I'll be honest: When one of my kids has a birthday coming up, I'm not thinking, "Yay! Another opportunity to celebrate my child's existence on this earth!" No, what I'm thinking is more along the lines of: "Oh no! Another opportunity to disappoint my kid on an epic scale!" The problem is, birthday hype is so out of control that even toddlers are conditioned to expect everything to be "perfect." Unfortunately, when they get exactly what they want, the experience isn't as magically "happy'' as they're led to believe it will be.
This viral video of an overwhelmed toddler getting the birthday present of his dreams (a bike!) says it all. Watch what the poor kid does (hint: he doesn't jump for joy!).
My personal theory on what causes birthday breakdowns? Too much pressure. Sure, we're showering our kid with attention because it's his "special" day and we want to do everything we possibly can to make it a good one, but it's just not natural to suddenly shine a spotlight in somebody's face and say, "Okay, we ran around like maniacs trying to find a Boots the Monkey pinata and a cake in the shape of a Transformer and two dozen red, helium-filled balloons ... now, be happy!!!" More like, it's your party, you can cry if you want to.
I know there's no way we can really shelter our kids from our culture's deeply embedded birthday myths, so I guess all we can do is to be there for them when the disillusionment hits. Like this year, when my daughter ended up sobbing hysterically on the afternoon of her 10th birthday because her little brother had "ruined" everything (whatever he did was so minor I can't even remember what it was). I spent a few minutes trying to convince her that everything was "going to be okay," then I just slumped down next to her and admitted, "You know, I always end up crying on my birthday too." And we just sort of sat there and let the sadness hang in the air until it cleared, and then guess what? My daughter ended up having a happy birthday after all.
Image via YouTube