In today's consumer-driven world, it's impossible to imagine a birthday without presents. The gift planning often starts months before their actual birthday with family and friends asking what they want this year. The list of items gets rhymed off without much thought of cost or logistics to make it a reality. I suppose that is the blissful innocence of being a child, but it's also a reflection of the environment they're growing up in - one where they believe they can have anything they want! (within reason).
Buying gifts for your children can be exciting and it's normal to want to overindulge them. You want to give them the world and bring them joy and happiness, especially on their big day, We do, however, often question where to draw the line between showering them with gifts and turning them into entitled...well you know whats. Where's the balance between the two? Unfortunately, the answer is not that straightforward because it really comes down to your parenting style.
Many believe the more children get, the less they appreciate and ultimately the less they take care of items. When children have so many commodities at their disposal, nothing is ever that special or unique - and even if it breaks, they're pretty sure they can just be replaced. When wondering what the perfect balance is, you probably have to think beyond just their birthday and think through the type of person you want to raise. Consider Bill and Melinda Gates' philosophy, for example. The billionaires have stated that their children will only inherit a small fraction of their fortune (still A LOT of money, we recognize) to ensure they work hard and "aren't too lazy." Obviously, their children have lived a pretty charmed life, but their statement speaks to the type of character they're trying to build in their children - that everything you want should not just be handed to you.
Educating children about finances from a young age.
One of the ways we're trying to not spoil our kids on their birthdays is to explain the cost behind gifts and parties (cue my parents voices: "money doesn't grow on trees"). It's a great opportunity to teach them about finances. For example, when you speak openly about the cost of a birthday party and educate them on how much it takes for the average person to earn that, it helps put it into perspective.
One year, for my daughter's 7th birthday, we went through the cost of the cake and loot bags and food and activities with her. All and all - it was a couple hundred dollars. We told her that for the same price, she could spend a night away at Great Wolf Lodge with her family. To my surprise, she decided to skip the party and opted for a night away at the Lodge, which conveniently brings me to my next point...experiences over gifts.
An experience is a gift that keeps on giving because the memories of it will be forever etched in their brains. I often find it hard to remember the day-to-day when my children were younger, but I can rhyme off the type of shoe they were wearing on a trip down to Florida or the way their hair was styled when we went to Centre Island in Toronto. The memories help freeze time and enable me to remember who they were and how they acted at that age. It's also a welcomed surprise when my kids can recall the intricate details of an experience too! This is why giving the gift of an experience - no matter how big or small - can be so precious. We all know that they often don't need another toy. The gift of you and your time to do something with your children is the greatest present they (AND YOU) can ever get.
Buy them what they actually need
Oftentimes in the months leading up to their birthdays, I start to take stock of what they actually need. Yes, I know these aren't the most glamorous things, but they are more practical and useful than that random plastic robot on sale at Indigo. I'm talking about socks, underwear, pyjamas, markers & school supplies. Yes, call me the queen of non-exciting gifts, but I can guarantee, these will be used for months and possibly years to come.
Set a limit
Set a finite amount for how much you're willing to spend on a birthday present and let them know what that number is. Think of it sort of like a ‘birthday budget’. It will help provide another finance lesson on spending within your limits. If they happen to want something that is above that limit then they can decide where and how to make those additional resources. If they're quite young, then you can create an agreement around household chores. If they're older and more independent, then perhaps they can help earn money by helping out neighbours.
Go for one gift, rather than many
Every Christmas, I tell myself that the kids need NOTHING and that I am not going to overdo it again on gifts. I eventually list the handful of practical - with a few fun - gifts that they are doing to get. However, something happens between Dec 21-24, where my mind starts second guessing my gift list and I worry that they won't wake up to see an abundance of "things" stuffed under the tree. Cue a mad dash to a few more shops to buy whatever - who cares at this point - to ensure the tree looks magical on Christmas morning. Flash forward to noon on Christmas Day and me wondering why I added the extra pieces of junk to the pile. Well, if that wasn't a total tangent on my birthday present point, then I don't know what is... what I was trying to segue into is that birthdays sometimes don't feel that different. It feels like we need to buy a whole pile of gifts to make it extra special for them when we really don't and we regret it shortly after. Why do we keep doing that?! Can we just all agree to focus on one special gift and be done with it!!?
I truly believe it's our social and ethical responsibility as parents to raise children who are kind, considerate and thoughtful human beings. I can bet that most other people want that as well and that "spoiled" or "entitled" are absent from the list of attributes parents wish for their kids. Perhaps if we can apply ways to not spoil them on their birthday - a day where most bets are typically off - then we can definitely start to make that vision for adults who are compassionate, more of a reality.