Catherine Newman says there's no question — you must put your own feelings aside and respect the wishes of the parents.

“If it was a gluten-free birthday party, would you bring a cake with gluten? No,” Newman tells “It’s not your call.” 

"For some parents, the no-gift birthday party is truly important," she continues. "It might be a crux of a religious belief or a worldview."

Newman was a “no-gifts” mom when her kids were younger. Looking back, she says she might have done it differently.

“It’s just a small moment in time — soon they won’t want toys anymore,” she says. “There are plenty of opportunities to teach them about values. I don't think we needed to be so overwrought about everything."

My daughter Nora attended a classmate’s no-gift birthday over the weekend. The dad tells me that out of the 15 kids, four brought gifts. In case you were wondering, we were not part of the four.

“There were a few handmade cards, which I actually thought were really nice and thoughtful,” he says, “but maybe didn’t land with a 9-year-old as much as it did for us!”