June 22, 2011

Appreciating the Giver, part deux

This weekend, we marked the passing of five years since my oldest daughter's birth in the only way such an occasion can be marked. We had a Barbie party, of course.

I know, I know. Barbie is not a very strong role model in a household where feminine values of equality, spiritual insight, intellect and strength are celebrated daily. But, those are my hang ups, not my daughter's. When my daughter sees Barbie, she's not thinking, "Why are Barbie's boobs unnaturally large and pointy, like she's had a boob job?" or "Why do even Barbie's professional clothes make her look like she's engaging in some kind of sexy role playing?" Nope. When my daughter sees Barbie, she sees a beautiful princess who likes to wear cool clothes and has long lustrous hair.

Which is exactly what I want to talk about today.

For those of you who read last week's post about our plan to save gift opening till after the party because we wanted to focus on just having fun with our friends rather than making the party about gifts, here's an update.
Your comments were supportive and encouraging even if you disagreed, like this friend did.
"I admire you trying to change...let me "share"...from the other side.  ...my child, waits in anticipation for gift time to come, so that they can give their friend their carefully chosen gift and see them open the gift that they had chosen for them...the thank you card... is not the same as the joy of seeing someone open your gift.

As I took in the responses, I noticed a pattern. Several moms shared their own feelings of insecurity about giving gifts to their peers or to their children's peers in a public setting.  I began to realize that this concern about giving an appropriate gift might be more related to our insecurities about "fitting in" as adults and being validated in our choices than it was about our kids' feelings regarding gifts.

I recognized this, partly, thanks to an antagonist who wrote me a strongly worded email expressing her frank opposition. Her email started similarly to the above message but also shared her concern that doing things too far out of the norm (like not serving hot dogs or not opening gifts at a party) would make my daughter's party so weird her friends wouldn't want to come again and that her social life could be permanently skewed (at age 5!). The author finished by saying that it's really important for kids to "fit in" with their friends at this stage in life.

Those of you who have known me for a while may have started chuckling as you read that last sentence. 'Cause, you know, I'm just known for doing whatever is necessary to fit into the crowd. Hahaha!! 

It is my highest goal and full intention as a mother to teach my children the opposite of "fitting in". I pray and hope they will learn to live their lives according to their consciences and our family's belief system regardless of how far out of the norm that puts them. I don't want my children to feel they need to mute who they are or what they believe just so they can "fit in".  

No way.

We are intentionally raising our daughters to be confident, EXTRA-ordinary women who are comfortable in their own skin and in their ability to make wise choices, even if those choices rock the boat a bit. I only hope they will learn to temper their strength with a grace, love and compassion that exceeds what I have shown at various times in my life.

That said, I don't really think not choosing to open gifts at a party is that big of a "rock the boat" issue.  I mean, I just wanted to try something new because it seemed like it might be a good idea! So, why the strong reaction from both sides?

The truth is, I think the majority of us have been situations where we have felt insecure about whether or not our (or our child's) gift was "good enough". And friends, when I say a "majority" of parents, I'm counting myself.

Listening to fellow moms express their fears about whether or not their gift would be appreciated helped me recognize my own feelings of insecurity over whether or not what I have to offer is good enough. But the thing is, if the person receiving the gift loves you or me, they will appreciate our intention. And, regardless of their reaction, we should feel confident that we each have something precious to offer those we love. Fear of rejection should not guide our life decisions.

Which leads me to my final thoughts on this subject. When I realized that the conclusions I'd reached about not opening gifts at my daughter's party might (!!!) just be more about my hangups than those of the children who would be attending the party, I decided to observe the kids at the party and make my decision based on their interactions not my own insecurities.

Here's what I saw.

Fun, excited little friends who arrived at the party bearing gifts, dressed for a swim-fest. They jumped in the pool, raced around with their Barbies (well, if they were girls), ate and drank with gusto and clearly had a wonderful time celebrating with each other. Then, as the party neared its end, they all said, "When are you going to open my gift?" Obviously, they considered it the high point in the festivities.

So, we gathered around and with giggles and great excitement, the entire crowd of kids "helped" my daughter open her gifts. They all gasped with pleasure over each gift and she was truly excited with each and every special treasure her friends had carefully chosen, wrapped and presented. A carefully-drawn princess card created by one of her little friends received one of the biggest exclamations of delight of the party. 

Watching the process gave me a new appreciation for my daughter and her ability to make her friends feel loved. And, it taught me a lesson in not projecting my own insecurities on my daughter.

There you have it. I still think it wouldn't be a big deal not to open presents at a party, especially for a younger crowd (say, 2 or 3 and under). A friend who moved to New Orleans about three years ago says she's only been to one party in that time where the birthday boy or girl opened gifts. But in this case, I learned a lesson about myself and being confident in who I am and the choices I make about my daughter. I want to make choices that are best for our family, whether or not they fit in with the norm. And, if I realize I am making an issue about something that may not be that big of a deal, I can change my mind without feeling like I've "lost face".

Whew. That's about enough philosophizing for me today. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the party menu. It was AWESOME.

I love hearing your feedback. Keep it coming!

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