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Special, But Not Self-Centered, Birthdays

No one wants self-centered kids. And no birthday celebrations are meant to foster self-centeredness! But the reality is, any day that celebrates one person can be hijacked by the sinful nature (of the celebrated person) to become an outlet for selfishness. So our birthday plans may not veer our kids towards selfishness, but, do our efforts steer them away from selfishness? Most of us are really good at making a birthday special and awesome; but have we learned the art or showing our children love and communicating how special they are to us, without letting them think the world revolves around them for the day? Mastering this art is no easy task in the self-centered, birthday-crazy culture many of us live in.

Here are 5 simple ideas that may help our quest for special, but not self-centered, birthdays:

#1 Focus each birthday on God’s kindness.

If we made birthdays about gratitude for life, we would avoid many potential pitfalls. In other words, birthdays should center on God’s goodness rather than the greatness of our kids. I mean c’mon, they didn’t do a whole lot to ensure they made it to their birthday anyway! Another year of life is God’s kindness at work. This focus should be evident in our verbiage and especially in our prayers on each birthday. Throughout the day we should be making a point to look to God to say “thanks!”

Not only is God kind by providing life each year, but he also allows our children to mature in new ways. Each year it would be great to reflect on how God has helped our children grow. Giving God due credit is often the antidote to self-centeredness of any kind.

#2 Don’t follow our culture’s lead.

If you get your cues from culture, you are going to feel the need to do a Pinterest-worthy party for every kid, every year! You might also feel the need to spend big bucks to make the day ultra special. Or you may feel the burden to put in weeks of planning to show your love. But remember, our culture is not getting its cues from God’s word.

You can obviously utilize some creative ways to celebrate, but never mistake the world’s expectations for the standard of “good parenting.” Our culture’s lead may inspire you to overdo it.

#3 Begin worthwhile traditions (not ones you wish you never made). 

With good intentions, we begin a lot of traditions. The problem is some traditions become so expected that our kids believe they “deserve them.” Be thoughtful which traditions you choose, and make sure they foster gratitude and celebration, not entitlement.

I’ve got to think that the more simple the traditions are, the more they will enable an appropriate focus on the most important things. The more elaborate they are, the more the day might (overly) revolve around pleasing the birthday kid.

Perhaps a new tradition could even involve serving someone else on a birthday. While this isn’t necessary, it does help us combat our culture (and our heart) that encourages selfishness.

#4 Celebrate with people more than presents.

The people in our lives are one of God’s greatest gifts. With that being said, a wonderful way to celebrate the gift of life is with the gift of people. We might find our kids are less self-focused if we make birthdays more marked by celebrating with people, rather than celebrating with stuff (lots of presents!). Be verbal about how special it is that we get to spend time with… (whoever will be there).

If your children are young, having direct conversations about the importance of people over presents is helpful (older kids hopefully know this already). Remind them to engage with people without eyeing the gift the person is holding (maybe it’s just my young kids that are tempted to do that?!).

#5 Write “thank you” notes.

Leading up to a birthday there is a lot of planning …and then the birthday is over, and life moves on. As life moves on, it can be easy to forget there is still more to do! But there is if we want to capitalize on a prime opportunity to teach our children gratitude.

Writing cards will force our kids to think longer about their gratitude than the 1.2 seconds it takes to say “thank you” after opening a gift. It also reminds them that each gift or act of kindness was not something they were entitled to. Thank you cards are worth the extra effort.


Birthdays are a beautiful time to reflect on God’s kindness, to celebrate with those we love, and to make lasting memories. We might just need to cut out some of the cultural “fluff” if it becomes less than that. And we might need to be a bit more intentional if we notice the birthday kid expects to be waited on hand and foot. Most importantly, we need to make some adjustments if Philippians 2:3-4 doesn’t apply to the birthday girl (or boy).

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

It’s a high standard, but it’s God’s — and it’s worth rising to. This year, let’s be sure to make birthdays special, but not self-centered.


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