Family Relationships

On Birthday Traditions

May 11, 2024

Do you have any birthday traditions?

Late April and May bring birthday season in our family. Our sons have birthdays less than three weeks apart, and both have grown to reeeeally love their birthdays, which makes it a joy-filled, but also high stakes time. :-) Not to mention, we have a host of other family members and close friends with birthdays around this time too.

Thinking back on my own birthday celebrations as a kid, those are some of my favorite memories — birthday parties at McDonald’s (are there any 80s babies who remember how much this was an elite way to spend your birthday?!), costume parties (because my birthday is close to Halloween, so an easy lay-up for my mom to plan), sleepovers, and a bowling party (which was memorable, mostly because my grandparents participated, and I was wowed to learn they knew how to bowl/be out and about in the world, ha!).

When it comes to celebrating birthdays, we generally take a flexible approach — making plans based on the person’s interests and desires for that year. Over the past decade, I feel like we’ve experienced every kind of birthday, from the well-planned brunch with themed decorations to the ones during a global pandemic with mandatory social distancing. There’s been homemade cakes, DoorDash delivered cupcakes, goodie bags for classmates, experiences over parties, and birthdays when we’ve had to work.

But somewhere along the way, I think about five years ago, we started a birthday tradition that’s become a fixture in everyone’s celebration. And here’s how it goes…

Birthday Affirmations
At a certain point in the gathering, maybe after the food has been eaten or cake has been served, everyone takes turns sharing one thing they love about the birthday boy/girl. It’s a moment to affirm what makes him/her special and lovable. And it’s easily my favorite part of every celebration.

What makes this so special?

It’s very easy to think loving, positive thoughts about the people closest to us and never actually share those thoughts with them. It’s common that the nicest things said about a person are at their funeral, instead of while they were living. I think we’ve somehow developed a false sense that the people closest to us “just know” how we feel. Or that if we shower them with affirmations, they might get an inflated sense of self.

But the truth is life is hard, and most of us are bombarded with messages that tell us we’re falling short or behind. Most of us struggle with feelings of inadequacy in some area, wondering, “Am I doing enough? Am I enough?”

And so, it becomes a beautiful, and even holy, moment to look someone in the eyes and to name the best things about them. How they have impacted your life and soul in small or big ways. How they are loved and lovable.

The birthday person doesn’t respond with what they love about you either. Not that they don’t love you back, but this is a special time to hold the birthday person at the center. The hope is that they are drenched in words of affirmation. That their cup would indeed overflow.

When we first started this tradition, it wasn’t easy for everyone in our family to express an affirmation. Not because they weren’t loving, but the act of articulating our appreciations and words of love is a skill, which is not exercised regularly in most cultures and families. It requires practice and strengthening. But it has certainly gotten easier with practice and repetition.

Here are two sweet photos of our sons receiving affirmations as they recently turned 6 and 9!

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