When my daughter turned 7 we invited her friends over to celebrate. We had a trampoline in the back yard and a picnic table that we put the cake and presents on. In the front yard we hung a piñata. The kids had a blast. My daughter opened her presents and everyone went home. One year we had her birthday at a park. One year we had her birthday at my old lake house. Somewhere around age 7 birthday parties changed. They became extravagant. The person having the party had to feed everyone, provide a bounce house, and last but not least, give out party favor bags to each of the kids when they left.
At what point did a celebration of birth turn into parents going broke to entertain other people’s kids? When did we have to have pony rides at our children’s birthday parties? My daughter is 20 now. She just celebrated her birthday which brought up the dreaded party favor subject which I discuss every year that it became the thing to do. She knows how I feel about it. But the reason is deeper than money or extravagance. The reason I dislike giving children gifts who come to my child’s party is the message that it sends.
Children need to learn how to give. They need to know that giving does not always mean receiving. They need to be taught the joy, importance, and value of being able to give without getting anything in return. When you go to a birthday party you are bringing a gift to celebrate a birthday. If you must then leave with a bag of party favors then you have no idea how it feels to just give. And come on let’s be honest about party favors, our kids play with them for 10 minutes and they either break or you throw them away because what is in these bags is dollar store junk. In a world that is now surrounding our children with immediate gratification, why not start them out with a simple lesson in getting nothing. Nothing but the satisfaction that giving will instill. You give a birthday gift and get nothing in return.
I remember one party a child left said, “where is my party favor?” All I could muster was, “There are no party favors.” When what I wanted to say was, ” Did you see how happy my child was when she opened your gift? Did you enjoy playing in my backyard and eating cake? THAT enjoyment is your parting gift. You get to leave feeling joy without absolutely anything in your hands but maybe the dirt from playing in the sprinklers.”
If every event must be topped with external things then how will anyone ever feel inner joy. Joy cannot be felt by bigger and better. If it takes a circus to make you happy at your 10th birthday then what on earth will you need to do at your wedding?
We can start teaching our children the value in giving by such a seemingly small decision. Don’t hand out party favors.
Have you ever anonymously given to someone? You didn’t get a thank you. You didn’t get rewarded with hugs and gushing. You gave and received nothing in return. The only person that knew you did it was you and God. The giving is the reward. If we raise our children to equate feeling good only by reward then they will never know selflessness, Sometimes you choose to do the right thing when no one is looking because the joy of being selfless and having integrity is reward enough.
We’ve forgotten the basics. Let’s go back to them. It is never too late to teach your child the gift of giving.