Birthdays are great teaching occasions, especially birthday parties of moms who love big crowds and are brave enough to invite a large number of preschoolers. You have the opportunity of testing manners (“Please may I have more punch” four times), you have the opportunity of getting along with other children, and opportunities for obedience and unselfishness. Bethel and I talked about presents on the way there. We talked about what would happen. We talked about what she should do with the gift once we got there. We talked about how she should behave. Since she recently had a birthday party (just adults, I’m not as brave as some), she understood about presents for just one person. We talked about her friend opening up all the presents. This is the hard part for some children. Bethel wanted to know if she could play with the dolly we had bought and wrapped. No, this is just for your friend. When we got there, Bethel did fine (except spilling the third cup of punch). I kept waiting for the big present opening occasion… until the mom told me that they don’t open the presents until everyone is gone.
Really, in some ways this is smart, especially because present opening time can be quite an emotional experience for some children, and uncomfortable for parents. And this party had many children. But in other ways, I was a bit sad. It’s a good opportunity to see how well we’re doing on the giving part of life. Maybe part of the problem is a difficulty being transparent with one another, and the fear of criticism if one’s child should misbehave. Maybe our response should be to pray for one another more, to encourage in each other a reliance on the word of God. I wonder how I can respond to mothers of ill-behaved children.