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An Open Letter To Parents About Birthday Party Goody Bags

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By Vicki Little

I know this will come as a shock to some, and others will be appalled by the blaspheme I am about to spew, but here goes. I absolutely hate goody bags. I just really don’t understand the whole concept — although I have been guilty of partaking in the tradition because it seemed like the right thing to do. But after witnessing several kids at the last party ask the hostess for their treat bags, I have decided the whole thing has gone on far too long.

Why are we giving someone other than the birthday child a gift, anyway? Why do we feel the need to bribe other children to come to our child’s party and spend time with them? Whatever happened to the friend, the cake, and the party being reason enough to come? Giving kids a goody bag at the end is adding to the “participation trophy” thought. Being there for a friend simply to show they care isn’t enough anymore. Some friends feel entitled to their gift at the end of the party, simply for showing up.

Really, it teaches the wrong lesson. Welcome to the world where everyone expects something for doing very little more than they were born to do. Kids will eventually feel entitled to a prize simply for waking up each morning. And considering how much the Tooth Fairy is shelling out these days, I am not sure the household budget can handle another “prize.”

Then there is the issue that the majority of items in goody bags are not recyclable, which means landfills all over America are filling up because of these bags of temporary joy. Aren’t we giving the kids mixed messages? We join the Scout troop and clean up the neighborhood, we teach our kids to separate the recyclables into little colored bins that we leave on the curb to do our part, but then we just add more. More little pieces of plastic that will leave our great-grandchildren with a legacy of litter.

When did we become so obsessed with stuff anyway? We commiserate with one another over how cluttered our houses are and how many toys we trip over, but then, that same weekend, we give each other’s kids bagfuls of more stuff to trip on. We develop “rotating systems” where we pull out the winter toys along with the winter clothes. We re-gift items that our children have had for a year and never  opened, and we even sell stuff on social media sites! Wouldn’t it make more sense to have less, consume less, and thus have to get rid of less? Just think about how many poor little dinosaurs and one-blow bubble bottles will be saved from the land of broken and lost toys.

But even if we set all of that aside, we as parents aren’t doing ourselves any favors. The goody bags that my kids came home with last year averaged about $2 per bag. So if you estimate about 10 kids at a party, that is $20 we are literally throwing into the trash. Or $20 that we are spending to ultimately punish ourselves. Because I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I secretly keep track of the junk my kids come home with. Don’t worry Sally Sue’s Mom — I will put a kazoo in her goody bag to thank you for the clappy toy my daughter won’t stop playing with. And Jenny will be getting a big bag of sand (and not the kind that sticks together, either) in retalia…. I mean appreciation of the glitter that spilled out of the festive bag on my carpet.

Look, we all get insane about birthday parties. We want these parties to be awesome. We want our children to feel the love from a ridiculous amount of kids singing CHA-CHA-CHA during the birthday song. We want them to feel like the most popular kid in school whose parents throw such great birthday parties that everyone is dying for an invitation. And, at best, we only really have 10 birthday parties that we have some amount of control over before we are banished to the other room with some popcorn and a stern warning not to even think about bothering the party (other than to supply food, of course). But have you ever heard the “talk” on Monday about the weekend focus on what was in the goody bag? I haven’t. More likely, I have heard one mom complain to another how her kid cried for an hour in the car because his yo-yo was broken before he even played with it. Not….worth….it.

So really, I would prefer if you saved the money you’d normally spend on some plastic thing that I’ll toss when my children aren’t looking and instead use it to invite one more kid to the party (preferably the kid who is so shy he or she never gets invited to anything). Or put it in your child’s piggy bank. Even better, use it to buy the bottle of wine you are going to need when the party is over. Just don’t send my kid home with yet another un-recyclable bag filled with stuff they will lose or cry over when it breaks in an hour. Let’s start a new tradition of taking entitlement off the guest list.

Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. When she isn’t writing or trying to keep up with her kids she can be found volunteering, reading, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.

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  1. Lynnette
    January 23, 2016 @ 9:00 am

    My solution to the gift bag nonsense is a craft or painting table. Supplies like paper lunch bags, construction paper, sea shells, paper plates, cardboard tubes, boxes, pieces etc. All recyclable items if the artwork needs recycling some day. Googly eyes are fun to add too. I like to make a few examples, like paper bag puppets, to get the kids started. Other times I have clipped paper to the fence for painting where they remain until dry.

    These are open ended projects, not kits with predetermined outcomes. The kids love it! It can take a little coaxing with so many kids used to kits and pinterest perfection expectations.


  2. Kim
    January 23, 2016 @ 12:18 pm

    I totally agree with you. I too have been guilty of creating those little bags of horror for my kids parties all the time hating the idea of them, but you somehow felt you were required to do them. In the last few years I started giving out gift cards for frozen yogurt as a way around the plastic crap, but I like your idea much better about inviting one more kid who would really appreciate the invite. Teaching a valuable lesson of kindness and acceptance vs entitlement!


  3. Egbert Souse
    April 10, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

    I agree with you-most “goody bags” are full of dollar store crap. What annoys me even more is the “cha cha cha” during the birthday song. It makes me crazy (cha cha cha)


  4. Danielle
    April 11, 2016 @ 8:47 am

    I couldn’t have said this better myself. I also have been guilty of providing “goody” bags. Half the time I forget to hand them out. And yes the ones they bring home from other parties I usually end up throwing away.


  5. Stacy
    January 25, 2017 @ 11:47 am

    I personally, enjoy doing treat bags. My son enjoys giving his friends treats at the beginning of the parties. I was taught my Son to understand that it’s better to give than receive…


  6. Sylvia
    January 25, 2017 @ 1:48 pm

    It is amazing to me that Mothers who loved things as a child are now saying how bad they are because they don’t want to deal with it. It is just a little bag of fun! It is just like people who went trick or treating as a kid, then took their children out but when they got older they can’t stand to have children come to their house. We have become a society of no fun if it is an inconvenience to me.
    I am an old grandmother but I will never stop having fun and letting my grandchildren have fun!


  7. Chelsea
    January 25, 2017 @ 9:25 pm

    I completely agree about goody bags. They contribute to our culture of overconsumption and environmental waste and my kids only enjoy them for as long as the afternoon lasts. I’m not “no fun”, but these meaningless things are a waste of time, money and resources. I’ve done things like a single container of good bubbles or something homemade in the past. It satisfies the desire to offer a token to guests, is inexpensive, and is something I know will actually get used.


  8. Teri
    October 12, 2017 @ 7:40 am

    I don’t remember this stupid goodie bag tradition growing up. I hate goodie bags but feel obligated because of all the kids asking for them. When did it become not enough that I just spent a small fortune to include you in a fun venue, let you play with your friends and have a great time, and fed you. Isn’t the birthday child the one who gets a gift? Why do kids think they deserve a prize for coming? Especially irking is when attendees aren’t obligated to give gifts to the birthday child, come empty handed, but expect to get a gift when they leave – and the parents don’t even reprimand their children for requesting a goodie to-go in those situations.


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