The first time it happened, I was taken off guard. So much so, that it didn’t even cross my mind that I should speak up. I had one daughter who wasn’t quite 2, and we were celebrating my second pregnancy with a small baby shower. Working my way through a small mountain of presents, I stumbled on one that had my older daughter’s name written across the top.
“I didn’t want her to feel left out,” a friend explained, adding that she wanted to make sure my daughter felt special, too. So, my toddler opened her present, a cute little dress, and flounced around the room in it for the rest of the party.
In hindsight, I believe my child-free friend spotted the dress and was looking for an excuse to buy it. At the time, however, I felt concerned about the message her actions were speaking. I wanted my daughter, even at her young age, to experience the joy of celebrating others. Instead, the idea that she shouldn’t feel like second fiddle communicated that things are only fun when they are all about her.
Since then, this same scenario has repeated a few times, typically by a friend or a family member who doesn't have kids. Both girls are given a present at a birthday party meant to celebrate one sibling or a baby shower is punctuated with something special for the older siblings. I have witnessed it at the parties of our daughters’ friends, and their moms have secretly confessed to me the exact sentiments I feel when it happens to me:
Please stop giving my kids presents at their siblings’ parties.
I love that I have friends who love my kids so much. At the same time, I don’t agree with the idea that my kids shouldn’t feel left out at their siblings’ parties.
As their mom, my job is less to give my kids a happy childhood and more to prepare them for adulthood. Raising selfless and compassionate children is way more important to me than raising kids who feel special all of the time. I want to teach my daughters that there are days where they will be the focus and days when they should step back and allow another person the honor of being celebrated.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to make my kids feel special. I love to celebrate their birthdays with chocolate chip pancakes, their favorite cake and thoughtful gifts. I delight in setting valentines on their plates on February 14 or whisking one of them off for an ice cream cone and some one-on-one time with Mommy.
If I were to always make sure the scales were even, giving both gifts on one’s birthday or including both girls in special mommy dates, wouldn’t that detract from the specialness of it all? What’s so special about being made to feel special if you are made to feel special all of the time? Doesn’t it really suck for the guest of honor if the party is paused to pay attention to someone else?
I wish I could say I have learned to address this awkward issue at my kids’ parties, but I haven’t figured out how to put my foot down without offending people I really care about. Most of the time I say thank you and whisk the present away to be opened later, after the party. Still, the perpetrators of this offense typically don’t have kids of their own and I can’t possibly expect them to see things from my perspective if I am not going to explain it to them. It seems really unfair to be annoyed by their actions if I am too afraid to speak up and make my wishes known. So, with our family’s birthday season behind us, I am working up the courage to address this little grievance... next year.
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