Friday, November 4, 2016

To open or not to open?

This has been on my mind for far too long
It's nagged at me and I can't let it go. 
I sense that I am a total minority in my way of thinking, 
but I've yet to find an argument to sway my opinion. 
And finally, after reading the hilarious account of Meredith's daughter Sloane's reaction in her recent post 
(I'm with you, Sloane!), 
I just have to chime in. 

So here it is...

Do you think presents should be opened at the party or afterwards? 

I have thrown three birthday parties for Aaron, 
and at all three parties the presents were opened at the party. 

Aaron's first birthday

Aaron's second birthday

Aaron's third birthday watching gifts be opened
 (I was a million months pregnant)

Now, on the other hand, I have been to three year's worth of family/friends parties 
where the presents have NOT been opened at the party, 
but rather saved until afterwards. 

This phenomenon has puzzled me greatly. 
And if, we're being honest, also greatly irritated me. 

Here are my thoughts: 

1. I bought the damn gift, 
I want the gratification of seeing your child open it. 
EVEN if they don't like it. 
That's ok, too!

2. My FAVORITE part of parties is the gift opening. 
As a child, this was "YAY NEW TOYS FOR ME" (see also: Sloane)
But even as a child watching other children, it was fun to see toys. 
To this day, my favorite part of baby showers is the gift opening, 
and seeing all the great new equipment for babies out there. 

I've asked a few friends and family why they choose to not open presents at the party, 
and usually the answer is along the lines of 
"well that's what everyone else does" 
(which, if you've ever worked in a S6 or ACE corporate environment, you are trained to REVOLT at that statement.)

Finally, I did the thing that every mother does nowadays... 
I took to the internet. 

I found this Parents Network page where people wrote in their thoughts. 
And oh my LOTS of different thoughts. 

If I were to summarize the reason why gifts are NOT opened, 
I would summarize my findings as such: 

1. Other children get bored. 

2. Other children may get jealous. 

3. The gift opener may react poorly to a gift, thus embarrassing the gift giver. 

4. The gift opener may be overwhelmed. 

5. It takes too damn long. 

6. Some parties ask for no gifts, but people still bring gifts and thus those are opened those later (note: I 100% support opening gifts later if the invite says "no gifts", AND I also think it is rude to bring a gift and thus disregard the invite

For those who also advocate for not opening gifts are parties, am I missing anything?

Now, after reading line-after-line of explanations, I stumbled upon a response that summed up all that I felt. 
Since they wrote it better than I did, I'm just going to copy and paste it here: 

After reading the responses to this query, I feel compelled to chime in. I am from the old school of birthday party etiquette. My son opened his presents at every one of his birthday parties growing up. It was a lot of fun for all. I dutifully stood aside and made my list so that we could do thank you notes together afterward. I wanted to teach my son good manners by writing thank you notes. I had planned every party (through the tweens) with a theme and a handmade thank-you card. I might add here, that we hardly ever got a thank you card from gifts we gave. Sloppy parenting, in my book. Anyway, here is how I feel about the withholding of gifts until after the party - the first time I encountered this was when my son was little and I was in attendance at the party. I was a bit disappointed. Heck, half the fun of giving a gift is seeing the reaction right? Full disclosure here - I am one of the most thoughtful gift givers on the planet. Now, my main point is this. This holding back of gifts so that they can be opened in a controlled environment away from the hustle and bustle, and god forbid - uncertainty! of real time just smacks of the detriment of the current culture we live in which is controlled communication 24/7. It sickens me that we are so busy living highly electronically controlled lives that there is barely any face time, and even telephone conversations are becoming rarer and rarer. Opening gifts at birthday parties is an age old convention! And it's a fun one! All you parents who are abandoning it in favor of risking overstimulation, hurt feelings for the ones who didn't measure up, jealousy, etc. are just prime examples of the worst of helicopter parenting. This is yet another modern cultural practice that I do not agree with!
One more thought worth pondering to all you modern thinkers out there- what is the point of giving presents at a birthday party? If we are going to sequester the act into a private activity, why bother at all? So, the kid can accumulate more stuff and not even recognize or care who provided that stuff? Yes, it is exciting/stressful to open gifts in front of an audience but that's part of life, and all the messiness that comes with it. Too much sequestering/privatizing/controlling isn't healthy. Old School party maker
Thank you, Old School Party Maker. 
I could not have said it better myself. 

(Note: Follow-up blog post to this topic is now here.
 And yes, I somewhat changed my mind.)


  1. So I actually am in the "open them after the party" camp and whoever wrote that letter kind of seems to me like they have a chip on their shoulder, honestly! Just seems like they are reaching/reading way too much into why someone decides not to do it at the party... I don't think any of the reasons she mentioned resonate with me, and even as a very controlling person myself, I definitely don't do it out of a need for control!

    The reasons we have not opened them at the party are (1) it does take too long, especially with two kids opening presents, (2) I personally think it's boring to watch, and I think the other kids would rather be playing than watching someone else open presents, (3) if it's at a venue, you usually only have it booked for a narrow window of time, and I don't want to waste 30 minutes of that 2-hour slot with present-opening instead of playtime for the kids, and (4) I think you can go at a slower pace and therefore actually let the kids take their time opening their presents rather than feeling like you have to rush through it so everyone can get on with their lives.

    I do write down every gift/gift giver and write thank you notes. Also, I try to take a picture of any particularly excited reactions and/or comment specifically on the gift to the gift giver some time after the party in addition to thank you note, so I don't think they completely miss out on knowing what the reaction was. I do think it's totally rude when people open gifts after the party and don't write thank you notes OR don't even mention anything about the gift after the party.

    So yeah, I'm in the other camp on this one!

  2. I'm with Amanda. My opinion is I invited kids over to celebrate with my kids and not watch them open presents. I agree that it is boring for everyone except the recipient and I feel like they can't truly enjoy opening each present and looking at it, taking it out, etc. because we are rushing them to get to the next present because IT IS BORING FOR EVERYONE ELSE. I also agree about when you have the party at a venue - I paid good money for a gym party and we are going to wear every kid out! Now a lot of the times we have a really small party because I don't think my kids need 30 kids from school - that's too many people, too much money spent, too many presents for kids who have enough - so when it's just family and a few friends, yeah maybe we'll open, but I definitely am happier when our friends just take the presents home so that we can just enjoy the party!

  3. We have not yet had kid parties where we ask the guests to bring gifts. When we have family parties, we allow the kids to open the gifts as the guests arrive. So when Dave's parents arrive, the kids open the gift from them immediately, etc.

    With friends, we ask everyone to bring at least two toonies (our $2 coin) and one goes into a "gift" pot and one goes into a "donation" pot. Often these come with cards, so the kids just open it right away, as the guest hands it to them, and then the money gets divided evenly (read: handed to me for me to put into the appropriate spot).

    I don't like having gifts opened at parties because a)I don't care about the birthday kid's reaction and b) it takes too long. I have to keep my kids from getting restless while they watch the other kid open all these presents. And from our experience at Christmas, when a child receives too many presents at once, it is just overwhelming and they can't fully appreciate them.

    So yeah, add me as a voice to the opposing side. And I agree with Amanda, even though I'm a control freak, I don't think that's why I think "open them later." It has more to do with timing and "entertainment value." (These last two reasons are also why I HATE when people sign all the official documents during the wedding ceremony under the guise of "special music." It takes way too long and is B-O-R-I-N-G. We signed our documents after the ceremony. And we took pictures beforehand too (with just ten or fifteen minutes of candid shots post-ceremony) because we also felt the post-ceremony photos were a waste of time and boring for the guests. Sorry, big sidetrack there.)

  4. Strongly agree with commenters . . . please don't make us sit through the gift openings! It is awkward if there are duplicates, stressful for the child and child's parents, and yes, just plain boring. I feel much the same about wedding showers. Slightly more fun to see presents opened at baby showers but even that can be very awkward and tedious, especially with the number of guests people now invite to showers.

  5. I'm actually totally with Emily on this one. We've never had a huge number of guests, so boredom during gift opening was never really a problem. Plus, I wouldn't be offended if anybody wandered off if they did get bored.
    However, I do understand that having the party at a venue changes things, especially if you have a lot of guests.

    1. Hooray I'm not totally alone! I was beginning to feel like the last remaining person who was pro-gift-opening!