Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Birthday Brats

For today's Q&A, we decided to take on the many questions we get about parties for kids. Here are the top three:  

Q:  My son is 7 years old.  Almost every other week, I find an invitation for a birthday party in his book bag. I feel bad when I say no, and I just wonder what the norm is when it comes to attending birthday parties? I'm afraid if he doesn't attend, then he won't have kids come to his own party in a few months.

Q:  What is an age-appropriate party for my 10-year-old daughter? Most of her friends seem to have something big planned; one mother even rented a hotel room with some slumber party package the hotel offered.  I don't want her to feel left out, but I'm not sure I agree with parties of this scale either. Advice?

Q:  I have always had a party of some kind for my children (4 and 6) but never did anything at their daycare. Now that my oldest is in public school, I am finding this is sort of expected, mostly by other moms. They either bring in cupcakes for the whole class or a special lunch.  Most parents also go in to eat with their children in addition to these extra celebrations. Will I hurt my son's (and eventually my daughter's) self-esteem if I choose not to do these things?

A: Whew! Well, I won't disagree that birthday parties and celebrations of any sort have gotten waaay out of hand these days. I also won't disagree that there are so many dang cute ideas and party supplies out there that taunt me personally from the aisles and my Pinterest search history. That being said, as parents we have GOT to approach birthday parties as yet another leadership parenting priority.

When it comes to most things where our children are concerned, we tend to pump ourselves up with the notion that we are doing it "for" our children--as if there will be some monumental moment of gratitude and an expression of blown-away appreciation for our weeks of preparation for said birth event. The truth is, when all is iced and done, what we usually end up with is a birthday brat  (my mother used this term many, many times while we were growing up). Between the sugar and overly stimulated party shenanigans--not to mention the expected gift bag for all those in attendance--it's no wonder they drop hard. Things have been hyped for weeks; I've known children to plan for months, and when the party ends, there's nothing left but the clean-up (to which your brat will rear his or her ugly head). 

Okay, not YOUR kid, but all those other kids, you know.

Mothers especially tend to build up in their minds this scenario in which the child is so elated and grateful to her for making that special day AWESOME, they just don't even have the words to express such gratefulness, so all that's left to do is jump right in and help clean up, get a jump start on those thank-you notes, and rub your feet after all your hard work . . . because, after all, it was FOR them.

Get real.

It was for you. Parents--Moms--often use birthdays as a measuring stick of their motherly prowess--kinda like the kid whose mother does his class project for him because how would that look coming through the parking lot with marker smudges if I let them do it themselves! Scandalous!

Again . . . all those other kids' mothers . . . not you.

I totally get the temptation to do all these things. (I haven't quite figured out the hotel slumber party thing . . . 'cause, whoa! That sort of thing gets into a whole other realm of craziness. The short answer for me would be,!) But the truth is, if you are a hostess by nature, have even the teensiest gift of hospitality, you almost can't help yourself! My suggestion is to channel that kind of energy and creativity into gatherings for YOUR friends and families, perhaps even as service opportunities. It's a win-win: no pinatas (can I get an amen?), no screaming through your home or venue, quality adult time, no small talk with parents you don't even know or necessarily like, and a genuine appreciation for your efforts. Too often, we look to our children for validation. Your child, whether it is a birthday party or disciplinary action, will never fully appreciate your actions until he or she is a parent dealing with the same situation. So stop looking for that from them.

Let's keep birthdays simple. The bigger the deal we make about every single thing, the bigger the brat--I'm just sayin'! Yes, it is the child's birthday, and yes, you love your child, but love does not equate to a circus-like atmosphere and strain on the home, finances, time, and, in many cases, your marriage. An in-home gathering with a few family members . . . having a friend to sleep over . . . even dinner out and a movie can be celebration enough. Let them have their day, not days. I've known many families who have two and three celebrations. What!? It is just absurd, and in 95% of those cases, the children were horribly behaved.

A word about self-esteem . . . .

When we perpetuate this notion of "high self-esteem," we are saying to our children, "You think of YOURSELF first and always, my precious babycakes."  I realize that it is very counter-culture to say that I don't want them to have a high self-esteem. What I really want is for my child to have a peaceful confidence in who Christ created him or her to be. If we want to raise our children to think of others, be humble, respectful, and of good character, then their upbringing cannot be all about them all of the time. Period.

So it isn't about each of these specific inquiries over birthday parties and events, but more about how
you view the bigger picture and how you choose to lead your children. Let your children be children, and let them enjoy moments in life that are unscripted and far less hyped. (Aren't the spontaneous moments the ones that they remember the most anyway?) A homemade cake and a few buddies in the backyard for the afternoon. Done. If you can embrace this train of thought, then you already have the answer to your questions about attending all these parties. Go to one or two a year and pass on the others. They won't need therapy, and you don't have to endure the Hades that is a loud children's birthday party. And if you want to send cupcakes to the class, send 'em. If you want to go eat lunch with your child, do it. And if you choose not to do these Mom-pressured extras, feel confident in your expressions of genuine love for your children.

No is a very simple word. I highly recommend it!


Do you have a question for Whatcha Got Wednesday? E-mail Stacey at or send us a message on Facebook. You're never alone in this parenting adventure; we're here for you!

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