Our son didn’t have a birthday party and it’s ok…right?

Last week our son turned 2 and we celebrated without having a party. Yay!

We didn’t even do a theme or a t-shirt with the witty “two” slogan scrawled across it. We didn’t make the chalkboard peppered with the small-talk you really only share during playdates like how many teeth he has (16, I think?) and his favorite words (car, hot, and buh-bye). There was no professional photo-shoot, and there was no cake with swirly colors on the outside and the unidentifiable crunchy things on the inside.

Instead there was a little boy, his new bike and his favorite snacks…easy peasy!


We spent quality time doing all things he enjoys most: singing, picking up sticks, playing in the sink, and imitating fire trucks.

It was a perfect day, cloaked in the same simplicity I want for the rest of my life Click To Tweet

As great as it was, I was torn about making the decision. I kept experiencing this nagging feeling that was no doubt a result of my lineage. I come from a long-line of women who believe in celebrating EVERYTHING. I grew up looking forward to my own birthday parties which were hosted at all my favorite places ranging from the backyard to Burger King. To this day, my mom still believes in unexpected gifts and turning everyday occasions into jam-packed weekends.

I’m very fortunate to come from a family where being celebrated is the norm and I’ve always wanted to replicate that feeling. Still, I can’t help but feel like things were simpler back then. Modern rules of engagement that dictate who and how many people should be invited was butting heads with my desire to honor tradition while keeping things unfussy.

Last year’s party. Side-eyes for everybody!

Baby r&R is a pretty laid-back child, but crowds and forced-socializing are two of his triggers. He doesn’t have a desire to be the center of anyone’s attention except for a handful of people. Like me, when he’s confronted with a room full of eager people who are all there to see him, he needs time to acclimate. These traits can make birthday parties a tough day for both of us. In fact, I distinctly remember declaring “never again” after the last guest left the party last year!


On a more personal note, we’re in a happy season where I have it all, but I still can’t do it all. Between work, travel, r&R, family and friend obligations, I’m tapped out.

These are all good reasons, right? Despite all of them, I still waffled back-and-forth on my decision for what felt like months. Apparently, it’s easy for me to safely point to tactics like cutting cable as a way to optimize our life, but professing that I cut out my child’s birthday party unleashes this undercurrent of mom-guilt.

So I decided to tweet about it; and the parents of the FIRE community rose to the occasion as usual. They shared creative examples of family traditions that not only replaced birthday parties, but did it in a way that empowered their decision making. It was a subtle reminder that the pursuit of Financial Independence [FI] is supposed to push how you define your family life.

@richandregular on Twitter
Each response reminded me that challenging norms is a catalyst to freedom. It doesn't make sense to wish away the hard parts that are essential to the life you're trying to establish Click To Tweet

Skipping the birthday party wasn’t a matter of frugality, it was an attempt to establish family rituals that feel right for the moment we’re in. In Rising Strong, Brene Brown cites a saying from The Asaro tribe: “knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.” That quote stuck with me because the same can be said for living intentionally and that skill is at the heart of FIRE.

So, no, this isn’t a declaration to swear off birthday parties. I’m sure you’ll find us in a bounce house within the next few years. But there are at least a dozen areas in my life where more effort does not lead to greater utility, and a toddler’s birthday party happened to be one of them.

I’m positive this decision won’t extend into eternity and I’m totally ok with that. As much as I loved the outcome (we saved time and money + the kiddo was elated), I’m prouder of the process that led me there.


4 comments

  1. Children want your love, attention, and time – it sounds to me that you gave him exactly that.. which makes it a pretty fine birthday party!

  2. I had a huge bash for my sons 2nd bday. Just for him to fall asleep on my head when it was time to sing happy birthday. Since then I just ask him what he wants to do and we do that!!! hands down the best decision ever. Now he is eleven and wants to go to Thailand for his 13th bday!!! Whew! I do too. lol! saving and hoping I can make this happen. Traveling there was on my list so we both benefit!!

  3. I’m super late to this party but wanted to chime in with a couple of thoughts. Our kids have had exactly 2 birthday parties – at ages 4/2 and at 8/6 (birthdays 2 weeks apart, both times were joint affairs). Each of them, around age 2/3, got a big box of Kleenex they were allowed to pull every tissue out of – hours of fun! We don’t do big gifts for birthdays either, we do whatever dinner they want, whatever cake they want, and coupons. Not those lame coupons you get at the Hallmark store for hugs or whatever, but high value items like “one night you can have dessert even if you didn’t eat your dinner” or “one night you can stay up past your bedtime”. Everyone’s happy and we don’t spend unnecessary money on things that are not valuable to us. I’m curious what you did for his 3rd birthday?

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