Avoid guest discomfort by acknowledging how you want gifts for your multiples handled at their birthday party/parties.

Ask the Moms: Multiples and Birthday Party Etiquette

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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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Beth was happily raising her now 4 year old daughter and planning for one more, when the doctor said that he saw 2 good sacs. Her boy girl twins we born at 35 weeks - he naturally, easily, after 4 pushes. His drama queen sister turned transverse and then her placenta separated, leading to her delivery by c-section (with Beth under general anesthesia). Thanks to post delivery eclampsia, Beth met her twins when they were 26 hours old. Now those days are just a memory and the twins are crazy and funny. Crawling all over the house chasing big sister, reading books, knocking over towers and cuddling are favorite activities. Beth's challenge is to balance a preschooler, 1 year old twins, her DIY obsession, and a full time job as a college professor, while finding time to occasionally vacuum to feed her OCD side. Beth blogs at Pickles in my Tea and in my Soup.

14 thoughts on “Ask the Moms: Multiples and Birthday Party Etiquette”

  1. Until my girls started preschool, all of our kid-friends were from our MoMs’ group. One year we all pooled together and rotated around to buy a larger gift for the birthday family. It worked because we all knew each other so well, and it was nice to be able to give a larger “family” gift without breaking any individual banks.

  2. This is related, but different. How do you handle planning parties for your multiples if they want different things? Different location or different themes? I don’t mind inviting different friends, last year we let our 5- year – olds each pick three friends to invite. This year, we wanted to give them the choice of a family outing or a party. But if they pick differently, we’re not sure how that would work. Would only one boy get to invite friends? Getting to make their own choice would be a perk of being a singleton, but I don’t know how to follow through.

    1. I would think it depends on your sons’ relationship with each other. Do they willingly and happily compromise with each other? Could you ask them to decide together how they would like to celebrate their birthday? Or would that simply lead to bickering and anguish? My girls like to make decisions like this together even if I encourage them to consider different options.

      Given that you are entertaining the thought of them wanting different celebration styles, I’m assuming that your boys are more independent of each other. What if you assign them each a weekend around their birthday for an individualized birthday celebration and then allow each of them to choose how to celebrate on his own day?

      1. Thanks for the feedback! My boys are fairly independent from each other, but sometimes pick opposite choices just to be contrary. We were worried that one boy would pick trip and one boy would pick party so that they’d get both. And then whoever didn’t pick party would be upset at not getting to pick friends for the party. I asked them today though (their birthday is in March), and their preliminary decision is to agree on a trip, add long as they also get cake. :-)

    1. One easy solution is an experiential gift, like going to a favorite restaurant and then watching a movie. Let us know what you decide!

  3. My 6 year old twins are having 2 separate parties. The one that was born 1st will have his friends at his party one weekend and the other will have his friends another weekend.

  4. I have a set of twins that just graduated from high school and will be throwing a graduation party for them. My dilemma is that we are invited for to several parties for their close friends, is it ok to give 25.00 per friend or should I give double being that they are invited to our party or maybe increase it to 30 or 40 so that the others will split the amount I got gave for each one of my boys?

    1. I think that whatever works within your budget is acceptable. High school graduation is an expensive time. $25 per friend sounds very generous. A photo frame with a nice photo of the friend with your kids is an affordable and thoughtful option.

  5. My 3 year old twin boys go to the same daycare, but different classrooms. One boy got an invitation from a classmate. What do I do? They have never done anything separate, one always goes where the other one does. Would it be ok to bring both? Should I call the mom and ask? Should I just not go? I dont want to make one sad because his brother came home talking about a birthday party that he did not go.
    And if we decide to not go, do I need to send a gift?

    1. There is no need to send a gift to a party you don’t attend. It might be worth speaking to the parents. Just say, “You probably don’t know this, but little Joe has a twin brother. May I bring them both to the party? If not, that’s quite okay.” If it’s a location where the hosts have to pay an entry fee, offer to cover the cost of one of your boys.

  6. Hi,I read your blog named “Ask the Moms: Multiples and Birthday Party Etiquette | How Do You Do It?” regularly.Your humoristic style is awesome, keep doing what you’re doing! And you can look our website about proxy server list.

  7. Hi,
    If you received doubled giftcards, is there a way to return one in thank you note saying that you are keeping one as you appreciate them. What would I say in Thank you note and return the one giftcard back. Is there a nice way to word it in Thank you note?

  8. my daughter is turning 16 and my husband’s family has a formal party. I feel like my twin boy should be honored for his birthday too as this will be family and joint friends. Was thinking of putting a card in the invite saying he is turning 16-don’t forget to wish him happy birthday too. Thoughts?

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