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A Story About How a Girl’s Birthday Party Became a Life-Changing Experience for Her Parents

All parents want the best for their children, and most of them are willing to do the impossible to make that happen. That’s likely to be the case when their kid’s birthday is just around the corner. Everyone starts getting excited but, as it turns out, we might not always have enough time or energy to carry out all the surprises we had planned for that special occasion. Still, everyone’s hoping it will be an unforgettable day. But what happens when we actually fail to meet everyone’s expectations? At first, we might worry and experience a strange sense of guilt. But it could also happen that this “failure” will help us realize that we were taking the wrong approach in the first place. Our kid’s reactions may even end up teaching us something new.

And that’s exactly what Bright Side brings you today, the story of a birthday party that ended with a life-changing lesson for the kid’s parents.

Nina’s birthday was just around the corner. She was turning 6, which is a big deal when you’re a kid. The previous birthday parties we had thrown had been amazing. Themed parties, perfect cakes with several layers of frosting, lots of colors and eye-catching details. Bouncy castles, entertainers, lights of all shapes and sizes. And lots of music. I remember thinking that that was the kind of party I’d like to have if I were a kid. I saw Nina was happy and enjoying her time with her friends. And we were happy and relaxed, just watching her laugh.

But this year had been a tough one. My husband had lost his job not long ago and my income had been reduced significantly. Our combined income barely made it possible for us to maintain the lifestyle we had led until then. This was at the expense of debt and a lot of personal sacrifices. Under these conditions, it was clear that we were far from being able to put together Nina’s dream birthday party.

At first, I was angry that we were going through such a rough patch. We had been working so hard lately and couldn’t even celebrate a birthday... Then I felt sad. It’s almost as if our daughter was being punished for something she hadn’t done. I simply went into denial: Nina’s birthday party would be just as great as the previous ones. I thought throwing a slightly smaller party would be a good idea and looked for sales of all kinds.

Nina’s dad and I spent weeks crunching numbers. I even thought about asking for a loan. Finally, it sunk in: by doing all those things, the only thing we’d get for sure was a lot of stress and debt, more than we already had.

I made up my mind. It didn’t make any sense to keep looking for alternatives, it was just never going to work. While we always made sure to keep Nina protected from experiencing our money issues, this time things were different. It was her birthday and there was no way to hide it, things had to change. One afternoon, when we were coming back from school, I decided to tell her. This year, her birthday party would not be like other years. We couldn’t afford to rent a party hall or invite many guests, entertainers, and castles.

Her answer left me speechless. Nina looked at me with surprise, opened her big, shiny blue eyes, and smiled at me, “So, we can do it at home?” She looked happy. “Sure,” I said, “at home, with a few friends, your uncles, aunts, grandpa, and us.” Then, I thought about what I had just said. I repeated it in mind. It actually didn’t sound like a bad party at all.

A party at home with close family members and her best friends. How had I not considered that before? Far from what I expected, Nina’s face was glowing. All this time, I thought she wouldn’t want to have “just a party at home,” but she actually preferred it. She didn’t even want to invite all her classmates. As it turns out, not all of them were really her friends. Most were just kids she had to spend time with because they were in the same class, but nothing else.

I suddenly started seeing things I hadn’t noticed in previous parties. It wasn’t the idyllic ones, the perfect things I wanted to see. Everything her face was saying through her expression of relief was true. Nina didn’t enjoy playing in the ball pit nor the loud music. More than once, I had had to comfort her because she was crying. I now remembered how often I had to encourage her to join a game because she was too shy and didn’t really want to do what the animators proposed.

My mood and my husband’s changed. We set out to prepare the birthday party, together, as a family: Nina made her own invitations, we decorated the house with balloons, garlands, and drawings made by the three of us. The cake was not perfect, of course, but it was delicious and looked like a real homemade cake.

We only had a few guests: her three best friends and our closest family members. Nina’s dad was the entertainer, and he was the best of them all. At the end of the day, Nina came to me and said: “It was the best birthday of my life. I hope the next ones are just like this one.”

Of course, she’ll probably change her mind in a few years, even if she doesn’t know it yet. One day, there will be no more balloons, no more pink, no more dolls. She’ll prefer to go dancing and meet boys instead. But what matters the most is what we learned that day as a family. Children have their own way of expressing their minds, and we must learn to listen. We have to be able to tell the difference between what we want and what they want.

We must see beyond what we think is best for them to understand what actually is best for them. They are people, just like us, and they have their own perspective on life, their own type of wisdom. They look at life with different eyes; for them, material things, luxury, and excess are almost never associated with happiness.

I think they might want to spend time with family and friends, to connect in a real way. Kids appreciate it when we take the time to enter their world and experience things the way they do. After all, isn’t that what makes us all happy? To have the courage to step into someone else’s shoes and connect with that person?

What about you? What was the last thing you learned from a child? Think about it, we’re sure there’s something they’ve taught you lately.

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