Thursday, April 23, 2009

Birthday Parties Run Amok — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog post:

Birthday parties just aren't what they used to be. They are more — too much more.

When I was a kid, birthdays were fun. My mom made us whatever we wanted for dinner and on the closest weekend, family (cousins, aunts, grandparents) came for cake and ice cream. We only had birthday parties for what my mom deemed to be "special" birthdays: 5 — because you weren't a baby any more; 10 — because you were in double digits; and 13 — because you were finally a teenager. I also had a sleepover when I turned 16, but I was totally responsible for it.

I remember these parties vividly. For my fifth birthday, five little girls come to my house dressed up in their mama's hats and dresses and high heals. We played musical chairs in our dress-up clothes and had a tea party. My special gift was a Tammy doll cake. There was a real doll, and her dress was made of the cake and icing. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. My mom used Tammy because she thought that, at five, I was too young to play with a doll that had breasts (i.e., Barbie). It was a lovely, sweet party where the thrill of dressing up and putting on a little lipstick remains a tender memory for me more than 40 years later.

Nowadays, kids have birthday parties every year — often elaborate, expensive birthday parties. Parents are "encouraged" to invite everyone in the class so no one feels left out. While I can appreciate the underlying premise of this "fairness" policy, I found with twins that it got to be ridiculously cumbersome and expensive: one birthday, two children, two classes of 20+ kids. I refused to buy into it, but it did get hard to limit the invitation list.

This month, our local parenting magazine ran a special advertising section on party entertainment. (Full disclosure here: I was checking it out because my husband offers a party package through his pet store.) A full-page, tabloid-sized, four-color ad promoting a princess party caught my eye.

A local salon was offering princess party packages "just for preschool girls" (five and under). Ranging in price from $34.95 to $59.95 per girl, children come dressed in their own costumes and receive a "party up-do", shimmery make-up application, a 15-minute "runway dance", 20 minutes in a party room and a goodie bag with a tiara, glitter spray, lollipop and photo. The more expensive packages included a "mini-mani and mini-pedi" and a "strawberry paraffin hand treatment." Parents provide snacks and drinks.

Is it me, or is this just wrong? Maybe I'm a real Scrooge, but the cost alone gives me heart palpitations, particularly in this economy. For my daughter and five little friends, this party would have run $359.75 + treats and drinks.

While I get that a princess party is many a little girl's dream, the overt sexualization of very young girls that this party package implies makes my stomach more than a little queasy. I admit I don't understand the whole pageant community, and this seems like a direct extension of that mentality.

I don't mean to be a party pooper. There's nothing wrong with a little dress up and make believe. It just seems to me that this same idea could be accomplished in a much more age-appropriate manner, pretty inexpensively, with a little imagination and a reasonable tolerance for mess.

Besides, I didn't get my first pedicure until I was 40.

This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan isn't busy party planning, she can be found blogging at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.

1 comment:

Susan Bearman said...

Comments from the original Chicago Moms Blog post:

tracey said...

Shoot, whether or not you get the princess stuff is besides the point IMHO. $60 a child?!? My wedding cost less than that!!

We have always done a few friends playing duck duck goose in our family room. Some cake, ice cream, a couple balloons and they're thrilled. Seriously, not everyone buys into the bigger is better birthday parties...

April 23, 2009 at 05:04 PM

KT said...

Susan, I completely agree. Kids are happy with just about anything, and homespun parties are great.

My daughter is in 2nd grade, and in my experience the kids don't care - their main concerns are: 1) seeing their friends, 2) that the birthday boy or girl likes their gift best and 3) the goodie bag.

April 24, 2009 at 02:19 PM

Molly said...

Well, now, don't be bitter because you couldn't get your toes painted at a real place with bubble-baths for your toes until you were 40! Of course every mom wants to spend 60 dollars a kid (or more) for a birthday party that (chances are) your kid won't remember. I don't remember MY five year old birthday party. So I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that it's okay you do not like the idea of the princess party. And I agree with "KT's" comment: goodie bags are the best part of birthday parties.

April 25, 2009 at 06:17 PM

Kim said...

Not only would I NOT pay $60 per child (possibly not even for a bar mitzvah or am I naive?), but I eschew goodie bags. I've given large playground balls and small gift cards, but no plastic crap destined for landfills and, until this year, little or no candy.

We have had parties out of the house due to space and convenience, though.

April 27, 2009 at 07:58 PM

Neil said...

As a local Chicago children's entertainer, I can appreciate your article. However, there are shades of gray between spending $30 - $60+ per child and playing duck duck goose in your living room. We offer packages that can fit into anyone's budget — some as low as $9 per child.

There are also non-financial reasons for hiring an outside company to conduct the entertainment part of the birthday party which can often be done in your home (i.e., to reduce your stress level so you can actually enjoy the party and to limit your pre-party planning time as you won't have to worry about keeping 20+ little ones engaged for 1.5 hours just to name a couple).

As far as not going over the top on the party because the child won't remember it anyway ... We pride ourselves in not over-selling to our clients and prospects. We recommend appropriate entertainment depending on the age range at the party and the party budget. We have a lot of repeat customers whose children look forward to reading our brochure or scrolling through the website to pick their next birthday party theme. This is because the child remembers how much fun the last party was.

There is no better feeling than seeing a child come up to you at the supermarket (or anywhere else) after the party, remember you, and give you a huge hug to thank you once again for his or her birthday party.

April 28, 2009 at 11:14 AM