How to confuse a toddler: a sham birthday party

Every once in a while I hit a news story that completely sticks out from the norm, where the “huh?” factor just hits the roof. This is one of these stories.

An article posted on Springfield News-Leader’s Web site (and assumed to be in the print version as well) details what I consider a misguided attempt at parenting. The parents turn a 2-year-old’s birthday party in an attempt to teach her a life lesson. Yes, at the age of 2, when most kids don’t even know how to read yet, much less understand the concept of charitable giving.

In place of gifts the parents asked the party’s guests to bring donations to a local animal adoption facility.

Key quotes from the article:

“During the past year I saw how many toys she had that she didn’t play with and wanted her to learn a lesson she could continue as she grew up … that it’s always nice to get something but it gives you a good warm feeling inside to be able to give something.”

“I don’t want her to grow up be selfish. I want her to show kindness and friendship for her community in any way she can … That’s important in our society now,” said Karen Campbell. “I hope this will be a good starting point for her since she loves animals.”

There are multiple issues I need to address here. The article’s headline, “2-year-old gives up birthday presents to help adoption site,” implies that this toddler made the decision of her own free will. This is so obviously not the case here. The parents (particularly the mother) almost certainly made this decision on her behalf. In fact, it would not surprise me if Rylee (the 2-year old) said she wanted just a regular birthday party and was overruled by her parents. So, shame on you, Springfield News-Leader, for this little act of deception. You got away with it for two weeks… and then I came along.

The next issue I have is that I suspect the outcome of this experience will not have the positive effect that Rylee’s parents think it will. All it may wind up doing is fostering Rylee’s resentment against her parents– and by the time she’s 18, greed will be the least of her problems.

On what basis, you may ask, am I qualified to make such a judgment? My own personal experiences. I don’t have a psychology degree, or for that matter even as much as a few months working at a day care center. I do know, however, what my reaction would have been to what Rylee’s parents foisted upon her, when I was Rylee’s current age. I know I would have said “I want a normal birthday party like the other kids, and if I can’t, then I don’t want a party at all.” Really, I was teased enough for being different as it was. (I was able to convince the family members responsible for me that private school wasn’t in my best interests, finally, after fifth grade. I don’t regret being allowed to switch to public school in sixth grade and beyond one bit.)

2 thoughts on “How to confuse a toddler: a sham birthday party”

  1. I'm a little bothered by the idea that a 2 year old needs to "start early" or learn a specific lesson as complex as charitable giving – and yes, who we give to and why we give and how it makes us feel is something that I think not even other adults always fully stop to think about.

    It's no secret that I myself am childfree by choice, but I still don't see myself imprinting complex life lessons on a 2 year old kid. Whatever happened to jumping castles and Dairy Queen ice cream cakes (as a kid, that's what I wanted!) being the stuff of child birthdays?

    Considering I moved from Springfield, MO …I'm not surprised to hear this happening in my former neck of the woods. Good people with good intentions that end up doing not-so-great things some of the time. And "some" is about as polite as I'll get.

    Isabella "Niche Lady" Murphy, The Staying Paid Diva

    1. I have no idea how Rylee's parents expect her to learn something this complex at the ripe age of 2. I am lucky; I taught myself to read at 3, and even I would have had no idea what was going on beyond "I get to pet the doggies."

      The Campbells "hope to continue this tradition at least every other year" but I don't see Rylee tolerating this well past the age of 4, maybe 5, because by then she'll catch on. Is it really that selfish for a kid to want his/her birthday party to actually be his/hers?

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