Celebrating Birthdays

Once again this Mom’s Corner is written because of a Mom’s Corner request. This is what was asked:

I would like to know how your family celebrates birthdays. It seems like in this generation of kids, birthdays have gotten out of control (having a party every year, having jump castles, treat bags for guests, etc.). My husband and I did not grow up like that. We can remember having a party for one or two of the milestone years (16) but only immediate family otherwise. You know, Mom fixes your favorite meal and a cake (flavor and icing your choice). We have 4 daughters ages 7, 5, 4, and 2. They are invited to a lot of these types of big blowout parties. They, of course, then want to have a party like that. We have a large, close family and if aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents are invited, we could easily have 20-30 people before any friends are invited. We usually end up having everyone over for ice cream and cake and even that seems like a BIG party to us. I would LOVE and appreciate your insight on this issue.

When our older children were little, we allowed them to attend birthday parties and gave them birthday parties as well, although not a party for each child every year. We soon found some significant drawbacks of these birthday parties. One of the biggest problems with the birthday party was the extreme amount of selfishness it created in our child. For weeks before the birthday party, the child could talk of nothing except his party. During the party, the excitement was over opening the gifts, and as soon as one party ended, the child was already planning the next one.

Our desire is to raise children who have learned to deny themselves. “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). The whole mentality of children’s birthday parties is quite the opposite of any denying of self because it is actually feeding self. After just a few birthday parties, we realized we didn’t want to continue fueling this amount of selfishness, and we simply said we would only have family birthday parties in the future.

That decision was made about twenty-five years ago, so our younger children have never experienced having a birthday party or attending one either. When we chose not to have birthday parties with other children invited to them, we also decided not to allow our children to attend other children’s birthday parties. Since we knew we wouldn’t be reciprocating with a birthday party, it didn’t seem right to us to accept invitations to others’ parties. One benefit of this decision is that it began protecting our children from unforeseen influences at birthday parties they had been attending. Sometimes when an invitation arrived, it caused us to wonder what activities would be occurring at the party. It is very awkward to call a parent questioning the special plans they have for their child’s party. Our new policy helped us avoid these situations.

Our birthdays are very simple, but we delight in birthdays because we love each other so much. We use birthdays to honor the birthday child by focusing our love and attention on him. Keeping an eye on our children’s hearts and seeking a balance in honoring them versus growing demanding attitudes in them is important to us as we celebrate family birthdays. There are times when we pull back some of the privileges that normally attend a child’s birthday because by his pre-birthday talk we can see a self-focus growing. However, in general, we believe the level of birthday celebration we have settled into has helped to build our family unity while not fueling our children’s natural propensity to selfishness.

The day before the birthday, the girls make birthday signs for the windows. We learned this idea from close family friends of ours. The birthday signs celebrate the special qualities of the birthday child, and the signs are taped to the windows in the living room and dining room. We also celebrate with birthday banners, balloons, and crepe paper streamers. On the front door, we use glass markers to write a brief Scripture for the birthday person (see this blog post for an example).

Usually the birthday child chooses a birthday breakfast from a choice of two or three favorite breakfast meals. He also picks his preferred lunch from our weekly lunch menu. For dinner, he decides on both a main dish and dessert. We invite Grandad and Grandma, who live right around the corner, and our married son with his family for the birthday dinner and party.

On birthdays, we encourage the family to do special things for the birthday child throughout the day as possible such as taking over his normal chores. We also encourage the birthday child to use his birthday as an opportunity to help and serve his family. Often the birthday child will make his birthday dessert, help with meal preparations, or work with the clean up crew.

When we began homeschooling, I would give the children their birthday off school. However, we started to see the children becoming possessive and demanding of not having to do school on their birthdays. Sometimes, because of other circumstances, it was necessary for them to do some or all of their normal schoolwork on their birthday. This could create bad attitudes in the birthday child. Observing this pattern when it occurred caused us to decide it was best to keep birthdays as normal school days. Then, if on occasion, we chose to lighten or skip school for the birthday child, it was received as an added gift of the day rather than demanded as something owed to them.

Part of our birthday party is always family Bible time. This comes before gift opening. Our children delight in purchasing birthday presents for each other, and a great deal of thought, prayer, and planning goes into each birthday present. Often our children shop together as teams so that they have more buying power. They evaluate and try to meet needs in the birthday child’s life through the present they give him.

In leaving behind the trappings of giving and attending children’s birthday parties, we have discovered a joy in the simplicity of family birthday parties. This allows our children to love and honor their birthday sibling. In the midst of birthday celebrations, we are watching the birthday child’s heart so that he doesn’t become selfish and demanding because of the birthday focus. We encourage each family to seek the Lord Jesus for what would be pleasing for their birthday celebrations.