You read that right, my children aren’t getting birthday gifts this year. Is it because I’m an evil mother? NO. Is it because they need to be punished? NO. Is it because they don’t deserve them because I did most of the work on their birthday? NO (extreme emphasis on NO). So why is it? It’s hard to put into words unless you know the back story, so travel along with me as I share a sequence of events that brought me to this point.
We only do “friend” birthday parties every 4 years. Mostly because that is what my husband and I grew up doing in our families, but also because they are flat out exhausting! Right? This year one of my daughter’s happened to be turning 8, so we had a well attended, chef themed birthday party, full of games, prizes, cupcake decorating, and tons of gifts! After hours of prep, 3 hours at the party, hours of clean up, I sat down on the couch exhausted and asked her what her favorite part of her special day was. She said, “When you and I worked together to make all 72 cupcakes. No, I think it was when we decorated the table together! No, I really really liked it when we had lunch with grandma and grandpa or maybe when we made that chef hat together. I just can’t decide, there were so many fun things!” It hit me smack in the face that not once did she mention one of her gifts. I then asked her what her favorite gift was. She replied, “Ummmmmmm. What did I get again?” That is when it hit me, and it hit me hard, it wasn’t the “stuff” or the gifts she got that made her birthday special, it was the experience that made it special.
I asked another one of my daughters what her favorite Christmas gift was last Christmas (at the time it had only been a few months in the past), she could only remember 1 of the 12 gifts she had gotten. 1. I asked my 5 year old what she had gotten for her birthday just the month before and she couldn’t name one but recalled going out to ice cream and bowling with the family. I thought back to my birthday, I could only remember the dinner we went to and the Boys to Men CD my husband bought me as a joke. Ha ha! I sat there, on the couch, just shocked at how far “off” my thinking had been. Here I thought I was doing such a fantastic job providing perfect holidays filled with gifts for them all to enjoy when I was actually just filling their lives with STUFF that didn’t matter on comparison to the time we spent together.
How did we get to this point? How did gifts and stuff become so important to us? More importantly, are they really as important as we think? How often do we choose to work extra hours or take a job that requires you to be gone more than you are home just so we can “provide a better life for our families” or so we can “give them the things we never were able to afford when I was a kid”. Then we are always gone and losing the little precious time we have with our kids so we can afford to buy them more stuff. I don’t know how we got here, but it is time for my family to STOP! I realized that day that the best present I can give my children is my presence. We decided to do away with the birthday gifts this year and do birthday experiences instead!
My 10 year old just had her birthday last week. The weeks leading up to her birthday we told her that she could choose any experience, within reason, and we’d make it happen. Of course within reason was defined for her before we turned her imagination loose. We kind of live in the middle of no where, so we put a limit of 500 miles round trip (which is the closest big city with fun things to experience) and a max cost. I then helped her look at all the possibilities. It went from an over night trip at a hotel with a pool, to a ferry ride on the river with a catered dinner, to the children science museum, to a few local options. She ended up choosing out to dinner with our family and grandparents and a bike ride along the entire bike path in town without any of her siblings, just Mom and Dad. Dad and I don’t have bikes, so we borrowed them from a friend, went on the bike path in town with her and over and over again she said, this is my dream bike ride and the best birthday ever! She loved not having to pedal slow waiting for her younger sisters to catch up. We had a great time together. Then we went to dinner with everyone else and had cake afterwards! When I tucked her in that night, she said, “That was the best birthday I have ever had, thank you so much!”
I was happy with how the day had turned out and I bet in 6 months, when I ask her what she remembers about her birthday, she’ll remember her “dream bike ride” and her birthday experience. I’ve decided that experiences together make better lasting memories than receiving stuff…..so I guess that is the answer to the question why am I not giving my children birthday gifts this year? My other children are already picking out their birthday experiences for next year. I’m looking forward to providing them with amazing experiences that will create lasting fond memories.