I know this story is from the People’s Democratic Republic of Massachusetts, but c’mon, can’t a kid have a birthday there without it too being a morality tale? Answer: “no.”
When Carrie Alyea’s daughter, Piper, turned 7 this month, guests invited to her jungle-themed party were asked not to bring presents for the birthday girl. Instead, they could donate $5 to the parents’ organization at Piper’s school.
First sign Mom is a tool? The trendy moniker of “Piper.” But…I digress. The “less stuff” idea sounds great in principle, it really does. But go ahead and peel the onion a bit you really find that it’s not so much about the kid as it is about a pose the parents want to strike in order to appear “socially responsible.”
In some circles, parents have become almost competitive in their quest to banish materialism from their children’s parties. The nonpresent is quickly becoming the “must-have” gift.
“The bragging rights are going to be ‘How much money did you raise at your birthday party?’ ” said University of Minnesota professor Bill Doherty, a founder of the group Birthdays Without Pressure, which hopes to launch a national conversation about super-sized parties.
Tools. They’re all tools.
More outrage after the jump…
So on the one day of the year when it is acceptable for a kid to think, “It’s all about me,” we really find out, it’s all about the parents. I’m shocked. No, on second thought I’m not shocked since I am actually from Massachusetts. (Yes, I would like to apologize to the rest of the country for Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.)
Not all the friction is among adults. A no-present order issued without the child’s blessing can make him or her feel “jilted,” says John Dacey, a Boston College emeritus professor of developmental psychology. “It’s not a wonderful thing to force them to do it. All they learn is that you’re doing what you want to do as a parent and not what they want to do on their birthday.”
No kidding! This is news? What’s next in the way of shocking revelations? Fire is hot? Actually it seems to be news to the parents, but don’t worry they won’t let Junior’s happiness stand in the way of their status. When did Gen X and Gen Y start sounding like the narcissistic Boomers who spawned them? Did I miss the memo? (However, I find it amusing that some of the few words of common sense in the article come from an academic. It is true; common sense is anything but common.)
Others think it’s ironic that many of the same parents refusing gifts for social or environmental reasons are spending hundreds of dollars on a cake, entertainment, and party favors.
“It seems funny that parents today will make this option/request to ‘humble’ their child,” Katie Tagliavia, owner of maternity boutique 9 Months, said in an email. “Yet it happens in the midst of $500 organized events.”
This is in fact, the point. It’s not that the parents won’t spend, spend, spend for Junior, it’s that they have to take the edge off of it in front of their peers by appearing to be “socially responsible.” The anti-materialism bit is a worthy goal, but here it is actually moral posturing dressed up as anti-materialism – and that’s the problem.
Madeline Levine, a psychologist in Marin County, Calif., and author of “The Price of Privilege,” calls the present-free trend a “childish solution” to the problem of parents who reward their kids simply for behaving themselves. “Kids now get gifts for everything,” she said. ” ‘You got an A: Let me get you something. You woke up this morning: You want something, you can have it.’ ” After that, taking a public “no-gift” stand on a child’s birthday strikes Levine as “almost self-righteous.”
Wisdom from Marin County? Wow, we are truly in bizzarro world now.
Last year, Lilli’s parents suggested she donate her presents to charity, a gesture she wanted no part of.
This time, though, it was Lilli’s idea to donate her gifts – to the children at Massachusetts General Hospital, where her mother is a social worker. “I’m really nice,” Lilli said, explaining why she wanted to give away her presents, “and I want the children to be happy.”
Translation: “I have now been completely brainwashed by my do-gooder mother and when I am 17 I will realize this and I will make her life a living hell. I hope my future therapist is paying attention. Please excuse me now while I get an early start on my anorexia.”
All of this was considered thousands of years ago. Short Aristotle: it is not enough to do the right thing to make yourself feel good, you do it because it is the right thing to do. (Longer Aristotle here.)
Why do I get the impression these people know what “right looks like” but cannot morally reason their way to doing it for the right reason? The fact that they don’t even acknowledge the tension exists demonstrates how in touch they are with their own feelings and no one else’s – especially their kids.
Note to Carrie, and Lisa and Bill and the Silverton’s, go demonstrate your anti-materialism cred by trading in the Lexus SUV for a Chevy Impala. Oh, and let the kid have his day for cryin’ out loud. Gessh.