Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Ever been to a birthday party with a jump and bump? A pony? A Petting Zoo? A live character like Batman, Barney or Spider Man? How about all of the above?

In the last 20 years of parenting, I have noticed how BIG birthdays have gotten, and as my youngest child turned 7, they don't seem to be downsizing very much.

So how does a family develop birthday traditions? How do we keep it from going over the top? How many guests should be invited?  How long should the birthday go on? What kind of gifts are appropriate and how many?  These are  timely questions for me to ponder as we have 8 birthdays in the month of July in our extended family.

First of all, it is important to realize that celebrating a birthday is always celebrating the gift of life. Each year we grow in grace and wisdom and hopefully in knowledge and love of God. As Christians, we are on a very special journey, a journey to heaven. And so as a birthday marks each year, we thank God that we are growing closer to Him and we look forward to the years to come.

When we were little my mom and dad would start the day by singing "Happy Birthday" to us. My mom would always recount the details of the day I was born. "Julie, you were born at Good Samaritan Hospital at 2:19 in the afternoon. I stayed in the hospital 5 days after you were born, because that was what moms did back then."

For her grandchildren my mom had a tradition of reading a special story to each  grandchild on their birthday so they knew how special they were to her. The little ones loved to snuggle in her lap and bask in her smile which revealed how much she loved them. One book she used to read them was On the Day You Were Born by Debra Fraiser.

Katie ices a birthday cake on our family's special birthday plate
With our children, Bob and I like to have a special dinner, chosen by the child. We love a homemade cake usually decorated with plastic bugs (a Musselman Tradition.) When Bob started making pies, several of the kids prefer a birthday pie to a birthday cake. We have a special birthday plate that the cake or pie goes on. Our second and third sons made it at one of the decorate-your-own-pottery places back in the late 1990s. We always get that out each birthday.

For parties, we have learned the hard way that lots of kids and sleepovers, while fun, basically consume the whole weekend and produce really tired, grumpy children (and parents.)

We have found for the younger kids, a 2 hour party is right on. We have done parties at the house, in the pool, at a park or beach. In desperation one year I did a bowling alley party, but that got pretty expensive, especially when the guests brought their siblings! So we lean toward the beach, pool or house for most of the birthdays now.

For number of guests at the parties, our family uses the rule your age plus 1. So when you turned 4 you could have yourself and 4 friends. The length of a party that seems to work well is 2 hours. When kids are really young the parents usually stay, but as they approach 5 or 6 drop off parties are great because the kids can really have fun and you don't have to entertain the adults too.

Gifts for the birthday child vary by age, but it is important for us to give not only a secular gift, but something spiritual too. For my own birthday, I love to have the whole family go to mass together.

My good friend Bonnie is one of 12 children. When the Barton clan was growing up they got a bike when they turned 5, a party when they turned 10 and a sleepover when they turned 13. The other years they had a special dinner and just the family for ice cream and cake. I marvel at the wisdom of Jean Barton, mother of 12 for keeping it fair, simple and sane.

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