Caitlin Flanagan made me shake my head with her latest Atlantic article, but it took Slate to cause me write a letter to the author and blog about it.

Here’s the article:

My son rebels over his birthday party.

My husband, Paul, and I started the book swap when Eli was 3. He recently turned 10, and Simon will be 7 next month. Over the years, the kids have not exactly embraced the book swap. Nor do they tolerate it as a mildly irritating but harmless parental quirk. They hate it. Every year their protests grow louder. The hard part for them is articulating why. They are old enough to know that greed is a hard position to defend. So they’ve taken another tactic. They just don’t want to be “different,” they say. Why, oh why, are we making them stand out this way?

Here’s the letter I wrote to the author, Emily Bazelton:

Dear Ms. Bazelton,
I think I can tell you why your sons hate the book swap and why you have difficulty articulating your position. It’s because you and your husband are using the occasion of their birthdays to show off. The birthday party is supposed to be about each son. Instead you make it about yourself and your so-called values.

Look, I get it. The outpouring of material blessings our children have is embarrassing and distasteful. But seriously, birthdays are not about showing off your social awareness cred. They are about, for kids, a time to get together with friends and make noise, play games, open presents, let it be all about them.
Can’t you show social awareness the rest of the year? Or do you just save it up to teach the kids a lesson about how blessed they are? That’s really mean.

At the end of the article I felt really bad for your son.

“Drama subsided into anticlimax. At the party, we did the book swap. Eli said not one more word about it, either of protest or acceptance.”

Dude, come on. You broke him. And that is worse than the fact he got one plastic toy too many. Seriously, it’s probably too late now to make things right, but I wish you hadn’t done this.

So readers, what do you think: too harsh? Not harsh enough? Where do you stand?


Laurie · January 22, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Amen. You said it perfect.
It breaks my heart that they see their children as greedy. I guess they do not see themselves as bores?

Consuelo Grant · January 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

“It’s because you and your husband are using the occasion of their birthdays to show off.” Well said Patrice. “so-called values.” That was a little snarky, the “so-called” part.

I was listening to a radio conversation today about social justice. One of the panelist brought up the point that strict justice is injustice. I think that would apply to these parents and their sad…oh so sad… idea of a birthday party. Children should learn not to be greedy – Strick justice. The “ungreedy” birthday party – injustice.

Parts of your letter I thought were more biting than instructive. “Seriously, it’s probably too late now to make things right.” Knowing you, I know you mean the last party, not her relationship with her children. But,after words & comments like; so-called, cred,”do you just save it up,” Ms. Bazelton might think you mean her parenthood is hopeless.

I stand with you in the point you wanted to make. Let’s hope those kids get better birthday parties from now on.

Marshall Ryan Maresca · January 22, 2010 at 9:53 pm

I’m always a little troubled getting those “No gifts, do this instead” instructions for children’s birthdays. Because more often than not, it’s not about the child at all.

Patrice Sarath · January 22, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Consuelo, well, I kind of do. Which is terrible on my part, and quite judgmental. You are right.

alexi · January 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I wish my mother had written a blog that people could have commented on and told her how self-serving her parenting was.

Maria Ragucci · January 26, 2010 at 9:07 am

This was an interesting insight for me that I really quite liked, but I, too, thought it was a little harsh. Consuelo’s comments were well-put.

My son is 13 and we skipped a party altogether this year, but in the previous three or four years, we specified no gifts. One year we did ask for gifts that we collected and donated to a local Children’s Hospital, but in the other years the reasoning was that the parties were large (the whole grade was invited-another loaded issue-which was about 50 kids)and thank you notes for so many gifts was such a chore.

I think the age is the key- 3 is way too young to start, but by the time the kids are older, if they haven’t been subject to this policy all along, they should be more receptive. Also, depends on the size of the group- if a small party, a few presents doesn’t seem too much.

Patrice Sarath · January 26, 2010 at 6:24 pm

But why does it have to be that way at all? The problem I saw was that these parents were using the occasion of their kids’ special day to say hey, you don’t deserve a special day.

I’m well aware that for most families, children are inundated with plenty of material goods. But that can be a teachable moment for the other 364 days.

Kids can have small parties. They don’t have to have a party every year. And parents can let them have the joy of receiving fun stuff from their friends.

Plus, the tone of the article was kind of icky, like she was boasting that she won. That’s why my letter was harsh. I was pretty pissed off on behalf of that kid.

Maria Ragucci · February 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm

A little late here, as always- I do agree that the mother crowed a bit too much- as if her son understood that she was right, instead of having been brow-beaten down.

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