celebrating othersI love celebrating birthdays — for myself and for others. It’s like your own personal new year! Each year for my birthday, I reflect on all that has happened over the past year, and I set new intentions for the year ahead. My dad has always asked us, “What can you do new?” on each birthday. It started when we were little, and the phrasing has never changed.

I’ve been excited to explain this idea to my sons and start asking them the same question. But after our latest family birthday celebration, I’m not so sure.

My birthday is about three weeks before my oldest son’s. This year, I was turning a nondescript age — but he was turning the big 5. As with most child birthdays, we had been talking up his big day and planning a fun celebration for him. I couldn’t have imagined that the lead up to his birthday would lead to some major disappointment on mine. 

Somehow, my son reasoned that my birthday coming before his was not fair to him. Because he was ready to turn 5! Throughout the day — my birthday — he cried about the birthday FaceTime calls and denied my celebratory moments. At one point, I had to take a minute alone to remind myself that his concept of time is different than mine. I also reminded myself that even though I know he loves me, it was OK to acknowledge that he was being self-centered.

Once I stopped taking it personally that my son didn’t want to celebrate my birthday, I thought about his reaction to celebrating others. I wondered if he’s heard us celebrate friends and others enough to know it’s a good thing to shine the spotlight on someone else. Although talking things out with a kid is hard, it was worth having a conversation about his behavior. It went a little like this:

I reminded him that I Ioved him dearly and that there’s nothing he could do to make me love him less. 

I told him birthdays are an opportunity to be thankful for our lives and our family — and that I had been looking forward to celebrating mine with him. 

I told him it doesn’t feel fair to have to wait to celebrate a big birthday, but many things will feel unfair.

I told him his behavior was concerning because I want him to be able to celebrate others just as much as we celebrate the things he does. 

By the end of the day, he was able to say a genuine “happy birthday” to me, which was serious progress from how the day began. And while I began the day expecting to reflect on my personal new year, my biggest takeaway was more parenting focused. I want to outwardly praise the accomplishments of others — where my sons can hear me. I want to model celebrating others. I want to show genuine interest in other people’s successes.

We did, of course, celebrate big for my son’s 5th birthday, and he got all the attention he’d been seeking. But just yesterday, I saw the fruits of our birthday-drama conversation. His little brother was attempting to water the plants for the first time. Without prompting, he came up to him and said, “Great job, buddy, you did it! You’re helping the plants!” He’s still a pretty poor sport when it comes to family games, but I expect to repeat the lessons of the birthday-gone-wrong with my kids several times — the bonus is that I always learn something, too. 

Dashanna Hanlon
Dashanna was born in Michigan and raised between there and Virginia. She moved to Massachusetts in 2011 after getting a bachelor’s degree in English and gender studies from the University of Pittsburgh. She married her favorite Massachusetts native (Tom) seven years ago. Together they have two sons, Lucas and Isaiah, born in 2018 and 2019. Becoming a parent ignited a passion for supporting others, and Dashanna became a doula before the birth of her second son. She is now the owner of Caring for Mamas, working with families all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She loves fresh-squeezed lemonade, good music, and helping and supporting families.