On Congratulations

Yesterday evening at 8:30 South African time I became an uncle for the second time.  No, please don’t offer any congratulations.  That’s the whole point of this post.  This morning I made the obligatory calls to my father and stepmother (their first grandchild) and to my step-sister and brother-in-law to offer my congratulations.  Then my wife asked a very intriguing question:  For what am I congratulating them?  What did they achieve?

Because that’s why we congratulate people, isn’t it?  For their achievements.  You congratulate someone on winning a race, on completing a degree, on getting a promotion.  Congratulations imply the person has worked hard over a period of time and has reaped some kind of reward.  On receipt of that reward, we offer our congratulations.

But why do we congratulate someone for becoming parents?  What exactly have they achieved?  In essence we’re congratulating them on the fact that they had intercourse some nine months ago, and we already congratulated them eight months ago when we found out they were pregnant. (That’s another thing:  why are ‘they’ pregnant?  Does the father take shifts with the mother carrying the child?)  Why, when the baby pops out, do we congratulate them again.  For what, really?  I’ll make this concession:  going through labour is pretty awesome.  Only half the people on earth are able to do that, and most of those who have the choice opt for surgery instead, so congrats to any mom who has gone through that. You have achieved something magnificent.  But simply becoming a parent?  Millions manage it every day.  It’s not as if you need any special type of qualification (though if I ever become president that’ll be one of the first things I change).  In fact, some people manage it seven times, eight, even more!

Even more inane is congratulating someone on becoming a grandparent or, what I already experienced today, becoming an uncle.  What on earth did I do that you are congratulating me?  My stepmom could be credited with making and raising a child of her own over the past 32 years, but now we’re starting to push things.

As Elwica and I discussed this, we thought of another thing we get congratulated for:  birthdays.  Think about this.  You’re a year older.  Congrats on managing not to die for another 365 days.  How on earth do you (and the other 7 billion people on earth) do it?  Call me when you reach ninety.  By that point it may be considered an achievement.  But in your thirties, your twenties, your teens?

And then there’s the ultimate abomination: calling parents to congratulate them on their child’s birthday.  Congrats!  You managed not to kill the brat for another year (though come to think of it, with some parents you can very well congratulate them on this).

So today I issue this solemn decree:  I will no longer be offering congratulations for birthdays.  It’s nothing personal, I simply don’t think you deserve congratulations for inhaling roughly 20 000 times a day for 365 days.  Breathing is involuntary.  You don’t even decide to do it.  If you’re ninety and still doing it I’ll reconsider.

8 thoughts on “On Congratulations

  1. Don’t forget that our ancestors didn’t always survive childbirth and carrying a baby to term was also an achievement.

    Then there was no guarantee that the child would live its first year, or second, or third. I’m not sure at what age people could expect to live their adult lives, but I’m sure it was after the age of 10; possibly 15. Don’t confuse average lifespan with the life expectancy of a 15 year old.

    Our tradition of congratulation is almost certainly from that time. So yes, congratulations that your daughter didn’t die of childbirth is in order, I’d say.

    1. I did not think of it that way. Thanks for offering a different perspective.

      Though, I’m sure you’d agree with me that congratulating me on becoming an uncle is a bit much, isn’t it? 😉

      1. Yes, today. And “congratulations, your sister (in law) didn’t die of childbirth” is a bit tacky.

        It has come to the point where we can let people know of childbirths without attaching pointless congratulations to the message. Same with birthdays.

  2. Hmmm… Good point. I always congratulate the mother on a child’s birthday, since she was the erhm… pusher. Teenagers should, I believe, be congratulated as well. Well done, you’ve managed to stay alive despite innate teenage stupidity. And stepmothers of said teenagers should receive special awards – daily – for not killing abovementioned abominations! Other than that… yes, what you said. 🙂

  3. I think we should start to congratulate parents, not on their child’s birthday, but rather on their children’s proper upbringing. That is a real achievement to celebrate. So let’s wait and see how she turns out before we congratulate them.

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