"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
October 15, 2015
Don't Celebrate My Birthday
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Editor's note: Cyndie Swindlehurst is taking the week off. Please enjoy this column of hers from October 24, 2013:


My elderly mother-in-law's birthday is just one day after mine. I have never enjoyed celebrating my age, but my mother-in-law loves her big celebrations. I always attend her parties with gift in hand.

My sisters-in-law know my attitude towards my own birthday, yet every year they make a fuss about my just-past birthday at my mother-in-law's party.

I don't enjoy the attention and it distracts from my mother-in-law’s party. I really wish they wouldn't do this. How do I stop this annual embarrassment?


You can’t.

Sorry. I know you wanted some magical trick or phrase that would gracefully extract you from their annual fussing. But although there are several graceful ways to ask them to not fuss over your birthday, there is no graceful way to make them not fuss over your birthday.

But here are two things you can do.

First, ask your sisters-in-law not to mention your birthday at the party. Don’t drop hints. Hints must be detected and decoded, neither of which is a sure bet.

So don’t work into a conversation that, “I just don’t like birthdays,” or “Celebrating my age is not my thing.” Instead, make a clear request: “Jocelyn, would you do me a big favor? Would you not mention my birthday at Nana’s party this year? You are always so kind to remember me, but it really makes me uncomfortable. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t say anything about it this year.”

(You should also tell your husband about your wishes, so if his sisters question him he can assure them of your sincerity.)

If Jocelyn reacts with surprise, “Tammy! Really? I had no idea you minded! I’m sorry we embarrassed you,” you will be gracious and say, “Yes — it’s just a funny thing about me. I should have said so years ago! Thank you for understanding.”

If Jocelyn treats it as a joke, “Oh, Tammy! You always say that but you always come up to blow out the candles,” you will assure her that you are perfectly sincere. “Well, yes. What else can I do — I don’t want to cause a scene! But it makes me so uncomfortable. It would be such a relief to let it pass this year.”

If Jocelyn is hostile (which is unlikely) and accuses you of ingratitude, you will say something like, “Of course I appreciate the thought, but I really don’t like it when people fuss over my birthday in public. I just don’t!”

Whatever you do, do not suggest that adults who love birthday parties are immature or attention-seeking. It would be unfair. Some people like parties, and a birthday is as good an occasion as any to have a party. It would also reveal you to have a poor opinion of your mother in law and perhaps of the entire family.

If you feel that way — and it seems that you might — you should keep it to yourself. Expressing unflattering opinions about one’s mother-in-law, especially to her daughter, is unkind and unwise. And you don’t have to worry that the birthday fuss reflects badly on you. No one will mistake you being a good sport at your mother-in-law’s party for you wanting a party of your own.

This conversation with your sister-in-law may be the end of your troubles. But it may not.

The problem is that when some people say, “Oh, please don’t mention my birthday this year at Nana’s party! It’s so embarrassing to take the spotlight! Let’s just let it go this year!” they mean it. They truly don’t want you to mention their birthday at Nana’s party.

But when other people say the same thing, what they really mean is, “I love it when you fuss over my birthday. It means a lot to me that you remember.” These people feel obligated to tell you not to make a fuss, but they feel loved and appreciated when you do it anyway.

(There is, of course, a third group that craves the attention and would love a bigger fuss. But that is a different matter entirely.)

Further, your sisters-in-law might genuinely feel rude celebrating their mother’s birthday without even mentioning yours. It could pain them to celebrate her without celebrating you, too. It could even be your elderly mother-in-law who insists on making particular mention of your birthday.

So the second thing you should do is expect someone at the party to fuss over your birthday.

It is possible that your sisters-in-law will deliberately disregard your request, and fuss over your birthday despite your objections. But unless you have a history of saying one thing and meaning another, or they are completely impossible, this is unlikely.

It is more likely that celebrating your birthday has become part of the tradition at your mother-in-law’s party. There is, unfortunately, no way to tell the party guests that your birthday is a taboo topic without, in fact, making your birthday the focus of the party. Someone is likely to remember your birthday and shout out, “Hang on! What about Tammy’s birthday! We have to sing to Tammy!”

If this happens, you will remain composed. Your goal is to get through the fuss as quickly and quietly as you can. The last thing you want to do is show temper or visible irritation at your elderly mother-in-law’s birthday party. It would be unseemly.

The point here is not how you feel. It’s how you should act in public.

If you know the family will wheedle and taunt and chant your name until you go up to the front and blow out the candles, you might consider that being a good sport is the best policy. Less attention will be drawn to you if you just walk to the front, blow out the candles, and return to your seat, all the while looking neutral, neither pleased nor displeased, and definitely not looking huffy or put out.

Another option (besides hiding in the restroom) is to simply keep your seat. “Tammy! Come on up!” could be met with a firm but pleasant shake of the head and, “No, thanks. I’m okay right here.”

If the party goes smoothly, with no mention of your birthday, be sure to tell your sisters-in-law very sincerely how much you enjoyed the party.

If things do not go as planned, and you are embarrassed by your sisters-in-law once again, you do not have to feign pleasure with the birthday fuss. But you should be gracious about everything else, always remembering that the party is to honor your mother-in-law.

You’ll have to use your discretion about confronting your sisters-in-law after the fact. It is not rude to tell them calmly a few days later that you were very uncomfortable with the fuss they made at the party, and to ask that this year be the last. If you want to do this, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they just didn’t understand that you were perfectly serious in your request.

But you must consider the effect a confrontation will have on your relationship, and whether it is worth it. If this annual birthday fuss is your only complaint with them, you might consider it your gift to them, and let it go until next year.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

Bookmark and Share    
About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
Copyright © Hatrack River Enterprise Inc. All Rights Reserved. Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com