Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, said in her thirties that her childhood birthdays were always dismal. That she remembered them being sad well into her adulthood shows the significance that birthdays can have in a person’s life. I hope my children will have better memories of their birthdays.
Three out of the four birthdays in our little family takes place in the fall. Both of my daughters just enjoyed their birthdays with friends, family, goodies, and presents and it was so much fun to see them enjoy their days in different ways because of their differing ages. As I was planning and thinking about their birthdays this last year, I realized how important it was to use that day to help them feel and understand our love for them. Birthdays can be significantly much more than cake and ice cream (though those help too!).
I thought I would share some of the intentional, loving ways our extended family and we have used birthdays to help share our love with loved ones. We certainly don’t use all of them every year, but all have been successfully enjoyed.
1. Make it about love, not about getting things
I am pretty sure that birthdays will always involve gifts (and dessert!) in our family, but the reason those things are significant is because of what they represent – love. I think talking to your children about why they get presents on that day in a way that expresses love and appreciation for who they are as a person will also help them view the presents in a better way (in comparison to the greedy way most of us tend towards when young!). All of the below are simply ways that may or may not be able to help you convey that in your family or friend circle. For me, birthdays aren’t a time to show of your mad cooking skills or decorating savvy to friends…it isn’t a time to show your spiritual side by “giving” a Spartan day for said child. It isn’t a time to care more about your comfort and convenience, but rather it is about figuring out how to share love to a loved one within the energy and financial means you currently have.
2. Let them pick the meal plan for the day
While I try to consider all family members when meal planning on a weekly basis, I am certainly not taking a poll each day. So, giving a child (or spouse!) complete freedom to plan out their birthday meal(s) is a wonderful gift. My mother did that for me, and I had a fun time figuring out what to ask for (and…being a typical kid, it wasn’t always the healthiest options!). If the whole day is too involved, just letting them plan the dinner is nice too. Elena (our 6-year-old) has a “birthday soup” that we make for her on her birthday. It makes a fun tradition for all of us.
This can be easily translated into making a favorite dish for a friend too!
3. Use the “You are Special” plate
Both of our parents had a “you are special” red plate that was given to the birthday person to eat off of for the day. I remember being especially thrilled about it in my younger years.
4. Do a favorite activity
One year we took Elena to the Zoo before her family birthday party. It was a wonderful way to spend her birthday, and it made that birthday experience very special. While that may not work out every year, I think it is fun to plan special activities like that when you can. When I was older child, I didn’t always have parties (I think we did birthday parties every other year for most of my childhood). But on the “off” year, I was allowed to invite one (or two) friends to come hang out with me for the day, and we generally went out and did something fun (which could be as simple as going out window shopping). Party or not, I always looked forward to my birthday.
5. Tell them why you love them, and how you’ve seen them mature this last year
My husband’s family had a tradition of sharing at the birthday dinner what ways they saw that person grow and mature the last year, and what they appreciated about that person. My husband’s mother wasn’t very into doing anything elaborate for birthdays, especially once her family grew to seven children, but having this simple, yet meaningful conversation is one of the most significant things I’ve seen happen on a birthday. (We’ve tried to carry on this tradition as well in our family. It made my dad cry when we did this at a family birthday lunch for him.)
This can be translated into writing meaningful birthday cards for friends and family too.
6. Don’t forget the cake!
My children, not eating dessert on a constant basis, find their birthday dessert especially exciting. Once Elena turned three, I started drawing her out on what she’d like her birthday dessert to be. We’ve done donuts (this last year) and cake pops, coconut flour cake, a butterfly cake with mini cupcakes, etc. For my little girl, Aria, who just turned two, we noticed that she got really excited about cake when she saw it in the store. So when I made her her own cake, she was beyond excited. She literally could not wait to dig into it. In the end, she mostly ate the ice cream and the frosting, but it was the excitement that counted.
This has been such an exciting thing for Elena; she was rather devastated last year when I didn’t have a cake for my birthday. I think she thought I would be crushed without one! I had to explain that it wasn’t a big deal to me, which was why we didn’t get one for me (and I didn’t feel like making one for myself!)
A childhood friend always had pie, as that was his favorite. It certainly doesn’t have to be cake! And I don’t know a single friend who would complain if you showed up with a slice of birthday cake, a plate of cookies, or lemon bars as a food gift on their birthday!
7. Plan well
Nothing takes the fun out of birthdays than a stressed out mommy! I try to plan ahead enough that I am not too stressed making a cake, or making an elaborate meal. I want to be able to enjoy the day with my child, and being a pleasant person to be with certainly helps them enjoy the day too! Sometimes it can be stressful doing last minute details for a party, but I’ve just tried to go with the flow and forget about my pride when needed. For example, Elena’s butterfly cake was sort of an experiment that went wrong. It was very cute frosted up, but it had seriously the weirdest texture…ever. I served it anyways because she liked it regardless, and it would have disappointed her not to have a cake. “Hi. I am a food blogger, and here is a slice of rubber cake!” Yup, lost some pride that day, but it wasn’t about me. 😉
8. Give meaningful gifts instead of quantity
I don’t necessarily think giving your children (or spouse) the most gifts possible is going to bless them the most. I try to get things that I know my children will really appreciate, but also are useful as well as fun things to own. I love buying books for them, and clothes, and yes, toys too. (Should I mention that we’ve given gifts that were practically schoolbooks? Let’s just call them educational instead! But our oldest loves school, so she views it as a gift too. ) Our gifts aren’t necessarily very spend-y, but we try to pick them with care too. And we aren’t above giving our children gifts picked up from a thrift shop either. 😉
In the end, there are endless ways to express love. These are some of the ways we’ve found to express ours. It gave me such a thrill to see my youngest at her last birthday party realize that the whole party was for her I’d love for you all to share your birthday traditions!