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Who pins the tail on the donkey anymore?
August 13, 2007 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Birthdays Without Pressure If you think children’s birthday parties are getting out of control, you’ve come to the right place.
posted by konolia (78 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have friends/family on both ends of the kid party spectrum. Guess who has the better-behaved kids?

Also, I have never understood birthday parties for one-year-olds. They either sleep or cry the whole time.
posted by killy willy at 5:33 PM on August 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


Self-righteous filter: For my daughter's second birthday, we met everyone at the local park and I asked the party guests to bring a picture of an animal instead of a gift. We got some lovely hand-drawn animal pics, a bunch of animals clipped out of magazines, and one awesome, handmade Periodic Table of Hounds poster. Anyway, almost 3 years later, we still look through that album of animal pictures and talk about that birthday, and who gave which picture etc. Needless to say, we can't even remember where most of her actual toys came from.
posted by serazin at 5:35 PM on August 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


That's an awful lot of website just to say "you don't have to throw your kids a big goddam party". Next up: parentswithoutspines.com
posted by cortex at 5:37 PM on August 13, 2007 [6 favorites]


My first job was at a party supply store. Lots of parents shopping for one-year birthday parties and overflowing a large shopping cart on paper goods alone. Lots of little kids getting smacked right in the store upon becoming tired out and whiny after spending an hour waiting while parent picks out exactly the right winnie the pooh plate. Gah.
posted by frobozz at 5:42 PM on August 13, 2007


That's an awful lot of website just to say "you don't have to throw your kids a big goddam party". Next up: parentswithoutspines.com

Indeed, They talk about peer pressure. These are grown adults, not 15 year olds. Might as well complain about not having as big of a house as your next door neighbor

Some of their "problem parties" are laughable:

A five year old is terrified throughout her party by the clown the parents hire.

When does this not happen?
posted by zabuni at 5:49 PM on August 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


Y'know, I was just thinking about this. Maybe it's because my 5-year-old and I spent part of Sunay afternoon shopping for two birthday presents, since he has two parties to go to next weekend. Then his own birthday is the week after that!

The circuit, and the keeping up with the Joneses, really wears me down.

The best party we've had was a lot like Serazin's. Before we moved across the country, we got all his friends together (at the local children's museum, with some pizza), and asked them to bring along a picture of themselves. We provided scrapbook pages, markers, etc., and asked each child to make a page.

FullDisclosureFilter: it was my wife's idea.
posted by underthehat at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2007


Also, I have never understood birthday parties for one-year-olds.

We threw one for our one-year-old. We hadn't had a baptism, christening, or bris, so this was an opportunity to get together with a bunch of friends -- many of whom we hadn't seen for, oh, about 13 months -- and say "Yay! He survived the first year!"
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:01 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Singling out American birthday parties is like plucking the hairs growing out of your melanoma. A good start, but ultimately ineffective treatment. It's Jeebus's birthday parties that are really out of control.

It's just not that hard to write 'no gifts please' on the invitation. Some people will bring them anyway, and that's ok, but at least they know it wasn't compulsory. For our son's 5th birthday we bought a sheet of ice at the rink and let them all flop around for an hour.

It's never a good idea to let the selfish assholes set the societal norms. They can make the laws, the money, and the media, but we're keeping the norms, dammit.
posted by ulotrichous at 6:06 PM on August 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


When does this not happen?

When does what not happen? Clowns for a kid's birthday party?

Hopefully never.

WTF are parents thinking, anyway? "Oh, little Avenger will sure love Beezelbub the Killer Klown! You better not cry at your party, Avenger, or the clown is gonna eat you! We paid him extra to do just that!"

/fucking insane parents grumble grumble grumble...
posted by Avenger at 6:19 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


one awesome, handmade Periodic Table of Hounds poster

I know what I want for my birthday! But with handset Swarovski crystals please. It's going to be a classy affair.

Seriously, that sounds awesome and now I'm jealous of a 5 year old.
posted by hindmost at 6:23 PM on August 13, 2007


In my friend's WASPy neighborhood up the bay, kids' birthday parties have an interesting cultural requirement imposed upon them by their school (hers is public though I've seen the same thing among private school kids): if the child is going to pass out birthday invites at school, then *all* kids in his or her class must be invited. That's 20-25 kids right there and she hasn't even gotten to the non-classmate friends portion of the guest list. I've also been shocked by how all the classmate parents drop their child off at the door and bolt, in effect getting a few hours of free babysitting and leaving my friend and her husband and the rare adult guest such as me to wrangle 20+ first graders on our own. It's not surprising that she prefers party rental places to hold her children's birthday parties, places which move the kids through party festivities within 2 hours. She's also on this crazy reciprocal party-go-round, since her daughter gets invites back to all her classmates' parties. It seems a recipe for out of bound party growth.

In contrast, in our predominately Latino neighborhood, kids' birthday parties almost always are lot of (adult) family members and a lesser number of children, usually select friends and classmates. The parent(s) of the invited kids almost always stay for the party. The school does not impose the "invite all" requirement. While I occasionally feel like pulling out my hair over the large proportion of adults at my son's parties, I think I prefer wrangling a lot of adults over a lot of kids: at least the adults aren't smashing Jello into the sofa and on the plus side, there's a much smaller number of reciprocal invites.
posted by jamaro at 6:23 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's an awful lot of website just to say "you don't have to throw your kids a big goddam party". Next up: parentswithoutspines.com

This is a great website, I've been hoping to find something like it. The birthday party is one of the biggest budget busters for poor families; I've had more than one client who almost got evicted from her house because she caved in to her kid's nagging and threw a costly birthday party she couldn't afford. It's easy to stand outside that situation, seeing it for what a poor life choice it is, and mock the woman behind it as irrational or stupid. But when you're inside the situation, with a crying child in your face who just wants what all the other kids get, it's hard to not to crack under the pressure. It's hard not to feel worthless because you can't provide something simple like a Chuck-E-Cheese party for your kid, when it seems like every other kid in America gets that and so much more year over year.

The suggestions lists are awesome, I'm going to print out stacks of them when I get to work tomorrow.
posted by The Straightener at 6:25 PM on August 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


Apparently at my first birthday I reached out and tried to grab the flame on the candle and burned myself. I think that says a lot.
posted by jonmc at 6:30 PM on August 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


In my almost-six years of birthday party experience, I've found that all kids need is sugar and a place to run said sugar off.

And magic/costume stores are the best places to buy affordable birthday presents. Our combo gift of glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth and simple ball-and-cup magic trick was the favorite present out of the bunch - and it set us back about 5 dollars.
posted by bibliowench at 6:31 PM on August 13, 2007


I think there is something about the clown makeup that short circuits the affect / facial response / cues that people use to pickup emotion from the faces of other people. In most adults, and some children, it isn't strong enough cause panic or fear, but for a lot of small children I wouldn't be suprised if their brain is going "I have no freaking clue what is going on here, i can't make out if they are trying to eat me or hug me, I want out!"
posted by mrzarquon at 6:33 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


we met everyone at the local park and I asked the party guests to bring a picture of an animal instead of a gift. We got some lovely hand-drawn animal pics, a bunch of animals clipped out of magazines, and one awesome, handmade Periodic Table of Hounds poster.

That is such a freakin' awesome idea that I almost wish I had a kid to throw a party for. Heck, maybe I'll arrange that for *my* next birthday party.
posted by katillathehun at 6:39 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Good grief -- I've never heard of such a thing until I read the article. Holding ridiculous parties is a completely voluntary act. Nobody is holding a gun to these parents heads. No sympathy here.

Yeah, basically what cortex said: parentswithoutspines.com. And regarding the kid crying because they envy what the other kids are having, this opens a can of worms on values parents instilled in the kids to begin with.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:48 PM on August 13, 2007


After ten birthday parties or so (the next one is 16 and will so not be an MTV sweet sixteen party!), I have to advocate for the middle path, being a Buddhist and all.

One year we had a clown. That was when birthday parties were very important. I'm thinking age 8.

But mostly it was cake and presents and food and games in a park.

OK, two nightmarish birthdays in the hands of corporate birthday specialists...Chuck E. Cheese or the equivalent joint with rides and food and toddler gambling...but they love it, and they only live once.

This mandatory "invite everyone in your class" thing I have never heard about and is terrible. OK for V-day, sure.

In fact, everything about this birthday party overkill typifies so much that is wrong about America, especially concerning money, class, parenting, materialism, and the erosion of simple old-fashioned common sense community/family values.

Of course, you could always become a Jehovah's Witness and render the conundrum moot.
posted by kozad at 7:04 PM on August 13, 2007


"In contrast, in our predominately Latino neighborhood, kids' birthday parties almost always are lot of (adult) family members and a lesser number of children, usually select friends and classmates."

When I lived in Mexico I partied a lot. I worked at a boxing bar as well so partying was something that was almost required of me. However, I would like to state for the record - the hands-down absolute sweetest fiesta I ever attended was the birthday party my landlady threw for her seven-year-old niece. It was absolutely insane. Thirty or forty adults and maybe ten kids (her best friends from school). We ate buckets of posole and there was a huge ass marching band. And the little girl got whatever she wanted, so she decided to get a whole bunch of costumes. Every half hour or so her and all her friends would run around wearing clown suits, or princess dresses or bat wings or whatever the heck they wanted - their aunts carefully dressed them up with makeup and everything. Then the marching band would play appropriate music and everyone would dance around the little kids and then we'd all eat more posole. Finally these people showed up with a bunch of trained parrots and there were parrots all over the place. Good lord that was a crazy party.

For the life of me I still can't figure out why I moved back to the U.S.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:10 PM on August 13, 2007 [20 favorites]


This mandatory "invite everyone in your class" thing I have never heard about and is terrible.

Agreed. A good rule of thumb: one guest for every year. (Both work for my son this year; he's turning five and will have only five or so kids in his class.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:13 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was really hoping this was going to address My Super Sweet 16.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:18 PM on August 13, 2007


I also want a Periodic Table of Hounds poster.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:20 PM on August 13, 2007


This mandatory "invite everyone in your class" thing I have never heard about and is terrible.

Speak for yourself! I'm still bitter about not being invited to Annie's pool party in the 7th grade. Ok, not really. Ok, just a little. I even invited her to my party, thinking she would then invite me to hers. But the bitch rose above it all. Boo.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:21 PM on August 13, 2007 [3 favorites]


Half birthday parties (like 9.5 years) are becoming the fashion in Chicago, so that if Johnny is unfortunate enough to have a winter birthday, he can have an outdoor summer party too.

As a guy who was born on December 23, I feel I must now set up a (half) birthday pressuring site, for the sake of all my kind!
posted by washburn at 7:25 PM on August 13, 2007


My school district had the 'everyone in your class' rule, but it wasn't really aimed at getting you to invite everyone, and no one did. The real aim was to keep people from giving out invitations during school. So most people did invitations by phone or mail, or (more often) dropped them off in person. Less disruptive than doing it during class. Especially if the teacher then had to deal with comforting the kid who felt left out, or with the obnoxious kid who wanted to make sure everyone knew who he wasn't inviting.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:32 PM on August 13, 2007


Apparently at my first birthday I reached out and tried to grab the flame on the candle and burned myself.

I nearly choked to death trying to eat a baby fern tree at mine. The What It Says results probably being much the same.
posted by Cyrano at 7:40 PM on August 13, 2007


if the child is going to pass out birthday invites at school, then *all* kids in his or her class must be invited.

This is not as crazy as it sounds, as it discourages passing out of invites at school if you don't want the weird hippy's kids at your party.

My kids' school actually had a very clever and subtle variation on this-- if you are going to invite half the class, you must invite the entire class. This had the effect of shrinking the parties, because if you went to 13 kids, you had to go to 26. Made the kids and the parents extremely selective, and also let them know (at least my kids, since I'm the weird hippy) exactly where they stood socially. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Now DON'T get me started on the bar/baht mitzvahs (school is 40% Jewish and very wealthy. You don't want to know).
posted by nax at 7:46 PM on August 13, 2007


You could also, I dunno, maybe learn to say "no" to your kid.
posted by nightchrome at 8:02 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm appalled.

Those of you opposed to these parties are just admitting to the world how much you really don't love your child. For shame.

Or you're just showing that you can't afford it, which is just as bad, if not worse.
posted by sourwookie at 8:05 PM on August 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


My family has been doing half birthdays as long as I've been aware enough to recall. No parties or lavish gifts though, the half-birthdayee typically gets a card and a cake/pie/their own bag of doritos and phonecalls from everyone who remembers (I'm probably the worst about that). It's a nice way for those unfortunate enough to be born around the Holidays (or on Christmas like my nephew Nick) to get some recognition - and it doesn't break the bank.
I will continue the tradition with my family, should I start one.

Super sweet sixteen parties? Hell no. Hella hell no. That crap can burn in the pit it was spawned in.
posted by djeo at 8:17 PM on August 13, 2007


My kid's been to several "event" parties, at Chuck E. Cheese or The Little Gym and whatnot, and what always gets me about those is how *regimented* they are. At the CEC party, one of the waitresses actually said "Ok, you have four minutes to finish your pizza!" The Little Gym kid didn't even have time to open his presents before we were all shoved out the door so they could set up for the next party.

So, when it came time for our son to have his first "friends only" party, we went simple. We let him invite seven kids (his age + 1, the rule of thumb I'd heard) and set up shop in the back yard - a combination of games (they actually did play Pin the Tail on the Donkey), kid science-y type stuff ("If I put this Mentos into this bottle of Diet Coke, what do you think will happen?") and just good ol' fashioned running-around-like-chickens-with-their-heads-cut-off-ness. Everyone had a blast.

(Though he did get a bunch of junky plastic toys that I think ended up in the attic. I will have to try the "just bring a picture of an animal" or something similar next year.)
posted by Lucinda at 8:40 PM on August 13, 2007


Nth the desire for a Periodic Table of Hounds poster. Though I may have to make my own.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:43 PM on August 13, 2007


I've got a preschooler and the pressure is already insane. One friend had a $100 birthday cake for her 2-year-old -- strangely enough, another friend got married this past weekend and had the same cake as her wedding cake. And people spend around $10 on gift bags.

But it's not just birthdays. People have made fun of me because of my parenting decisions. I only buy one pair of shoes and one pair of boots for my child. I buy a winter coat that's a size too big so he can wear it the next year. I rarely buy toys, unless it's for a birthday or Christmas. I don't buy brand name clothes. I don't buy character-branded toys or clothing. I don't have a $1200 stroller. And some people really hassle me over it.

Why do parents give in? Because those same parents tend to be the ones who raise the popular kids. And no one wants their kid to be bullied. They don't want their kid to be excluded from birthday parties and social events...and they don't want to give people a reason to forgo inviting the "cheap" family.

As for me, I'm putting my kids in martial arts.
posted by acoutu at 8:47 PM on August 13, 2007 [4 favorites]


Also, I have never understood birthday parties for one-year-olds. They either sleep or cry the whole time.

Depends on the kid. We're having a [family] party for a one year old later this month, and I'm sure he'll be wide awake and having a blast ripping the paper off his presents.

And, knowing how kids are at that age, he'll be thinking that the wrapping paper and the cardboard boxes are the coolest things he got.
posted by Zinger at 8:58 PM on August 13, 2007


Hey, this is excellent; I have a second thread I can post this picture into!

That picture is from my son's (and daughter's) first birthday party. We held it under a tarp in the backyard, invited a group that was more adults than children, kept it short, and gave them each a cake to smash into little bits (hence the photo.) The first birthday party is for the parents, but at one year you're exhausted, so you keep it cheap and short.

A few days ago, we held the second-year party. This time it was a huge gaggle of people at an outdoor train museum, and we catered. We also rented a Thomas the Tank Engine table and trains to keep the kids occupied (and they went crazy every time the museum's train went by), but it still had more adults than children, had no hired entertainers, and was mostly an excuse to hang out in the shade and see how much our children have grown. In short, it's for the parents again, but now we're not as tired, so we can have more people.

By the time they're three, they'll probably want to have input, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they find enjoyable at that age, and what their concept of a birthday party is.

If we're lucky, it'll be the kind of adult shindig we've been throwing to date -- lots of parents made it a point to tell us how relieved they were that it was so casual, and not a festival of do-this-no-do-that-you're-late-for-the-activity! that evidentally most parties in this area have become. I suspect that as the kids get older, the parties will get smaller, as they'll have more of an idea of who they want to spend time with.

Oh yeah, and that whole "you have to invite the whole class" thing? Whatever. You're not the boss of my family. We mightinvite the whole class, but not because of you people told us to.

I've also been shocked by how all the classmate parents drop their child off at the door and bolt, in effect getting a few hours of free babysitting and leaving my friend and her husband and the rare adult guest such as me to wrangle 20+ first graders on our own.

I can't even conceive of a person so inconsiderate. Unbelievable.

And the little girl got whatever she wanted, so she decided to get a whole bunch of costumes. Every half hour or so her and all her friends would run around wearing clown suits, or princess dresses or bat wings or whatever the heck they wanted...

Oh, I really really hope my kids want to do stuff like this -- I'm sure as heck going to suggest it!
posted by davejay at 9:08 PM on August 13, 2007


By popular demand: your very own (hella crappy reproduction of the) Periodic Table of the Hounds. (And the detail shot. Yup, they're listed in order by weight.)

Created by the wonderful Christine Sienkiewicz, who I've barely seen since that birthday party. If anybody here knows her, please say 'hello'!
posted by serazin at 9:10 PM on August 13, 2007 [17 favorites]


People have made fun of me because of my parenting decisions. I only buy one pair of shoes and one pair of boots for my child. I buy a winter coat that's a size too big so he can wear it the next year. I rarely buy toys, unless it's for a birthday or Christmas. I don't buy brand name clothes. I don't buy character-branded toys or clothing. I don't have a $1200 stroller. And some people really hassle me over it.

Wow. I live in Los Angeles, and thought we'd get this kind of pressure, but we dress 'em in cheap funny t-shirts and often oversize (or undersize, if we're behind in the laundry) clothes and dirty shoes (one pair gym shoes, one pair sandals, one pair water shoes, and that's more than enough.) We buy toys year round, but not because we lavish them with gifts; we buy small toys at random moments in an attempt to decouple birthdays and christmas from material things. Brand name clothes and $1200 strollers can bite me (our best strollers were from Amazon.com and came free with another purchase.)

I sincerely hope that you tell these people to fuck themselves; that's seriously overstepping appropriate boundaries, and I suspect these parents were spoiled rotten without boundaries as kids. You raise your kid the way you want, so long as they're getting emotional support, good care, and every ounce of your love. Some good boundaries, too, so they don't become the kind of assholes you're talking about.

yeah, that really ticks me off.
posted by davejay at 9:14 PM on August 13, 2007


When I turned one, a traditional baby luau was held. Apparently, it went on for three days; I don't remember any of it. (I couldn't find a decent link, but a baby luau is a Hawaiian tradition - though other cultures do this too - that celebrates the child surviving its first year of life. Big, big party: eating drinking sleeping playing game - rinse, repeat.

My favorite birthday was my fifth: a cookout at the beach, near sunset, and as the sun went down, two huge manta rays "flew" by in the water.
posted by rtha at 9:17 PM on August 13, 2007


Serazin, that poster is paralyzingly cute.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:56 PM on August 13, 2007


I once read a story about a little boy who loved garbagemen. He was so obsessed with them that his parents worked it out so he could have his birthday party at the city dump. The whole thing was themed on garbagemen & recycling & stuff, and a whole bunch of people (including their neighborhood garbagemen) showed up.

I remember thinking that he must have the most kickass parents ever & how much love that showed. I mean, instead of trying to impress everyone else they made it clear that not only would they love him no matter what he wanted to be, but that they would even unapologetically embrace GARBAGE just because their son loved it. Rather than trying to steer him towards something "normal," they respected his individuality. Kinda beautiful, really.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:15 PM on August 13, 2007 [14 favorites]


Davejay: I think it's because people with a lower income than we have cannot understand why we don't buy into the consumerist attitudes. Fortunately, there are enough people with whom I can surround us without having to feel this pressure all the time. But we're definitely in the minority.
posted by acoutu at 11:27 PM on August 13, 2007


From the time I was about 8, my mom just gave me a birthday party budget. I think it was always $100. It was great!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:36 PM on August 13, 2007


I reckon if I have kids, I'll just take the average lifespan for people of our ethnicity/background/location/etc, and start counting down, so Junior's 5th birthday will actually be his -78th birthday, say.

Teach the little bugger to live life to the fullest, with the added bonus of him or her wanting less and less to celebrate them as time goes on.

Once they get to zero and start counting upwards, it'll be like 'Bonus Years Woohoo'!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:55 PM on August 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


We had our three-year-old's birthday party this weekend. By chance we discovered that it was possible to rent the kindergarten for a small fee. We fed them hot-dogs and cake and let them run amok with the toys. The American super-birthday crap has not taken root over here, luckily (Norway). I did somehow manage to promise my mid a Spongebob cake, so I fretted over that a bit the night before, but managed by some miracle to pull of a credible imitation of Spongebob in cake and coloured sugar frosting.

My cousin worked at a ship and offshore safety training school, and brought his twin boys and friends over one year. Fire engines, hoses and the other stuff they had made for a legendary birtday, and it didn't cost much either. The other parents hated him for it, though... :)
posted by Harald74 at 12:13 AM on August 14, 2007


That Periodic Table of the Hounds thing is perhaps the greatest thing ever. I feel inspired. I want to go make a giant Venn diagram of geckos, or a Voronoi tesselation of rodents, or something cool like that. OK, honestly I just like saying "Voronoi tesselation," but that still doesn't diminish the coolness of the Hounds table.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:35 AM on August 14, 2007


WTF. This actually happens?

Birthdays when i was a kid meant take-out chinese and a new 8-bit Nintendo game (if i was lucky) or some art supplies (if money was tight.)

Kids. Spoiled. These days. Get off my lawn!
posted by ELF Radio at 2:10 AM on August 14, 2007


In fact, everything about this birthday party overkill typifies so much that is wrong about America - happens in the UK also. And the inviting-everyone-in-the-class happens regularly. My 8 yr old nephew has had 35+ invites this year, 4 parties last weekend alone and 10 more to go before the year end.

It's insane. He absolutely expects everyone he meets to be handing him a present at every opportunity. He's going to be a nightmare teenager. He's a bright kid, really funny, intelligent, but has such a warped idea of materialism, its frightening.

Oh and 'half birthdays'? jesus, give me a break. Grow up.
posted by daveyt at 3:58 AM on August 14, 2007


What's wrong with an orange and some nuts?
posted by Geezum Crowe at 4:58 AM on August 14, 2007


In my wife's family, first birthdays are a pretty big deal with others being more low key. Our son's first birthday was quite spectacular and a lot of fun. It wasn't geared to my son at all. We had an inflatable boxing ring and a gladiator ring, ATV rides, dirt bikes, a huge scramble (a family tradition where the kids 'scramble' for coins tossed in the air), a jerk pit (specially made for the occasion) and 60 guests (most of them from out of town). It was awesome but there's no way we would be doing that every year. Once was enough.
posted by xmattxfx at 5:02 AM on August 14, 2007


When I was first in the toy department of a store in the USA, I was really shocked at how the parents and kids behaved. The kids would scream for a toy until the parent bought it... and seemingly every time, the parent bought them a toy to shut them up... training their kids to scream as loudly as possible without end! Which the kids, of course, did. It was terrible!

I wondered if I just hadn't been in toystores for a while and it was universal, but no, back on the other side of the world I paid attention, and the kids were far more well behaved in toy-stores, and if they yelled for toys, they didn't get rewarded for doing so, and gave up very quickly.

I think there is something cultural going on, and to me, this parental behaviour in the US stores I've been is gobsmackingly moronic. Kids are SMART you morons! Teach them that screaming their heads off gets them toys and THEY WILL SCREAM THEIR HEADS OFF CONSTANTLY.

I think this spineless giving-in to parties bigger than parents can fairly handle may be related.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:25 AM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Half birthday parties (like 9.5 years) are becoming the fashion in Chicago, so that if Johnny is unfortunate enough to have a winter birthday, he can have an outdoor summer party too.

As a guy who was born on December 23, I feel I must now set up a (half) birthday pressuring site, for the sake of all my kind!


Half birthdays are for the poor and other such riff-raff! Real parents fly the birthday party invitees to luxury resorts in the southern hemisphere, where December is the middle of summer.

This also has the bonus of warm summer days to play with your new Christmas toys, and warm New Years Eve parties where people can count down to midnight in short sleeves or skimpy tees, instead of ski-gloves, 6 layers, and an overcoat.

Really, the Northern hemisphere has its seasons quite backwards!
posted by -harlequin- at 5:32 AM on August 14, 2007


My girlfriend is has been dealing with the 16 year old birthday parties.
Her friends have birthdays where they fly 10 of them out West to ski (we are in New England) and the like.
posted by beccaj at 6:18 AM on August 14, 2007


Yes, harlequin, you ar absolutely right. My unbending rule was that once my child whined or screamed for something she was not going to get it. Is the concept of "reinforcing desired behavior" all that difficult to understand? B.F. Skinner is whimpering in his grave. (He found that spinning didn't work.)
posted by kozad at 6:26 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Harlequin: That would obviously explain why the Christmas/Yule/NewYear decorations are all so snow-and-ice oriented? Or why lights are so important, since it's so bright at the December solstice?

Of course I'm making fun of your fun, seeing as I'm living in the southern hemisphere myself, currently. Drives me nuts! I LOVE having summer weather at Christmas! But everything seems totally wrong anyway. And I never feel in the holiday mood, either. Wrong weather.

As for birthday parties: Huh? I had no idea. No kids, lucky me! I had 1 party with friends, as a kid. They weren't common. I decided it was silly, at age 8. The rest were just family affairs.
posted by Goofyy at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2007


It's understandable that parents want their kids' birthdays to be a good time. But many of them seem to have questionable notions of what makes a happy event. The criticism that these kids are spoiled is a bit misplaced. That kind of condemnation is frequently an excuse for people to vent their insecurity over someone else's show of material wealth. Same thing with all the expressions of outrage over 'My Sweet 16'. I think it's more productive to focus on how lame these events are. The super event and the huge present always have a let down to them. Hype and anticipation work against the children being satisfied. A standard is set and disappointment frequently follows. These birthday extravaganzas seems to be more about training children to associate massive expenditures of time and money with love and I don't think that's an association that benefits the child's immediate happiness nor their overall growth.

Most of this is more about the parents and their social scene than anything else. This is just one way they are telling their friends, family and neighborhood that they fit in and meet conventional expectations. It doesn't seem very child centered at all.

I'll definitely make an exception though for the family in miss lynster's post though. I suspect all the parents want an event that will please their children that much. But it only worked because it was something the child genuinely wanted. Most children don't genuinely want anything though. Instead they want to want. And what are they told (by suggestion) to want? Lots of time and money.

I'm another one who thinks that low key celebrations with random gifts and excursions throughout the year are a better way to go. One of my own happiest family memories is being pulled out of school with no advance notice to go and see Raiders of the Lost Ark. By comparison seeing Aerosmith with a bunch of schoolmates at 13 with a ton of parental expectation that this was one of the great moments of my life just sounds an ordeal to get through.
posted by BigSky at 6:38 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I fully expect that any children I might have are going to hate me at some point, or at least believe that they do in the hormonal storms of adolescence, unless I'm extremely lucky.

I'd prefer they hate me for all the right reasons.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:39 AM on August 14, 2007


Indulgent parties should be for adults only. Wanna rent out a hall? Go skiing? Have a big-time DJ and a radio station remote van? GET A FUCKING JOB.
posted by grubi at 6:43 AM on August 14, 2007


Things like this make me realize how out of touch I've become in the 10-odd years since I moved out of the US. (For that matter, what are "gift bags"? I assume they're not "presents that someone was too lazy to wrap, so they just put the present in a bag".)

rolypolyman writes "And regarding the kid crying because they envy what the other kids are having, this opens a can of worms on values parents instilled in the kids to begin with."

Nah. Kids envy. Kids cry. That's what they do, no matter who the parents. What's important is what the parents do in response to that. A kid whining for a toy in a toy store doesn't make me worry about the parents parenting skills. The parent then buying the toy does.
posted by Bugbread at 7:21 AM on August 14, 2007


BigSky writes "The criticism that these kids are spoiled is a bit misplaced. That kind of condemnation is frequently an excuse for people to vent their insecurity over someone else's show of material wealth. Same thing with all the expressions of outrage over 'My Sweet 16'."

Frequently, but not always. I'm not rich, but I make median income, which means I could afford to throw the average sized birthday party. And yet I think they're too goddamn big, and it raises kids as too materialistic and demanding. I don't say that as clever camouflage for insecurity, but because...I think it raises kids too materialistic and demanding.

Other than that, I agree that the other problem is that it causes kids to associate "love" with "monetary expenditure".

Also, regarding spoiling, you have to kind of look at parties on a case-by-case basis. A kid who demands to be given a ski trip to Aspen, costing all kinds of money, and getting it? Spoiled. A kid who doesn't request a clown, but gets a truckload of scary-as-fuck clowns and pantomimes, costing all kinds of money? Still a bad scene, but the word "spoiled" doesn't really apply.
posted by Bugbread at 7:33 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, the trevails of America's beleageured upwardly-mobile middle class. Cry me a river.

My kid likes animals, so we reserved a picnic table at the local zoo. All the kids got a cup of animal food for the petting zoo, a train ride, some drinks and pizza. We've done this three years in a row, he's overjoyed every time, (we ask him where, and he says the zoo) and we bring it in for around $200.00.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2007


The Periodic Table of The Hounds is very, very rad, and has made my day. Which, as it happens, is my birthday. Thank you, Serazin!
posted by everichon at 7:58 AM on August 14, 2007


My mom used to send me and my friends on a 'treasure hunt'. She would make up little clues on paper and stick them up around town (in a nondescript place so as to be unnoticable to passerby, but places we knew fairly well and could easily identify by her clues). Each clue would hint at where we would find the next one. When we found one we would all gather around and read it and try and figure out where the next one would be (they were in riddle form). We would come up with an idea and off we would go. The clues were vauge enough as to not give an exact description, so we would have to search around for a few minutes before we found it. Some were in really noticable, easy to access places, others were out of reach of the average seven year old. I remember one being underneath a bridge with a creek running by. We had to boost up the small guy to go and reach it.

We weren't allowed to take our bikes because not everyone had one and we would have been too quick. So we had to walk or run. It usually took us a few hours and the last clue was usually pretty close to our house with the 'treasure' being like three bucks in quarters or something which we would then go and blow at the arcade.

Then we would go back home and have cake and open presents. Great times.

Now I'm going to call my mom. *sniff*
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 8:03 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Devils Rancher "Oh, the trevails of America's beleageured upwardly-mobile middle class. Cry me a river."

Oh, the travails of poor Americans who can't afford health insurance and suffer needlessly because of it. Cry me a river. There are folks in Cambodia missing limbs due to landmines.

Oh, the travails of folks in Cambodia missing limbs due to landmines. Cry me a river. There are folks in Africa who are starving to death.

Rule of thumb: you can only find a person's problems deserving of sympathy if there's no-one worse off than them. Which is why I only feel sympathy for Ngeb Dulbenna of Nigeria, who is starving to death and blind and has AIDS and whose neighbors rape him every night with a rusty crowbar. The rest of 'em? Cry me a river, they have it great.
posted by Bugbread at 8:05 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


bugbread,

I largely agree with what you're saying.

It's pretty common in discussions on these topics for there to be a lot of name calling. Some people who were raised middle class or lower take the opportunity to make themselves look good by putting down those born into wealth. I certainly don't think that those who avoid throwing birthday parties or choose not to go all out financially on every celebration are insecure about their wealth. Far from it. It seems perfectly reasonable to me. My observation is directed more towards those who are eager to criticize. Some of them act like they are looking for an opportunity to be outraged.

A kids demanding a trip to Aspen is ridiculous, no question. And the child is definitely driving the behavior. Spoiled is a fair term but name calling makes people defensive. Maybe these families wouldn't change no matter what language was used. But still, I think it is more helpful to show a choice as counter productive instead of an opportunity for mockery.
posted by BigSky at 8:08 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


What bugbread said. Let's try to be a little less judgmental, eh, you harshed-out dickless finger-pointing hand-wringing ninnies.
posted by Mister_A at 8:13 AM on August 14, 2007 [3 favorites]


Bugbread -- I think you missed my point. These folks who are stressed out about their kid's birthdays don't see that their problem is all of their own making. At what point do we declare "enough" and determine we're happy to be where and who we are, and stop the chase? It's not about wealth -- I've been to villages in Mexico where there wasn't even electricity, and seen people living happier, more wholesome lives than mine. I envied them, and aspire to their level of happiness.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Devils Rancher writes "Bugbread -- I think you missed my point. These folks who are stressed out about their kid's birthdays don't see that their problem is all of their own making."

Ah. You're right. I missed your point. Apologies, and understood.

Devils Rancher writes "At what point do we declare 'enough' and determine we're happy to be where and who we are, and stop the chase?"

Presumably, that's the goal of the site posted here, right?
posted by Bugbread at 8:23 AM on August 14, 2007


Presumably, that's the goal of the site posted here, right?

True -- I was responding more to the tales of birthday craziness in the thread, I suppose. Flying kids to Veil -- that sort of stuff. I guess it set me on edge that people would be doing this, and stressing out about it. It seems like something people could figure out for themselves without a website, but if it helps, it's all good.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:29 AM on August 14, 2007


[not classist]
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:32 AM on August 14, 2007


I don't think I ever had a birthday party with friends - birthdays were always for the (extended) family only, in my family. Which is actually kind of nice, because it means I've had more or less the same bunch of people (minus a few deaths, plus a few marriages and births) at my birthday parties for the past 30+ years.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2007


For, I believe it was my sixth birthday, my parents got a large number of balloons, put them all in one room of our house, and let me and a bunch of my classmates run around in there, with a number of balloon swords that my mom had made for us.

It was awesome, and the fact that I remember it as well as do says something about how much I enjoyed it. I don't remember much of anything from that early.
posted by Arturus at 9:58 AM on August 14, 2007


I didn't have a birthday party "party" til I was 17. Birthdays in my house always consisted of eating cake and tearing open presents a la Christmas, or going to the restaurant of my choosing, accompanied by only my sister and our parents. My friends were horrified and so out of pity they brought cake and decorations to school, got the teachers to sign a card, and we had a celebration in an empty classroom. It was exam time so we were on half days, which was useful.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 2:41 PM on August 14, 2007


Who pins the tail on the donkey anymore?

An out of town friend of mine told me about a party he was planning with games to include Pin the Kale on the Honkey. Never heard how that went, though.
posted by contraption at 3:16 PM on August 14, 2007


Oh yeah, and that whole "you have to invite the whole class" thing? Whatever. You're not the boss of my family. We mightinvite the whole class, but not because of you people told us to.

Clearly, this is unenforceable, and that's fine but don't dismiss it. Think if your child is the one, or one of the 5 or 6, who aren't invited to one of these parties. They feel really really bad. I know this because of parents who refused to be dictated to, and deliberately excluded the families that didn't measure up (which believe me you found out, because the gossip hotline gets it to you). Many families that hold these ridiculous parties do it, believe it or not, out of ignoble, conspicuous consumption, keeping up with the Joneses, I-am-better than-you-are motives.

No-- really.


At least this rule forces them to confront this, while they are breaking some child's heart by excluding him or her and him or her only, from the party to which everyone else in the class is invited.

And trust me, with parents like these, their evil spawn don't hesitate to rub it in.

But I'm not bitter.
posted by nax at 7:07 PM on August 14, 2007


I was really hoping this was going to address My Super Sweet 16.

Not allowed on TV on our house. I find that show more bile-inducing than anything that Corey Haim, David Hasselhoff, Bret Michaels, Bob Saget and the entire cast of the second season of "Big Brother" could put together in a nightmarish pile-on pitch session. My 11-year-old has seen the show at friends' houses and at one point started to think the parties were normal. We have lengthy discussions to the contrary.

I've also been shocked by how all the classmate parents drop their child off at the door and bolt, in effect getting a few hours of free babysitting and leaving my friend and her husband and the rare adult guest such as me to wrangle 20+ first graders on our own.

In our community, the norm is that parents are not invited, unless the invitation specifically expresses it. Granted, I live in a town where the Big Expensive Party is pretty standard -- so if you've rented out the local gymnastics palace and there's only room for kids on the trampoline floor, and only trained coaches are allowed to be in the gym area with the children, etc. etc. -- sometimes if a bunch of parents hang around, it can actually just turn the situation into a big clusterf--k. So, we do usually do the drop-off-at-the-door... but it's by request and not because we were raised in a barn and looking for free babysitting.

"In fact, everything about this birthday party overkill typifies so much that is wrong about America" - happens in the UK also. And the inviting-everyone-in-the-class happens regularly. My 8 yr old nephew has had 35+ invites this year, 4 parties last weekend alone and 10 more to go before the year end.

This is all standard in Ireland too, from what I know as a semi-regular visitor. So, judge not, Europeans, lest ye be judged.
posted by pineapple at 8:27 PM on August 14, 2007


when my parents threw birthday parties for me and my brother they'd go down the shoe shop and get shoe boxes so each kid could have their individual birthday meal from a box. That part is all anyone remembers, and remember they do, even 30 years later.
posted by grubby at 11:01 PM on August 14, 2007


A friend of mine from college came from a wealthy family and she told me once that as a kid her parents would give her big, elaborate gifts for her birthday, but with the proviso that she only get them if she didn't tell anyone at school. This was to keep her and her siblings from running around bragging about their trip to the Rockies to go heli-skiing or their shopping spree or whatever. Any friends/siblings that came along also had to follow the same rule. So for a long time she and her sibs had these amazing crazy birthdays (and spring break when they were older) - mini-vacations, basically - but only a handful of friends knew about it.

I figure that her wealthy parents either a) wanted to make their kids' have experience-based fun rather than sheer conspicuous consumption, b) grew up with less money and didn't want their kids to brag and make poorer kids feel bad, or c) made their money very illegally and didn't want word to spread about just how loaded they were. In my mind it's a combination of the three.
posted by SassHat at 11:06 PM on August 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think as I get older the growing commercial consumerist mentality of the US really gets to me. I don't mind so much that we are developing a nation of people who always want more than what they do not have, but I really despise the fact that kids are no longer allowed to just be kids. We have to ensure that they are instilled with the desire to consume and want and need at the earliest age possible.

Growing up, my mother didn't let us watch TV until my older brother was about 7. It had a big impact on us. She once bought us a set of Mickey Mouse dishes and silverware. One of us (three boys) looked at the Pluto spoon and asked mom "what's this dumb dog doing on the spoon?"

My sister is 8 years younger than me. She grew up with TV, and she was much more into brand identities than the rest of us were. I like my mom's approach. but I can't imagine raising a kid today to the age of 5 or 6 without him or her knowing the cartoon characters like members of the family. I don't think it is possible. Even if my wife and I didn't expose the kid to anything, friends at school, day care, etc. would inevitably thrust the current equivalent of Barney or Thomas or Builder Bob or whatever on the kid. (My nephews sure as hell know all of them - the number of Bob-themed birthdays they have already had just seems silly...)

I think some people might be missing the point regarding pressure on parents. Hosting the party is only a part of the concern. From what I'm reading, the pressure is as much on the host parents as it is on the parents of guests. Sure, you may be OK with a small party and inexpensive gifts and no gift bags to hand to each guest. But - how will the guests respond? How do you feel when the neighbor hands out a $10 bag of goodies to every guest, your child included, and then looks at you expectantly when your kid's party is approaching? How will your kid feel if his or her best friend's mom and dad decide not to invite your kid to next year's party, because they have decided that you are not giving a fair return on the "party investment" they put in?

I worry about this kind of thing. Not for me, really - I'm a grown-up and I can handle it if the neighbor is being pissy that I didn't give little Junior a $50 present for his $5000 1.5th birthday celebration. Kids, however, are not as emotionally mature as adults are supposed to be. Kids can be cruel, and kids pick up a lot of feelings from their parents. I don't even have a kid yet (perhaps by next year, if things go well, we'll get one started - hooray!) but I am already glad that my wife is of similar mind about some of these issues.

The best birthday party I remember for myself was the time in grade school that my dad dropped my brothers and me off at a video arcade, with a few close friends, handed us each a roll of quarters and just let us knock ourselves out. It probably cost my parents about $50 total; I'm sure it was not an easy expense for them (reading my mom's old journals makes me understand just how tight our budget was!) but the sheer extravagance of it was for us just amazing. As many quarters as we could carry, and an arcade full of places to blow it, that was just cool. All the rest of the parties were basically cake and ice cream with the family, which in my mind is how it should be - a surprise once in a while but always family first and foremost.

My little brother's birthday is Dec. 24. My mom's was Dec. 23. I don't think either needed a half-birthday to make up for it. Mom was always very careful to ensure that Dec. 24 was my brother's birthday, and nothing else. I'm sure she understood what it was like to have a birthday close to a big holiday. My older brother and I always felt a bit left out, really, because our younger brother always got presents on Christmas Eve and we had to wait another day to open anything.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:46 AM on August 15, 2007


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