Birthdays when you are a child are special – at least they should be. It’s a day that is about you. People give you cards, presents, attention and generally it can feel good as others acknowledge their love for you. As parents and adults in their lives we try to make it as special as we can as it feels important to do so. And it is! I love to make a fuss of mine even as they get older, it’s less intense of course, but we still try to show our love.
Why does it feel like we should do that on those days more than any other day I wonder? I know as a parent of three keeping up that intensity can be exhausting. That one special day it easy to do, but everyday being able to be fully present for each child can be hard.
I have mentioned recently that I am running an 8-week programme for Adoption UK presently on siblings and managing one child’s birthday can bring out all those fears for survival – the competition and jealousy that rears its ugly head can be overpowering. “If my sister gets ALL the attention on this one day, what about me? When will my needs be met? If they aren’t what will happen to me?”.
Sabotage is real and we have seen it many times over the years. It can come from siblings or even from the birthday child themselves. All that attention and affection can be overwhelming for a child who feels shame at the core of their being. The spotlight can highlight insecurities and compound the feelings of inadequacy. In adoption we must be careful with special occasions to make sure the child knows they are special but in a low-key way that they can manage, and that confirms our love for them.
It’s my birthday this weekend (5th Feb) which is why I am thinking of this subject today. I had a great childhood; my parents were wonderful, and I can remember many lovely special days, whether my birthday or Christmas or other days when we spent time together and celebrated each other. Now at 53 it feels very different. My adult children even say themselves how different birthdays are now. The day is the same as any other sometimes – we go to work, make the dinner, watch TV – the same as any other. But it is a time to reflect and to be thankful for all those other days we have had and how kind people can be.
My parents are no longer with us, which makes this day very different for me too. Many of you will understand this feeling – one that doesn’t seem to go away over time! I miss them and I especially miss seeing them on these special days. It also makes me think of my children again and their experience of not seeing their birth parents, even though they are still alive, and they have no relationship with them now. So many mixed emotions for people on these special days.
So, whatever you are doing as you read this, if there is a special day coming soon for you or children you live or work with, consider those mixed emotions. If your own, show yourself the compassion you would to others – it’s ok to have conflicting emotions about something and to be confused even. All part of life’s complexities!
For the children you support, make sure there is space for them to acknowledge those mixed emotions. They don’t have to be happy just because it’s their birthday. They may be sad or upset or guilty that they feel happy. So many different emotions and they are ok. The best we can do is let them express those emotions that are there and help them to process them, so that they can accept the love that is being shown to them.