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…”
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?