Friday, 24 July 2009

Meaningful birthdays for my children

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

In my personal blog, I recently talked about homekeeping chores as family rituals. After I posted that story, it was interesting to see the related post widget thingy digging up an even older post of mine: What We Do For Birthdays.

To save you from going through all the above links to work out what I'm talking about, here's a summary:

I have always felt that shared rituals are an important part of family life. Its the rituals that help us consciously celebrate caring within our family. So its important to celebrate day-to-day life AND milestones in a way that is meaningful.

However, back when I first started my journey (and right about the time I wrote my post on birthdays), I had forgotten how to celebrate milestones in a meaningful way. Birthdays consisted of *presents* - and presents fell into two categories - more or bigger.

As a child I would rip open birthday presents only to discard it 5 mins later because it had become just another toy. And the next few days afterwards was spent nagging for the next bigger present or more of the same (eg. must collect all dolls in the series).

I think such a cycle was damaging to family unity (as well as the environment) and I wanted to avoid it. the time, I stopped giving birthday presents all together.

Don't get me wrong, I still gave presents - but I no longer tied presents to birthdays. Instead when I saw something meaningful that I know the children would appreciate, I bought it or made it and gave it to them then and there - I didn't wait till their birthdays.

And for their birthdays, I concentrated on the experience - not the product. I wanted to give my children experiences that they will remember all their lives.

Now at 6 years old, my daughter still remembers her 3rd birthday - when we went to Questacon and I organised a special tour with staff members just for us. She also still remembers her 4th birthday - when I took her to see Hi-5 (a children's music band) and I organised for the Hi-5 group to wave specifically to her her. (I couldn't quite swing a personal meet-up with them). I also did make her a pressie - it was a little book of her being 4 years old and I placed pictures of her as a baby and then as a "kid" (her term). She still loves reading that book. She remembers the special sleepover she had with 2 select friends and me for her 5th birthday (we "camped" in the spare bedroom). She remembers the tractor ride my ex-husband gave her as treat for her 6th birthday.

However, as I said, that post was written some time ago. And looking back at the last birthday celebrations for both my children, I realise that I *have* given my children birthday presents. It happened without me really noticing it. Perhaps its because presents *are* a deeply ingrained part of birthday celebrations? I have to say though, the presents I have given them are not *just another toy*.

My son still remembers his 4th birthday (he will be turning 5 years old soon) present. My son LOVES the Wiggles. So for his 4th birthday, he and I worked all day to turn him into a Wiggle. He helped me make his yellow Wiggle top and he watched me as I drew a caricature of him on a large piece of canvas, solemly handing me the next crayon. Then we had his birthday party where many of the adults referred to him as "S---, the yellow Wiggle". He can not remember the presents he got given except he does remember "helping Mum make me into a Wiggle".

So have I strayed from my original ideals? I guess technically I have. And that's normal and just part of growing and changing with life. However, I think in many ways, I have actually truly broken the cycle of giving *more* and *bigger* presents to make up for the lack of family ritual.

The biggest lesson I've learned from this little experiment?

That the best thing I could give my children is my 100% attention and truly sharing with them their experience of turning yet another year older. Presents can only matter when it is made or given in a way that enhances that shared experience.

I wish all of you a wonderful weekend.

(Another blog post of interest - not written by me -: Christmas Presents - Breaking the Cycle)


Pat aka Posh said...

I love your way of celebrating birthdays and you are right that presents are soon forgotten where as the quality time and thought spent with your child will last a lifetime.

erin said...

I have a two year and have already noticed that presents from christmas, birthdays, etc.. just end up cluttering his toybox. He only plays with a few of them. I have started giving art supplies as birthday gifts now to other children as well as my own. My son loves to create so this is working well so far on keeping down the clutter and excess. I am thinking other parents feel the same way about all the plastic toys received at parties.

Annodear said...

Fabulous blog!

Some food for thought...

~Molly~ said...

We have done a mix of traditional birthday parties and the non-traditional, more meaningful family gathering/activities. My 16-year-old son is extremely social so he usually has friends over to celebrate. This year he hosted his own skating party and swimming party(once we got our pool ungreen) with 38 teenagers in attendance!! He was in charge of inviting and us parental figures weren't involved except to purchase snacks for the second party and transport two friends. He didn't get presents at either party.

Our daughters, thankfully, aren't quite so gregarious. This May we took our family to Ft. Worth in celebration of the youngest daughter's ninth birthday. As per her request, we visited the zoo and the botanical gardens. We had a fantastic weekend, not to be forgotten! Our soon-to-be-fourteen-year-old daughter is wanting a repeat for her birthday in November. We visited the Tiger Creek Refuge for her twelfth and she loved it.

Thanks for posting this!!

Corey said...

We agree! Our family parties are focused on people over things and putting the meaning in the greening. We play a lot of games and hide the gifts instead of wrapping them.

Here are two of our blog entries with ideas for simply green celebrating:

Thanks for the great topic.

Chookie said...

Our child nominates their dinner dish and birthday cake flavour for their actual birthday, which is celebrated at home. We are a family of four and so our children get one present from the parents and one from the sibling. We try to give presents worth having, and fortunately most of the extended family feels the same way. The problem we have is that when we hold a party, lots of the presents we get from other people are, well, cheap plastic rubbish (with the strangest being a Hello Kitty lunchbox -- for a boy!). Nothing that we can do about that!

mountainwildlife said...

Great article! The amount of toys given is often overwhelming,(we have 4 y.o twins) so this year we took them to the museum to see the dinosaur exhibition, (mostly for our son) and the next day for half hour pony rides (mostly for our daughter) However they both loved both activities and will remember them long after the presents have gone.
I also bake them a special cake each every year and we pick the design/colour together, which has become a 'ritual' already!