I’ve always loved birthdays. When my brother, sister and I were kids, my mother used to prepare a table near our beds with some candy and a gift or two on our birthday. I loved waking up to this surprise table. I loved the family birthday parties with my grandmother dancing with me, the flower circlet my mother made for my hair, the decorated chair on which I was lifted once more than my age. I loved my mother’s cakes and the little cream cheese sandwiches which she decorated with colorful veggies.
When I became a mother, my love of birthdays changed focus to the kids. After the kids go to sleep the night before their birthdays, I decorate the house with paper chains and birthday signs, bake a cake, wrap gifts, bag candies, and set everything on our kitchen table. I prepare gifts for both kids, even though my son’s birthday is in October and my daughter’s is in May.
I do the same for them on my birthday. As a divorced mother, I made a decision not to expect the kids to buy me gifts or plan a party. The kids were (and still possibly are) too young to do anything except make me a card. I keep those cards in my closet and consider them more precious than any gift could be.
But sometimes I wonder what I’m teaching them by my dramatic and selfless birthday overtures. I know by now they expect this table of goods, but do they appreciate what they get? Do they realize that it takes a special effort to prepare all this for them? Does it teach them to be generous with others, to do something to make another happy, or do they only learn entitlement from it?
Then I ask myself, does it matter what they learn, and, most importantly, am I doing this for them, for what they can learn, or for me?