This weekend I had the pleasure of attending my first children’s birthday party for one of Jacks little friends. It was lovely – a day at the park with an easy BBQ, a couple of games for the kiddies, cake, and beer for mums and dads.
Since Jack is having a birthday of his own in a few days – his first one – I figured I better make some observations about what was being organized. I liked this party because the parents were well organized without going overboard or spreading themselves thin to throw an extravagant party, yet I realize the extravagance of a childs birthday party can fall anywhere on a wide spectrum of “easy” to “way over the top”.
Birthday parties can involve soo many excesses …. You have the cake. The cupcakes. The nibbles and snack foods. The entertainment for children and parents. The PARTY BAGS (big peeve of mine). Venue hires. Clowns and bouncy castles. Oh my the list goes on and on!
I’m no party pooper and I want my child to have a lovely birthday as much as the next parent, but it is just far too easy to cross that line and create way too much work for yourself!! Its enough to make the cake in the days leading up to the party, and prepare food and activities. And you want to tailor the theme / activities to the actual birthday boy/girl’s interests, sure. But where do we draw the line?
I think that the more parties you attend, the more complicated it can become because parents have this ridiculous tendancy to “compete”…. Which not only puts undue stress on ourselves as parents, but it also increases the expectations of the children attending the parties. At the last party I was at, a wee girl approached the birthday girl’s mother and asked for her party bag (loot bag) when the party was nearly finished. The mother hadn’t arranged such things, and she is from England so I don’t know – maybe its not such a common thing there as it is here in Australia – but regardless, it was a clear sign to me that this childs “party expectations” have been set by birthday parties past, and in their little minds they might be inclined to ‘rate’ parties based on these formed expectations!
Really, when you have a dozen children all at varying ages playing together, its chaos. I would like Jack to think it’s just an opportunity to play with his mates, have a good time, and have some cake. Isn’t that enough for a young child?
For Jacks party, I know one thing: I want a “no presents” rule. I don’t think it should be an expectation on other parents to spend money on a toy for your child just to attend said child’s birthday party. I think it’s a crazy notion, actually. I know that this is a hard thing to swallow because society has it so engrained into us that buying presents is necessary… but I don’t believe this to be true. Children, for the most part, already have a toybox filled with a minimum of 183 toys (or numerous toyboxes). How is one parent supposed to know what the birthday boy does or doesn’t already have?? How can you ensure you are going to spend $20 on something that the child will appreciate? You can’t ensure that!! And as children get older and the birthday guest list gets bigger and bigger, you just end up with mountains of presents which, in my mind, diminishes the value of each individual present. Less is more.
I’m not saying I don’t buy presents, but I can say that I don’t buy them very often! I now often opt to make or bake something for the child who is having the birthday, as this has more meaning and often serves a purpose. I cannot, for the life of me, buy something just for the sake of giving a present!! It has to have meaning between me and the individual, or have a purpose it will serve for that person.
If a birthday rolls around and I haven’t come across or thought of such a thing, then the birthdayee gets no gift and only gets a card to know we are thinking of them.
This is not to say I (we) don’t appreciate gifts given to our child – but there is an underlying guilt in both me and Nathan that other people are parting with their hard earned money when they could be spending it on their own families.
Cards are another annoyance with Nathan and I. Nathan thinks birthday cards are the biggest marketing scam since Diamonds, and especially loathes Hallmark. (Poor Nathan... having his views and opinions aired and exploited on my blog against his will).... I can agree with him – why do we spend up to $7 or even $10 on something that is going to be either thrown in the trash or shoved away in a closet somewhere after its been opened?? I still feel there is a need for cards, as you want to have a means to relay a happy birthday message (or any other message) and we are avid card-senders, but I cannot pay $5-$10 each for them!!
When I first started working on my thrift policies (when we became a one-income household), I thought it would be a good time to start card making. But HOLY cow… one or two trips through a craft shop and you see that this is actually not a thrifty way to do birthday cards. It can be an extremely pricey and time consuming hobby – one that I don’t feel is fair to pursue if I’m not making money of my “own”… but you CAN get bulk packs of cards which makes the cost of each card about $1 or less. This has satisfied my card-sending needs for now, as its more about the message you are putting inside than what someone at Hallmark has pulled out of their arse.
So, this weekend, yes, I will bake a fancy cake for Jack. And we will have a little party. But I’m not doing party bags, and I may not even do activities, given the fact Jack won’t be playing them! And we don’t want presents! But I am picking that no matter what my principles are, as he gets older he will soon develop his own set of “birthday party” expectations laid upon him by outside influences, and I may be eating my words then, just to avoid disappointing him. Ask me again when Jack is turning 6 what I think a birthday party should involve….