Minnemom's post about birthday traditions the other day got me thinking about my teenage daughter's recent birthday. She turned 15 last week. Having a suitable party doesn't seem as easy at it did when she was younger. Up until she was 8, it was a done deal. As her parent, I planned the party, decided how many kids to invite, most times came up with the invite list, chose a theme, set the date, and ran the show. All the birthday girl was responsible for was to show up and have a good time. We mostly did home birthday parties with a homemade cake or other sweet and simple streamers and balloons in the rooms of activity. But as my daughter has gotten older, it's clear that she isn't always thrilled with whatever plan I come up with for her party. She has an idea already laid out in her head and when she tells me about it, all the details are planned out. All I need to do is show up and foot the bill.
Another thing that's made planning birthday parties difficult is that my daughter's father and I are no longer married to each other. We didn't have a very amicable divorce and in the aftermath, we agreed to just live separate lives. We don't do "co-parenting" at all. So planning a birthday party together has always been out of the question. The result has been that my daughter sometimes had two birthday parties with friends, one that her father hosted and one that I hosted.
These factors combined have created somewhat of a perfect storm to make her birthday parties something very different than how I imagined they should be. This year my daughter decided that she wanted to go out to eat at a fairly expensive restaurant with 4 friends. Alone. Then they wanted to go shopping downtown together. Alone. Sure, she wanted to have a cake a celebrate with us at home on her real birthday and all, she just didn't want to celebrate in a big way out with her friends and with my husband and I too. She wanted to have her time with her friends alone and then celebrate with us at a different time.
It irked me. Well, let me be sincere, it more than irked me. It really made me mad. But despite my clear negative reaction to the proposal, I couldn't figure out why this was so offensive. It's not like my daughter never goes out with her friends alone, and nothing she suggested was all that outrageous. So why was my reaction so strong and so negative? And then, like a heavenly epiphany, it came to me: birthday parties are something you celebrate with your family. I had never really thought about it before.
As I hashed through my feelings about the whole issue, I thought through birthday parties from my childhood. They were something my parents did for me, a chance for me to invite my friends to a party that my parents were throwing for me and ask them to celebrate with me and my family. Sometimes my extended family came too. Yes, my parents listened to my requests for what I wanted to do for my birthday, but it was always within the context of what our family would do that my friends would also join in. When I became an adult, my birthday was still an important day for family. My parents or one of my sisters came to my town to celebrate with me. If they couldn't, I celebrated with my little family. The same goes for everyone in my family. I had never really thought about it before, but in my family, birthdays are times that you spend with family. You travel to celebrate the birthdays of loved ones with them, and they do the same for you. It's not that friends aren't welcome; it's that friends are invited to celebrate with your family, not instead of them.
Once I realized the source of my anger, I explained it to my daughter. We resolved that she could go downtown and shop with her friends alone (no matter how awful cold the temperature might be!), but then they all would come to our house and we would celebrate there together. We would get a chance to spend time with her friends and get to know them better. In the end, it would be a time for my daughter's family and friends to come together and celebrate her life.
I wish I had realized this earlier in her life so that I could have implicitly taught her my value sooner. We had an understanding in the end, but it would have been so much easier to deal with this issue with less friction and misunderstanding. Such is parenting -- you always figure out the better way to do it once you've passed the time to do it!