Miss Manners: Birthday parties a training ground in manners

DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I attended the birthday party for a 7-year-old girl, I was surprised to find that toward the end of the party, the parents did not invite the children to gather ‘round and watch Susie open the gifts the boys and girls had brought.

Apparently, the parents did not want to hassle with trying to gather and throw away the paper at the outdoor locale. They felt that wrapped gifts would be easier to transport home.

I asked a colleague about this and she said that, yes, it appears to be a growing trend to not open the gifts at kid parties. She, by the way, has the children attending her son’s birthday parties not only witness him opening the thoughtful gifts, but mom has each child sit with her son as he opens their gift. This makes the giver feel special and the photo op helps mom when helping son write thank you notes. I thought this was brilliant.

Anyway – I was very disturbed by the idea that guests are good enough to bring gifts to said party but are not worth the hassle to let them see the joy in the child’s face when she opens that gift. When I give someone a gift, most of the joy in giving is getting to see him/her open it!

Keep in mind that at this party, many of the parents were present the whole time. (Wouldn’t you at least do it for their sake since they forked out $20-plus for a gift for your kid?!)

Even though I noticed this affront myself, it really hit me when one of the children at the party asked, “Are we going to open the presents now?!” Guess not.

Do I need to get with the times or is this just rude?

GENTLE READER: Who could resist the charm of the happy birthday child beaming with gratitude, each happy guest beaming with generosity, and the proud mothers beaming at both?

Well, maybe the mother who hears her birthday child, despite all previous instruction, announce sourly, “I already have one of those.” Or the child who thus hears that his present was a failure.

Or the visiting mother who, having explained the joy of giving, watches her child tearfully refusing to let go of the present that was supposed to have provided it. And the mother of the child who furiously attempts to tear it away from him.

It is to avoid such rudeness, Miss Manners supposes, that many parents have abandoned the great present-opening ceremony at children’s birthday parties.

But to her mind, the great virtue of children’s birthday parties is as a laboratory to teach manners. So she might have been inclined to defend the ritual while advising patience and tolerance for lapses in performance.

What has turned her opinion is not the behavior of unruly children, who are, after all, works in progress, but that of unruly adults. So many now give their own birthday parties unrestrained by any of the lessons they should have been taught in childhood.

Miss Manners is not referring here to a milestone bash given by their intimates but to annual demands that others take them out on their birthdays and otherwise contribute to an it’s-all-about-me day. Watch-me-get-things is a central part of that.

If a lack of emphasis on presents – and of course the mandatory letter of thanks to each giver – can take some of the selfishness out of birthdays, so be it.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Can you eat poached eggs with a spoon?

GENTLE READER: Sure; nothing to it. The real trick is to eat poached eggs with a fork, which is the proper way to do it when you are not breakfasting alone.

Visit Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

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