My son turned three and half the other day. My wife threw him a little party.
Few things seem so obviously tailor-made for a Dad and Buried rant as the absurdity of half-birthdays. Unfortunately, when my wife got excited about Detective Munch’s mini-milestone, I found myself swept up in half-birthday fever myself, against my better judgment.
Despite my reservations – about spoiling the kid; about rewarding him for nothing; about the fact that his terrible threes haven’t exactly been his behavioral high-point so why the fuck should he get an extra made-up holiday right smack in the middle of it? – I helped celebrate it. Enthusiastically. We gave him a toy truck and a cupcake!
I think I’m part of the problem. I sang “Happy half-birthday” to him, for Christ’s sake.
They’re imaginary and pointless and unnecessary (and even potentially damaging if you want to get all Chicken Little about it, which, as you’re about to find out, I do!) I’d also be totally lying if I said that seeing my son’s face explode with joy when we sang the song and gave him his cupcake and toy truck wasn’t the best part of my day/week/month.
Happiness is a dangerous thing. We spend our lives seeking it, our country was founded in the pursuit of it, drugs are made to simulate and stimulate it. And the funny thing is, I’m not even sure I know what happiness is.
At least I didn’t, until I had a son. Now all my happiness is all tied up in his.
When he’s happy, I’m happy, and to hell with everything else. But that’s the problem. Because in that scenario, who is something like a half-birthday actually for?
Let’s get real here: half-birthdays don’t exist. Children don’t expect them and they will be just fine without them. But will we?
Make no mistake, half-birthdays are for the parents. Giving your kid a gift for no reason makes them smile, and that makes you smile and so, for a short little while,
you’re reminded of the “Growing Pains” theme song everything is a fairy tale. And when you’re in the middle of the terrible twos or the threenage wasteland or the eff-you fours, that fairy tale can be a lifeline.
So much of parenting involves finding a balance, finding a way to not lose yourself in the family bargain. While I will be the first to admit I want that too (it’s half the reason this blog exists!), I have to wonder if I’m not putting my own daily happiness ahead of my son’s chance at it. In small ways, for now, but who’s to say they won’t become bigger ways in the future?
There are ways to manage your life and lay claim to some of your own happiness while simultaneously helping your kids achieve their own, but if a choice has to be made, your priority should always be your children. And sometimes that means withholding today’s fleeting joy for tomorrow’s enduring contentment. The long-term has got to outweigh the short-term, especially since we can see it and they can’t. That’s the hardest part about being a parent, whether you’re allowing your baby to cry itself to sleep even when it’s killing you to do so or you’re not giving in to a tantrum even though giving him what he wants would make your life much easier. Because it might end up making his harder.
Throwing your kid a makeshift party in the middle of the year isn’t the worst thing in the world (that’s using formula, obviously!), but if you’re going to do it, make sure you consider your motivation first.
If you’re throwing your kid a half-birthday to make him happy, be careful. Because if he’s too happy now he might end up unhappy later. Spoiled children do not usually emerge as well-adjusted adults, and a childhood of indulgence often begets an adulthood of disappointment and bitterness. The real world can be a harsh master, especially if you’re not prepared for it. (That’s not to say that half-birthdays are the gateway drug to your kid being homeless, but if you’re not careful, they could totally be the gateway drug to your kid being homeless.)
If you’re throwing your baby or your toddler or preschooler or tween or Millennial or teenager (or whatever other marketing-based age group your kid currently lands in) a half-birthday in order to make yourself happy, maybe reconsider.
Because if you’re parenting for your own happiness, you’re probably not doing a very good job of it. Probably because your parents never gave you cupcakes for no reason.