Ask the Moms: Multiples and Birthday Party Etiquette

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Categories Ask the Moms, Birthdays, Multiple SolutionsTags , , 13 Comments

For party throwers | For party goers

Mother of triplets Jenn reached out us with this question:

My triplets are turning 5 and would like to have a party inviting their classroom friends.  They are in the same class.  I cannot expect every guest to bring 3 gifts. I know you mentioned NO presents as an option but at 5 they are really looking forward to having their first birthday party with not just family but friends too and being able to open their classmates’ gifts!

I’m sure that this cannot be an uncommon problem for mothers of multiples!

Jenn, we’re so glad you asked about this. It’s not just a quandary for the parents throwing the party for multiples, but a common question for the parents of singleton guests too! There’s also the matter of attending a singleton’s party with your multiples. Are you expected to give a separate gift from each child, or is it okay to give one from the family?

When You’re Throwing a Party for Your Birthday Children

Above all, be considerate of your guests as Jenn is being. If you know that every guest you have invited has the resources to give extravagant gifts to each child and that is your community expectation, good for you. For most of us, that’s not the case.

Talk to your children ahead of time and explain to them that the real gift is their friends’ presence. They shouldn’t express disappointment at gifts, even if they feel it, and they should be certain to say “Thank you.” You may need to explain that this is one of the challenges of being a multiple. Sharing a birthday means sharing gifts. Or sharing a birthday means not sharing gifts. Set the expectation that works for your family.

Some possible variations include:

  • One gift per guest family per set of multiples.
  • One gift per guest family per birthday child.
  • One gift per guest child per set of multiples.
  • One gift per guest child per birthday child.

We generally discourage that last option. Imagine that you have triplets and you’ve invited triplets to their party. Nine gifts from one family to another is unnecessary, expensive, and will likely go under-appreciated by the overwhelmed recipient children.

Take your multiples’ relationship into account

Do your twins or triplets share all their toys? They would probably enjoy shared gifts.

Do they have a strong independent streak and enjoy keeping their possessions separate? They would appreciate less elaborate individualized gifts.

Do your multiples insist that everything always be fair and equal? It may be simplest to keep gift-giving within the family and invite guests not to bring gifts or to bring donations for the local library or food pantry instead.

Mention gifts in the invitation

This invitation demonstrates twin birthday party etiquette, with the multiples specifying that a single gift is appropriate.Eliminate discomfort on the part of your guests by specifying your gift expectations in the invitation. It can feel tacky to ask for gifts, but it’s better than leaving guests wondering if they need to bring a gift per child or not.

Consider wording your invitation with something like, “We request only your presence, but if you must bring presents, limit your family to one gift for the birthday girls to share!” You’re not asking for things, but you are setting a one-gift expectation for guest families. Then, your triplets can go round robin on opening the gifts to keep things fair!

If your kids have separate friends, perhaps because they’re in different classes, you could write something like “You are being invited to Twin A and Twin B’s party as Twin B’s honoured guest. Twin A is not expecting a gift from you!”

Creative solutions

There are several ways to provide guidance to party guests on what to give as a gift to keep things easy and equal.

Jenna did a “5 and 5 party” for her son. Each friend brought $10. $5 went to charity, specifically the local children’s hospital. He used his $5 to choose a toy and picked a new train for his train set after the party. Most kids also brought a card or picture for him.

Beth and Sadia have been to or thrown book exchange parties. Each child comes to the party with one age appropriate, gender neutral, wrapped book. The birthday girls’ parents brought a few extras, just in case someone forgot.  Everyone, including the birthday girls, leaves with one wrapped book. This approach has the perk of avoiding the need for pesky goodie bags!

Build an activity center. In your invitation, let your guests know that you’re building an art center, kitchen center, or dress up center and that you’d appreciate contributions towards it. As we suggested above, have the kids take turns opening gifts. Mom and dad can open any remainder to ensure that each kid gets to open the same number of gifts.

Dana often suggests family presents for her twins’ birthdays. These are things like be board games, a collection of books, or art supplies.

Sadia’s daughters have requested canned goods for the food pantry instead of gifts, after discovering the hard way that many people feel uncomfortable arriving at birthday parties completely empty-handed. MandyE always adds a “no gifts, please” note at the bottom of her invitations. Her daughters have gotten some really great cards over the years instead of gifts and love opening them!

When You’re Attending a Party with Your Multiples

Within the multiples community

If you’re part of a close-knit multiples community, as MandyE and Jen Wood are, you’ll probably notice that there are norms in place regarding birthday gifts from twins to twins or higher order multiples. Just ask one of the other moms.

Jen Wood is a playgroup with 7 sets of twins within a year of her kids. They’ve always brought one gift per birthday kid. They also received one gift per birthday kid from each other “set” of friends. If they didn’t share a birthday they wouldn’t be expected to share a gift.

When MandyE goes to parties for multiples, she usually has her girls make a handmade card for each kid and does a larger family gift.

Sadia’s daughters usually give a gift to each birthday multiple unless they know that the multiples in question like to share their clothes and toys. In that case, they will do a more elaborate gift to all the birthday kids. Her twins’ great aunt, who has triplets, always gets the twins coordinating but non-identical pajamas from her whole family.

Gifts for singletons

There’s no hard and fast rule here. Take the size of your family and your financial and time resources into account. This isn’t just an issue for multiples. We don’t imagine that large families should feel obligated to bring a gift from each child who attends a party when siblings are invited.

When MandyE and her daughters go to singleton parties, she lets each of her girls choose a gift. Sadia tends to bring a single gift to singleton birthday kids from the whole family.

On the one occasion that her daughters brought separate gifts, the birthday girl’s mom noticed and mentioned her surprise. In this case, Sadia’s daughters felt that they had individual relationships with the birthday girl rather than being her “twin friends.” They felt very strongly that they wanted to give gifts as individuals.

Twin birthday party etiquette

The truth is that there is no universal standard on how many gifts twins should give or receive. It falls on the multiples’ parents to set expectations for their own family and their guests. Take into consideration the relationships between the children involved, whether they function more as individuals or as a set. Remember that being there to celebrate the birthday child or children is more important than the gift you bring. It really is the thought that counts.

How do you navigate the murky waters of birthday parties with multiples?

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Friendships Between Twins

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I mentioned in my last post that we would be throwing a combined birthday party with another set of twins from my daughters’ classes. It went swimmingly. I had a great time, and it seemed that everyone else did too.
3 sets of identical twins and a little boy pose over a birthday cake

As luck would have it, the first guests to arrive were the other birthday girls’ cousins, who happen to also be identical twins. This happens to be the first photo I took but features no fewer than 3 sets of identical girl twins, plus one little brother.

My third reaction to the picture after a smile and an “Awww, how cute!” is to ponder how rare it is. I’ve seen statistics putting identical twins at 0.4% of all births. The girls in the photo, though, have no awareness of being part of a rare phenomenon. Some people just come in pairs, in their reality.

My girls have a number of twin friends. I’m partly responsible. I can’t help being drawn to other parents who face similar joys and challenges to the ones in my life. Chance meetings turn into play date arrangements and play dates turn into friendships. The girls in the picture are among the first twins my daughters have befriended outside my influence. After all, I don’t control who they hang out with at public school. M and J also became close friends with classmates in kindergarten, two boys who are identical twins. We don’t get to see HDYDI’s Tracey’s boys as often as we’d like to, but J and M talk about often and consider them close friends.

My girls definitely notice when their friends are twins. They use the word “twins” when describing their friends to me for the first time. They have a number of friends in after school care who are fraternal twins, but I’ve noticed that in those cases, they’re usually much closer to one sibling than another.

I recall a conversation I had with my daughters when they were 4. We’d run into a friend from my Mothers of Multiples group, along with her young boy/girl twins. When I pointed out that they, too, were twins, one of my daughters said, “No they’re not! They’re not the same.” When I dug a little deeper, she said that twins had to be the same gender. I got the impression that twins, to her, were identical only.

Now, at age 7, my daughters certainly accept fraternal twins into the fold, but they clearly feel a deeper connection to other identical twins. I wonder how it would be different to fraternal twins. I only know the identical experience in any depth.

Do your kids have an awareness of being multiples? Are they friends with others? Are they drawn towards twins of the same “type” as themselves?

Sadia is raising her 7 year-old girls in the Austin, TX area. She is divorced and works in higher ed information technology. She is originally from the UK and Bangladesh, but has lived in the US since college.

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Birthday(s) for Two

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“I’m going to be 7 tomorrow,” J called out to me as she skipped to the bathroom to brush her teeth for bed last Thursday. “It’s a little magical!”

It’s more than a little magical. I could swear that it was last week that I was bringing J home from the NICU to be reunited with her sister M after 5 days apart. It was about an hour ago that the girls were teething. It can’t have been more than 5 minutes since I heard them read out loud to me for the first time.

But 7 they are. It was 7 years ago that my water broke at 33 weeks gestation. I’m afraid that if I blink, they’ll be running off to college.

Party Time

I’d better wait on that blink, because I have a 7th birthday party to plan and execute. I got an unexpected reprieve from the insanity that is the month of May. I learned that the other set of twin girls in my daughters’ classes was going to have their birthday party at exactly the same time that I was planning M and J’s. I gladly generously offered to delay our party until June, after the end of the school year. A few days later, the other twins’ mom texted me to suggest a combined birthday party. Brilliant! (Except that I’m still going to throw a separate party for J and M’s friends who aren’t in their class. They’ve been talking up their party for so long that I just can’t not invite their dance friends and neighbours, but I’m not going to explode the size of the party my friend has been anticipating for her daughters.)

I used to worry about birthdays. I’m an excellent worrier. How, I wondered during the pregnancy and throughout that first year, would I make each of my daughters feel birthday special when that celebration of uniqueness was yet another thing she has to share with Sissy? I made a point of singing Happy Birthday to each child separately. No “Happy Birthday, J and M,” for us! Each girl got her own birthday cake. I got them different, but coordinated birthday presents. This year will be different. All four birthday girls will share a cake. Each of them gets her own Number 7 candle. We’re celebrating the fact that each pair shares a birthday. That’s pretty special in its own right, and all four girls are thrilled to get to share their celebration with their friends as well as their sister.

My friend B sent me into a tailspin a few years ago. She wrote to our mothers of multiples group asking whether and how she should let her twin sons’ friends know that they were twins. She would be having separate birthday parties for each of them since they didn’t have classmates in common. She didn’t want the guests to feel awkward when they discovered there were two birthday boys. Separate birthday parties! I vowed then and there that if my girls wanted separate parties, they could throw them themselves. I’m a pretty simple girl when it comes to parties. I tend to request that guests not bring presents. “Presence, not presents,” I say. If people must bring something, we’ve asked for donations for the local good pantry. I make a bunch of food, invite a ton of people to a park or other open space, and let the party run itself.

Birth Detail

M and J have been terribly excited about this birthday as they’ve watched friend after friend turn 7 at school. J was quite literally counting down the hours on Thursday evening.

“Mommy, what time was I born?”

“6:33 am,” I told her.

“M!! We were born at 6:33 am! We’ll be 7 in 10 hours and how many minutes?”

Who-was-born-first strikes again. Couldn’t I just have said, “6:30?” Still, it was rather nice to know that both my girls consider their birth(s) to be a singular event. Clearly, they have no problem with a shared birthday. The whole multiple thing is really very special, and my daughters are old and wise enough to know it. They’re wiser than I am.

“J, you were born at 6:33. The doctor had to hand you to some nurses before he could take M out of me. She came out at 6:35, so she was technically born at 6:35.”

M, the master of precision, clarified. “So, it took one minute to give J to the nurses, 30 seconds to come back, and 30 seconds to get me?”

“Something like that.”

“So,” said the always mathematical M, “we have 10 and a half hours left to be 6. I’m so excited to be getting 7! I think I act pretty mature, like a 7-year-old.”

“Except you giggle about farts,” J responded.

And they fell into a giggling mass of almost-7-year-old.

Do you do anything to individualize the birthday experience for your multiples?

Sadia overthinks her parenting decisions in Austin, TX, where she takes a break from single mommyhood by going to her full time job in higher education information technology.

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Birthday Party Quandary

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J was just invited to her first birthday party since we moved to El Paso. The invitation came from a classmate. I assume the entire class was invited, since this was J’s first week in the class.

Even before I read the invitation, I reminded M that this was one of the things that was going to different, now that she and her sister were in different classrooms. They wouldn’t always be invited to the same parties any more. She was fine with that.

When I looked at the invitation, though, it was addressed to “Fam. J”.

Should I take M to the party, or leave her at home? There was no RSVP information, so I can’t ask the birthday girl’s parents. I’ve never dealt with this etiquette issue before.

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Happy Birthday

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Next month, my babies will turn one. About a dozen of our family members, and a handful of my friends will celebrate their big day with us. Their party will be at our house, with a potluck lunch, strategically scheduled around nap time. There will be balloons from the dollar store on the front fence, quilts on the ground and a washtub of iced down cokes.  I plan on making their cakes, and can’t wait to see their expressions as they dive into their yummy treats.  Honestly, this party is as much about Jay and I surviving our first year of parenthood,  as it is about our little ones!

Our party will be simple. Family. Food. Cake. Play. And it won’t cost me more than any other party we have ever hosted…unless you count the balloons. That is why, it totally floors me when I heard a recent report on the news about lavish parties for kids. I watched the report with my mouth gaping…the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a one year old’s birthday party?! Tens of thousands?! Not in this house, not in this lifetime.

I have wonderful memories of my birthdays as a kids…I clearly remember my receiving my first big girl bike (a Strawberry Shortcake one), hiding under the table at Chuck E Cheese when the animals came out to sing to me, inviting my now-step-dad to my rollerskating party. My family surprised me with a special sweet 16 party, and a surprise party at 18.  But none of these parties were over the top. They were quite modest, with a few balloons, homemade cakes, and the same “Happy Birthday!” banner, every year.

Parenting is competitive. And the competitiveness starts early, with talk of how much weight we gained during pregnancy, which carseat we registered for, and of course, the method of delivery. Seriously? I don’t buy it. Why should I be competing against other mom’s? Other mom’s aren’t me. I am me. And to be honest, I think there are more mom’s like me, who value family over things, time over money, and the simple pleasures of an ordinary life over celebrity hype.

So, will I feel badly about not having a $50, 000 first birthday party? Um, no. Not even close. I think for now, I will just spend my party planning thinking about where I am going to put everyone if it happens to rain!

 

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