There's a new trend that I've noticed that makes me very uncomfortable. I say "new" because "back in the day," it wasn't done, but I realize that things are different now.
Nonetheless, it's something that's been bothering me in recent years, while taking my kids to birthday parties.
It's the "present-opening" time of the event -- or lack thereof.
Yes, there's a trend towards not opening presents and I'm trying to figure out why.
When I was a kid, there was a pretty standard format for birthday parties.
1) Visit the Birthday Girl or Birthday Boy at their home with gift in hand (I know -- parties are often held in the most extravagant places these days, but I digress...)
2) Play party games, eat lots of goodies, have fun
3) Sing "happy birthday" and eat cake
4) >Open the presents!
It's this last standard of the classic children's birthday party that I miss -- that is because too often than not, "the opening of the presents" part of the birthday party no longer exists. What I'm trying to figure out is why.
Some reasons that I've heard:
Time: Some parents say that for the sake of time and expediency, it's easier for kids to open the presents later on in a more leisurely and less frenetic manner than at a birthday party full of sugar-amped-up kids
Comparison: No child wants to be outshone by another birthday party attendee whose parents spent more money or gave a more extravagant gift to the Birthday Girl
Feelings: What if little Emma doesn't like the gift that she receives? What if she shows her distaste for the present and, in turn, shows up her parents for not teaching her how to handle herself with grace and diplomacy, even if she is only old enough to count her birthdays on one or maybe two hands?
Culture: The expectation to view the opening of the presents is apparently not followed in all cultures and ethnicities
Jealousy:- Apparently all attendees of said birthday party, other than the Birthday Boy/Girl, will be seething with jealousy when they set their eyes upon the great haul that their friend is getting
There's a shift that's rapidly becoming the norm and I didn't get the memo. I assume it says "Don't let your kid open their birthday presents in front of their guests at the risk of offending/hurting feelings/being compared to others/wasting time." I'm glad I didn't get the memo because it would have been deleted.
I'm not a supporter of "helicopter parenting" and its extreme forms that have become the standard in today's society. Accordingly, the reasons noted above are not, in my opinion, good enough to eliminate what was once one of the high points of attending a birthday party, both for the attendees and the Birthday Girl.
Eliminating this important part of the event deprives the giver of the gift the joy of seeing their friend receive and appreciate the present that was especially chosen for them.
Let's take a look at each of the reasons given for not opening presents, and why they just don't hold up.
1) Time: It's often cited that for reasons of expediency and to save time, the opening of gifts at a birthday party is eliminated. OK. I would propose that any parents who are planning a birthday party for their child, regardless of size, factor in the time needed to leisurely open gifts and appreciate them, and extend the amount of time for the birthday party accordingly. It's not difficult. It's all part of the planning -- depending on the number of kids coming, adding the "opening presents" part of the event isn't a big deal.
2) Comparison: One of the most important lessons that a child can learn is that comparing oneself to others is often unnecessary as well as an exercise in futility. There will always be people who have bigger and better things than others; that's just a part of life. What's key to a child -- both the receiver of the gift and the gift giver -- is to convey a graceful response to the receipt or the giving of said gift. No need for comparison -- each gift was chosen for a reason and should be received and recognized as such.
3) Feelings: Teaching a child about grace and empathy will help them well beyond their younger years. In the case of a birthday party, the child receiving the present should be taught how to gracefully receive every gift, regardless of size, extravagance (or lack thereof) or cost. By showing their guests through their actions that each gift is appreciated, no feelings will be hurt and no child will feel slighted.
4) Culture: If a child is attending a party where culture is key and the adherence to certain cultural norms is important, then by all means, don't open the presents. That being said, it's safe to assume that if it's a traditionally-planned Western-style party in all other ways, e.g. party games, cake, the singing of "happy birthday" etc., then go ahead with that other tenet of these types of parties and let the Birthday Boy open his presents!
5) Jealousy: That green-eyed monster is one that we all feel from time to time and, as ugly as it is, it needs to be contained. Sometimes jealousy about not receiving gifts or the fact that a friend has received something really cool is bothersome to children and can't be helped. That being said, feelings of jealousy and envy are opportunities for parents to discuss why the child feels this way, whether the feelings are appropriate, and finally, how a child can manage such feelings when they're experiencing them.
Look at this opportunity or future opportunities (birthday party gift-giving) as yet another chance to teach your child about the realities of life and how, very often, life isn't always fair. Yes -- your child's friend got a cool gift that your child may want but your son or daughter probably has many things that the Birthday Girl doesn't have. Life doesn't always seem fair but generally speaking, things have a way of balancing themselves out in the end.
If it's not abundantly clear by this point, I strongly believe that kids should open their birthday presents at their birthday parties. Can we change this growing trend against opening gifts at parties and go back to "The Good Old Days?"
Let them open presents!
Let them eat cake!
Follow Samantha Kemp-Jackson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/samkj27