My birthday month is coming up soon—yes, MONTH—and I’m already making plans. Maybe this makes you think I’m jumping on the whole self-care bandwagon with a wee bit too much gusto, but I can’t remember a time over the past four decades when I wasn’t genuinely excited to go up a number. Alive for a whole ‘nother year? WOO HOO. Time for cake—and for celebrating the people who helped make that year wonderful.
Excuses Women Make to Not Celebrate Their Birthday
The reason I bring this up is because I’ve met loads of women for whom the concept of celebrating their birthday is completely foreign to them. Some are simply used to putting their own needs at the bottom of their priorities list. Every day is packed full of caregiving for others and tasks to get done. Future days are on hold because kids’ games or school events might need them free, spouses might work late, babysitters might be tough to book—there’s too much to deal with in the Right Now to even create the headspace to think about Later.
Others genuinely don’t see getting older as a good thing. Yes, they acknowledge that the alternative is much morse (duh), but they’ve spent most of their lives hearing that getting older decreases a woman’s value. Add that to a lifetime of already thinking they aren’t enough—pretty enough, smart enough, interesting enough, whatever-body-aesthetic-they-think-they-should-be enough—and you get a segment of the human race who cringes at the idea of blowing out candles in public.
Why Shouldn’t I Get (at Least) a Day in the Spotlight?
As a working mother of school-aged children I want the best for, I, too, sometimes fall into the habit of putting them first. My kids will point out the holes in my sneakers as I’m buying them new ones. They’ll have a great dinner at the table while I’m eating on my feet, running around them to load the dishwasher while preparing to shuttle us out the door to the next activity. Months will go by without my seeing a single friend solely for social reasons: a coffee, a movie, a carb-fest at the diner to catch up with one another’s lives.
I become Mom first, and me, well, oops—I forgot about her. Then my birthday peeks its head around the corner at me with a grin.
When my own mom’s gift arrives in the mail early, I set it aside for my special day. When my kids and husband ask me what I want, I answer honestly.
I get work and errands done ahead of time to free up the day. I always get myself a gift. I always make sure my family celebrates with me. And there’s one other thing I do.
How Celebrating Myself Helped Others
Starting about fifteen years ago, I invited a collection of my girlfriends from all parts of my life together for dinner once a year, using my birthday as an excuse. The deal is simple: no gifts for me, just split the bill evenly. Sometimes I baked the dessert (I make a killer cupcake), other times we ordered from the menu. It was strange to them, my wanting to surround myself with the women in my life as a gift to myself for my birthday. At first some women were reluctant to join in on this unusual event, reluctant to eat the cake.
That reluctance didn’t last long.
My friends watched me model taking care of myself, celebrating who I am exactly as I am, and asking for what I deserved. They saw how much I appreciated them, and heard how I wished they all knew how much they deserved, too. We weren’t that different, so why weren’t they toasting themselves? Why weren’t they reaching for all the joy they deserved? Over the years, I saw it slowly start to click.
I’ve noticed that my own celebrations have caught on with friends of mine who were non-celebrators back when we first met. They ask me which date I picked to go out before I even chose one on the calendar. They showed up in spades, happily ate the cake without saying, “Oh, I shouldn’t.” They planned dinners or celebrations of their own, too.
They started treating themselves as worthy of care and celebration.
The Best Gift of All
There are many reasons why I continue to heartily celebrate each year, and they aren’t all just for my own benefit (though I really, really, really do love cake). Of course the sweet gifts my family give me are a treasure. Yes, it’s important to remind kids that their mom deserves parties, too. But I’ve discovered that sometimes my own self-care can rub off on others, helping them see it’s not a bad thing to prioritize yourself, celebrate yourself, eat the darn cake.
So now each year I get to sit surrounded by women who finally see that they are the gift I’ve known them to be all along. What could possibly be a better birthday present than that?