It’s my child’s party, and I’ll cry if I want to.
Feeling pooped from all the party planning?
Feeling like you’d rather stay in bed and sleep through the whole thing? (I know it’s terrible to say that out loud. I don’t really mean it.)
Feeling like you need a birthday loan officer to finance your child’s birthday party or even attend the parties of his or her little friends?
What’s wrong with bringing home a birthday cake and a few gifts?
Nothing. Nothing at all. So why do we do more?
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), one of my favorite films, touches on the topic of throwing extravagant children’s birthday parties.
The post-party argument between the husband and wife, Miranda Hillard (Sally Field) and Daniel (Robin Williams), is heated and heartbreaking. Their three children, Lydia (Lisa Jakub), Chris (Matthew Lawrence), and Natalie (Mara Wilson), listen upstairs as they fight. Chris, the birthday boy, believes he’s to blame for the bitter bickering.
Miranda: “…Even when I try to do something fun, you do it ten times bigger! I bring home the birthday cake and gifts. You bring the goddamn San Diego Zoo, and I have to clean up!”
Daniel: “Oh, I’m sorry, but it’s not toxic waste, just a few party plates!”
In the spat, Miranda claims Daniel makes her out to be a monster. But you’re not a monster, Miranda. I somewhat agree with you. What’s wrong with a “birthday cake and gifts”?
Daniel is like the parent friend we love to hate. He does everything bigger and better. Thanks for ruining it for the rest of us, Daniel. Hahaha!
Do you identify with Miranda or Daniel?
I relate to both parents. I like the idea of a small party with my husband and children. A simple cake with a soccer ball and green coconut grass. A big gift from Mom and Dad.
But the Daniel in me wants to wear a sideways cap, binge on sugar, dance on an end table with my child, and apparently swipe my credit card a bunch of times because how in the world am I ever going to pay for this party?
10 reasons why we throw extravagant parties for our kids
1. Pinterest Palooza
At my son and daughter’s last birthday party (a joint celebration), a friend said it looked like “Pinterest threw up in here.” I was beaming with pride while shivering with disgust. Sigh.
Pinterest, you can’t live with it, you can’t live without out. It physically hurts to see the alerts and not take action. Yes, you know you can turn off the notifications, but that’s crazy talk. The little red circle with the white number is your rallying cry. You’ve hidden your Pinterest app on the last page of your smartphone. You’ve even gone so far as to delete the app outright, only to add it back later when it’s birthday time.
2. Online Shopping
With built-in features like Amazon’s “Buy now with 1-Click”, online shopping from your smartphone or device is as easy as ever. Maybe you just lost your temper with your child and feel guilty. Maybe you’re not properly watered or fed and haven’t had your morning coffee yet. You’re not thinking clearly. First, you see themed tablecloths for your child’s party. Before you know it, all the “Frequently bought together” items (e.g. matching paper and plasticware) are in your cart.
3. Social Media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Etc.
You “do it for the ‘gram.” You see family and friends post on social media. So you do it too. You want to appear to be just as good of a parent as the others. Maybe you feel inadequate because you’re working long hours and want to do this nice thing for your child. Maybe you feel inadequate because you’re at home and believe you should do more because you have more time on your hands.
“Look at how devoted [insert adjective] I am.”
“Look at how much I love my child(ren).”
4. Smaller, Adoptive, and Only Children Families
Having fewer kids may also make you more likely to splurge on birthdays, because you don’t have to plan or finance as many parties. Additionally, parents who had to fight to become parents (e.g. challenges with conceiving and carrying their babies), or only have one child, may be more likely to “go big” on their child(ren)’s birthdays. You can do more, afford more if you fewer children.
5. Guilt, Higher Parental Expectations
You want a small shindig. But you live around extended family. You would feel guilty if you didn’t include them on the guest-list. Or you want to invite a few of your child’s classmates, but feel bad about not inviting everyone. Before you know it, your little party has a big guest list with a bill to match!
Parenting expectations in the 2000s may be higher. Good parents are expected to be more hands-on than parents of previous generations, which extends to birthday party planning. There’s internal and external pressure to shape all aspects of your children’s lives (social, emotional, academic). It’s not enough to be present in your kids’ lives; you must be an active participant. But does that mean you have to cut 100 race cars out of sliced apples and grapes? Only if you want to.
6. Impress Others, “Party Peer Pressure”
Your kids see their little friends getting over-the-top birthday parties year after the year. So, yes, there may be a little keeping up with the Joneses. Don’t beat yourself up over it. We’re human beings. We want to show off our fitness and competence to members of our species, but – please – not at the expense of our mental health!
7. Grandparent Enablers
You said no gifts. Grandpa buys a heap of gifts. You said no games. Grandma, your fellow Pinterest birthday Board collaborator/enabler, suggests new Pins. Grandma and Grandpa just can’t help themselves. Maybe they waited a long time for grandchildren. Why be a “birthday balloon pricker”? Maybe they’re willing to bankroll the food, party supplies, and/or decorations. Are you really going to say, “no”?
8. Capturing Your Own Childhood
Your child’s birthday party is an opportunity to celebrate the joys of childhood, the milestones of each life phase. Why not party?!? Your son only turns four once. Hey, Daniel. Cue up House of Pain’s “Jump Around” (1992).
A child’s birthday party is also a time to reclaim your own lost childhood. Maybe you look back fondly on the unicorn party you had when you were five and want to do it all over again, but bigger and better. It’s a time you remember feeling loved. If your son or daughter wants a unicorn party, then go for it. Put on your party hat.
Lastly, a child’s birthday party could be a way to redo childhood in a sense. Maybe you never had that big blowout party as a kid because your parents chose not to or didn’t have the disposable income to afford one.
9. It’s Fun For Some!
Maybe you were a Pinterest mom/dad before there was Pinterest. You like crafting, creating, and cooking. Plan the party you and/or your children have always wanted. Go big!
10. We Love Our Kids!!
Throwing an over-the-top birthday party is a way to say “I love you.” It checks many of the 5 Love Languages boxes: Acts of Service, Quality Time, and Receiving Gifts.
But how can we say “I love you” without spending a lot of money and having to retreat to our beds because the stress of it all is just too much?
A Final Thought – From the Pillow
When it comes to your kid’s birthday party, do what works for you and your family. Try not to worry about other people’s expectations of you. (I know it’s hard!)
Are you a Miranda? Do you keep birthdays simple? Or are you a Daniel? Do you go all out and all in? Tell me why in the comments.