When Carol* saw that she did not have enough money to celebrate her son’s 13th birthday in the way she wanted to, she burst into tears.
She’d hoped to finally be able to give him the kind of big party that his friends had invited him to over the years – 10 or more kids playing Laser Strike, followed by pizza and cake and a games arcade.
But no matter how carefully we trimmed back her other spending, there just wasn’t enough money to pay for the celebration she wanted to have.
Which wasn’t just factual information for Carol – it brought up a whole array of overwhelming emotions. She was ashamed of her financial situation, she felt like a bad mother, she felt like she was in a no-win situation, she felt sorrow for what her child was missing out on, and embarrassed on his behalf that he couldn’t reciprocate the parties he’d been to.
One of the underpinning philosophies of my work is that in order for my clients’ spending plans to work in the real world, and not just on paper, it’s vital that they don’t feel deprived. This is layers and layers deeper than just being ‘allowed’ the occasional treat. It means finding the deep reasons for wanting to spend, and then coming up with ways to meet those needs while spending less or no money.
The fact that Carol burst into tears meant that the idea of the party was deeply meaningful to her. When I asked her what she was imagining would happen if she had the party as planned, a whole heap of ideas and concepts poured out of her, and as she gradually made sense of them, it became clear that the issue was this:
Carol was a solo mother who’d raised her son alone. Now that he was approaching the teen years, she could see him moving away from being a boy, and towards being a young man. Part of that growing would involve him moving away from reliance on her and out into the world. She hoped that by giving him a large birthday celebration, he would get a sense of her love for him and her pride in the kind of man he was becoming. “I want to grab him now, and make sure he knows this while he’s still a boy.”
It was clear as she spoke, that she hadn’t realised herself how profound her need was. And as she heard her own words, she saw clearly that there was no way the party she had planned was actually going to meet that very deep need.
So instead of the big party, she took a day off work. She sent him to school as usual, and then turned up to sign him out before morning tea They went and saw a movie, and then had lunch on the beach. He spent a lot of the time giggling over the fact that “right now, my friends are doing PE!” while he luxuriated in unexpected freedom. She finished up by giving him a letter that said the things that she wanted him to know.
When I saw her the following month, she was still buzzing from the joy they’d experienced. It was obvious that she’d created a lasting memory and deepened their connection.
I love Carol’s story, because it illustrates what I mean by ‘getting creative’ with celebrations. I don’t mean ‘make do with less’. I mean, find the real need behind the celebration, and meet that need with joy, creating lasting memories and deeper connections with those that you love.
*Name changed to protect confidentiality
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash