Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Children's birthdays - exchanging excess for experience

April marks birthday season in our average wee household.
There are just ten days between my little 'uns' birthdays. Over the course of a fortnight I tend to do more baking and wrapping of presents than I do throughout the entire remainder of the year (except for Christmas time, which heralds another frenzy of similar activity).
Now that my two have reached what I think of as the 'middle' stage of childhood (they've just turned ten and eight), relatives are increasingly struggling to know what to buy them.  There are a number of reasons for this, not least of which is that their abundance of toys leaves my family concerned that they might purchase a duplicate.
Some of my relatives who live further afield send money or cheques.  I have one canny little saver and one blow-the-budget spender in my family. The spender is savvy enough to know exactly how much his latest longed-for piece of plastic costs in Argos. We therefore have to tread a difficult line between allowing him some freedom with the money he's been gifted and stemming the flow of excess 'stuff' into his bedroom.
As such, for those who live nearer at hand - and who genuinely want to give the children something that gives them pleasure - I've taken a more creative approach to gift-giving.  I started this process a couple of Christmases ago when I recognised the absurdity of a situation where I'd spent hours surfing Amazon for gift ideas because I simply could not think of anything they actually needed.

Lucky, lucky children.  But do they realise how lucky they are?  With a background in marketing, I'm well aware of the difference between a want and a need - but I'm not ready to give an eight and ten-year-old the full lecture on that quite yet.  Thankfully my generous relatives are also very trusting and flexible, so I suggested another approach instead....
Let's replace some of the physical gifts with something else.  Like new experiences.
Thus far my children have benefited from family membership to the National Trust for Scotland, an annual pass for our local transport museum (my son is car-daft) and taster ski-ing lessons.  My daughter, who has a keen interest in wildlife, adopted a dolphin as her Christmas present from her grandmother and receives regular updates via newsletter.  These are things which we, as parents, might not have been able to carve out of the family budget. Yet these intangible 'gifts' have enriched all of our lives no end.
And do the children miss the surplus goodies? Not one bit. They are very fortunate as there are always exciting-looking parcels to open on the day.  And I'd never suggest that we completely deny our offspring the sheer anticipation and joy of tearing off some brightly coloured paper to discover the treasures that lie beneath.

Deep down, however, I like to hope that if the present pile's a little bit smaller, they might appreciate what they receive a little bit more... 
How does your household deal with birthdays? I'd love to know! Please leave a comment and share your experiences.

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