Birthdays gone wild…the day of the extravagant celebrations

Lately I find myself feeling old, and despite what some say feeling old is not necessarily a bad thing. I have no desire to be young forever, with age comes wisdom or at least that is the I tell myself. So what’s got me feeling old today? Well the girl child is getting ready to celebrate her sixth year of life on the planet and while I am excited and stunned that we are already looking at six, part of me laments the way things have become when it comes to birthday celebrations and our kids.

As I have mentioned on this blog before, I grew up in a family that was fairly extreme about birthdays, celebrations were pretty much just affairs held with immediate family members. There was no hoopla, it was a simple acknowledgment that you were born, perhaps with a treat but always with well wishes. To date I have only had two full on birthday parties with bells and whistles…my 8th birthday and my 19th birthday. The 8th birthday was pretty much due to the fact that my mom was due any day with what would be my only sibling and the stinker was actually due on my birthday. Thankfully he had the good sense to arrive four days after my birthday. The 19th birthday party happened because my then husband and former mother in law felt bad that I had only had one officially birthday party and decided that needed to change. Oh, and did I mention was 9 months pregnant at the time!

For years I felt a tad bad that I have had very few big blow out birthday celebrations, but the truth is with a small family and a small circle of friends, how big can a celebration really be? This year, one of my closest friends took me out to dinner at an upscale place in my town and really it was lovely, despite my initial desire for more.

Though I admit when it came to my firstborn, I really made a point of having what a I felt were true celebrations. For his second birthday, we held it at the Lincoln Park Zoo, over the years we have rented out his favorite restaurants, done the Chuck E Cheese thing, etc. We basically stopped doing stuff when he announced a few years ago, he really didn’t feel the need for it, add to the fact the kid has no sweet tooth so even birthday cakes don’t make him smile.

All this now would probably make you think, well you must really want to go all out for kiddo #2, also known as the last human that I will be creating…thank you very much. The answer is I am really mixed on today’s birthday celebrations. In the past year since girl child started kindergarten she has been invited to a slew of parties, we even occasionally attend one, note I said occasionally. But gone are the days of a party in the backyard with family and friends, hell even ole Chuckles the ugly as mouse is pretty passé with today’s youngsters. Nope, its all about the experience, let’s see we have had dance parties win studios with dance instructors, swim parties, parties at rock climbing places and so on…upon going to these parties, it is no longer enough to simply attend, gotta bring a present and as I learned recently simple gifts like a lovely book, get the raised eyebrow. Nope the birthday kid gets a mountain of gifts that rival Christmas Day. To be blunt birthday celebrations feel very heavy on consumption and light on celebration.

My daughter told me months ago that she was willing to forgo a party if we would all go to the local amusement park on her birthday, and bring along her best bud. OK, this sounded like a simple request until a few days ago when I decided to look up the price, basically the entry fee for our crew of humans would be damn near close to $200.00! Of course it’s an all-day thang so humans must be fed at the snack stands, add in a cake, a few small gifts for the kid and voila I just spent a good $300 or more on a six year-olds birthday. Now I took my vent to twitter where I learned many parents see nothing wrong with this, in fact in many parts of the country these would be considered inexpensive plans. Let me get real here I don’t spend $300 on my own damn birthday nor does my husband…we be simple working stiffs.

I could spend the money and probably will though I am thinking deeply about it but I feel this is a deeper issue than just the birthday party. In a country when more than half the people have no long term savings and despite the middle class appearance are essentially a few checks away from economic calamity, are these good values to instill in our kids? This past year has found me battling the demons of consumption with my little one, since she started school everything is about consuming. Half way through the school year she decided she wanted to eat the school lunch instead of the lunch we made at home packed with her favorites. Frankly school lunch is gross and at $2 a pop, it adds up. Or there is those damn Scholastic books, back when I was a wee lass, I really don’t think we had book orders every few weeks plus an on-site book fair. Of course books are good but much of what Scholastic hawks is trash and simply more advertisement for more shit…SpongeBob anyone?

I see so many kids being raised without a care in the world when it comes to money especially kids of folks who are middle class. Yet many parents in the middle class struggle, maybe its deferring the student loan payments, whatever….I am not saying kids need to know every detail but based off what my eldest who is in college says there are plenty of kids entering college with no idea how to budget or live within their means. He was just telling me about kids on his campus who would get depressed when Mom and Dad said sorry no more money this month and it would create an almost depression state for these kids. Really? Seems the budget concept and living within means should be introduced way before a kid is away from home. Turns out my son thanks to my financially struggling ass and my early years being broke, was able to manage his monthly allowance and budget. In fact it’s been funny having him at home because so many things in the past he would want as treats he now says “Ma, that is a waste of money”.

I know some will say teaching kids about money and birthday celebrations are two different things…not so sure. If we as parents go overboard spending the equivalent of a week of groceries or a few utility bills on a kids birthday I think we are sending a message whether we see it or not. In the end I want my daughter to have a healthy attitude about money and a certain respect for the fact that money does not grow on trees. So while she most likely will get the outing she wants, gone are the large kids as we got one of the grandpas to buy a reusable gift of a membership to the Children’s Museum rather than a large dust collector. I am also thinking of forgoing the entire gift idea on our end explaining about Mom and Dad’s budget.

What are your thoughts on today’s somewhat lavish birthday celebrations? Am I harsh, I welcome your comments?

7 thoughts on “Birthdays gone wild…the day of the extravagant celebrations”

  1. Birthdays are usually low key for us. I usually prefer to give my kids an experience over a party. For DS2 6th bday, we went to Busch Gardens (local and we have season passes). My oldest just turned 11 and I had him invite all the neighborhood kids over for a bbq. I had about a dozen kids running in and out of my house that day. They painted in the backyard, played board games, etc. I spent more money on the food than any special activities and they all had a blast. DD’s birthday is coming up next month and we are throwing an Art Party in the park. I think it may end up costing more than a few pennies b/c we are inviting a ton of kids. This will be her first party with friends. We haven’t been to any over the top parties. I think it’s the circle we run in…people just don’t do it.

  2. Thank you for clearly articulating why parents should feel good about toning down this truly, gotten out of hand trend to out do the last birthday party your kid went to! Always felt like I was being cheap or lazy by not putting together a big shindig. Now I realize that deep inside, I just never really thought it was appropriate or necessary. It does set wrong expectations within your kids on many levels. I want to instill in my kids that even if it’s not just about saving $$, it’s about determing what’s more valuable – a small get together with a few close friends to remembered and cherished always vs. a large affair created to impress other kids’ parents….

  3. People in my immediate circle tend to keep children’s birthday parties low key and I’m grateful for that. In the more affluent town where I work, I’m really blown away by how much folks put down for a simple birthday party. My son had a 5th birthday party last year in our backyard and it still ended up costing a lot of money. I’m not doing that again. This year, like your kiddo, he can invite 2 friends w/ him to our local amusement park (which is reasonably priced–not a lot of bells and whistles but good enough for children and we can bring our own food).

    My family was not big on birthday celebrations or holidays and I won’t lie: I used to envy kids whose families really made it special. I thought that when I had my own family I’d be more inclined to go all out but I’m not. I think consumerism and commercialism just take over a little too easily and people get carried away–and lose sight of what’s being celebrated anyway. I intend to keep birthdays sedate from here on out (not even backyard shindigs). Small group of friends going out. Having family over. And I’ll be sure to let my kids know why. There is no harm in leveling with children and at the same time sharing your values with them.

    I don’t think you’re harsh at all. Makes very good sense to me.

  4. I’ve mentioned before that my mom was darned good at making no money seem like it wasn’t an issue — birthday parties were silly extravaganzas done on the cheap. Let’s pretend we’re on a world tour with games for different countries or have a Mad Hatter tea party by decorating cheap hats from the party shop. These were good until I was 12 or 13 but I have a good sense it’s harder with kids getting saavier all the time.

    That said, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to present the choice if outing versus presents. A treat’s a treat and while I don’t think kids need to be burdened by financial details, it’s a disservice to you and her to create the impression that of extravagance as something to be taken for granted.

    As you’re working on asserting your needs in your professional and personal life it’s perfectly reasonable to assert them with your child, and she’ll definitely be the better for it, however it appears to her now.

  5. We just had a sleepover on Saturday. M’s 8 today and guess what she wanted to do? (Since she’d already had her party…) We got our nails done and went to the library. Fabulous.

    I liked this post a lot. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Al my kids had one big party now I just do sleepovers with 2-5 kids and bake cupcakes. It’s so much simpler. Or take a couple of kids to the movies. I am quick to tell my kids I’m broke. You can make it a girls night out. Invite some friends over, paint nails and do hair, rent some movies at Redbox. Also if you invite friends she gets more gifts that you don’t have to buy.

  7. The main reason I’ve not solidified any plans for my son’s 2 year birthday party is because I don’t want to spend a bunch of money on it. Especially since he’d barely remember it. If it weren’t so hot outside we’d have a small celebration at a local spray park. If I had a roomy home or any sort of backyard to speak of, we’d just have a party at home and call it a day.

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