Let’s talk about birthdays, shall we? I loooooooove birthdays. My mom made SUCH a big deal out of birthdays, and it always was so special for us all. At our house, birthdays are a month-long celebration; it doesn’t hurt that both of my children have September birthdays! Every September, we’re a tangle of streamers, balloons, and curly ribbon.
Birthday parties are my JAM. I’m the mom that pins all the things AND actually does them. It’s obnoxious. I’m not afraid to admit that. I wanted my kids to invite all of their friends (to bask in my glorious parties), but soon came to the unfortunate realization that they would receive SO MANY gifts. Add to that haul the gifts from grandparents and us, and it looked like F.A.O. Schwartz had had a baby in our living room by the end of September. While we were obviously grateful for these gifts, it all just became too much.
So I presented my kids with an idea. What if we still had the big party with games and goody bags and yummy food, but instead of gifts we asked friends to bring donations for the charity of the kid’s choice? And my kids said YES to that idea! Of course they still received a few gifts from us and the grandparents, but they were so excited to have the opportunity to share their good fortune with others.
The first couple of years of this, my son chose Le Bonheur Children’s hospital and my girl chose Woof River Animal Rescue, who we foster through. Their friends were asked to bring toys for the hospital and dog supplies for the animal shelter. They couldn’t believe everything their friends brought and were so excited to deliver the items in person.
It was in the third year of our gift experiment that we shifted our goals. That was the year that Hurricane Harvey devastated our beloved home state of Texas and many homeschool families had lost all of their curriculum. I homeschool and a curriculum for the year can be upwards of $500 per family. This is a significant financial burden that is often overlooked during natural disasters. I connected with a group on Facebook that was working with families to purchase their lost curriculums. My son decided he would raise money for new curriculums and supplies for these families, instead of having his friends bring toys, and we went to work planning the party.
He wanted a dance party, so we decorated our carport with colored lights, got a DJ, and borrowed speakers. People who didn’t dance spilled into the backyard to sit under the twinkle lights or play badminton. We had giant cakes from Costco and sang “Happy Birthday,” just like any other birthday party. It was an incredibly fun evening! When all the guests were gone, we counted the money that had been given. My boy was blown away at the number: $1,400! With tears in his eyes, he said, “Wow, we have some generous friends!” We were able to supply so much for the families in Texas.
Sure, toys are fun to receive, but the joy of giving lasts a lifetime. My kids are regular kids who love to receive, but they’ve learned there are others who have MUCH less than they do. They’ve seen sick kids in the hospital. They’ve seen animals in desperate need of care. They value life and are learning the value of doing for others. This year’s party is another dance party raising money and supplies for a local homeless shelter. Why? Because we have a homeless buddy that we visit with regularly, and they have a heart for the homeless.
I would love to hear of more families trying this! I PROMISE your kids will not miss the toys. They’ll stand a little taller, love a lot deeper, and look at the world with much less selfish eyes.