This Is What Happens When You Let Your Kids Plan Your Birthday

By: Joe Burton


I’m about to have my 49th birthday. Which I always spend with my wife and our two young sons. Jackson and Will are now 9 and 7.

Three years ago, I started a new tradition. I let the kids plan my birthday. And we get exactly what you’d expect.

Two years ago, I took the day off from work. The kids planned miniature golf, pizza for lunch, a video arcade and then we played with my gift… an architectural Lego set of the Trevi Fountain. Last year, it was a movie (Pete’s Dragon), playing in the park (we did the little boys’ version of American Ninja Warrior) and sushi. Yup, that was their choice too.

As a type A personality, I’ve made it a practice to create more situations when I completely let go of control. When you’re not fully present, it’s easy to get caught in routines. One of my more annoying routines is pre-judging how we spend time as a family. It’s easy to be a wet blanket when you’re looking for the perfect hike, the right movie for everyone, the type of cuisine you haven’t had in awhile. And it can stifle the family.

Beyond having a great time by letting go of birthday angst, my wife shared that it’s been amazing for our children. Last year, they spent an hour researching movies, looking at PG and G trailers. They spent several hours at a woodshop class picking out and making the perfect gifts for good old Poppy. They chose to make me a wooden “J” and a heart. And they went onto Yelp to pick a restaurant. That too involved debate and rationale between two little boys with strong opinions.

I’ve never been that big on birthday celebrations. My twin sister passed away 10 years ago and our birthday has turned into somewhat of a day of mourning for my extended family. My mother calls, wishes me happy birthday and we cry. My siblings usually call the day before to avoid the emotions of the day. But the past few years have been different. Our kids bring so much love and energy to the planning. They care about the details. And they expect full participation in whatever plans they’ve put together.

The practice of letting go may be easier when it’s so much fun. I can’t remember more enjoyable time with the family.

But it’s also a reminder that I can let go anytime. It occurs to me that lots of people spend their time and energy creating from joy. And lots of people can lose that joy when the people they care about, or work with, or are trying to impress aren’t able to let go and enjoy the process.

Getting older is a part of life. Getting stuck in old routines doesn’t have to be the norm. I don’t want to get older too fast. But I’ve decided to make it a practice of having more birthdays. I can’t wait to see what they’ve planned this year.

About the Author

Headshot of Joe Burton

Joe Burton

Retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace

Joe is an entrepreneur in the digital wellness space, retired Founder and CEO of Whil and former President of Headspace, and spent fifteen years as a global COO in public companies. He’s an alumnus of Harvard Business School and a regular contributor to Forbes, Business Insider and The Huffington Post. He’s worked in over 50 countries and travels the world speaking on topics including disruption, culture, resiliency and mindfulness.

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