Monday, May 30, 2011

Birthday Week @ Our House

(this article originally appeared in the 10/19/10 edition of The Review Atlas as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series)

We are concluding birthday week at our house. Three out of seven family members were born mid October. I’ve gained five pounds from all the cake, special dinners and party treats.

July 2004
It is in my humble opinion however, that a large portion of each child’s birthday be set aside to honor the  woman who did all the work. I mean really, nine months of nauseousness, a gazillion stretch marks and nonstop back pain preceding fifteen solid hours (if you’re lucky) of sheer terror and relentless labor and what do I get? To bake more cupcakes!

a fancy cake
Really? This is far from being fair!

Despite my all-about-me attitude, I believe birthdays are meant to be celebrated. Unfortunately many parents can get sucked into wish lists from hell and the real meaning of birthdays are often lost in wrapping paper and expensive, special order cakes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ordering fancy cakes.

Birthdays are not meant to be gimmee sessions. Birthdays should be about the person; who they are, who they are growing up to be and what joy and meaning they bring to our lives.

There is a program on MTV that chronicles the birthday party preparations of the rich and famous’ soon-to-be sixteen year old teenagers. It is without a doubt one of the most commercialized disasters I have ever witnessed. And every red blooded American teen is glued to the episodes. It makes me very sad.
Why do we raise our children to believe that they deserve to get the latest and greatest thing? Are we trying to buy our children’s love? Do we allow them to manipulate us into believing this is what ‘good parents’ do? Who told us this was acceptable parenting; going deeper and deeper into debt so our children can have gadgets, 24/7 internet access, designer clothes and more … stuff?

You see, the problem with upping the ante every holiday or gift giving occasion is that you never arrive. You start a cycle where you always have to out do yourself and go bigger. If you’re blowing hundreds today, are you prepared to spend thousands next time?

I say “Enough!” I suspect, that in comparison, our home this birthday week was filled with a minimal amount of inexpensive gifts. But I would furiously argue that we were not poor when it came to love and fun and memories.

Every child, regardless of their age, can find a way to express their gratitude towards their sibling.
And finally, my favorite birthday tradition; pulling out the photo album. Year after year, it never gets old. We reminisce over how little, how mad, how poopy and how sweet or fussy our little angel was. We tell stories about how happy we were when they were born. We remind them how special it was when they did that cute thing that one time. We laugh and share and remember. But mostly we communicate to our child that this family is better with you in it!

Will my children know in twenty years what I bought for them or will they remember if they felt safe, loved and encouraged? Certainly gift giving is an appropriate way to share your love with your child and there‘s no better time than a birthday. I simply hope we can keep the focus off of lvish gifts and focus on the person. No gift can out shine your compassion for your child anyway. Isn’t your love for your child the most extravagant gift to bestow anyway? It is! Why? Because I’m the mother and I said so! That’s why!

Stephanie is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Rosevile School District. She runs the First Steps Parent Program. She can be reached at Lincoln Early Childhood School.

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