Birthday Parties – How much is too much?

July 13, 2006

Editor’s Note: I have always wondered this myself. Thanks for posting, Christina! -Elisa

Before I go on to my semi-rant about the current birthday party craze, I should provide some background. My birthday is in early January. As such, it was very very hard for my parents to arrange parties for me. In my entire 41 years I have had about five. Three of those were after I turned 18. Of course my mom still made sure that the day was special for me, I just never had parties. So I am sure that my childhood experience is influencing my opinion here. I am also certain that I am using it to assuage any guilt I feel towards depriving my own children of parties in the face of immense pressure 🙂

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Somehow between my older son’s generation (he will be 21 tomorrow) and my younger one’s (he will be 10 on Aug 11) an expectation for a birthday party every single year has evolved. Not only that, but each year must be bigger and better! Like me, my older son had about 2-3 parties as a child. I believe that all were pool parties. He was invited to perhaps 1 or 2 parties a year himself. Yes, he had plenty of friends and was on sports teams until 5th grade so there would have been plenty of opportunities. It was just that the kids his age were more like my generation and didn’t have a party every year.  

I think it started with Alex’s group. I know we threw a party in the playground for him for his first year. Nothing huge, mostly family and a couple of friends who also had children. Then in pre-school it started. Invitations to 3 year old parties starting rolling into our parental communication box. It seemed like one each month. Then at 4 and 5 as well. Of course we felt pressured to return the favor when Alex’s b-day rolled around. Mostly because he was begging for it. “Mama I want a ChuckECheese/PiratesCove/Bowling/Mini-golf/Lasertag/pool party just like Jimmy had!” Year after year we caved in though each time I was more and more reluctant. Finally the summer of his 8th year, we pulled it off. No party. We just could not coordinate the baseball party that he wanted with the coach who put it on and the summer faded away into September and we just let it go. You know what? He lived! Last year we did the Lasertag thing which I must admit was pretty darn fun for all of us. This year though – he must just have to go without again. Partly due to financial constraints. Seriously. When you spend more on the party than you do on the gifts for your child – isn’t something wrong? Also partly due to time constraints looming up again in August. His actual birthday is a Friday. He will had football practice in the afternoon so I will bring a cake for them all to share afterwards, they can sing, and then we will head off to dinner and other players can join us if they want.

So here is my point: do you think that this recent (within the last ten years) trend to have a party every year – where our children end up expecting it – is good/bad/indifferent? You can probably tell from my tone that I think it is not so good. I point to some of the older ones now getting these ridiculously expensive and elaborate birthday and graduation parties. You have to wonder if the foundation for that was not created when they were very young. Parties to me should be something special. Not a dime a dozen and certainly not to be expected and not a competition between the parents!

Or, am I just bitter and jealous? :->