I recently overheard a new mother lamenting her husband's decision that they not have a birthday party for their daughter's first birthday. He felt it was a waste of time and money, especially since she wouldn't remember it. On top of that, the mother was expecting baby number 2 around the same time and he felt it would be too much for her.
This young woman was explaining all of this to her in-laws, asking them to intervene and throw the party themselves. They went back and forth about what to do, where to have it, when, how many people to invite, etc. At one point the grandmother said "You have to do something, otherwise she will resent you when she gets older." The young mother responded, "I know. Especially when we have a huge party for her little brother's first birthday."
I have to say that I was shocked by this whole conversation. I wanted to give them all a lecture about how stupid they were being. I can understand the desire to celebrate the birth of their child. I can understand the desire to express their love by giving that child everything possible.
But where does it end?
Will this family throw an elaborate party every year for each of their children? For how many years? Will they have to improve every year, making each party better than the last? What about other celebrations? Will they have to compete with Christmas and Easter for the "best gift" award? More importantly, what kind of parents set themselves up to be resented? I mean, what kind of values are they planning to pass on to their children if they think their child will resent them for not having a party they can't remember or enjoy?
I believe this woman is setting herself up for a big fall. As I listened to her go on and on about professional photographs, rented party rooms, and custom invitations, I imagined her children in 30 years. I imagined them spoiled and self-centered, surrounded by their "things" and demanding more. I can see them being disappointed in everything and satisfied by nothing...and no one.
I kept wanting to say "You don't want to throw a party for her, it's for you." I believe that mother wanted to make herself feel important, to show how much she loved her daughter by showing off to her friends and family.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking about my parade of birthday cakes that I have made for my kids. I thought of that, too. It is true that I take a certain amount of pride in making special cakes for my kids. I like the challenge of making something unique and creative with limited resources. I recognize that about myself and I try to keep it in check.
I also let them choose. I may have to guide them a little but it is a collaboration. We all enjoy seeing what we can come up with. It has become a fun tradition for all of us. And I only give them a small cake for their first birthday, when they really don't care. Two of my kids took one look at their cake and burst into tears. One screamed her head off when we made her touch the cake. They don't understand what is going on. Why force it?
As for parties and presents, I don't make much effort. We have had a few parties but we usually limit the guest list to close friends or family (when we are close to them). I want it to be a special day but not a free-for-all. I also don't see the need to spend our limited funds on an elaborate party. I have tried to impress on the children the need to make wise choices. I also explain to them that buying things is not the best way to show our love. It seems that birthdays and other celebrations have become wonderful learning opportunities.
Having so many kids, so many birthdays, in such a short time has often brought me to reflection about what is most important. What do my kids really need? Toys or time? Lavish parties or listening? One big day every year or 365 little days? It is always a choice.