Birthday Bandits

Some people just seem determined to put a damper on everybody else’s good time, as illustrated by this letter to Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: I have chosen to celebrate my children’s birthdays with family and one friend. I want my children to understand early on that birthdays are not
about getting loads of gifts, but to celebrate life with family. We are invited to many parties for their friends and classmates, but I have always chosen
to attend only those of our close friends.
I find it disheartening to watch children these days rip into a bunch of gifts and toss them aside without saying thank you or even commenting on the gift.
It’s all about the next package and the volume.
Because of this, I’m considering no longer giving a gift but making a donation to a charity in honor of the birthday boy or girl instead. But I’m worried
about the reaction I’ll get from friends. On the other hand, I feel much better about donating to a worthwhile charity instead of another toy for children
who already have so much these days. Is a donation appropriate instead of a gift? — WONDERING IN BIRMINGHAM

Don’t get me wrong. I can’t stand spoiled, selfish or bad-mannered children (or adults) either. And I’m glad somebody wants to put the brakes on overly extravagant parties and gift-giving. But this lady’s sanctimonious tone gives me a pain. “I have chosen to attend only a few…” “I have chosen to celebrate my children’s birthdays…” Wait a minute. That might work with a toddler, but with schoolkids?
Okay, it’s up to her how her kids are raised, but it also seems to me that she can teach them more about the idea of giving if she lets her kids go to more birthday parties but has them pick out and buy the present themselves. If they buy it themselves, they won’t have that much to spend/waste on it, and they’ll have to put a little thought into what they can buy that their friend would enjoy.
Giving a donation in the birthday boy or girl’s name doesn’t really teach about generosity and selflessness. After all, it’s Mom who spends the money, and presumably chooses the charity, so what concrete lesson have her kids gotten from it? It also requires very little effort, and I think it seems rather cold and corporate to me. Very impersonal. I’m an adult and I think even I would feel a bit put-out if somebody showed up on my birthday to tell me they’d made a donation in my name to some charity which I may or may not even support. I’d feel even more put-out if I got a form letter from said charity later on, thanking me for my contribution and dropping broad hints that they would really like to see more of “my” money.
But enough from me, let’s see what Abby says:

DEAR WONDERING: Your sentiments are noble, but your teaching method is heavy-handed and I don’t recommend it. If the children are in grammar school, a donation
in their name to a charity will go over like a lead balloon.
Teach your children proper manners by explaining how to practice them and setting a good example. By preventing them from interacting socially with their
friends and classmates, you are slowing down their socialization and isolating them.
Because you prefer that your children not receive “loads of gifts,” when you plan their birthday celebrations, explain your philosophy to your family and
your one friend and also to your children. Then let your kids choose a charity and request that attendees bring an item to be donated. That way all the
children can enjoy themselves and learn the satisfaction that comes from helping others at the same time.

I love it when Abby and I agree. It’s such a cozy feeling.


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