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Birthdays: Finding a Different Way to Celebrate

For my family, birthday parties can be difficult as we have a son with special needs. The difference is stark and hard: Often, no one comes to my son’s birthday parties but all of my daughter’s friends come to her birthday parties. For years, I’ve struggled with how to handle this difficult situation and thankfully last year, I hit on the perfect solution to this problem: Have ‘Birthday Experiences’ rather than ‘Birthday Parties’!

My son loves pirates. Last year, I planned a pirate- themed day for the family. I found a ‘pirate cruise’ on a local lake that I bought tickets to surprise him with. The latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie had just come out before his birthday, so with a pirate cruise, a pirate movie, and lunch, we had a birthday planned. We spent the day with our little pirate loving every minute of it and so happy.

My daughter decided she needed an experience birthday, too, because she enjoyed the pirate experience so much. As her birthday approached, we discussed lots of options. She is someone who likes having all of her options open. Finally, she settled on having her hair highlighted and a spa day. I took her to a local beauty school and had her hair highlighted for $50. We painted each other’s nails and picked up her favorite takeout for dinner on the way home. For me, it was a win-win situation. My daughter was thrilled with her hair and spa day, it wasn’t that expensive, and I enjoyed the day, too.

This year, my son’s requested experience is to go to a Renaissance fair. There are a couple in our area and it’s a great way to help him experience and learn new things, as well as a great adventure for the whole family. We are looking forward to it, and he already has his Renaissance costume planned out.

Birthdays don’t have to be the traditional party, cake, and presents. Make new traditions and memories if the old ones don’t work for your family. The most important part of a birthday is making someone feel special on their special day and that can be done in lots of ways.

Here are a few other suggestions for a ‘Birthday Experience’:

Tea Party Experience - Dress up and take your child to a local tea shop.

Cowboy Experience - Spend the day at a ranch and learn how to rope and ride.

Fishermen Experience - Get your fishing duds, pack a picnic lunch, and go fishing (with a fishing licence, of course!). Take grandpa, too, because chances are he’d love to show you how to cast that line.

Ice Experience - Channel your inner Elsa and go ice skating in princess attire.

Gold Rush Experience - You may not live anywhere there is gold in the streams, but I can bet your child would love panning for gold in a stream for real or pretend.

Take your child’s great loves and interests and turn them into a day they will never forget. Birthdays don’t have to be extravagant; they should be about making memories and celebrating the life of that special person.

Calleen is An Ordinary Mom who believes in standing up, speaking out, and sharing her truths. Check out her blog at




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