When I was growing up, I can only remember having two or three birthday parties (for me) and I don’t remember my friends having them every year either. When I had my own children, we started off having birthday parties every year – it was a lot of fun, because, really, birthday parties for babies and toddlers are more for the adults anyway, and it gave us a chance to get together with our adult friends and their little ones. When our kids became preschoolers, and especially once they started going to school, the birthday party thing became a bit more complicated. It was like there was a competition as to who could have the most elaborate and expensive party! I remember watching some of my friends and being amazed at the cost involved in putting on the big event for their son or daughter – and they did something bigger and better every year! I, on the other hand, gave up. Introvert that I am, having to put on four kids’ parties a year was too much for me, and I made a deal with my kids. You get a big party for the birthdays that are a multiple of three and for the other two years, we do something simple like an outing with a friend. That worked well for us, and I think it preserved my sanity, not to mention the family budget.
A blog post, Maybe We Are Missing Something Very Important about This Parenting Thing, is what triggered my reminiscing about the birthday party wars. Kristen writes,
“As parents I think we’ve missed something very important in our culture. In an effort to make family a priority and give our kids what we didn’t have, we’ve become a child-focused culture. In many ways, we’ve lost our purpose. The sense of entitlement our kids exhibit is fueled by a parenting model that is obsessed with giving our children what they want and by making our kids the center of our lives.”
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In her post, Kristen describes a service opportunity that she roped her kids into, feeling guilty about pushing them to do so much hard work, then realizing that they actually had fun doing for others.
Are we missing the point by doing too much for our children, by giving them too much stuff, by providing them with too many planned activities, by making everything an event? I think we might be. I know that as homeschoolers, we tried to provide unstructured time for our kids, time even for them to be bored, which gave them an opportunity to be creative and spontaneous. Even though I think we gave them more “stuff” than they needed, we did try to let them know that we did not give them everything they asked for, even if we could afford it, because that would not be good for them. I enjoyed watching them earn and save their own money to buy those things they wanted. I wish we had done more service projects together as a family, but I was proud to see them take advantage of opportunities to serve through our church.
Parenting really is not all about giving our kids everything that we feel we did not have, whether it is attention, self-esteem, “stuff,” or experiences. Teaching them to see beyond themselves and to enjoy serving others will help them become healthy adults *and* make cherished memories that will last much longer than the latest electronic gadget. It will also likely help them see how much they have and appreciate it even more, while learning that the world does not really revolve around them. All good lessons for all of us – young and old!