The Best Birthday Party

I just finished reading the April edition of Time Out New York Kids and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

The first article Marking up baby: How the exploding kid-gear industry turns parents into suckers by Matt Haber, begins by emphasizing the fact that kids these days have too much stuff and they are simply too busy to be bored.

He supports the article with statistics taken from Pamela Paul’s new book, Parenting, Inc. Parents are “surrounding their offspring with products and services that contribute to a whopping $1.7 trillion in kid gear.”

Certainly, there are some great new products on the market that I wish had been available when I was a new mother, but it is getting out of control. Seriously, who needs a baby monitor in a tiny New York City apartment?

The April edition of the magazine also devotes an entire section to Kids’ Parties and where to have them in New York City. The list conveniently begins with parties for kids ages 2 and under.

It wasn’t that long ago that my kids were 2, and I can assure you that kids have not changed that much in the past few years, but I have to ask what 2 year old is going to remember whether the birthday party was held at a trendy location or if you just had some cupcakes with a few friends in the park?

The prices for these “2 years and under” parties are staggering. Here are a few examples from various locations listed in the magazine: $890 for 11 kids, $1500 for 12 kids, $1500 for 15 kids.

It’s certainly less expensive than a months rent in NYC, but we really should hesitate a moment and ask, “Who is this party for really?” Is it for the child or are we paying the high price because we are concerned about what others will say?

You may be reading this and think that birthday parties are just out of control in New York City, but unfortunately that is not the case.

I was in Target one afternoon and I overheard a mother talking on her cell phone. She was in the party section of the store and she was loading the cart with decorations for her daughter’s birthday party. She said, “I have already spent $400 on this birthday party. I know it is ridiculous but I feel like we need to do it.”

She indicated that she was going to be spending $500 on her younger son’s birthday. “We have to invite all of Zack’s classmates to the party and we have to make it a really good party because he doesn’t have any friends.” Yes, you did read that last sentence correctly. This mother was having a party to get friends for her son.

What would happen if we resisted peer pressure and we were no longer trying to compete to see who could give the best party?

What if we had more parties where we taught our kids the joy of giving: giving back to the community, donating books to a local library, volunteering? These are the types of activities that lead to authentic friendships.

Children don’t need expensive birthday cakes or fancy parties to buy friends. Instead, give your child the gift of recognizing true friends, learning how to be considerate, compassionate and knowing how to reach out to help others. Your child will remember these lessons and someday she will grow up to be confident and strong.

Say no to party peer-pressure. Make time for what is important. Make time for chocolate.