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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" on 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 coauthor of "Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most and Raise Happier Kids," is exceptionally well-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," explains Renner. "They are just lumping things together because it's convenient for them."

But it's one thing for you to understand this, and another thing altogether for your kid. What can you say 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 weeklong birthday celebration, rather than giving more gifts or having a big party, and take him out to do special things, like seeing 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 affects your child is a good way to start. It's perfectly OK 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: Santa's Got a GPS
10 comments so far | Post a comment now
???? December 23, 2010, 12:34 PM

Boo Hoo. Cry kid cry!

Anonymous December 23, 2010, 1:17 PM

My son loves his Christmas birthday. We just do a little thingy in school with cupcakes when he goes back from Christmas break. But we have a huge “holiday” breakfast every year and after everyone is done stuffing their face, we at least bring out a cake to make the wish. We may be too full to eat cake, but it doesn’t matter. As long as the family is gathering, he really doesn’t count presents. He’s always been fine with the whole thing. It’s how it’s always been so it doesn’t seem weird to him.

Anonymous December 23, 2010, 5:33 PM

I’ve never understood the angst people like you have about this. My sister and I are December (less than a week before Christmas) and very early in January. Our mum always made sure there were seperate celebrations, seperate cakes, seperate presents, and seperate parties. Our aunt and nan always sent seperate presents or cheques too. Dividing the three celebrations was never a problem.

If other parents don’t bother to do that, well, all I can say is that it’s probably laziness on their part.

I have to admit though that as an adult, my own birthday sucks. Everyone wants to party in December so my sister has no problems. Nobody has any money early in January and are too tired from December to want to make the effort. I guess that’s why, when I was a kid, there would be lots of kids at my January party - parents probbaly sent them along (yes, they walked all by their little lonesome selves) to get a little peace and quiet in the home.

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