Celebrate a Child’s Birthday Meaningfully: New Responsibility, New Privilege

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Keepin’ it real with some pharmaceutical post-its (I have no idea what diprivan is used for!)

On your child’s birthday, you of course want to make them feel celebrated.

But besides the purely fun stuff, like an opportunity for a joy-filled leap into their next year and some festive decorations, what about a way to celebrate a child’s birthday meaningfully?

New Responsibility, New Privilege

Kids cling to every day of their age — ever forgotten to acknowledge a kid is not just 4 but actually 4 AND A HALF? You will most certainly hear about it. 😊

The tradition of a new responsibility and new privilege plays off children’s love of growing older.

On each of our sons’ recent birthdays — excluding Bennett since he just turned a year — we presented two envelopes, one labeled “New Privilege” and one labeled “New Responsibility.”

Nate turned 6; his new privilege is a $1 raise in his allowance and his new responsibility is to sweep under the dining room table a couple times a week. Evan turned 8; his new privilege is also a raise in allowance, along with getting to open a bank account, and his new responsibility is to fold his own laundry.

Tips for Determining a Responsibility and a Privilege

Though I love that we’ve started this tradition, there have already been a few learning moments. Here’s what I’d recommend when starting this tradition:

Make it make sense for your family.

If you’re going to go to the work of assigning a new chore, make sure it matters to you and contributes to the overall well-being of the family. We could have chosen “make your bed” as a new responsibility, but the truth is we’re not a family of bed makers and I’m okay with that. We do, however, produce boatloads of laundry and have a dining room floor in frequent need of sweeping, so that’s why we chose the chores we did.

Figure out implementation ahead of time.

We didn’t specify how often Nate needs to sweep and since it’s a new thing, I keep forgetting to ask him to do it. It thus hasn’t been happening much. And what’s the point of assigning a new responsibility if we don’t follow through?

I think going forward, we’re going to say sweeping happens specific days, say, every Tuesday and Friday. Sure, Mike or I might need to sweep some other days — we do, after all, have a toddler who relishes chucking food on the floor — but with Nate only being 6, we don’t expect him to fully take over sweeping so much as learn how to do it and help out.

Make sure the responsibility is realistic.

The responsibility should be realistic in terms of the child’s ability/developmental stage, but also realistic in terms of, well, reality.

A few days after his birthday, Evan and I were in the car when he said, “Moooom?” in his drawn-out, I-have-a-confession voice. Turns out he has a “super efficient, really fast” way of putting his laundry away that basically amounts to unfolding it all in the process. 😂

Because I truthfully haven’t noticed his (super casual) wardrobe looking particularly disheveled, it doesn’t seem worth the battle to say this is the year he has to start folding his clothes. Yes, he’ll need to learn to fold laundry at some point, but the motivation will be more intrinsic when he’s older and cares a bit more about his appearance.

But that left us with no new responsibility for Evan. Though he cleverly tried to argue that telling us he unfolds his clothes actually achieves the point of a new responsibility, which is to save his parents time (as in now, NO ONE has to fold Evan’s tshirts!), we weren’t persuaded.

Instead, I remembered one of the things I’ve dreamed about doing with the boys for years — volunteering. Helping people and supporting causes we believe in is one of our core values, and I’m excited Evan’s now old enough to volunteer in ways that require some physical labor. I signed us up for a food distribution event on May 21st and am on the lookout for other opportunities (this is one of my favorite places to check).

Nate is jealous that Evan gets to volunteer. Though I’m not sure that jealousy will last, it nonetheless provided a good opportunity to say, “Isn’t it great you’ll get to do things like that when you’re 8?” And for Evan, who hears about the fun things kindergartners do and gets mad second graders don’t have as much play time, it’s a good reminder that getting older has its perks.

Pay attention to determine a meaningful privilege.

Nate’s raise in allowance wasn’t the best choice as his new privilege. We knew that, but couldn’t come up with something better. He knows he was going to get that raise anyway, since that’s what happens with allowances at our house, and he isn’t all that into spending money right now.

I googled “privileges for six-year-olds” and found some ideas, but nothing that fit great for us.

I wish I’d instead simply paid more attention in the months leading up to Nate’s birthday. I’m willing to bet there were some great Nate-specific ideas that came up in conversations or situations, but I simply couldn’t recall any with a deadline looming.

The takeaway? Pay attention and jot the ideas down when they come to you. (Do you have a great spot to store ideas? My friend Kristine introduced me to bullet journaling and it’s been transformative for me! More on that sometime soon.)

Because we’d had trouble coming up with something for Nate, I paid extra attention in the weeks before Evan’s birthday, and that’s how the idea for opening a bank account came about.  

What are other ways to add meaning to the birthday celebration? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

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One Comment

  1. I love the idea of promoting volunteering as a ‘privilege’ that the kids get to look forward to!

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