Each birthday that rolls around in my house brings along a range of feelings. Excitement, anticipation and plenty of preparation, for gifts, cards and gatherings. And of course, there is expectation. Already, at age 3, my kids have expectations for birthdays. They’re not huge, but they are there.
There is no doubting that our children are our greatest teachers. And while I questioned the meaning of birthdays pre-kids, I have been thinking it through increasingly, now that I’ve gone through my own birth experience and have children of my own:
How do these birthday expectations get created? What should we expect on our birthdays? And how can we model positive expectations for our little ones?
As with most children, I loved birthdays as a child. They were magical, exciting and filled with treats. Yet, while there was so much good, upon reflection, and with age and wisdom, I am able to see that my expectations for big and expensive, were high. And these unrealistic expectations followed me for years, often resulting in disappointment.
I’ve come to realize that there are certain points that I want to model for my children around birthdays to help strengthen intrinsic values, and move us away from a solely material celebration. The intention is not to remove all things fun and bold – our children deserve to have suitable indulgences.
However, what study after study on child and adult psychology shows, is that fostering intrinsic value helps us be better, happier people. When our lives are less focused on the material realm, we are less likely to search for quick hits of happiness through material goods or praise from others.
Finding ways to call on recognition, gratitude and generosity, and connection, will help not only create positive memories but also helps harness expectation in a positive way.
In my professional practice, as a birth and postpartum doula, I regularly witness the magic of new life entering our world. However a birth unfolds, birthing women are filled with deep power, resilience and primal beauty. And the new baby, that grew from tiny specks, emerges fully formed, filled with a strong voice and innate reflexes.
Our birthdays need to bring us back to that moment. Celebrating life (and the creators of our own lives) is meaningful and necessary - it gives us all a closer realization of our life’s purpose and brings us back to our innate good. As we age, life seems to fly by at warp speed (there’s nothing that does it like being a parent). There is huge value in marking the magic of our life’s beginning and acknowledging how it’s unfolded in days and years.
How do we realistically encourage recognition?
· Continuing birthday rituals, in realistic ways, such as cake and singing Happy Birthday. We truly don’t need to plan a big birthday bash, for our children, every year. The reality is that those events are not sustainable – they require a lot of effort and can be exhausting to plan and execute for each family member. Whether it’s a big or small event, repetitive rituals “have the power to make food seem tastier” and our experiences more memorable and impactful. The smells of cakes baking, tunes being sung and laughter ringing, leave positive imprints on our lives.
· Thoughtful material goods and/or experiences. Acknowledging our children doesn’t mean we need to over indulge our children or loved ones, with big, material gifts. In fact, studies have shown that people tend to be less happy with material goods over time and significantly happier with experiences. “This is because we adapt to physical things, so even the nicest car or newest phone becomes commonplace after enough time, while memories tend to get fonder over time.”
So, alongside that toy that your little one has been pining after – because acknowledging our children’s wants on a significant day, is special, add in a trip to a museum, gallery or a date to a movie, café or restaurant. Here is a link to some more awesome experiential gifts: wellnessmama.com/62144/give-experiences/