Family Life: Parents, unite! Ban birthday party blowouts

Reuters May 5, 2008

It starts with all the best intentions. You buy a birthday cake. You arrange some entertainment – a clown maybe, or one of those inflatable bouncy castles for the front yard. Next thing you know you’re surrounded by shrieking children and an obscene pileup of gifts, wondering whether your insurance rider covers bouncy-related injuries. And that creepy guy in the clown makeup – did he come with a background check? Meanwhile your precious birthday girl rips though her presents with the grace and thankfulness of a rabid orangutan and, when the party’s over, looks up at you with icing-stained cheeks and announces: “It just wasn’t magic enough.” Welcome to the deepest inner circle of parenting hell – the kiddie birthday party.

Who knew a simple celebration could generate so much anxiety and overindulgence? Most adults remember when kids’ birthdays meant ice cream and a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Today children have come to expect lavish orgies of gifts, gimmicks and goody bags. Petting zoos and costumed characters quickly give way to karate parties, princess parties, disco parties and amusement park weekends. The most privileged kids come to expect over-the-top blowouts complete with catered feasts and stretch limos (exhibit A: “My Super Sweet 16,” MTV’s grotesque reality show about spoiled teens and the parents who enable them).

The solution, of course, is a party revolt, an uprising against the forces of extravagance. Think of it as a disarmament campaign. We parents can step back from the brink of insanity, but only work if we act together – unilateral disarmament (that is, one well-meaning family taking steps to simplify while others continue to go hog wild) will only serve to make us look cheap and make our children feel unloved. So join this simple three step plan to stop the madness: