A few years ago, on my birthday, one of my kids gave me a card and it was sh*t.
No, really, it was sh*t. I’m a big fan of home-made cards. I love them. And I don’t actually care about gifts.
That’s not my love language. Not from my husband, my friends or my kids.
But cards, I care about. Words, I care about, which is why Words of Affirmation is my primary love language (if you don’t know what I’m talking about this explains it).
And on this occasion, my child – who shall remain nameless but YOU KNOW WHICH ONE YOU ARE – just folded up a piece of A4 paper and scrawled Happy Birthday on it with a biro.
There might have been a heart drawn on it. Possibly a balloon. But basically it was sh*t.
And so I gave it back.
I was disappointed and hurt by their lack of effort and care and I told them so.
Are you judging me right now? If you are, I understand. Because once, I would have judged me, too, and in fact I did.
A few years before the Sh*t Card Incident, I read a terrific book called Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother by an Asian-American woman called Amy Chua. It was about the clash of her own upbringing and the hardline, Tiger-mum style she brought to parenting her own daughters who were very much American and not really down with the tiger.
As one journalist described it: “Amy Chua brought up her daughters with an extreme regime that banned TV, drilled academic learning and demanded hours of music practice daily. Then one daughter declared war …”
It’s a memoir and it’s funny and there’s one scene in it that goes like this:
Amy Chua was in a restaurant, celebrating her birthday with her husband and daughters, Sophia, seven, and Lulu, four. “Lulu handed me her ‘surprise’, which turned out to be a card,” writes Chua in her explosive new memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. “More accurately, it was a piece of paper folded crookedly in half, with a big happy face on the front. Inside, ‘Happy Birthday, Mummy! Love, Lulu’ was scrawled in crayon above another happy face. I gave the card back to Lulu. ‘I don’t want this,’ I said. ‘I want a better one – one that you’ve put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia, and this one can’t go in there.’ I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen and scrawled ‘Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!’ I added a big sour face. … ‘I reject this.'”
At the time I read that scene in Amy’s book, I remember being horrified. It wasn’t until today when I was listening to my No Filter interview with Gabbie Stroud about her new book Dear Parents that I thought of it and realised that years later, I’d done exactly the same thing.
In my defence, my kid was a LOT older than four, but the principle is the same. When do we call out kids for a lack of effort?
And the reason I was thinking about it today is that Gabbie and I were talking about this obsession parents have with the self-esteem of children and how that has morphed into “celebrating the mundane” as she calls it.