In Defense of the Goodie Bag

I used to be one of those moms who complained about goodie bags. Giving them. Getting them. All goodie bags were created evil.

“Waste of time and money.”

“Too much plastic crap.”

“What’s up with giving the party guests presents?”

I said all this stuff and more once upon a time, but I’ve changed my thinking. Let’s rewind.

There’s an 18-year age difference between my first and second children. Yes, I know that’s a long time, and yes, there’s a story behind all that, but we’ll have to come back to that another time.

I could fill a book with how much parenting has changed during those 18 years. Maybe someday I’ll write that book, but back to the birthday party stuff…

Back in 1999, birthday parties were relatively simple affairs. The Internet was in its infancy, and I thought I was pretty fancy-pants because I could email. Pinterest hadn’t been invented and “ooh, that mom really went over the top” usually meant she got expensive candy for the piñata. You know, the good stuff parents held onto for “safekeeping.” Eating your kid’s candy at 9:00 P.M. while locked in the bathroom is safekeeping, right?

Back in the day, a “themed” party meant buying plates and napkins that matched whatever Disney character wished your kid Happy Birthday from the top of a cake you ordered from the grocery store. Invitations were fill-in-the-blank, and people freaking RSVPed back then…but that is also another story for another time.

Games and entertainment were simple: Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Duck, Duck Goose. Goodie bags were not “a thing.” I’m sure there were a few early-emerging, over-achieving moms who did them, but they weren’t the norm back then.

So I had a 10-year break from the kid birthday party circuit. Things have changed, friends.

We now have themes. It’s not unusual for a five-year-old’s birthdaypalooza to be luau- or rock band-themed. Thanks to Pinterest and the need to one-up each other, the possibilities are limitless. Custom cakes? Check. Professionally printed invitations? Check, check. Petting zoos, snow cone machines, and deejays? Check, check, check.

Today’s children’s birthday celebrations are nothing like the 1970s birthday parties my mom “planned.” She’d bust out the Duncan Hines and let me lick the beaters. No one back then worried about their kid ingesting uncooked eggs. She smoked Salems while she told my dad where to Scotch tape the balloons and crepe paper. Entertainment consisted of my friends and me playing freeze tag in the backyard while my mom sat on the patio with the other moms, smoking more Salems, sipping Nestea, and ignoring us. I’m pretty confident she didn’t stay up late the night before worrying if my party would be a success.

But things are different now.

When my two youngest kids started getting birthday party invites, I quickly came to dislike those little plastic bags that were handed out as everyone was leaving. These bags contained gobs of candy my kids didn’t need after loading up on cake, pizza, and fruit punch for three hours. Plastic spider rings and little tiny trucks that will end up buried in the carpet fibers, waiting for my bare toes to make that painful middle-of-the-night contact. Nuggets of junk to be ingested by my vacuum. Pencils out the wazoo—seriously, I haven’t purchased pencils since 2013. Rubber bracelets. Miscellaneous other cheap junk that will cause fights among kids and choke small animals.

I hated those goodie bags.

Have you ever tried to hustle your kids out the door empty-handed? Have you ever actually tried to bypass the goodie bags? I’ll tell you what happens: the birthday kid’s mom yells, “YOU FORGOT YOUR GOODIE BAG!” at a decibel level heard in the next county, because no way is that crap staying at her house when she can push it off on you.

If you manage to actually evade the goodie bag and make it to the car? Your kid will suddenly remember that all parties come with a goodie bag and cry because he doesn’t want to be the only kid inthewholewideworld without a Power Ranger pencil. You’ll turn the car around and try to pretend you legitimately forgot. You’ll endure knowing smirks from the other moms who knew exactly what little stunt you were trying to pull.

So when it came time to host our own parties, I was adamant that we’d be goodie bag free. My husband agreed, probably because that’s usually the safest option in our house.

I didn’t do goodie bags for our first “invite the whole class” party. Most of the kids (and one mom) asked for them, and my “sorry, sweetie, we don’t have goodie bags, but thank YOU for coming” sounded less and less chirpy each time I said it.

“Why don’t I have goodie bags at my party?” asked my birthday boy.

I distracted him by pointing him in the direction of his large pile of new toys. It worked.

Until the following year.

We were walking to school the day before my son’s sixth birthday. He told me how excited he was about his party.

“Me too, sweetie,” I lied.

I mean, 15 kids were coming to my house the following day. That’s not exciting, that’s terrifying.

“I can’t wait to hand out the goodie bags to all my friends,” he continued as he skipped along the sidewalk toward the crossing guard.

Wait, what?

To make a long story short, I caved. I made a quickie detour and slapped together bags of candy and tiny plastic toys that the other moms would probably gripe about. Because I wanted to make my kid happy.

Maybe he’s a true giver.

Maybe he sees goodie bags as the status quo. Maybe he just wants to belong.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Maybe tiny bits of plastic that will be lost in 20 minutes or less make kids happy. Maybe a cup filled with candy makes kids happy (because of course it does). Maybe being the hander-outer of stuff the other kids like is cool and fun…and makes them happy.

I just don’t have the energy to fight the battle of the goodie bags. Now that I’ve succumbed to goodie bags being a part of our lives—or at least part of our parties—I’ve learned I can’t please everyone. Someone will find fault. The food allergy moms or the “my kid isn’t allowed to have sugar” moms turn their nose up at the candy. The Kon Mari mom purses her lips at the plastic rocket ships and the erasers shaped like planets (that don’t actually work to get rid of errant pencil marks.)

Oh well.

Do I love getting bags of stuff that makes my kids hyper or that will hurt when I step on it? No.

Do I love putting together goodie bags for my kids’ parties? I kind of do. It makes my kids happy. Like many of the things they enjoy, this has a shelf life. In a few years I’ll have eye-rolling tweens and who probably won’t find magic in handing out 87-cent cups of junky toys and candy to their friends. Maybe this is one of the little things I’ll miss.

Sometimes, it’s the little things that count. Seeing the joy in my kids’ faces as their grubby hands pass a goodie bag into the waiting hands of a friend? Maybe that’s worth disassembling the vacuum to fish out that tiny little plastic whatchamabob.

Maybe there are bigger things to get bent out of shape about.

Parenting sure has changed. Or maybe it’s just me.

Maybe I have changed.

Jill Robbins is a wannabe wine snob and lazy runner. She moved to San Antonio when she was 18 months old, so she considers herself a native. She has a degree in social psychology, which so far has been unhelpful in understanding the behavior of her husband and three children. Jill writes about adoption, motherhood, and midlife on her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals, and freelances for various magazines and websites such as The Huffington Post, She Knows, Babble and Scary Mommy. She is the Director/Producer of Listen to Your Mother: San Antonio, a live show featuring readings about motherhood. You can follow Jill on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. My daughter recently had an Alice in Wonderland themed party with her friends (her 13th bday) and the goody bags she handed out were simple. They contained a cupcake that said “eat me” on it and a small glass bottle of lemonade with a tag that said “drink me”. It was a sleep over party so the party cake had been eaten the night before. Simple, easy and no crappy plastic stuff.

  2. I have done things like small lego sets instead of a goodie bag… our Shoot! Parties send kids home with their own safety glasses… go with something just not too much!

  3. I hate goodie bags so much — in fact I hate birthday parties. SO much. My kids only have them when they are 5 and 10 and when they make First Communion. That’s it. Because I am cheap. and I frigging hate goody bags.

    Unless they contain tootsie rolls because that’s my favorite thing.

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