Have you ever told your 4 year old “Happy Birthday” then said, “Okay, now hand us all your presents”? We did, and I promise you it wasn’t as disastrous as you might think.
I have mentioned previously that my twins get so much attention it should be illegal. Just the other day I picked them up from Disneyland with their Nanny and they hopped in the car with stuffed animals gripped in their arms and towering past their heads. I looked at our Nanny as if I couldn’t believe she gave into their requests for toys and she just looked at me and said, “Ask them what happened”. Turns out they just did their adorable thing to a young engaged couple behind them for the 45 minute wait and by the time they boarded Soaring Over California, they had been gifted 6 ridiculously overpriced Disney gems. See what I mean?
Because of stories like these, clearly when it came to their birthday I felt no need to 1. Hold a birthday party and 2. Purchase them anything for their birthday other than their big girl beds since they have more than I care to admit mainly by donation alone after Angel’s surgery. However for 6 months straight they would tell me before bed how their birthday party was going to be and how all they wanted in the world was a piñata (really?, ok). Against my husband’s wishes I caved and started planning a “Frozen” birthday party.
I thought about it for a while and decided I would throw them a party they wanted (within reason of course….no unicorns were flown in for the event) but there were parameters:
- It needed to be a theme where all the kids could aid in something charitable
- It would be less work than the last 3 years at my house (because 30 toddlers in one house high on sugar can force one into home renovation afterwards)
- My twins would have to donate their toys to the local Children’s Hospital where Angel had her surgery
This wasn’t something I told them in detail until closer to the party. I did allow them to open their gifts the next day, allowed them to choose ONE each and we had a family meeting to discuss what was going to happen with the rest of them.
Luckily for us we had been coaching our kids all year on kids that have far less than us and people we need to help so it was a pretty short discussion. We simply asked them a few thought provoking questions:
“Do you feel special that you had such a great birthday party?”
“Did you know that lots of other kids don’t get birthday parties?
”Do you know that even worse many kids don’t get any presents on their birthday?”
“Angel, do you know that some kids spend their birthday in the hospital where you were?”
We then took them into their playroom and asked them what their favorite toys were. They carefully selected their prized toy or two. Once chosen we sat down together and said, “Now, don’t you want to feel so good knowing that you gave someone else a chance to love these toys as much as you love kitty and puppy?”
We hit the nail on the head. You could see their wheels turning and then the smiles slowly creeping over their faces. Whew, they were on board and I am pretty sure I have never been so proud of them for grasping the concept of why they were giving up this plethora of generous gifts. All was well in the Downey household. After all, does this look a child who is disappointed?
Do you feel the same way? That your kids have so much and the sense of guilt comes over you knowing there are so many other sweet children who less fortunate or are suffering in some way? If you do, read on and we will tell you how easy it was, and more cost effective.
Here’s how we did it:
1. We decided the money we would spend on presents would go towards their party instead building memories for them, not overwhelming them with material items
2. In our invitations we told our guests if they feel inclined to bring a gift it would be donated to charity. Any cash donations would be given to a charity as well. (side note: people were so generous with this idea we were able to send $120 to charity in the children’s name)
3. We did some research to find out what things we could donate and where. In the end kids decorating the craft boxes was a nice touch for the donation. They also created cards for all the children at the hospital as well to go in the individual boxes.
4. We thought of a theme and because it was “Frozen” we went with “The Act of True Love”. A twist on the movie where the act of true love was the kids so selflessly giving to others by making the boxes and donating the gifts they chose.
5. We sent an email a couple of days before stating the agenda and what the kids would be making and why.
6. After the party I sent one final email thanking everyone for attending, their donations and a list of what was donated and to where in our kids’ names.
The great news is the girls never even asked about their presents. They were more excited about who was getting the gifts and craft boxes and when. In the end we donated 7 crafts boxes filled with all sorts of things to keep the kids at the hospital occupied, 24 cards the children made, 21 gifts donated, $120 donated to Livy’s Hope to raise money for epilepsy research, some very grateful children at our local hospital, and a great lesson in giving, charity and love for my kids. Oh yeah, and I actually saved money this year so clearly I was happy as well.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. People thought it was going to be torture to pull the gifts away from our 4 year olds – you know sort of like that scene in “Meet the Parents” where Ben Stiller tells the flight attendant she can have his suitcase if she can get it “out of my kung fu grip”. It wasn’t like that in the least. It again solidifies my belief that if we continue to instill these values of giving coupled with a deeper understanding of others and needs that far exceed our own we can change how our children view the world and those in it. My twins aren’t special by any means, just coached on the bigger picture. It’s not a perfect practice but someday it will pay dividends.
Keep an eye out for ISP’s Birthday Campaign. Soon we will have our page up where anyone – kids of adults – can set up a campaign to send to party-goers and friends to donate funds to a good cause in lieu of presents to your next big event. We hope it will spread the love and kindness to others that need and make us feel happier than any material gift ever could!
Comments and questions are always welcome!