Dear Miriam,

I hope you can help me with a small issue at home. I am facing a fairly significant “roundy birthday” in a few months’ time. To be honest, I’d be perfectly happy to let this event pass without so much as a birthday card! But I’ve gotten wind from a reliable source that my (adult) children are in the process of planning a “surprise” birthday party for me.

I know that they only mean well and that they want to do something nice for me, but the thought of a big party in a function room fills me with dread; not to mind the possibility of it ending up in the local newspaper or something like that! I don’t even want the neighbours to know what age I am!

I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I know that it’s a privilege to be celebrating this birthday and that not everybody gets the opportunity to grow older and enjoy good health.

And I don’t want to hurt my children’s feelings either by saying that I don’t want the surprise.

How would you suggest that I handle this?

Birthday Girl, Cork

Miriam responds

Dear Birthday Girl,

Thank you very much for your email. I’m sure that your children want to celebrate your birthday in a special way and have only the best of intentions; but really, it’s important that they consider what you would actually want and enjoy, rather than deciding what they think is best for you.

But first, maybe just interrogate why the idea of the big birthday party is not for you. Putting the thoughts of the nosy neighbours and newspaper social pages aside for a moment, might it be a nice opportunity to get together with extended family and good friends after the last few years of having all celebrations put on pause due to lockdowns? Is it something that you think that you might regret down the line if it doesn’t happen? Or are you the kind of person who feels uncomfortable about having a fuss made of you; even when you deserve a treat?

I’m not saying these things to try and dissuade you from calling off the party. You know your own mind better than anyone else.

It’s more to just encourage you to really think about why you feel this way, and to be sure in yourself that it’s not something that you might enjoy (as I suspect most of us might “freak out” a little at the prospect of a surprise party, for a variety of reasons).

If you genuinely dread the idea of the big “surprise” birthday, it’s probably best to nip this in the bud sooner rather than later. Explain to your children that you have gotten wind that plans are afoot, and that while you are really touched by their thoughtfulness, that you would like to do something more private or intimate.

What might this look like? For instance, could it just be a case of getting some catering into the house and inviting immediate family for a low-key night? Or if you think the neighbours might spot the traffic and put two and two together, how about going away to a hotel for a night or two with your children or renting a nice self-catering house, be that at home or abroad?

If they still want that surprise element, you could always leave the actual planning of that up to them, so that they still feel like they are organising a special treat for you.

I hope that this helps. Just remember that your children want to make a fuss of you because you are obviously such an important person to them. Don’t be shy about celebrating that.

I wish you a very happy and healthy “roundy birthday” and year ahead!

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