‘Birthday’ is the search term that brings the most people to my blog. I used to wonder why, but with each passing year my immersion into motherhood has helped me understand: Birthday's have changed.
When I was a child, a birthday party was a gathering of family and close friends. Usually there were no more than 8 kids and their parents. It was held at home and there were hot dogs and fries or a pepperoni pizza. The party might be in your backyard on a nice day or (if you were really fancy!) you might have your party at a playground or at the local swimming pool. Usually you had homemade cake, and if you were lucky it might have a Barbie stuck in the middle or be the shape of a car. Everyone played a game of pin the tail on the donkey or musical chairs. You opened your presents and you gave out loot bags. Everyone went home happy, well, someone always ended up in tears, but doesn’t every good party end that way? I have very fond memories of those parties.
These days’ birthdays are not so simple. Parents of school-age children tell me they feel obligated to invite their child’s entire class to their birthday party. The sheer size of these parties is quite possibly why there is an entire industry based around children’s birthday parties since very few homes can pleasantly accommodate 25 or 30 elementary school children. From bouncy castles to kid-friendly party buses, the list of children’s birthday party activity choices continues to grow, as does the price. I have been told $300 dollars is a reasonable price to pay for a party. And that doesn’t include loot bags, or the cake, or your child's gift! For children who’s birthdays involve pony riding one year and renting a hockey arena the next year, there must be a sense of ‘how can we top last year’s party?’ for the poor parents.
Before you protest - I am no party–pooper! I love to plan parties with creative themes and decorate and all that stuff. I adore the fabulous cakes and the creative bakers that populate my Facebook page with pictures of their amazing cakes and cupcakes on a daily basis. My own son’s first birthday was a grand affair; he shares the day with his grandfather, so we made a big deal of it that first year. And I do think birthday parties should be fun, exciting and memorable. But, as we all know from experience, children's birthday parties can be over-stimulating, frustrating, and stressful too.
I have been told by parents who are deeper into the birthday party culture than I am (my child is not yet three), that many parents no longer join in the festivities, but drop their kids at the party as if it is a sitter’s. A couple of people have also told me they are relieved their children have summer birthdays so they can avoid having to hold these all-class parties by default. I count myself lucky to be in this group.
I recently read an essay in my cousin’s book, Planting Dandelions, that was thought-provoking (as is much of her book). Like me, she lamented the loss of the home birthday party and she bemoaned humungous event-style parties, but she also said something that I myself have thought; whether they are a guest or a host, home birthday parties are an opportunity for children to learn about proper social behaviour. Not in a Miss Manners way, but in a people-won't-think-you-are-a-rude-jerk-when-you-grow-up way. There is so much to learn at a birthday from sharing and self-restraint to coping with disappointment and jealousy.
I guess all I am rambling about here is that I am going to try to mindful about my child's birthday parties and try to create celebrations that are fun and stress-free for both children and parents. I hope they will make my child feel special and loved and that he will remember them fondly, whether there are two friends or twenty, whether we had a fancy cake or a homemade lopsided one, a bouncy castle or a game of pin the tail on the donkey.
What are your thoughts on children's birthday parties?