Children’s birthday parties. What was your initial reaction when you read those words?
Option 1 :: “Oh, yay! A chance to celebrate a person!”
Option 2 :: “Another gift to buy. More money to spend.”
I’ll be honest. My initial reaction is Option 2. Isn’t that terrible?! But at the core of it, in my heart, I’m Option 1. I love celebrating birthdays because it means that person exists! And we love people. People are special and precious to us, and we want to do what we can to show a person that they are loved, they are valued, they are precious.
So in order to focus on Option 1, I’ve alleviated myself from any guilt for not bringing a gift to a birthday party if it’s not an option for us at the time the party rolls around.
Well, I mean, I won’t show up totally empty handed. I use it as a time to teach my kids to create something from their heart, with their hands, that’s special for someone. We’ll make cards or crafts together to take to the the special birthday person.
But we can not afford to bring a gift to every single birthday party we are invited to.
And these are just our friends’ kids! My kids are only 2.5 and aren’t in school. We still have the future and the friends our kids will make outside of mine and my husband’s circle of friends. It’s only going to get more complicated and convoluted as the kids get older. So we try to have a system in place for birthday parties…
See, my husband and I own a business, and it is our only source of income. Some seasons that business is doing all right. Some seasons, it’s rough. It’s never steady, and it’s a constant process learning to manage the unpredictability. So when it’s steady and we have a little more to spend, I’ll buy what books we can in bulk from Half-Price Books, Ross, or Marshalls to keep a stash for the birthday parties we know we’ll be invited to throughout the year. I love books because they’re always useful and can be used as a learning tool. That way, when it’s a dry season for our business, we’re not scraping the bottom of the barrel when a party rolls around. But sometimes that does happen. And that’s where I’ve had to let go of the birthday present guilt.
I want the birthday boy or girl to feel loved and appreciated, but there have been times that it’s not possible for us to bring a present. I always want to assume they know that receiving presents doesn’t determine their value or the value of the giver. And if they think it determines the value of the giver, well, good riddance. We always put the heart into it with a homemade card or craft at least. So I feel that “it’s the thought that counts” is a good practice in these situations.
And this practice works both ways for when my twins’ birthday rolls around. We celebrate because we want to celebrate our kids’ lives, and we want to surround ourselves with people that love and appreciate them and our family. We’ll gladly serve food and cake and have games for everyone who attends. And we will never expect a present in exchange for party hospitality.
We don’t throw parties for our kids because we look at it as a way for them to get free stuff without us having to buy it ourselves. We throw them a birthday party because we simply want people to celebrate our kids. Showing up to sing happy birthday, have some cake, and give them a hug is all we need. I never want a family to feel like they can’t come to our birthday celebrations because they have to come empty-handed for whatever reason. The gift of their presence has value since we understand the pricey value of time and presence.
So if someone were to show up at our party empty-handed, those empty hands will be met with a hug and appreciation for showing up. Because just showing up takes takes time, and it takes guts. I don’t expect gifts for my kids. I don’t want my kids to expect gifts either. Gifts should be an unexpected blessing, not a right.
Plus, I don’t really want to surround myself with people who invite us to their birthday parties just to help add to the pile of gifts. I’ll do my best to bring a gift, but it’s not always possible. I want to partner with people in life who are okay with that and understand.
I want to live a life of gratitude and to teach my kids that presence is appreciated just as much as presents.