Have Kids' Birthday Celebrations Become Too Over the Top?

Family Matters on 03.24.11
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Photo Credit: Sarah Fernandez/Chateau & Bungalow

Right now I'm prepping for my daughter's second birthday party this Saturday. As I was making tissue paper pom poms yesterday and cutting out 150 circles with the custom monogram I created on half of them and the number two for the back side of the cupcake picks and favor tins that I'm making, I thought to myself, "Why the heck am I going through all this trouble? She probably isn't even going to remember it." Couple this with the conversation I had with my friend who is co-hosting the party with me (because our daughters are nine days apart and our guest lists are 75-percent the same) about how she hadn't yet gotten her daughter a birthday present, and what have we come to? Have kids' birthday celebrations gotten too over the top?

The blogosphere is crowded with fabulous kids' birthday celebrations with every theme under the sun, including custom designed graphics and complicated cake designs that can only be done by a pro. On top of that, we see kids' birthday parties that cost tens of thousands of dollars featured on shows like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Why wouldn't we want to have that for our kids too? In addition, we see these children opening giant boxes filled with puppies and diamond jewelry, and they haven't even reached kindergarten yet. But are we really doing our children a disservice?

Ponies and Puppies

If there are ponies and circus tents at a child's third birthday party, what do you do when they turn seven? Take them to Paris? Rent out Disneyworld? While I truly believe that we should celebrate our children's birthdays, we also need to teach them that normal life still happens on their birthday. Their birthdays will fall on days when they are expected to be in school--they may even have to take a test on this magical day (gasp!)-- or have to go to work later in life. By going so over the top when they are young, are we just setting them up for disappointment when they are older? And are elaborate gifts teaching them that birthdays are all about material objects, and not what we are actually celebrating which is the day we survived countless hours of pain to bring them into the world and that despite the fact that none of us will ever master parenting we've managed to keep them alive another year?

When my co-host brought up not having bought her daughter a present yet, I asked her why she needed to do so. It had never dawned on her not to. My thoughts are that we have been pouring time and money into this party for the past month, and our children already have more than enough toys and will be getting presents from their guests. Something that I actually normally request guests don't bring because my kids really don't need anything.

The rule I made in my house last year is that my kids either get a present or a party. My son who was turning four at the time chose to have a party. He really enjoys a good party, and based on the fact that he has talked about his next birthday this coming June every single day since his last birthday, I'm pretty sure that he will make the same choice this year. At just under two, my daughter can't yet communicate that decision herself so I make the choice for her. I choose to have a party because I'm quite positive that when she's older, she isn't going to remember if I got her a new tricycle, but she is going to look back at the pictures of her party and see how much love I poured into it.

Why I Still Do It...to a Degree

Do I go over the top for my kids' parties? I have come to the realization that the main reason I get myself into a crafting tizzy over my kids' birthday parties is that it's really my job. I'm an interior and event designer, and I love the little details. I enjoy doing it, at least until I realize that I've put too much on my plate and I don't really have much free time to work on it all. That being said, I don't expect that other people are going to go as nuts as I do on the details, and I don't spend a lot of money on my kids' birthday parties. Yes, it costs money to feed everyone, but I make the food myself along with the cake or cupcakes myself. I pour time instead of money into their birthday parties, and they are still pretty simple even though I pay attention to the details. And this year I'm splitting the cost with my co-host, a great way to make it more affordable!

Someday, my kids will probably choose the latest gadget over a party, and that's ok. I will save the parties for the big birthdays like their sweet 16, and they will be that much more special because it won't be so expected or the "normal" routine, but either way, they will still always feel celebrated on their birthdays even without a caterer and band.


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