My daughter’s fifth birthday was this week and along with the joyous occasion came some serious mama guilt. Why? Two reasons: gifts and a concert.
Hubby and I are not so big into gift giving. We never have been. So when the little one came along, she got sucked into our cheery little world, where holidays are often met with a shrug, not a bigger credit card bill.
It’s not that we’re scrooges — we just get what we need, as we need it. (Or at least my hubby does. I’m still wearing socks from George W.’s first term.) And we take the same approach with our daughter. She gets a decent yet not excessive amount of stuff, and we enjoy having the ability to move around a somewhat uncluttered urban dwelling.
Despite feeling comfortable about these choices from January to November, I can’t help but feel uneasy around her birthday, which falls right around the gift gorging — I meaning giving — time of the year. Almost immediately after I polish off a leg of turkey and a pound of Stove Top stuffing, the doubt sets in. Should I get her more presents? Should we let her friends bring gifts to her birthday party? Will she become more preoccupied with stuff if she feels we’re depriving her of it?
As if my austerity program wasn’t causing enough angst this year, I added a second reason to feel guilty on her special day. At her birthday dinner, I decided to surprise hubby with tickets to see his favorite band, The National. He grew up with twins who play in the band and deeply, deeply loves their music.
It’s not as if I had planned it months in advance. Thanks to the ruiner of all birthdays, Facebook, I found out from a friend that I could snag a couple tickets. My grand plan was to enjoy her birthday dinner with the whole family and then head to the concert afterward with hubby. Her grandparents, who were in town for the occasion, said that they were more than happy to wrap up the festivities.
So we polished off our main courses and left. Then I proceeded to spend the rest of the night feeling like the worst mom on earth. It’s my only kid’s birthday, and I’m not even there to have cake with her and tuck her in. Agony!
Hubby, of course, thought I was crazy. He didn't feel an iota of guilt for not being there to watch her blow out the candle on the not even birthday-specific slice of flourless cake from Il Mulino's a la carte menu. I, on the other hand, even days later, am still berating myself for not putting the little one first.
All of this mama guilt leads me to the unavoidable question: When it comes to our kids, how do you determine when enough is enough?
I wish my gal pals had warned me that parenthood is a constant balancing — and rebalancing — act, one that involves getting her what she needs but not so much that she doesn't appreciate any of it, doing what’s best for her without forgetting about myself or my spouse in the meantime, and staying true to our ideals as parents but trying to make everybody else (especially the grandparents) happy too.
Actually, I realize my friends did tell me. But like most people, I either (a) wasn’t listening very attentively or (b) thought they were being a tad ridiculous and melodramatic. Ha, guess the joke was on me! Maybe, just maybe, by my daughter’s sixth birthday, I’ll have it all figured out.
~By Wendy Widom, Partner, Families in the Loop
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