Saturday, August 23, 2008

What is the most over-the-top birthday party you have been to?

Allie has been to two birthday parties in the last week and I have some birthday party observations to share with you. And while the only commonality between the two parties was clearly them most important - the kids had a blast and the birthday party girl was ecstatic and felt as though she was the Birthday party princess - the parties could not have been more different.

Allie had an absolute blast at both of them - but one was a lesson in simplicity and budgeting and the other was on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Last week Allie was invited to a close girlfriend's party at Peter Piper Pizza and there were approximately 10 kids. Pizza, drinks, party favors, cake and 5 tokens for each kid was provided. Do you have any clue how fast a 6 year old can blow through 5 tokens? Yes - it took you longer to read this blog post than it took these kids to spend 5 tokens. When Allie and her friends were done with their tokens, they each headed back to their parents to ask them for more. None of us batted an eye as we reached into our wallets to give our children more tokens.

Then the mother of the birthday party girl said they weren't giving their daughter any more tokens - and there were a few other kids without parents there. So the other moms and I decided that it wouldn't be fair to only give our kids tokens, so we told them that was the rules of this party, only 5 tokens. After a few grimaces from the kids, they went off on their merry ways and they played in the play structure and figured out how to creatively play without tokens. They had a blast - didn't ask for more tokens after the first time they asked and somehow managed to entertain themselves without tokens for close to 2 hours.

Today's party was at Build-a-Bear. It was for a little girl that Allie has known since she was 4 mos. old as I met the mom when we started a playgroup together almost 6 years ago. I love the mother - she is one of the kindest and most down-to-earth women I know. She always has a smile and kind word for everyone and she is fortunate to be financially secure.

Allie has been to 6 or 7 parties at Build-a-Bear and as any little girl does, she always loves to make her bear and she sleeps with it for at least 2 weeks! Now, every other party we have been to there has had a price limit of $20 - $25 per child. And at some of the parties, the hosts let the kids choose from one of the $10 - $15 bears and the party favor is an adorable shirt for the bear that says the name of the child or the birthday party person that probably cost the parent no more than a few dollars each. At today's party, each child had $40 to spend. Yes, you read it correctly - $40. Each child thought they were in seventh heaven as they picked out ANY bear they wanted and pretty much any outfit and/or accessory.

Allie's bear was decked out in Hannah Montana (surprise, surprise) with a sound card that played songs from High School Musical (it was a little hard for me to see a Hannah Montana bear that sings HSM songs - but as I kept reminding myself, it wasn't my bear and as long as Allie was happy, I was!) because the Hannah Montana sound card isn't out yet. In addition to her very blingy Hannah Montana outfit, Allie also got a Hannah Montana purse that also was a perfect fit for her bear's pink sparkly cell phone. I think today was the first time I never said no to anything Allie wanted at Build-A-Bear. I mean, what bear should be without a cell phone, right?

Some of the other birthday party guests purchased roller blades for their bears while others decked them out fancier than any princess. There was no little girl (or rather, bear,) that left that party that wanted for anything.

The question that keeps nagging at me is this: are we (meaning parents) to blame for these over-the-top birthday parties? I think we are raising the bar on what a birthday party is supposed to be and our kids are growing up expecting more from their birthday parties. I even had one mom joke with me that her child is being raised Catholic, but if kids are having extraordinary birthday parties at 6, she wouldn't be surprised if her Catholic son wants a Bar Mitzvah with a band and photo booth when he turns 13.

So, let me go back to the Peter Piper Pizza party for a minute - why is it that my mom friends and I immediately felt we needed to provide our kids with more tokens? One of my girlfriends told her husband after the party that it was a lesson for her child to appreciate what she has - which I agreed with her and nodded as she told her husband. But, I find myself sitting here today wondering why was it a lesson about anything?

The kids had lots of fun - at six years old, the beauty of any gathering is that if you are with your friends, you can run around and chase each other and have a blast! If anything it should have been a lesson to us parents - not to the kids.

Do we get caught up in subconsciously showing our love for our children by giving them more things and providing them with more cool experiences? Doesn't this create pressure on us as parents to continually try to surpass each previous year's Birthday party to make sure we are doing enough to make our kids happy? And if we continue along this path, who can we blame but ourselves that kids start developing a sense of entitlement.

So, how will we begin to stop the insanity? Perhaps you are reading this blog and you don't feel that you are caught up in this craziness - good for you, I envy you.

Do we begin to make a no-goodie bag policy? Honestly, I would never get rid of them - now that Allie is older, she is as excited about picking them out and putting them together as the kids are to get them. Now you and I know that often they are filled with nothing more than junk, but these kids act like those plastic whistles and magnifying glasses and other random party favors are as valuable as gold to them.

I have to say, that I am proud of myself in the party favor department. I used to spend months figuring out the perfect personalized party favor and spend days soliciting my good friend Kerie's help in decorating and personalizing them. The irony is, I did that when the kids were 1, 2 and 3 years old - THEY CAN'T EVEN READ YET. So, who was I doing it for? The oohs and ahhs from the other parents - I'm just being honest.

My husband begged me when Allie turned 4 to stop the party favor insanity and give them what they really wanted - the junk. And you know what - I saved myself a ton of time, quite a bit of money and the kids were happier and more impressed. I know each parent silently mumbled to themselves, wondering how long before this set of party favors gets lost or gets pitched. But that is okay - Allie thinks it way cooler than the personalized water bottles, visors, tote bags, and bucket and shovels we have done over the years. Go figure.

Should we tell our guests no presents - or in lieu of presents, please bring a book or toy that we will donate to charity? You are a better person than I if you go that route. I don't believe the presents from their friends cause the insanity as much as the party, presents and party favors that the parents provide. Birthday kids look forward to presents from their friends - that is just a fact of life, there is nothing wrong with that. Birthdays are meant for presents and meant to enjoy and most kids love to pick out presents for the friends - its part of the process! That doesn't mean you can't create a ritual between you and your child that for every new present your child receives, he/she donates an old one or two that he/she no longer uses - it accomplishes the goal of cleaning out and teaching your child about giving.

So, as Allie was picking out her Hannah Montana outfit, Hannah Montana purse and cell phone for her bear, I told her she still had $5 to spend and she can get one more item for her bear (and of course I would have added in if she went over - because she REALLY NEEDED to get one more thing, right?) and while Allie doesn't really know what does and doesn't cost $5, she looked around the store and looked at me and said, "Mommy, my Hannah Bear is perfect. I don't want anything else. Let's save it for next time for another bear."

And please don't think that in any way I am saying the party at Build-a-Bear was bad or wrong - it wasn't. It was a beautiful party that both my daughter and I had lots of fun at. I too am guilty of going overboard at Allie's birthday parties.

With all these recent birthday parties, it just gave me lots of food for thought (okay, yes, I have had my share of birthday cake too!) and it just hit me that if so many of us are going overboard at 6, what are we going to do when they are 10, 11 and 12?

Tell me - how do you do birthday parties? Are you totally low-key or do you do a bit more than you need to/should? What is the most over-the-top birthday party you ever attended?

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JenniBeanV said...

I don't do birthday parties. :-X Well I do, but it is just for family! My youngest is an August baby and so we always try to be away somewhere fun on vacation. And my oldest had one party with friends but hasn't really asked about doing it again! Of course now that I said that, you know I'll be throwing one this winter. LOL!

Lis Garrett said...

I have three kids, so even "low-key" parties for us can get to be expensive.

Bridget has not yet had a b-day party with friends. I mean, she just turned 3 years old, so it's not like she really know the difference. We celebrate with just close family for now.

Jacob just had his first "friend" party last year when he turned six. It was at the local children's science museum. For $150, all the kids (10 of them) and one chaperone each were admitted to the museum, plus we got our own party host for 2 hours who helped the kids build and launch rockets. All the kids also received party favors, and Jacob got a t-shirt. The ONLY thing we were responsible for was the cake.

Hannah, who celebrated her 9th birthday in July, had a pool party at one of the local hotels. With tax, I think we spent $180. That included 2-hour party time for 15 kids, decorations, party favors, three large pizzas and soft drinks, plus exclusive use of the pool. Again, I didn't have to do anything except bring a cake.

Although $150 and $180 may seem like a lot (and it is), it's really not when you divide it between so many children. And I didn't have to mess with the hassle of setting up or cleaning up - a HUGE bonus in my book.

Hannah, and many of her friends, have hosted parties and asked for donations, which I think is VERY admirable. We've twice donated items to our local SPCA. My kids are spoiled enough between us and extended family, they don't really need all those extra gifts.

I didn't do goodie bags at Hannah's party this year, and it irked me when I heard more than one child demand, "Where's my goodie bag?" I would be humiliated if my own child asked that, especially in the tone of voice that those kids used.

In the past, in lieu of goodie bags, we've made a craft for the kids to take home. We've also let them decorate cupcakes and just PLAY with the toys at our house.

As they get older, I think there is more pressure to do bigger and better things but, frankly, we just can't afford it. And, we're not afraid to let our kids know we have to stick to a budget.

Perhaps the parents of the Build-A-Bear girl budgeted for that, and that's cool. But what will they do next year or the year after? I would have definitely said to my kids, "This may have been a fun party, but we can't afford to do the same." I remember the one and only time we took Hannah to Build-a-Bear, we spent $50 - TOTALLY extravagant for a stuffed animal.

I don't know . . . I guess you can tell I have strong opinions about the whole b-day party experience, too! I really think b-day parties tend to get out of hand.

Although . . . I definitely would have purchased more than 5 tokens for the kids - at least 10.

mama bear bugga said...

i don't do the goodie bag thing. well, i haven't had to do that yet. i enjoy throwing parties for my daughter, but only small ones. if it's a big one, it's all family.

i don't think i'd feel right telling families that they have to spend a certain amount to be able to celebrate my daughter's birthday. like chuck e. cheese for example. i wouldn't feel right telling parents they HAVE to get X amount of coins or they cannot come. after the coins we provide are gone, they can buy as many as they want.

if build a bear is like that for parties, i doubt we'll do a party there for our kids. :/

Mommy Meryl said...

@ Mama Bear Bugga - just to clarify - the people who hosted the Peter Piper Pizza party didn't say we couldn't get more tokens, my other mom friends and I just didn't feel right about getting our kids tokens when the birthday girl wasn't getting more AND there were some other kids there without parents. So, it was totally our choice not to get more tokens. We didn't want anyone to feel bad.

Mommy Meryl said...

@ Melissa - wow, AZ Science Center parties are $320 for members and $370 for non-members. I don't think any of my friends here (even the really really really frugal ones) have been able to have a bday party for 15 - 20 kids for under $200 - $300. Even when we had Allie bday parties at home - they cost more than $180 - once we added cake, goodie bags, dinner, misc. craft project or tattoos or face paints for the kids or enough diviing toys and rafts and noodles for all kids and parents to use - it just always adds up. We don't even intend for it to be extravagant at all - we just tend to have lots of people and it adds up. . .Allie isn't ready yet to have only girls and she still has quite a few friends from preschool and there are a handful of family friends that she is close with the kids and once you add siblings that she is close with your numbers add up really fast.

Kelly D said...

My twin daughters turn 4 in one month and I'm torn with what to do for their b-day party. In the past we invited our adult friends, those with and those w/o kids. This year I'm leaning toward a family only affair. Not because I'm worried about the cost, it just is awkward to have such a diverse group of folks together. K&A don't have any "friends" they are attached to and they don't really know about b-day party's at PPPizza or Build-a-Bear.

Every year we have asked our friends not to bring presents and if they couldn't resist to donate money in lieu of a gift to the March of Dimes. Unfortunately, adults don't follow directions very well. And most of them end up bringing gifts anyway. K&A don't know the difference because their grandparents buy way too much stuff anyway!

P.S. We attended a Bat Mitzvah (sp?) where there was a DJ and a photo booth...

One day my girls will learn about the cool things other kids do, until then I'll keep in low-key.

My Vision said...

Everyone has their own traditions, backgrounds and values so whatever other people do is just perfect it's all good.
We're pretty low key around here so far with the kids, but they are so young still. When I was a kid I just had one party when I was ten with friends. The rest were with family. I'll probably do that with mine as well, though I'm open to changing things around if I want.

My Vision said...

I was thinking of this post just now as I look out my window and a bunch of kids are piling into a hummer limo for a birthday party.