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The Holiday Birthday Bummer

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How do you handle celebrations with December babies?

kid crying at christmas

Vivian Manning-Schaffel: My oldest kid is a December baby, born the second night of Hanukkah. Because his birthday can be eclipsed by the harried mayhem of the holidays, I've always felt compelled to make it into a really big deal. After all, he's prone to "double down" gifts (one for both his birthday and the holidays), and his buds aren't always around to celebrate with him because of their own holiday obligations.

I'm not alone. My pal, blogger Jodi Call, has a son born a few days after mine, and admits to feeling the same brand of guilt.

"When he was a baby, I used to show him all the festive holiday decorations in our neighborhood and tell him it was all for him," she says, giggling. "But now that he's a little older, well, that doesn't fly anymore!"

What's a mom to do?

Devra Renner, LSW, Parentopia blogger and co-author of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most and Raise Happier Kids, is exceptionally versed in this issue, as she has a December baby herself.

"Logically or illogically, moms sometimes feel this residual guilt about the timing," says Renner. "Parents can get really stressed out about holiday birthdays. It adds another layer to all the holiday stress. And then we feel bad that it's an added burden to plan an event during the holidays, or we worry that our kid will have a party with only two people showing up."

Renner says this brand of mommy guilt is completely normal. When it hits, don't let your guilt cloud the fun. Combat it by keeping your kid's agenda in the forefront of your thoughts.

"Focus on your child and what they want to do," Renner says. "Ask yourself if it's reasonable to feel guilty about this. Is it going to spur you to do something different? Or are you just beating yourself up? If you find you are doing the same thing every year and feeling bad about it, stop! Change it! Creating a celebration of who your child actually is, is far more meaningful than inviting 32 of their friends."

The next step is to understand that when folks can't make your kid's bash or "double down" on gifts, they often mean no harm.

"People aren't trying to diminish your child's birthday, they are just lumping things together because it's convenient for them," she explains.

But it's one thing for you to understand this -- it's another all together for your kid. What can you say to them to make them feel better?

"Teaching your child to communicate negative feelings is pretty empowering," says Renner. "Acknowledge that it's hard to understand and that they feel sad, then put a positive spin on what they are going to do. Be sympathetic, empathetic, and let them see the world through other people's eyes as well. Explain that it's nothing personal -- it's just a crazy time of year. Sometimes it's easier to give one gift instead of two. Don't lecture your child about not being grateful. Focus instead on what makes them happy -- what they are going to do and what they do have. And give them options. Would they rather have their party closer to their birthday, or after all the holiday mess?"

The option of a half-birthday bash was a successful choice for my friend Marisa Schwartz, whose oldest son was born the day after Christmas.

"This circumvents trying to have a party when everyone is celebrating Christmas," Schwartz says. "On his actual birthday, we do a special family outing and spend Christmas baking a really great cake that we decorate for his birthday the next day. We try to make the school vacation like a week-long birthday celebration, rather than giving more gifts or a big party, and take him out to do special things, like see a Broadway show."

These suggestions solve the party-planning portion of your dilemma. But what about the matter of taking it up with the nearest and dearest transgressors of the "double down"?

"You don't have to make any big announcement to your family," says Renner. "Couching it in the way that explains how it effects your child is a good way to start. It's perfectly okay to point out that just because your child has a birthday around the holidays does not, in any way, detract from the fact that it's the kid's birthday. It's not competing with the holiday, it's another event happening at the same time."

When it comes to grandparents and relatives, Renner suggests helping them along by having your kid write separate lists of what they'd like for their birthday and the holidays you celebrate. This helps draw a neat line in the sand that separates the two.

Hopefully, with all these tips under your belt, next year's holi-birthday month will be a little less stressful. And for a mom, isn't that the ultimate gift?

next: Make a Lil' Snowman Soup!
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Holly Noel December 23, 2009, 8:39 AM

Why the focus on the negatives of a Christmas birthday??! You always get the day off, you have something interesting to talk about with other people and you are with your family and friends. What’s bad about that?! I love having a Christmas birthday!!

Kris December 23, 2009, 12:31 PM

We celebrate in November because she is a December 7th baby. Either way splitting it up is nice.

Kelley December 23, 2009, 7:18 PM

While having a birthday on Christmas itself might be cool, having one surrounding the holiday can be a pain. I’m a December 17th baby, and this year, even my mother who’s always been a champion of “Your birthday is separate from Christmas” has kind of just lumped the two together.

Rachel December 23, 2009, 7:22 PM

My son was born two days after Christmas. We we found out his due date we were bummed and felt bad about it. Since this is his first Birthday we are setting the tradition to make his birthday seperate from Christmas and a big deal. We are celebrating the day after Christmas since all our family will be in town but I think when he gets older we will have parties a few weeks early but still have a family thing on his actual birthday.

I’m sure we’ll be pros at this in a few years but this year has been hectic!

Katy December 23, 2009, 10:29 PM

My birthday is two days after Christmas. When I was younger and interested in having a party with friends, we would celebrate my half birthday in June with warm weather. Then in the winter my birthday was celebrated with family.

Anna December 23, 2009, 10:30 PM

Ever consider celebrating your childs birth on their half-birthday?

Laurie  December 26, 2009, 10:25 PM

Do the best you can.

My birthday is December 27th and I’m here to tell you that having all of this stuff together can spin you out. My mother always made a big deal of my real birthday and my half-birthday and I still love to recognize the 1/2 (I’m a firm believer that being a holiday baby made me a lover of parties no matter when they are) The bottom line is though that your birthday is your birthday. To celebrate it weeks away just never feels right. Everyone else gets a birthday party. I like the comments of several parents here that recognizing it will happen, even on a smaller scale. I think that’s important.

Also? And this might not be a popular belief, but people should not be excused from giving double cards, at the very least. It’s not necessary. I’d rather receive no birthday greeting than a “this is your Christma-birthday” card. It doesn’t take much to go the extra step and wish someone a heart-felt personal new year, no matter what else is going on. Trust me, significant others have been weeded out this way. And yes, I know it’s a hectic time. I’m here sitting by the tree welcoming my birthday in in the wee hours, because I’m on deadline. I’m totally fine with it now that I’m in control, and I think Devra’s right in saying that involving your child in the planning is so, so important. There were years I couldn’t take one more thing, even if it was a party for me.

Just don’t wrap my present in Santa paper. :)

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