It’s My Birthday, It’s Not All About You


When I was growing up, there were a few things that were constants when it came to birthdays. No matter where in the world we were living, who we were with, or what the weather was like, my birthday was all about me.

I got presents.

I got attention.

I got a cake.

I got to choose what we had for dinner.

Really, isn’t that what birthdays are all about? Celebrating the birth of someone? Giving them just one day a year where it really, truly is all about them?

So it came as a huge shock when, a few years ago, I discovered that there are people out there who don’t think the same way. 

I first came across this phenomenon in a toy shop of all places. The lady in line in front of me was buying a series of toys. “Its my daughter’s birthday,” she explained to the cashier. Then she looked at the mountain of presents she was buying and said, “But, of course, I always give a little something to my other children so they don’t feel left out. It gets quite expensive when you have seven kids.”

Um, yeah. It would.

Judging by the number of toys she was buying, all seven of them were getting an equal number of gifts — obviously so no one felt “left out”. I imagine that having to do that seven times a year was pretty financially draining. I was a little horrified by the concept, but figured she was an anomaly — that I would be unlikely to ever run across another person who thought siblings should get presents on someone’s birthday.

I was wrong.

It happened first on Master Six’s birthday (he was only turning five at the time). Someone brought along a present for Master Three and said, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

“It’s fine!” I said. “He doesn’t need a present. It’s not his birthday.”

But it kept happening. Apparently there are more than a few people in the world who think that children are incapable of understanding that they get presents on their birthday, not on their brother’s birthday.

This, to me, reeks of the same kind of silliness that results in “medals for everyone!” and “prizes for everyone!” Imagine, if you will, a world where children never learn that sometimes, just sometimes, the world does not revolve around them. Imagine, if you will, a world where a fully grown adult says, “But it’s your birthday! I gave you a present. Why didn’t you give me a present? I feel really left out…”

It’s crazy.

But what, exactly, do you think it teaches children to believe about themselves and the world when you make a fuss of them on someone else’s special day, just in case they feel left out?

And what does it teach the Birthday Boy (or Girl)?

I can tell you that, as a child, I watched my brother and sister get fussed over on their birthday, and I was thrilled for them. Because it was their special day. And because, in a few months time, it would be my special day, and I would get all the attention for myself.

I want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because they have done something special, or because we’re celebrating their special achievement or day. I don’t want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because someone else has done something  worthy of celebration. I don’t want my children to grow up with the expectation that they will be rewarded because someone else has done something worthy of celebration.

That’s just crazytalk.

So I’ve made a decision. I’ve told people it’s not necessary to bring a sibling-present on birthdays. I’ve asked people not to bring a sibling-present on birthday. So from now on, whenever one of my children is given a gift on their brother’s birthday “so they don’t feel left out”, I’m going to take that gift away. They can have it back on their own birthday.

You know, the day that is all about them.

What do you think about presents to stop siblings feeling left out?


Filed under Life With Kids

10 responses to “It’s My Birthday, It’s Not All About You

  1. Jim Franklin

    It’s another part of the culture we live in, where we are afraid of making a child feel disappointed or left out. To the extent where some would consider making one child feel less special is preferable.

    Apparently, feeling emotionally neutral is better for a child than learning what it feels like to be unique and individually loved.

    You probably only have about ten ‘Me Me Me’ birthdays, from when you’re old enough to know what’s going on to just before the size/cost ratio of your presents switches over. They were the best birthdays ever, and I can’t understand why anyone would want to take them away.

  2. That didn’t happen when I was young, and I would probably refuse the “other child gift” and ask that they save it until that child’s birthday.

  3. Just watched The Incredibles clip. It highlights the ridiculousness of what Carl Sagan called “Flatland” thinking; where the idea is, everyone is as good as everyone else. Everyone deserves to be here, because Earth is our home. But not everyone’s art, writing, music, inventions, is as good as that of those a deep talent and who have sacrificed many things in the lives to master it.

    • Absolutely. And I think the aspect of that type of thinking that is often missed is that so often we learn what we ARE good at, and what we’re passionate about, by first learning what we’re not good at.

  4. Nicole L. Bates

    I agree with you, Jo. It is crazy. I don’t have people bringing a gift for each child (yet!), but I’ve been to plenty of parties where all of the guests receive presents. It is fun, especially for very young children, but it gets a bit overwhelming. Then, as a parent, when you host a party and don’t provide goodie bags for every attendee it’s as if you’ve broken the new parenting code. (Can you tell I’m the one who did not provide goodie bags?) With the Olympics going on now, it makes me think, what will happen in a few generations when we have a society full of individuals who feel they should be rewarded for everything that they do? Will there be anyone left who will persevere even when they are not acknowledged for their efforts? It’s a scary thought.

    • This is very American, the goodie bag thing. At least, I hope it has not infected England yet, the way so many other not so great American ideas have. I love America, but the goodie bag idea is part of America’s “over-the-topness”. In England we have our “too reservedness.” Perhaps somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic is the perfect mix of propriety and generosity.

      • Jim Franklin

        I remember having goodie bags in England when I was a kid. You’d go to a birthday party and nine times out of ten came out with a goodie bag. Bearing in mind though that these bags equated to nothing more than a piece of cake, a balloon, and maybe a party hat. No real money was spent, all the real presents, gifts and cards were given to the birthday boy or girl.

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