Is buying other kids birthday presents an act of kindness? Or just about competitive parenting and showing off?

It’s a tricky business, buying other people’s kids birthday presents – a political minefield of social etiquette and shameless ego-stroking.

It dawned on me this week, as I found myself in WH Smith, arms crammed with £30 worth of felt pens, which I intended to buy to help my five-year-old win the affections of a girl whose birthday party he was attending.

First, some clarification: it’s not me randomly matchmaking. My son is in love with this girl. Or at least, that’s what he says – because of her golden hair, and because she’s got the longest hair in his class.

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I asked the birthday girl’s mum what she would like for a present, to which she said colouring pens. Right, I thought, I’m going to get the most amazing fuck-off set of colouring pens of all time.

So off to Smiths I went. And I grabbed the lot: a colouring pad, a drawing pad, a set of 24  pens, and a second set of pens that make funny shapes.

Then suddenly I came to. Who is this for? The birthday girl, who at six-years-old would probably be happy with the shittest handful of crayons going? My son, who will take about a second’s notice (and lose interest in her once someone with longer or more golden hair turns up)?

Or is it for me to try and impress the birthday girl’s parents? Not only am I trying to prove my son, who can’t even do his shoes up, is a suitable suitor for their daughter by sending him round their house with some top-of-the-range felt tips, I’m trying to prove to them I’m a pretty incredible dad in the process. I understand what kids enjoy, yeah? I make an effort. I don’t mind spending a bit of coin. What a smug, self-satisfied git I’d become.

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Fortunately, I came to my senses. I put the fancy shape pens back, downsized the drawing pad from A3 to A4, and picked up some cheaper felts.

The whole politics of kids’ birthday presents has brought out the worst in me before – when receiving gifts at my own son’s party.

Let’s be honest here: you know who’s made an effort and who hasn’t; who’s splashed out of a half-decent Lego set and who’s grabbed the nearest bit of plastic shite out the reduced section, doomed to be chucked in the charity shop box the second your kid forgets about it.

(And I actually know too –as I spend at least 20 minutes a week in the local toy shop when I should be spending my money on proper grown up things, so I know exactly what’s on that reduced shelf, you tight buggers)

It’s terrible really, one of those abhorrent innermost secrets that us parents daren’t reveal to everyone else: we judge other parents on the quality of present they turn up with.

Consequently, buying other people’s kids birthday presents turned into some sort of competition – a pathetic display of bloke-ish, macho postulating as I tried to buy and bribe my way to being the bestest dad with the coolest toys.

They say it’s the thought that counts. The only thought I’ve got is that buying other kids birthday presents brings out the absolute worst in me.

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