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Birthday Party Crazy

Remember when kid’s birthday parties featured “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, ice cream and birthday cake? The guests were a few classmates and the birthday kid’s grandparents. At some point everyone would gather around the cake and sing “Happy Birthday”. Gifts would include a car model or some doll clothes. Hula hoops were pretty cool.

Those days are gone. We have entered the age of “Extreme” birthday parties. “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” has been replaced with a live donkey. The birthday cake has to be a creation worthy of a Food Network competition and follows a catered meal.

The pressure and expense of the “birthday circuit” have become impossible. In addition to the soccer games and music lessons, the already over-busy kids have invitations to these enormous parties many weekends out of the school year.

According to family therapist Bill Doherty, one Minnesota family rented a bar for a princess-themed party. Guests were picked up in limos. The adults wore formal attire. There was live music and even champagne for the adults.

The birthday “princess” was turning 4!

Parents don’t want their child to feel less important than their classmates and so the cycle continues. The key here is to adhere to your own value system. It is great to mark events such as birthdays but it is important to keep perspective. As with most of our milestones, use this as a teachable moment.

When my daughter was at Dalton she gave a wonderful pair of mittens to one of her friends as a birthday gift only to have the kid come to my daughter’s birthday and give her an expensive stereo system. We called the mom, thanked her and returned the gift. The next day I called the Class Mother and told her there was going to be a new gift rule: gifts had to be no more than $12.00.

Many children have three or four birthday parties each year: one for classmates, one for nuclear family, one for family friends and one at school. It would be OK to cut this in half. There can be one party for youngsters and one for adults. Keep the list short. Keep the party simple. The goal should be for the birthday child to enjoy spending time with friends and family.

Birthday gifts should be de-stressed. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Ask grandparents and family members to give only one gift. If they feel the need to give more, ask them to donate a small amount to the birthday child’s college savings account.
  2. Ask that invitees bring canned food items to give to a local food pantry. Teach your child about giving and sharing.
  3. Make a fancy homemade certificate giving the birthday child the gift of a special outing with a parent, such as to a museum, science center, a community theater production, etc.
  4. Have the child write thank-you notes before playing with any of the newly received gifts.

Remember to set a budget for your party. If it is not going to be a surprise party, include your child in on the budgeting. Get prices for the decorations, invitations, food, cake, etc. Show your child the options of what you can include while sticking to your budget.

If you hire a bar and limos and wear formals for your child’s 4th birthday are you going to hire a cruise ship for their “sweet sixteen”? Come back to the basics. Make happy memories that are about friends, family and fun.