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At my daughter’s recent birthday party, one of my friends did something I thought was slightly deranged: Along with the requisite gift for the honoree, my pal brought a similar present -- for my other daughter.
"It’s not her birthday," I told her, confused.
"I know," my friend replied, "but I didn’t want her to feel left out."
In her defense, the friend in question is a mom of twins, so I thought maybe she was just extra-sensitive about familial jealousy. But when I brought the sibling-gift shenanigans up later, several other moms admitted they’d witnessed this "trend" at their own kids’ parties.
At the risk of sounding overzealous here, is this what overprotective, extreme-parenting has come to? Obviously no parent likes to see her child hurting, but we are talking about a birthday here; the one day a year reserved for us alone (well, and approximately nine million strangers, but you know what I mean). Wouldn’t this be a fine time to emply one of those “teachable moments” the parenting pros talk about? “Yes, Sally, today is Johnny’s day to get the attention—and the presents. It’s okay to be envious, but try to remember how much you loved the special attention on your birthday.”
At my kids’ school, they don’t count laps in the jog-a-thon, for fear that a child may feel bad for lagging; when my daughter played soccer, there was no official score. (Make no mistake: The kids knew exactly how many goals each team had scored, but nobody was allowed to post it or gloat about it.) At gymnastics, every child who participates in the meet gets a trophy because -- say it with me here -- they are all winners! Except they’re not. Yes, most of them are good kids and all of them probably try hard, but life has winners and losers. It has leaders and it has followers. It has graduates who get jobs and drop-outs who don’t. It has guests of honor -- and plain old guests. As a parent, I don’t think it’s ever really too soon to let them know what’s coming. And most children I know, mine included, could use a gentle reminder that they are not the all-day-every-day center of the universe.
I’m not evil or insensitive (most days). When a friend has a second or third baby I always bring "big sister/brother" trinkets to the predecessors, a gesture I hope helps them get excited about their new role. Because in these instances, they do indeed have a new role. But if you invite me to your kid’s party, don’t expect any additional "happy brother’s birthday!" gifts -- because they are not coming.