Over the years, I have planned more than my share of children’s birthday parties. When my children were younger, the parties we attended were quite extravagant and so I admit, I followed suit. Custom designed or hand-made invitations were mailed to guests that often did not know my child. Gourmet food was ordered in amounts enough to feed a small country. Elaborate cakes were delivered that were more detailed than my wedding cake. Specialty ordered goodie bags took days to assemble. And the pile of generous gifts was more than I had room to store.
But as my children grew (and I got a bit wiser), extravagance was exchanged for elegant minimalism. My children took part-ownership of the event and I was more than happy to share the burden. Evite eliminated the need for hand delivered, custom made invitations. The guest list consisted of children they knew (at least mostly). The private chef catering was substituted with pizza. The three-tiered cake was replaced by cupcakes. And the goodie bags became more reasonable. Nevertheless, I struggled with how to make such an extravagant day a truly meaningful life experience. How do you overindulge your child on their birthday and still teach them to be compassionate, thoughtful individuals? How do show them to appreciate the beauty of celebrating without losing sight of reality? In essence, how do you ensure they don’t become spoiled little brats?
Early on, I encouraged them to write their own guest list. I regularly got a list of their 5 “best friends.” And though I would have been delighted to entertain such a small group, this generally led to a conversation about proper hosting etiquette. We talked about the parties they had attended, and the kindness shown through returned invitations. We talked about the long lost friend, and how happy she would likely feel to be included. We even talked about the annoying nose picker who sat in the back of the class, and how hurtful it would be to be the only one left out. And we talked about how we felt when we were not included in a friend’s party.
One year, my daughter asked for the all too expensive American Girl doll as a birthday present. It would have been easy for me to walk in to the store, pick out her look alike doll, assemble a trunk full of clothes and accessories and leave it by her bedside the morning of her birthday. But instead, I saw this as an opportunity to instill the value of money while teaching her to recognize her good fortune by doing something for someone else. We agreed that she would purchase the doll herself with her birthday money….AND…. that all the toys she received as gifts would be donated to a local hospital. She was very excited about our plan, and she passionately explained to all her friends that she would be donating their gifts. Both she and I vividly remember the day of this special purchase. After browsing the endless display of options and choosing her doll, she plopped herself on the floor and began counting her dollar bills. She waltzed over to the register with pride and beamed as she handed HER money to the cashier. Because she was so invested in purchasing the doll, it played a special part in her childhood. To this day, it sits in the closet amid piles of toys and games. When asked if she is ready to part with it, she hesitates and says, “When we find the right person to give it to.” I am confident things would have been quite different if it had been given to her amid a pile of never-ending gifts.
Some years, the pile of generous gifts is more than we can possibly play with. After the exhausting task of going through all the gifts, they choose a handful of items they would like to share with someone less fortunate. By giving something up, we shift the focus from acquiring material possessions to showing compassion amid our own good fortunate. We have visited hospitals and charitable organizations where their donations have been warmly welcomed.
We are blessed to live comfortable lives where our children can celebrate their birthdays in over abundance. But it is important to take the time and reflect on what is really significant. How can we take this special day, and make it more meaningful by giving back while we receive. It really is not that difficult; we just need to change our frame of mind and let our MomAbility guide us.