A Leap Day birthday: The good, the bad and the ugly

A Leap Day birthday: The good, the bad and the ugly

“But it’s not your real birthday,” someone insists every three years out of four.

In a world of more than seven billion people, it is estimated that only about five million, or around 0.07 percent of the total population, can stake a claim to a February 29 birthday, according to About.com.

The chance of being born on Leap Day is one in 1,461, less likely than flipping a coin and coming up “heads” ten times in a row.

“There are positives and negatives that come with this birthdate,” says Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.

“For many, the emotions around being a Leap Day baby are a mixed bag. Children like to feel special and typically enjoy being recognized for something that makes them unique among peers and siblings,” Dr. Roberts says. “Being a Leap Day baby contributes to the identity of a child and gives them some narrative around who they are and what makes them special. This can lead to emotions such as happiness and pride.”

However, what feels special one day might feel sour the next, cautions Dr. Roberts.

“The lack of an official annual birthday could cause children to feel sad, angry and frustrated,” she says. “They may see it as unfair that their siblings and friends have a birthday every year and theirs only comes around every four years. They may feel forgotten and, at times, not at all special.”

Dr. Roberts recommends parents combat negative feelings by seeking input from their Leap Day child for celebrating birthdays. Of course, parents can still celebrate the child’s birthday every year on a designated day.

“Treating the child the same as his or her siblings can help to reduce the feeling that they have been dealt an unfair hand,” continues Dr. Roberts. “As children get older, they may have more input into how they want to celebrate. For instance, a child or teen might prefer a big event every four years versus a smaller party or celebration every year.”

Missed or lackluster celebrations represent just one of many complications that come with a Leap Day birthday. There are paperwork issues – some companies, government agencies and online application forms reportedly don’t recognize February 29 as a valid birthday. “Leapers” must also endure the tiresome jokes about looking old for their age, and some skeptics insist on seeing identification upon learning of the unique birthdate.

Having a Leap Day baby can also bring emotional ups and downs for parents. Like children, adults enjoy feeling special and unique. The February 29 association becomes a part of their identities and enters them into an exclusive club of parents.

“It can, however, create sibling jealousy and conflict related to birthday celebrations and differences between siblings,” says Dr. Roberts. “Dealing with those issues can be frustrating for parents. They can also be affected emotionally when their child feels sad or is left out or teased by other children.”

All things considered, most “29ers” learn to embrace their unique birthdate. And every leap year since 1988, at least a handful descend on the small town of Anthony, Texas – the “Leap Year Capital of the World” – to take part in parades, hot air balloon rides and birthday dinners.

No one can rightly protest that their birthday isn’t real.

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About the Author

Adam Mesirow
Adam Mesirow

Adam Mesirow, health enews managing editor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. A media relations specialist with more than seven years’ experience securing high-profile media placements, he loves to tell a good story. Adam earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan. He lives in Chicago and enjoys playing sports, reading TIME magazine and a little nonsense now and then.