Kids’ birthdays are meant to be celebrated for various reasons - sharing the kids’ and parents’ joy, creating memories that last forever, generally having a good time, etc. However, now-a-days, it appears that the term “celebrations” have somehow taken the meaning of “spending large amounts of money in trying to prove how our party is better than yours“.
Even before I put my thoughts and words together for this post, I have been thinking in terms of “herd mentality” - especially when it comes to consumerism. It probably applies well to kids’ birthday parties.
This is what happened at a lavish 1st birthday party a couple of weeks ago (ah.. finally a chance to get this off my chest):
Imagine this scenario at the party: Things are happening in a rather expensive restaurant. There are around 80 people including about 30 kids. The adult males have scattered into small groups and are talking to each other about totally unrelated stuff (probably the same things that are generally discussed at any given workplace).
Slightly older kids are running all over the place and pretending that their parents do not exist. Some smaller kids are in their strollers (oblivious of everything around them) and the rest are hanging around their mothers talking to themselves (because the mothers are too busy
bitching talking to each other about how their respective party was better than this one).
The parents of the birthday baby are really busy taking care of the arrangements (while keeping an eye on the baby) and they don’t really have much time to talk to all the guests they have invited. The birthday baby is sleeping peacefully. It’s time to cut the cake and the baby shows no signs of waking up. The parents are getting restless because the guests (especially the children) are wondering when this cake-cutting will be done so that they can proceed to hog on the (seemingly) delicious food. So, the parents try to wake up the baby and he starts crying like there’s no tomorrow. The baby is least interested in doing anything and just wants to go back to sleep. But, everybody else is not interested in what the baby wants and they just want to eat the cake and get back home - with their gift bags filled with expensive gifts.
So, what exactly was the purpose of the party?
A little birdie told us that it was a $1000+ affair. $1000+ for what!? gift bags for spoiled kids? for inviting *friends* who otherwise didn’t have the time to come visit you to share your joy? to hear them sing “happy birthday to you”? or to tell your kid 25 years down the line: “Look, we spent $1000 on your first birthday - now don’t expect us to pay for your tuition“? OR.. was it just to show friends and relatives that you can spend a large amount of money on birthday celebrations?
Now, 1st birthdays are bit special and I can understand parents going a little overboard in planning that one; but, I have observed almost similar scenarios at birthday parties for 2, 3, and 4 year old kids [none of our acquaintances have kids older than that, so we will have to wait and see what happens as these kids get older]. Things will more likely get worse in terms of spending and outrageousness as the kids get older.
Birthday parties are probably never about the kids - they are always about the parents and their unreasonable tendency to compete with the lavish parties thrown by their neighbors or friends. It’s more about “what will people think of us if we don’t do _____ and _____ at the party?“. When the kids get older, it’s probably more about “will my kid complain to other kids (and their parents) in the neighborhood about us being stingy?“.
When a good chunk of people in a given community start thinking along these lines, some sort of unspoken social standards get created which define a “great” birthday party. After that, everyone gets suckered into following these standards, irrespective of whether such standards are within their resources (of money and mental stress) or not, and things quickly get out of control.
Here is an excellent example that says it all:
I’ve barely started, but am already done with throwing birthday parties for my kids (ages 2 and 4). I love to celebrate their birthdays, but do not want to have to throw a party for their friends with the stress and the cost that comes with it. Not to mention the competition to make the party as fun as the friends’ parties. I want to keep the celebration small, perhaps just a special outing with just the immediate family and then have the grandparents and cousins over for dinner and cake. BUT, my kids get invited to a lot of parties, and I feel guilty for not reciprocating, and the older one is SO excited about his birthday (which is coming up) and keeps telling everyone he sees that they can come to his birthday party. I hate to burst his bubble and tell him that there will be no party…. [source]
Another birthday example that I read on Dollar Stretcher ends with this:
We’re seriously thinking of moving out of this area because of the enormous social pressure to consume!
It appears that the evil cycle of people trying to prove that their party is better than (or at least as good as) their neighbors’ is going to continue till some parents start going against the norms and pull the plug on the showoff aspects of birthday parties.
Of course, feel free to celebrate, but please do it on your own terms and stop competing with others. Try cutting down on party expenses and engage the savings in some kind of an investment that will give your kid a helping hand when he/she really needs it the future. I think your kid will really appreciate that. If you hate to have that kind of a foresight, at least stop for a moment and ask yourself “how is this lavishness going to add value to my kid’s life?” - and act accordingly.
A few times, I have tried to explain this line of thought to some parents we know, and each time, I have been silenced by a single overbearing statement: “You will understand it when you have kids“. That scares me a bit, and makes me wonder if the social pressure will eventually make me an hypocrite when it comes to our kids in future. Time will tell.
Here are some interesting resources/articles to read on this subject:
- Birthdays Without Pressure
- $38,000 Kids’ Birthday Parties @ Time Magazine
- Overly Expensive Birthday Parties @ Dollar Stretcher
- How to Throw a Kid’s Birthday Party Without Spending a Fortune @ The Digerati Life