Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reliving childhood shortcomings

One thing that I've done as a parent that I've become very aware of is how I put emphasis on certain things to compensate for not having them as a child. I'm sure a lot of parents do this as well. In my early parenting days, I put priority on giving my kids things that I didn't have. And it can be a good thing. Take it too far and it can be unhealthy.

I've probably leaned a little toward overdoing it. Ok, maybe a lot toward overdoing it. One thing I've done this with is birthday parties. When I was a child I attended lots of fun birthday parties of classmates - or heard about ones that I hadn't been invited to. I always longed for elaborate birthday parties, but it was never in the budget. Our birthdays were celebrated on a weekend close to the actual date with my three older siblings and their significant others (and later my nieces) as guests. We'd have cake and I'd open presents. It was a good time. I always felt special on that one day when I got to open gifts (usually clothes) and got to blow out the candles.

However, it never felt satisfying. I wanted to have friends included. I wanted to hang streamers from the ceiling. I wanted to have games and prizes and goodie bags. But no matter how hard I begged, it didn't happen. One year, I decided to have a party and invited a few neighborhood friends. I don't remember if I clued my mom in on it or took care of the arrangements on my own. I think it was mostly my doing because I recall pulling coins out of my piggy bank to go to the store and buy a cake mix to bake the cake. All I had enough for was a box of jello mix, so I served jello and tried to prop a candle up in it.

Later on, when I was 11 or 12, I talked my parents into letting me have a pool party. I picked out a couple friends and my dad dropped us off at the community pool. Although it wasn't for my birthday, I once convinced them to let me have a sleepover party, which was a blast. And one Halloween I had a party that I planned out myself. I was 10. I prepared the games and homemade decorations. It's one of my fondest childhood memories and nearly 3 decades later, old friends still remember that Halloween party. I loved entertaining and I still do.

It was apparent on my oldest son's first birthday that I was going overboard. I ordered a custom cake with big bird to go along with the theme and a smash cake, put up a ton of decorations, planned games for his older cousins, made up goodie bags, had a banner made to put up in the back yard, rented a jump house, got a pinata and even rented a helium tank to fill up balloons. It was his first birthday. It's not like he was even enjoying it. He napped through most of his party.

Later parties were much of the same. One year, we had a Toy Story theme that included a retired cowboy doing rope tricks. Once his brother arrived I had to tone it down a bit. But as they got older I also added a kid party where they could invite friends. They've been held at such places as Chuck E. Cheese, Tyler's Tender, Jeepers and the bowling alley or sometimes at our house.

These days, birthdays are usually celebrated three times. Once with a party for the birthday boy and his friends. Then with a family party where his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins come. A third celebration is at home with just mom, dad and the brothers on the actual date of the birthday with cake and ice cream if it doesn't happen to be when one of the other parties is scheduled.

It took several years for it to sink in that I was overdoing it because of what I missed in my own childhood. I also recognize that I've taken this approach when it comes to clothes, vacations and extra curricular activities.

The only problem is that once you set a precedence, it's hard to retract it. Slowly, I'm scaling back on things on the family party and limiting the number of kids invited to the kid parties. I'm baking more of my own cakes. I'm finding ways to make it less work. And I'm trying to make it more about them and what they will enjoy rather than trying to make up for what I missed out on.

No comments: