Our son’s eighth birthday is coming up, and I find myself pining away for the simpler days of his first two birthdays. Both took place at home, much the way my husband and I celebrated as children. We cooked his favorite dinner, made a cake, tied balloons to the backs of the chairs, sprinkled confetti on the table, sang “Happy Birthday” and opened a few presents with his grandparents.
We didn’t know then we were bucking a growing American trend of more extravagant and expensive children’s birthday parties.
A Minnesota group called Birthdays Without Pressure is drawing attention to the issue with their Web site, www.birthdayswithoutpressure.org. The site features over-the-top birthday party stories, including a father spending $10 million on his 13-year-old (including hiring the band Aerosmith and $10,000 gift bags for guests), and helicopter rides for a 7-year-old.
But what constitutes too much? Some parents don’t see anything wrong with a limousine and a hotel suite for their 6-year-old’s party, while others are satisfied with sending cupcakes to their child’s classroom.
I’m a teacher, and last week I asked my fourth-graders to share their favorite birthday parties. Their replies were surprisingly low key and inexpensive. Bowling, sleepovers and playing games at home were the most common, although some mentioned a limo ride to a local water park. None expected to receive a gift bag. It’s clear some parents in our region are spending thousands of dollars on parties, but this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
There are many reasons why parents give extravagant parties. Some have the money to spend and see no reason not to. Others feel pressured to spend as much as, or more than, their neighbors and friends. Parents may use the event as a day to spend with their adult friends and, therefore, spend more money to keep both the kids and adults happy. Some parents may use the event as a way to make up for time not spent with their children.
It’s difficult to establish a budget that most parents would agree is reasonable. It has been my experience that most parents want what’s best for their kids, and I can’t fault them for choices that I might have made at some point. If I had an income that allowed me to spend thousands of dollars on my sons birthday I can’t say for sure I wouldn’t, although I do admit to rolling my eyes after hearing about a few local kids’ parties.
One way to solve the birthday-planning dilemma is to just not celebrate them at all. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Worldwide Church of God members don’t, and other families consciously choose to not do birthdays for various reasons. Some feel they don’t want to give in to the commercialism and/or the focus on the individual. Some parents simply hate parties. For others it’s a financial decision. In our family, we recognize everyone’s birthday in some way, but parties aren’t mandatory.
Our son’s fifth birthday was a hosted art party at the Corbin Art Center, where the kids made pirate-themed crafts. In lieu of presents from his guests he asked for donations to a local animal shelter, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, including myself. Last year we gave him a choice: a party or a $100 bill. It probably isn’t surprising that he went for the cash – the curiosity of what he could purchase with what he perceived to be a windfall overcame the need for an official party.
Most parents I know share my family’s desire to celebrate birthdays in some way but prefer low key and inexpensive over awe and expense, and their children’s main concern is fun. With our many beautiful parks, rivers and lakes, Spokane is a wonderful place in which to plan low or nearly no cost parties.
The cheapest party favors – love, laughter, friends and family – will last a lifetime and, with a little planning, can make for a truly memorable, fun birthday.
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