A 13th Birthday Celebration You Have To Do!


You know the saying. 

“Oh just wait until she’s a teenager!” 

Ever since having our first daughter, this is something that has been said to us on countless occasions (and in saying it they never meant it in a good way).  There’s something about the teenage years that tends to tilt conversations mostly towards the dark side of this season of parenting. 

While I know that the teenage years will likely include their share of ups and downs, as our oldest approached her 13th birthday this summer, we wanted to take time to celebrate her in an intentional and meaningful way. With the goals of connection, celebration, intentional conversations, and creating memories in mind, my husband and I decided to take our kids on a 13th Birthday Trip – that they plan!  

Here’s how we did it. 

Roughly 6 months before the birthday girl’s 13th birthday we sent a Google Doc to her email that outlined our terms for her trip. Here are the terms.

13th Birthday Trip Guidelines

Upon becoming a teenager, rather than a birthday party, each of you are invited to join Mom and Dad for a getaway weekend. The Birthday Girl will be responsible for helping research and select the birthday trip destination and plan for the trip. 

The following guidelines apply when selecting a location:

  • Must be in the 48 contiguous states
  • Trip will be Thursday – Sunday  
  • Trip to include at least:
    • 1 Educational Activity
    • 1 Fun Activity 

Birthday Girl to help plan the following:

  • Flights
  • Hotel
  • Restaurants
  • Activities

Note: Details of the trip must be approved by Mom and Dad.  

Time to plan. 

Once she received the terms, our daughter was off on a planning mission. She spent MONTHS researching different places she might potentially want to visit and eventually landed on Orlando as her destination of choice. She chose this mostly because she recently finished reading all of the Harry Potter Books and desperately wanted to go to Universal Studios.

Upon selecting her location, she wasn’t done planning!  We taught her where and how to look for flights, hotels, car rentals, tickets for attractions, etc.  Once we identified those details, she even helped us book the tickets and plan for our time away.  

The process leading up to the trip was just as much a part of the experience as the trip itself. In asking her to help with the planning, she learned valuable lessons like how much does travel really costs and how much planning really goes into planning for a family trip. 

Our Trip.

When the day finally arrived, we boarded the plane and we were off. Once arriving in Orlando, our weekend consisted of one full day at Universal Studios and one full day at Kennedy Space Center. 

We laughed a lot.  We learned a lot (Kennedy Space Center is a MUST!). And we even got caught in an unexpected thunderstorm that left us scrambling to devise a Plan B.  (Lessons learned by our 13-Year-Old: Life doesn’t always go as planned.)

Additionally, sprinkled throughout the days we went into the trip with some goals of our own to not only make the trip a wonderful celebration but also to have conversations around some of the harder topics of the teenage years and young adulthood.  

We tackled conversations like:

  • Sex
  • Drugs & Alcohol 
  • Peer Pressure
  • Depression
  • Finances
  • Eating Disorders
  • Mental Health
  • Friendship

Now we didn’t sit down one evening at dinner and open up a notebook with a list of these topics and go one by one down the list (which sounds like a dreadful experience in my mind).  Rather we sprinkled them into the times we were waiting in line and some in the car driving from one activity to the next and others we did discuss at meal times. We tried to make the conversations honest and authentic but not overly awkward. 

While these conversations weren’t always easy or comfortable, they were topics that teenagers deal with on a day-in and day-out basis and our hope is to create a safe space for our kids where they know they can share openly with us.  

(For support and encouragement on how and why it’s important to have these conversations with our teenage girls in particular, I recommend the book untangled by Lisa Damour)

In the end, it turned out to be a wonderful adventure and memory that I know we’ll all cherish.

Many parents dread the teenage years but we’re hoping to enjoy it!   

To help start the planning process checkout our Family Vacation Guide. It is full of family friendly destinations and activity ideas to make memories of a lifetime. ……..

Not able to make a long weekend trip work?  That’s ok!  Celebrate your kid’s 13th birthday in a way that works best for your family.  Some ideas include a staycation or a day dedicated to only them where they get to plan local activities to do to celebrate.


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Steph is the Founder & Director of City Mom Collective; growing the network after founding its original site, Scottsdale Moms Blog, in 2009. Now living in the greater Minneapolis area, she oversees the national network by spearheading growth strategies, sales initiatives and shepherding and encouraging an ever-increasing number of moms managing individual local parenting websites. She is married to Alan and is mom to three little girls, Nora, Elsie and Audrey. She loves throwing a great party, connecting people and cooking with a glass of red wine in hand.


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