Birthdays have a way of bringing out the little kid in you. I've had 48 of them but I still feel excited when my day approaches.
Why do we celebrate birthdays? Although life is a gift to be celebrated every day, a birthday is an excuse to purposely focus on the birthday person once a year on his day. We celebrate the fact that we love him, that God has granted him life to this milestone, and to note his growth and achievements.
We have to constantly work at a balance between teaching our children "You're SO special" and "You're not THAT special". Granted if my husband and I erred, it was on the "You're so special" side. You could do far less than we did and still have a confident, happy child.
We can put ourselves through a lot of stress and spend a lot of money throwing birthday parties for children but does it accomplish what we want it to accomplish? You would probably come out cheaper to just skip the party and buy all the gifts yourself that would have been given. If all of your friends' and siblings' kids have parties every year, you are spending way too much time shopping, wrapping, and attending parties and spending way too much money to help children become materialistic. A birthday is a special day but it is not a national holiday. Let's not convince the children that they are the center of the universe. They need a sense of reality. Otherwise, special things become commonplace to them and that robs them of joy.
My husband and I varied the type of birthday celebration purposely for several reasons. There were things we wanted our children to experience while they lived in our home. To incorporate it into their birthday celebration killed two birds with one stone from the financial and effort/time point of view. To celebrate different ways made it fresh rather than just another birthday party. We do not like to ask people for money and inviting a child to your child's birthday party is asking for money. Our children got that fun when they were four in a big way and at other birthdays in small ways. We wanted our children to know that celebrations were not just about gimme gimme. They had their special birthdays to look forward to and they saw that we were completely fair to all of them, yet we fit the celebration to each child.
The children also learned budgeting with our spacing of the birthday celebrations. A trip is much more expensive than a party or big gift so they understood that trips were rare. By taking some years off, we were able to afford the trips. The progression marked time and ages as we saw that it was time for each one's special birthday.
We had a special birthday celebration every three years. If we had had more children, this may have been more than we could handle but it worked well for us. Since we knew 1, 10, 13, and 16 would be big birthdays, we filled in the gaps with 4 and 7 and it made perfect sense.
🍰 1st birthday
We invited grandparents for cake and presents. We let the baby eat his cake however he wanted. (Of course everyone wanted to see him put his hand in his cake and make a mess. It was funny to see the personalities come out even at one year old. The first born would hardly touch it, the second child played in it and ate it with her hands, and the final child made a colossal mess!) There's no need to do too much for this birthday. The child will not remember it and has no understanding of what things cost. Most of the money you spend will be for the adults' enjoyment. You'd about as well grill steaks for the adults and give the baby a piece of cake, a birthday hat, and a squeaky toy. Everyone will be as happy as could be while celebrating the first of what you hope and pray are many birthdays to come.
🎉 4th birthday
By this time, the child has lots of little friends and having a big themed party is very exciting to them. This is a good age for a party because you are not asking too much since gifts for a four year old are simple and inexpensive. Be sure to have plenty of adult supervision. Every child that attends will have almost as much fun as the birthday child and will hopefully get their money's worth out of the gift they purchased. Fit the theme to the child. Our first child is Colton, named for his paternal grandmother Cole, so we had an Ole King Colton party. Our daughter had a dress-up party and our youngest had a fire engine party.
✈️ 7th birthday
At the 7th birthday, the child may still have the toys he got for his 4th birthday. He's getting old enough for an adventure. For the 7th birthday, each of our children went on a flight with Dad since I had other kids to care for and Jeff likes flying more than I do. This plan also worked to nurture a bond with Dad during an age when a bond with Mom comes naturally. We chose the Grand Canyon for the first child because it is so iconic and so our airplane-enamored boy would have a nice long flight. (I did not know that there are not protective rails all around the Grand Canyon. I am still thanking God for His protection!) At the time of our daughter's 7th birthday, her new girl cousin was born in Florida so they flew to visit her. The youngest got a couple of days at Disney since he was a toddler the last time we went.
🎁 10th birthday
By the 10th birthday, it's time for a big gift since the child is transitioning from little child to teen. There is usually some big item that would be nice for them to have by this time. Our first child got a treehouse. It cost more than we would have spent on a birthday gift so it was part of his Christmas, too (they are a month apart). We also knew that the younger two would get many years of use from the treehouse. Our daughter got a desk and our youngest got an art table. They had a few friends over for cake.
🔎 13th birthday
We had a scavenger hunt with 3-4 friends for this birthday and it was so much fun! It was fun for me to create the clues and to watch the children solve them, and it was lots of fun for the kids. They love solving riddles at this age. I came up with this idea when I made a few riddles for the boys to solve as a game at our first child's 10th birthday. They found prizes after the final clue. They had so much fun with it that I knew they would love a more involved scavenger hunt for the 13th birthday party. Once they came up with the right answer, we would drive them to that place for the next clue. There was lots of laughter at these parties.
👪 16th birthday
At this age, friends are a huge part of a child's life and they spend a lot of time with them so the final birthday celebration was a trip for just the birthday child and his Mom and Dad. He is getting close to leaving home at this age and is old enough to enjoy the trip, understand the sacrifice you are making just to celebrate him, and remember it in detail. It is a great time to single out that child from his siblings, and to show him how very much he means to you and that there is a big world out there. We knew our theatre- and concert-loving child would love New York City (We had no idea how much!), but the next child was into photographing scenic places and athletic activities so we took her to a mountain resort that included all of that called The Homestead in Virginia. Our third child is a mix of the two so we will see where we take him next year.
The next few years are monumental but the child will very likely be at college when he celebrates them unless he has a summer birthday. Money is usually more scarce with a child in college anyway and the kids mature to the point of realizing that all they really want is time with friends and family for their birthdays.
18th--become an official adult
19th--last teen year
20th--begin new (first adult) decade
This schedule meant that the child would get 6 special birthday celebrations during his childhood. Doing this with multiple children meant planning and budgeting for a special birthday often enough. The variety kept me from having to plan a big party every year. Sometimes I was researching the big gift, sometimes planning a trip, and sometimes making up clues to a scavenger hunt. Each type of celebration was fun for that age child.
Instead of just looking forward to a present, they looked forward to different types of things. They got a few presents for each birthday but I'm sure they can't remember what they were. I am sure that they haven't forgotten their activities though. Gifts break or get passed down to the next kid when you get too old for them. You can't break or pass down a trip with your parents where you were the center of their attention for four days. You get to keep that forever.
The timing of my children reaching these ages turned out like this:
🍰1995 Colton's 1st birthday
🎉1998 Colton's Ole King Colton party
🍰1999 Evy's 1st birthday
✈️2001 Colton's Grand Canyon flight
🍰2002 Capers' 1st birthday
🎉2002 Evy's dress up party
🎁2004 Colton's tree house
🎉2005 Capers' fire engine party
✈️2005 Evy's Florida flight
🔎2007 Colton's scavenger hunt
✈️2008 Capers' Disney World flight
🎁2008 Evy's desk
👪2010 Colton's NYC trip
🎁2011 Capers' art table
🔎2011 Evy's scavenger hunt
🔎2014 Capers' scavenger hunt
👨👩👧2014 Evy's Homestead trip
👪2017 Capers' trip with Mom and Dad
Really the only official parties they got were a big one at four and a small one at thirteen.
And don't forget that Christmas comes EVERY year.
With multiple children, it is good to teach them that it is not always their turn. You may have seen someone give a present to a younger child on an older child's birthday because they were "afraid the younger child wouldn't understand". That seems sweet but it really does both children a disservice. Let the jealous tears flow. Tears often mean you are maturing. Their birthday is coming but this is someone else's day. To give another child a gift cheapens the birthday child's day. They need to learn to be happy for someone during that person's special time. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Give a sympathetic pat on the head to those who weep, but do not give them a present. If you do, they will be looking for how they can gain at every occasion.
We can get carried away when planning a celebration. We may have feelings of going all out and impressing everyone or one-upping someone else's party. We must remember to make the celebration fun for the child. It doesn't always take such fancy things as we imagine. Ask yourself "Am I worried about what someone else will think?" We should only be concerned with what the birthday child will think, and if they think it's great then you're good.
I remember as a child being so excited that someone wrapped a present for me in a very special, creative way. I have no idea what the present was. In fact, I don't remember anything I got for that birthday but I do remember how I felt when I saw how my gift was wrapped. Know what they did? They taped a stick of gum and a few pieces of candy to the wrapping paper. So easy and inexpensive in an adult's eyes but so much fun to a child!
Something happened at Capers' fourth birthday party that illustrates this well. I had the cutest fireman-themed games prepared. I was looking forward to wowing the kids and watching them have fun. When it was time for games, the kids were running around laughing, swinging, and playing in the treehouse. I realized that it would be hard to gather them and organize them into having fun MY way. They were already having a blast! Why should I stop them? They couldn't have had MORE fun playing my games than they were already having. How ridiculous to say "OK, Everybody. Stop laughing and having fun so you can hear Mrs. Beach teach you how to play this game. Isn't Mrs. Beach clever?" My cute little games never got played and those kids never knew it or cared. They just knew that they had a great time at Capers' party. We must be careful to not overwhelm the children with what we think might be fun but let them do what they would truly enjoy at their age. Enough is enough and too much is too much.
We used birthdays to celebrate our children and to give them unforgettable experiences. We tried not to create stingy brats but to show them that they are unique and that we did the best we could to give them a happy life. We wanted to teach them that experiences with people are far more valuable than things and that expressing love through sacrifice is the greatest gift of all.