So, when I first became a mom, I was so excited to do all of the little cutesy things for my child. When our son turned one, I remember making banners and decorations to match his Clifford the Big Red Dog theme. I made homemade dog biscuit cookies in cute little bags with a favor top I created, printed and cut. I had cute little themed food labels for the perfectly themed menu. Everything was perfect, except the very few pictures I have because I was too busy worrying about everything being perfect. As time went on and we had more foster and adopted kids, my thoughts on birthdays slowly changed and evolved.
Somewhere along the way, we as mothers, have told ourselves that in order to have a perfect birthday party and look like loving, caring mom’s we need to have certain things that cost a ridiculous amount of money and just get thrown away. And, of course, you are a better mom if something is homemade.
So what happens when you are a foster family and have a foster child show up a few days before their birthday or even worse on their birthday. We have had both situations. One little girl even stated it was the second year in a row where she ended up in foster care on her birthday. I started thinking about how a foster child must feel when they see our kids with crazy extravagant birthday parties. Did they think they were loved less? Was I a bad foster mom if I didn’t run out and spend a crazy amount on a birthday party for a child I just met? Even if you don’t worry about the money, how overwhelming would that be?. We just met you but here is this big perfect party for you so I can feel like a great mom. What is wrong with that thinking?
My wife then came across an article that talked about a set amount for birthdays and the child gets to choose what they want to do with the money that would normally be spent on a party. After seeing our son with sensory processing disorder have a complete meltdown at his 5th birthday party (hiding behind the couch), I decided we needed to try something new. This went against everything I had done for the past five years but I needed to change my thinking. Just because birthdays were important to me and I liked the cutesy little decorations, things needed to change in our house.
The results were interesting. Most kids chose not to have a party with cutesy decorations, favor bags, elaborate entertainment or even a big themed birthday cake. Rather, when our kids got to choose, they almost all simply wanted a small family dinner, dessert (almost never cake), and a gift or shopping spree. Some, more than anything, wanted one-on-one time with Mommy and Mama.
So, what have I learned from this? Listening to your kids and giving them what they want (within reason) and prioritizing what they need over your own instinct and desires, makes you a good mom…not cutesy perfect birthday parties. Stop worrying about favor bags and over the top decorations..unless that is what your child wants. We had one foster daughter that loved decorating and crafting, so she did want to have a cutesy party.
So what about kids that can’t tell you what they want? You decide what is best for that child. Have a small get together with family (without all of the over the top decorations and entertainment), go somewhere special, or spend money on something the child needs and will love. Our daughter is turning three and is always trying to sleep in a twin bed. So for her birthday, we are redoing her room with a twin bed and new bedding. Although functional, it will be the most special thing we can do for her birthday.
We have also found this new method helps to eliminate stress for us and allows us to just enjoy our kids birthdays the way they want too. It’s amazing what you learn about your kids when you ask them what they want. Give a try. They might surprise you too.