Since I have a summer birthday, in the heart of family vacation season, it happened one year that all of my good friends were out of town on my birthday. I was disappointed, but my mom reassured me that “the people who care most about your birthday will be here,” meaning my parents and brother. While the thought that my family was what mattered most on my birthday probably did little to ease my tween disappointment of celebrating without my friends, looking back, I can see she was right.
With so much emphasis in our society on big parties and celebrations, at the very core of a birthday celebration is the act of commemorating when you become a part of a family. So whether your family chooses a small or large celebration on your special day, taking time to develop family birthday traditions can help strengthen family bonds.
Erica Curtis, a marriage and family therapist in Santa Monica, California, and a mom to a preschooler and infant, states that “Family traditions instill...togetherness and social connection over materialism. Although kids may still receive gobs of presents from friends and extended family, creating family traditions can downplay the 'getting stuff' aspect of birthdays and emphasize the joy of being together.”
Here are some fun family birthday traditions that may spark an idea to keep the focus on your family for your child's next birthday.
Birthday Eve: For Nina Goforth Kearns, a mom to three young children in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, one of their favorite family traditions is the reading of "On the Night You Were Born" on the evening before a child's birthday. After reading the book to her birthday child, Kearns then shares a picture of each preceding birthday and they share memories of birthdays past. Kearns recalls, "My (birthday) memories are rather vague, so I hope that using repetition and routine will increase the memory of these special moments for my children."
Birthday Balloons: A simple tradition for Westlake, Ohio, mom Aimee Kirk Cockburn's four young children is blowing up lots of balloons in the family member's favorite color, for the birthday person to walk through when they wake up on their birthday. Cockburn explains, "The tradition of the balloons...is to make the kids feel special without spending much money." Balloons are a lot of fun for kids of all ages, and are an easy way to jazz up your house each birthday.
The Annual Birthday CD: Curtis creates a fun birthday CD for her children's birthdays each year. She says, "We start talking about which are the kids' favorite songs from that year, burn them onto a CD, and then have lots of 'dance parties' as a family where we play songs and dance around the house." After the birthday has passed, Curtis says, "We keep a copy in the car and listen to them all the time. My son will request to listen to his 'first birthday songs' or his 'third birthday CD.'"
Big Deal Birthday Breakfast: Often a child's birthday falls on a busy school and work day, making it more challenging for family celebration time. Jessica Hehir, a mom to three preschool girls in southwest Florida, prepares the evening before a big birthday, since "our family tradition is to make a big deal over the girls as soon as they wake up. I decorate our dining area with a banner and balloons and often something hanging from the chandelier."
Hehir continues, "We thought it would be nice for the girls to wake up feeling special and excited about their special day. It's a fun surprise for them in the morning and a great way for us to say how much we care... even if it is a Tuesday and there are errands and meetings."
Birthday Staycation: Instead of an elaborate birthday party, some families opt for a mini-staycation for birthday celebrations. Cockburn's family visits a local indoor water park for her kids' birthdays, an active way to celebrate the day. While going away for a day may sound expensive, Cockburn says that "the whole family can enjoy the day, and it is less expensive than a big party for the child."
Extend the Birthday Fun: When your child’s birthday is over, try one of these family traditions that the Curtis family uses to extend the fun. First, they hang birthday decorations in their son's room after his special day has passed. In fact, Curtis admits, "he still has the tissue paper balls hanging from his ceiling from his last birthday."
Another idea from Curtis's family is to "put a candle in each slice (of leftover birthday cake) and sing happy birthday as a family until the cake is finished." Curtis concludes that as both a mom and a family counselor, she has found that birthday traditions "allow kids to feel attached in deep and meaningful ways to their family which, in the larger picture, opens communication and allows kids to feel honored and known." Curtis says, "Traditions with family bring meaning to a birthday and highlights the sense of belonging to something greater than themselves." And isn't that what family is all about?