Back when we had only one child, we had the typical yearly birthday parties with lots of presents, food, and friends. While this was enjoyable in some ways, once we had a second child I felt like the work that went into birthday parties was overly stressful. Since our two children have birthdays just one month apart beginning shortly after the winter holidays (in February and March), followed shortly by my husband's birthday in April, the birthday festivities just felt like too much - too many presents following so closely behind Christmas, too many festivities in too short of a period, and too many times that I felt burned out by it all.
Rather than continue the cycle, a few years ago we decided to do something different. Instead of having birthday parties for the children year-after-year, we decided to create our own birthday traditions. And now that we are three years into our new family birthday traditions, we are loving the simplicity and family closeness that they bring.
Birthday Family Trips
For their birthdays, each of our children selects a fun activity for our family-of-four that doesn't require driving very far. These birthday family trips give us a chance to spend time together in different ways, and they eliminate the stress of hosting birthday parties. Both of our children have thoroughly embraced the opportunity to choose these family outings. We schedule birthday family trips on weekend days so we can all participate.
Examples of some of our recent birthday family trips are:
For her 7th birthday, our daughter chose to visit Rockhound State Park (just over an hour away).
For her recent 8th birthday, our daughter chose the local Farm and Ranch Museum.
For his 4th birthday, our son chose to go to the zoo and ride the toy train in Alamogordo, New Mexico (about an hour away).
For his recent 5th birthday, our son chose to go to the Space Museum and ride the toy train in Alamogordo.
We have intentionally kept these family outings simple. We do not invite anyone outside of our household, and that allows our trips to be relaxed so that we can leave whenever we are ready instead of trying to keep to a specific time-schedule. We also typically enjoy a restaurant lunch as part of each birthday trip, so there is no stress over preparing or transporting food.
My husband and I do not buy the children gifts for their birthdays; instead, our family outing becomes their present. We do look for small, unique toys for the children during our family outings, such as the few colored rocks and marbles that caught their eyes at the Farm and Ranch Museum during our daughter's birthday trip. But we have intentionally shifted the focus of birthdays away from presents and onto creating family memories.
Of course, we don't deny the grandparents their rights to give the children birthday presents, but by eliminating the birthday parties we have much-reduced the volume of toys flowing into the house. Given the close proximity of their birthdays to Christmas, and the fact that our children tend to be happier with less toys (and have more strife when they have more toys), having fewer birthday presents is a very good thing.
Simple, Special Birthdays
In addition to the family outings on the weekend, on my children's actual birthdays I do some simple things to make the day special:
I schedule a day-off from my usual homeopathic appointments so that I can spend more time with the children.
The birthday-child chooses their favorite school activities and games to play in the mornings during our usual school time. (Since we switched to Leadership Education, my kids LOVE school, so they are excited about this aspect of their birthdays.)
The birthday-child gets a day off from the usual daily chores (such as washing breakfast dishes, putting away laundry, taking care of chickens, etc).
The children and I go on a small outing together, chosen by the birthday-child, such as a trip to the park or museum.
The birthday-child's favorite dinner is served that evening, as well as a dessert of their choice (with birthday candles of course). Grandma is invited to join us for the evening as well.
By breaking away from the traditional birthday parties, our family's new traditions allow us to spend time together, make fond memories, and enjoy each birthday.