Today is Avi’s birthday – thirteen!
This boy has wanted to be a teenager since the day we met him – so, finally!
Avi arrived home just a month before a family rush of birthdays – 4 in a row. This was too much for him – birthday after birthday, and none for him. He didn’t have enough language or experience in our culture to be reassured that his own birthday was only a few months away. So although he came home already four years old, we snuck in a “4” birthday party for him just a couple of months before he turned “5.” That was our first birthday coping plan. That is him above “turning 4!”
And since then, birthdays have not been easy for Avi. They are loaded with expectation, want, disappointment, and even entitlement. Many children who have experienced neglect and poverty experience a sense of never feeling satisfied, content, or at ease.
For Avi, this translates into a deep desire for “stuff” – cool stuff, new stuff, flashy stuff. It has been this way since his first weeks home. And when a new toy, possession, or experience inevitably fails to fill that place, Avi turns his disappointment toward us. We have disappointed him.
In his mind, different parents would give him more, would give him better, would somehow meet that deep place of need and want.
We have also struggled with some of Avi’s “wants” not fitting within our boundaries or decisions as parents for what is appropriate. It can feel like a no-win situation all around.
So birthdays are loaded with a lot of family and relational stress. We learned early on that putting some plans and boundaries in place would help everyone. Over the years, here are a few of the strategies we have used that have been somewhat successful:
- We don’t talk about our birthday on someone else’s birthday. (this was put in place to protect the other children from having their birthday overshadowed by a sibling perseverating on their own wants and to help teach self control and putting others first – we have used it with all of our kids)
- We don’t talk about our birthday wants until the month of our birthday. (this was put in place to protect me from a constant stream of wants)
- Make a birthday list of three things you really want. We will choose something from that list for you.
- We would normally spend $____ for your birthday present. Would you rather have the money and choose what you want to buy with it?
- We will tell you ahead of time what your present is. No surprises. No unmet expectations.
All of these have worked to some degree – they have been valves that have relieved some of the pressure that builds up as a birthday approaches.
To be honest, I breathe a sigh of relief once the day has passed. It is simply one of those things that is “different” about parenting a child with this particular personality and history.
Today is Avi’s tenth birthday in our family (including the “4” birthday above). This year, Greg and I decided together on something we knew Avi would really enjoy and that will be a complete surprise to him. This is the first time we have tried this in quite a few years – we will see how it goes!
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