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Are gift registries for kids' birthday parties OK? An etiquette expert weighs in

It's a controversial topic.
/ Source: TODAY

When it comes to buying gifts for other people’s children there are unwritten rules to follow. No slime, no kinetic sand, and absolutely nothing that makes noise. Battery operated toys? Also very bad. “What does your friend want?” I’ll ask my daughter Nora, who will shrug and suggest a paintball gun or a bag of kazoos. 

Nora is turning seven next month, which means the emails from other parents have started rolling in. “Is Nora into puzzles? Board games?" At least these moms and dads are on the ball. I’m the one sending text messages from Target an hour before the party starts.

When I jokingly suggested to my mother that I create a registry for Nora, she was horrified. 

"Tacky, tacky, tacky," she scoffed.

Author and etiquette expert Catherine Newman had a similar reaction when I asked for her thoughts. 

“My knee-jerk impression is that it feels kind of gross. It makes gift giving feel obligatory and transactional, when we want it to feel voluntary and heartfelt,” Newman told TODAY Parents. “On the other hand, gift giving is obligatory, unless an invitation specifies otherwise. So I appreciate that the gift registry is just transparently out there with it: Yeah, you’re going to have to buy my kid a gift, we both know that. Here are some things they actually want. Plus, I like the idea of avoiding duplicates and waste.”

Newman noted that a registry is also great for kiddos who are unconventionally gendered, since it spares them the “yuck” of normative assumptions. 

Jenni Chasty, a mother of two in Arizona, is totally on board with kids’ birthday registries.

“Honestly it makes things so much easier for everyone,” Chasty told TODAY, adding that majority of the gifts she requests are in the $10 to $20 price range. 

“I’ve even had other parents pull me aside to thank me for simplifying the process,” Chasty said. "Parents are busy juggling a hundred responsibilities. They don't need one extra thing to stress about."

If you decide to go the gift registry route, Newman recommends that every item on the list be under $20 — and to definitely include books.

“If there’s a big range in prices, then some people are going to feel exposed by their choices,” she explained. “Share the big-ticket items directly with the grandparents.”

And don't feel obligated to buy off the registry.

"If you have some really inspired thing you want to get for a particular child, then you can always go ahead and get that instead," Newman said. "Like, if you were wanting to passive aggressively get them the robotic elephant with the clanging cymbals — the registry can’t stop you!"