When It’s Not Your Party, and You’re Okay With That

If a 5-year-old wrote a blog commentary titled “Another Perspective on Birthday Parties,” I imagine it would sound something like this:

“Another year–another friend’s birthday party. I mean, I try to be happy for my buddy. But it’s hard to feel like celebrating with all the reminders that it’s not my birthday…

I’ve been looking forward to wearing the crown and blowing out the candles for sooooo long that it almost feels like a slap in the face to attempt a smile while someone else does those things. And whose idea was it to sing—SING—a song featuring the birthday boy’s name? Do they want to rub it in a little more?

Such cruelty. My mom and dad must not understand how bad this hurts. They say, ‘It’s not your birthday.’ But that’s not my fault! If they understood, they’d stop taking me to other kids’ parties and just let me hide at home until my turn…”

Oh, the someone-feels-left-out predicament.

Of course, common sense would say, “This is a great chance for parents to teach their kids not to focus on themselves.” After all, kids will need to step aside and let others have the spotlight thousands of times in their lives. Common sense would say, “Help them learn how to feel happy for others.”

But you probably agree that common sense fled our culture a long time ago… Now we live in an era where parents buy presents for everybody at the party, specifically so no one feels left out. There are preschools which require kids to invite every member of the class, in the name of being considerate.

And everybody gets a trophy in little league.

Here’s the problem:  if we don’t teach our kids to step aside gracefully when it’s time to recognize another person, they have a hard time dealing with the same issue later in life.

Then, we end up with bloggers sharing the “Grown-Up Version” of the Birthday Party scene.

Here’s an example.

Direct quotes:

-“A few years ago I sat across from a woman who told me she doesn’t go to church on Mother’s Day because it is too hurtful.”

-“It was like salt in mostly-healed wounds to go to church on that day.”

-“Last year a friend from the States happened to visit on Mother’s Day and again the pastor asked all mothers to stand. As a mother, she stood and I whispered to her, ‘I can’t take it, I’m standing.’ She knows I’m not a mother yet [so] she understood my standing / lie.

It’s a strange world when people are taken seriously for saying, in essence, “Calling attention to the accomplishments of others makes me feel bad.”

Anytime somebody self-identifies as “hurt,” it suddenly becomes culturally-acceptable to make the entire situation about them.

But, I feel compelled to draw back the curtain on this thing we’ve come to call “hurt.” It’s really not very different from the hurt experienced by a young person the first time he/she is told to step back while the other kid opens the presents…

—-

Now, before somebody mistakes my meaning here, I do not mean to compare grieving women to children as some type of insult. Actually, I have a great deal of appreciation for kids, and I empathize with them as they tackle the tough lessons in life. It’s not easy growing up, and I say that without the slightest hint of sarcasm.

I feel sorry for the young ones slamming hard into their own sin natures and trying to reconcile what they really, really want with the fact that life often works differently. It’s awful to think no one understands what you’re going through—let alone when you think there’s something mom or dad could do to fix it…and they won’t!

Kids really believe the adults are being unfair because no decent human being would allow somebody to go through such anger/sadness/disappointment…right? Their emotions are very real. In fact, the birthday party scenario is, literally, the hardest thing a preschooler has had to deal with EVER.

I understand that.

But I do not agree with trying to take away all of those “hurtful” situations.  

All of us must learn to manage feelings like disappointment and jealousy–and that weird lie that you’re somehow less than others because they’re being honored and everybody is thinking really horrible things about you because you’re still sitting down and the lady next to you is standing.

We must learn to separate lies from truth and healthy emotions from unhealthy ones because the challenges only get bigger as we grow up.  

The birthday party prepares the child for elementary school, when she has to clap for her sister who won the local spelling bee. The spelling bee, then, prepares her for highschool, when another girl gets elected class president and prom queen…AND gets accepted to a better college.

Then that experience prepares her for adulthood, when she begs God for a child…unsuccessfully…yet has to sit in church every year while the mothers around her get flowers and cards.

I empathize with people struggling with these realities. It doesn’t seem fair. It’s absolutely not “equal.” But it’s a necessary part of human growth.

Please don’t ask coaches and teachers and pastors to make the spotlight a little bigger, in order to alleviate your jealousy. The terrible experience you call “hurt” is completely understandable…but it’s not acceptable to throw a fit and find a way to put the attention back on yourself.

It’s not your party.

Oh, friends, I’m not saying these things to be cold.

Don’t you see the child who never learns to think of others is more miserable in the long run?  We can find ways to make her more comfortable temporarily, by giving her a trophy or letting her stay home during another person’s celebration. But she never learns to see past her own nose. And she never gets to experience the JOY of praising others.

I’m so glad I learned I don’t have to be the person opening presents to have a good time at a party. Life is so much better when it doesn’t have to be about me…so much better than depending on others to treat me with special consideration.  I even can enjoy Father’s Day and Veteran’s Day and Secretaries’ Day, and Arbor Day, without feeling “hurt” about the attention I’m missing.

There’s freedom in realizing it’s not my party…but in being okay with that.

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2 thoughts on “When It’s Not Your Party, and You’re Okay With That

  1. bethagrace

    My gut reaction is yours. Even if we were to say, “Everyone can celebrate Mother’s Day because everyone *has* a mom,” there are people who had abusive moms or didn’t know their moms or whose moms died… so whatever way you look at it, it can be painful. So can baby dedications, Father’s Day and everyday sermons.

    That said, I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

    1. A lot of the people I hear talking like this are upset because their churches, in general, talk about motherhood as the highest–or even the only proper–calling a woman could have. For a barren or unmarried woman, hearing that week after week builds up until it boils over on Mother’s Day. For churches that create this type of situation, the thing to do is not to stop honoring moms, but to make sure they aren’t promoting the idea that any woman who hasn’t had a kid isn’t fulfilling her God-given purpose in life.

    The essay you linked to wasn’t saying to not honor moms at all, just to be inclusive.

    2. These kinds of situations are good times to keep in mind 1 Corinthians 12:26. We’re a body, so if someone is being honored for being a good mom, we should rejoice with that person. We should be happy for each other’s achievements–just as you stated. However, we also need to mourn with one another.

    If one of us suffers from infertility or singleness, that’s our suffering, too. That doesn’t mean we cancel the day, but it does mean we are sensitive to that pain. (I know, I know. We’re all too sensitive, but still.) It means we pray for the people going through that. It means that if the members of our body are consistently being hurt by something, we look deeper to see if our unnecessary, man-made tradition should or could be tweaked.

    After reading this post, I went to my church where we had a baby dedication and, yep, the pastor had all the moms stand. He honored them for their hard work, but he didn’t say anything about it being the highest call or the purpose for women. Then we prayed for them, and included in that prayer was one for women who wanted children but couldn’t have them. Then we moved on to our regularly scheduled sermon about Nehemiah.

    Because I don’t worry about not having kids, I can’t say whether or not anyone went home depressed today, but to me, it struck me as a nice balance of honoring moms while keeping the entire body in mind.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Totally agree, Bethany.

      Actually it kind of was strange for me to defend Mother’s Day ceremonies in this post because ordinarily it drives me crazy the way the church takes every opportunity to talk about how great moms are–and then turns Father’s Day into a time to “challenge” men to be better examples of Christ… There certainly are places where “praise for moms/wives/homemakers” has gone overboard. And if mothers are next to God, then anyone without children will start to feel inferior. If I’m sick of the “moms are the best” stuff, I can’t imagine how non-moms feel. 🙂

      But the quote from the linked article that stood out was: I believe we can honor moms without alienating anyone. That’s just not true. Anytime you honor a particular group, everybody not in that group is left out. She tried to make it sound like she was concerned for the “unusual” situations by listing foster moms and adopted moms and moms who lost children. But all of those are included in the celebration of mothers. It’s not as complicated as she tries to make it. Women like her–who never had any children–as well as men raising children are not “sort of” mothers. For them to stand for applause is like the neighbor kid blowing out the birthday girl’s candles. “Awkward” is right, but not because certain women can’t figure out whether they “count” as a mother. The author absolutely knew she didn’t. :/

      She calls that “alienation.” I just say “it’s not her party.”

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