So I Canceled My Daughter's Birthday Party


By the title alone, you can tell I might have a different way of thinking about parenting. Canceling a three year old's birthday party? Is there severe weather predicted? Did you forget to order the cake? Am I just plain cruel? None of the above - hopefully in regards to the weather question specifically. This Minnesotan family is ready for some Spring! My husband and I have been wrestling with this 'birthday party' deal since I got pregnant with our first child three years ago. We knew that, upon embarking on the journey of parenthood and childrearing, that we wanted to be intentional with as many decisions as we could be. Birthdays were no small exception.

When I transport myself back in time into my mind as a little girl, I remember birthdays as an anxious day tolerating relatives while bragging to cousins about my pile of gifts. Quickly and dutifully reading the cards and throwing a 'thank you' at whomever Aunt Marble was, then tearing open the box (please don't be dumb clothes!) I remember pressing close to my Mom, reminding her that I get the biggest, most frosted piece of cake. The piece with the flowers on it.  To this day a birthday doesn't feel like a birthday if I don't get something, or bring something for the birthday boy/girl. Just writing it feels icky.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't want to be 'unbirthday'. I fully believe in celebrating life; celebrating the amazing works of art that grew in my belly and call me Mommy. But, when children are starving and the world is screaming at us all to love ourselves above anyone else - I feel like I have to veer from tradition.

And this has been an evolving process. In the beginning we talked about skipping birthday parties until the kids were at least old enough to remember them. I mean, I'm sure my little babes loved the onsies and pantsuits we gushed over... But we also agreed that skipping birthdays would also skip the importance of bringing people together to celebrate the lives we love so much.

The dilema starts here: How do we celebrate our children on any given birthday or holiday while still embracing the values of love, faith, humility, grace and giving? If God has really impacted our hearts to live self sacrificially, it really doesn't add up to have these celebratory days that emphasize gifts, more food than can ever be eaten, expensive activities, and the whole 'ME-ME-ME!' mentality. Add to it that we're dealing with toddlers. Hmmmm.

I have this thought that if I had never known of ice cream cake and ribbon, if my birthdays had never been composed of these traditional things, I wouldn't feel at a loss without them. Eventually as we get older, most of us come to a place where presents aren't nearly as important as the company we keep or the memories we share. Why can't this be the case from the beginning?

What I envision for my children on their umpteenth birthday maaaany years in the future, is that they will wake up a year older and get excited to spend time with family. I want them to most look forward to powerful prayer, reflections on memories, stories of their life and how they've lived well. Piles of presents won't even be a thought. Frosting? With the mom they have, cupcakes and ice cream will be a thing of every other night of the week. But birthdays? Birthdays will be something truly special.

This year, with much thoughtfulness, discussion, and prayer we made the decision to have a celebration that values the things we value. We will invite over our immediate family and close friends who are invested in our child's life, and together we will pray and dream about her future and share a meal of her favorite foods. Perfect! Intentional community, focus on family activity, prayer, and a meal. And probably some cake. And...

...and something still wasn't adding up. I can't deny how strongly God is telling us to do this differently. But I also couldn't deny that we were missing the mark. If I'm making lots of food and we're eating cake and ice cream and decorating the house, well, it still looks an awful lot like a traditional party. Not to mention, by only inviting a few people we are excluding the larger community. Jesus isn't exclusive. God blessed us with this daughter and has entrusted her to us AND our community. A great mix of people who love her and care about does it make sense to pick and choose when the whole group is equally important? (I'm a firm believer in the 'it takes a village' philosophy, if only because the village keeps me sane). We were trying to be simple and intentional, and in truth we were looking exclusive.

And I'll take the honesty and vulnerability up one more level - we didn't want to invite anyone who might feel uncomfortable with the way we were doing her party. No gifts? No 'party'? An evening of prayer?

Josh and I feel convicted to have her day be celebrated in this new way - intimate, personal, meaningful - so that's how it should be. Just the four of us doing Cora things, dreaming Cora dreams, and dancing Cora dances.  The money we could have spent on cake and candles will be given away to someone who needs it more than we need memories of kids in party hats. You're all officially un-invited to her birthday party.

But we still need the community of Cora lovers and you're all RE-invited to a new type of celebration: An hour of prayer for Cora's present and future. Come one, come all. I won't feed you, but you are welcome in our home if you want to come, and we hope you will. To have all of our family and friends support us and her in the best way we know how - with Jesus.

And if you feel uncomfortable? Don't worry, we won't be offended. This isn't an invitation you're expected to accept. We just hope you know you are welcome to. Who knows, it might not be as strange as you think.