The Birthday Party Tradition You Should Absolutely Stop Doing

published Jun 1, 2022
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There’s a scene in the first season of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel that I can’t forget. (No, it’s not what you’re thinking!) Miriam and her BFF Imogene are sitting around her coffee table, gossiping and filling goodie bags for Miriam’s soon-to-be-four-year-old’s birthday party. Miriam’s father Abe enters the scene, flabbergasted by the sheer volume of toys. “What is all this? This is too much for him!” She explains it’s for the kids who attend the party. “If everyone gets a gift it’ll keep the screaming down.” Abe launches into one of his signature diatribes, finally declaring with disappointment, “You’re not preparing these kids for the real world.” The women return to their task, realizing that they’re doubling up on gum in some bags, mixing up the separate girls and boys favors, where are the marbles, who’s doing the candy cigarettes?! Abe returns, recommending an assembly line approach for the many, many components intended for each bag. “Thank you for the industrial education, Papa!” quips Miriam.

Part of the charm of Mrs. Maisel is seeing how far social norms have changed since the 1960s, and how Midge herself both embraces and challenges them with her signature humor. And yet, this scene of women stressing over goodie bags while the patriarch delegates from the sidelines would not be out of place today.

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Goodie Bags

It’s totally baffling to me that over 60 years later we’re still stuck on this piece of party “etiquette.” I’ll be frank: I don’t like goodie bags. I don’t like the expectation and obligation, the focus on giving and receiving as a sign of gratitude, the small plastic toys that either get left in my car or on the floor of my living room where I inevitably step on them.

It’s unlikely four-year-olds really appreciate a reusable canvas tote hand-stamped with a custom designed logo and stuffed with eco-friendly art supplies, vegetable dyed souvenir t-shirts, and organic, locally grown fruit leather. While parents may appreciate the thought, can I offer a gentle reminder? Kids’ birthday parties are for their enjoyment. It’s easy to get caught up in the momentum, but the point isn’t for you to impress the other parents.

In nearly 15 years of parenting I have never, not once, done goodie bags. I’ve yet to be shunned by other parents, and their kids keep coming back every year.

Maybe you’re more on Miriam’s level, stuffing loot bags as a bribe for decent behavior. Or maybe you’re just filling flimsy Paw Patrol bags with Target trinkets because you feel like you’re supposed to do it. I beg you, please stop! No one should be operating off of the demands of a kindergartener just to keep the screaming down. Kids don’t need a take-home bag with a harmonica, paddle ball, plastic dinos, marble maze, and food-shaped erasers any more than this world needs more disposable plastic stuff. And you certainly don’t need any more things on your to-do list.

I am a big birthday person and love celebrating my kids on their day. Over the years I have rented a bouncy house, bought enough burgers and pizza for a major metropolitan area, and made countless party snacks. I’ve baked dozens of cakes the preferred flavor of the birthday kid, hosted gaggles of giggling girls for sleepovers, cleaned the house before and after everyone comes and goes. But in nearly 15 years of parenting I have never, not once, done goodie bags. I’ve yet to be shunned by other parents, and their kids keep coming back every year.

Skip the extra work and save the money for takeout when you’re totally wiped that evening after hosting. Bonus points: serve the kids the leftover party pizza and get something special for a well-deserved moment alone. An extra slice of sheet cake for dessert is, well, the icing on the cake.