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Stop the Insanity: Children’s Birthday Parties

November 14, 2010

Last month I was interviewed for an article on extravagant birthday parties. For kids. The author of the piece, Vicki Glembocki, is a Mom of young children, and no doubt has begun to experience the anxiety-laden self-comparisons to uber-motherhood that have seeped into the pressure cooker we call childhood.  When Vicki asked me to comment on the phenomenon of the carnival-style, limo-driver, no expense spared birthday party, I suggested she ask parents one question.  “Whose needs are you meeting?”

Parents sometimes delude themselves with the notion that “We’re doing this for little Jimmy or Janey.”  You may be throwing a birthday bash for your child, but meeting your own needs instead. The adult motivations may be simple:

  1. Because you can.
  2. Because that’s the crowd you run in.
  3. To give your child an unforgettable day.
  4. Not to disappoint your child’s expectations.

Or the adult needs may be more complex:

  1. To assuage your guilt that you work so much.
  2. Because your parents couldn’t afford much of a fuss, and you want your child to feel very special. It’s your version of a redo of your own childhood.
  3. Because it reflects on what a loving parent you are.

But lost along the way is what a child needs. A child needs to feel safe and emotionally attached to a parent, parents and family members. One-time fancy events don’t create connection. It’s the day-to-day experience of emotional give-and-take that matters most between parent and child.  And the over-the-top extravaganza that screams, “My child is the center of the universe,” can backfire for children. Children already start life in the indebted column, the “After all I’ve done for you,” lesson which begins with the labor and delivery stories we tell children. It doesn’t help a child grow up if parents have done too much. How are you going to ever measure up to that set of over-sized expectations? You’ll either grow up with unreasonable expectations or remain Daddy’s little girl forever, passing along the lop-sided imbalance and tradition to the next generation.

So stop the insanity. And if you need help there’s now a Facebook group–“birthday party loot bags are stupid!” It’s a start.

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