We’re preparing for my son’s fifth birthday party. Pinterest is always my go-to for ideas, which can be both life-saving and damning. While perusing, his older sister pops up beside me and ooos and aahhhs at what she sees. Then, she asks me what kind of party favors we’re going to have for the kids at the party, pointing out painfully adorable options on the screen while I silently calculate the hours of missed sleep attaching bumbled character faces to lollipops days before the actual event.
I told her we weren’t having any and she looked confused (though she didn’t have favors at her party, either). She wanted to know why, so I told her: it’s because that’s not what parties are about. A birthday party is about celebrating the person whose birthday it is, not about getting things yourself and that’s why she shouldn’t expect treats at every birthday party she attends.
When I had my first child — my dear daughter — I’ll admit, I pulled out all the stops. Pinterest-crazy mom throwing Pinterest parties, complete with cutesy favors. It almost broke me psychologically, emotionally, and nearly financially. After throwing a few more I realized I just couldn’t do it anymore, and the moment I decided I wouldn’t anymore, I felt an immense weight lift from my shoulders.
Birthday parties when I was a kid were so much simpler, and I don’t remember getting favors at every one or even expecting them. I can see the corporate benefits of endorsing these kinds of parties. They make more money convincing mothers that their parties are failures if everyone doesn’t walk away with fifty dollars-worth of candy and cheap plastic toys. Pinatas, am I right? Not only do those suckers cost more than they should, but you still have to stuff them with enough crap to appease the expectations of every child there.
That’s not what a birthday is about. And, honestly, after the party’s over, none of the kids really care about any of that anyway. They were just happy to play and have fun.
So, what should my kids expect from a party? Well, they get to go to a party. They’re getting a playdate; they’re likely to get snacks and cake and a nice little sugar-and-red-dye buzz from some diabetes-laden punch; they might get to play some organized games. At the very least, they get to play with their friend and maybe make new ones. This is what they should expect. Anything else is just a bonus.
Sure, those pictures look SO good on Facebook, and yes, it feels good in a smug sort of way when all those not-close Facebook “friends” comment on what an amazing parent you are and honestly, how do you do it, but behind the scenes, you know the truth. You cried, and screamed, and shot-gunned energy drinks and will probably miss a few bill payments this month to accomplish decorations and individual personalized treats on such a grandiose scale.
But to what end? You’ve just set the bar so high that other parents feel the pressure to conform or admit failure and you’ve set the expectations so high for your kids that they begin to express displeasure and ingratitude at anything less. This goes against the very spirit of birthday celebrations.
Birthday parties aren’t about everyone getting something. They are about celebrating the person, about expressing joy that that person was born and is in your life, and most importantly, they are not about that person having to either bribe you to come or about them thanking you for your presence there. So, no, my dear one. We won’t be giving away favors at your brother’s birthday party, cute as they are, but we will be celebrating a milestone in his life. We will be excited for him. It’s HIS day. Anything you get out of it is a bonus.
On a less serious note, check out 8 Things Parents Have Enough Of and get a laugh in today!