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'90s Family : December Dilemma : A child's holiday-season birthday can complicate an already hectic time. But there are ways to keep it special.

November 16, 1994|PAULA LYNN PARKS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Paul Desaulniers isn't crazy about the timing of his Dec. 18 birthday. "You have to wait so long for your birthday, then Christmas is right next to it. It would be better if you waited half a year (after Christmas) then got something," said Paul, an Irvine eighth-grader who will turn 14 next month.

But while Anne Giapapas, who will turn 11 on Dec. 23, sees a few drawbacks in her birth date, she added, "I enjoy it a lot. I get double the presents (around) Christmas so it's like a big, big holiday."

Either way, a child's December birthday can complicate an already frenetic time of year, requiring extra effort from parents to keep the day from being lost in the winter holiday shuffle.

"I'm overwhelmed at the holidays anyway," said Anne's mom, Patti Giapapas of Los Angeles.

"It's just one more thing to make it crazier."

With shopping to do, presents to wrap, parties to attend, goods to bake and bills to juggle, some parents might be tempted to downplay the birthday.

Psychologist Diane Ross Glazer cautions against that.

"Parents have to be really careful not to steamroll over the birthday but to see it as a celebration, not as a stressful event," said Glazer, who has offices in Woodland Hills and Santa Monica and teaches parenting classes at the Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center.

"A child's birthday is the only holiday that is individually theirs."

The importance of that occasion has grown in the last few decades as our culture has become more individualistic, said psychotherapist Jeffrey Hutter.

"The individual's accomplishments and milestones are celebrated. Birthdays are the quintessential individualistic event," said Hutter, who has a practice in Santa Monica and teaches personal development classes through UCLA Extension.

The trend in some social circles, Hutter said, has been for birthday parties to include entertainment, hired clowns and catered meals.

A family who regularly celebrates birthdays this way is under particular stress and pressure to continue the practice for its December child.

And while psychologists say that acknowledging a child on his or her birthday will build self-esteem, even more critical is that the birthday is celebrated with the same enthusiasm as everyone else's in the family.

"If they go all out for the other children's birthdays and the child with the Christmas birthday feels lost in the rush, the child will feel not equal to or as good as," Glazer said.

One way children measure parity is in the number of presents, psychologists say.

On the score card of quality and quantity of gifts, children with December birthdays often feel cheated.

Paul Desaulniers said his 17-year-old sister, whose birthday is in April, always gets "bigger and better" gifts than he does.

His mother disagrees. "I make a conscious effort" to see that he is treated equally, said Lyn Garner. "I make it equal. I'm a December birthday so I've made sure" he wasn't cheated.

And combination Christmas/birthday gifts are a slight that some children never forget, experts say.

Paul Downs of Los Angeles, who will turn 46 on Dec. 11 and whose son Jared will turn 8 on Dec. 16, remembers years of combination gifts from some aunts and uncles.

"I'd feel a little cheated," he said, "but it didn't bother me." The annually shifting start of the eight-night Hanukkah celebration has led some Jewish parents to deal creatively with late-November or December birthdays.

Some celebrate the child's birthday twice, as it falls on the Gregorian and Hebrew lunar calendars, psychotherapist Hutter said. "There's no end to the ways people can creatively deal with a birthday and a holiday," he added.

Others have scheduled combined Hanukkah/birthday parties, said Rabbi Aharon Simkin of Young Israel in Northridge. Simkin, whose birthday is Monday, has himself in the past celebrated combined Hanukkah/Thanksgiving/birthday parties.

"The birthday can get lost a little," he acknowledged. "But what's more important--a holiday that everyone is celebrating or your own personal holiday?"

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