Birthday Parties, Part 1

Featured Picture Book


(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)

Clever Jack has been invited to a birthday party – for a princess. What on earth will he give her as a present? What would be “fine enough?” He decides on a made-from-scratch cake – made by his very own hands. He trades his ax and seeds for the sugar and eggs and searches for other special ingredients throughout the land. He even makes “ten tiny candles” – just right for the birthday cake of a 10-year-old princess. But, on his long and difficult journey to the castle, things happen – not so good things – ruining his cake. What will Clever Jack do? He uses his honesty and special way with words to give the princess a gift like no other. She loves it so much that she names Jack her new friend and asks him to be her honorable cutter of the royal cake.

Parenting Thoughts 

Birthday Parties

Dr. Mom:

I am glad that many schools have tried to prevent – or at least lessen – the hurt feelings that can go with a child’s birthday party. Many schools use these rules.

  • No invitations to birthday parties are to be given out at school unless all children in the class receive one.
  • If children want to bring birthday treats to school for their birthday, there must be enough for everyone in the class.

If inviting the whole class is not what you want to do for a birthday party – or it’s just not possible – the way to protect the feelings of others as much as possible is to make sure the invitations are not given out at school. Personally deliver them parent-to-parent or kid-to-kid by phone, email, or U.S. mail.

There are many good reasons it makes sense to limit the numbers at a party, and it is good for a child to think about how to make those arrangements without hurting others’ feelings. Inviting the number of kids that match the age of the child (for example, four guests for a four-year-old) is a good rule of thumb.

Birthday Gifts and Overindulgence

One thing I am not so glad about is the tendency to overdo the presents and the entertainment at kid birthday parties. If we are talking about kid birthday parties, it is time to also talk about overindulgence.

39 Sidebar 1

One important definition of overindulgence is too much stuff – anything that costs money. That means presents, entertainment, locations, etc. I encourage all parents to think deeply and honestly about whether the gifts their child will receive at a birthday party will be too much. Think about the number of children coming and multiply that times the number of presents your child will receive. Too much?

Think about the types of presents you have seen exchanged at recent parties – the types you have purchased for your child’s friends. Are they expensive? More than they need to be?

Keep in mind that kids love overindulgence – they think they do, at least. They are usually very happy about it – until they come to understand some day that they are overly dependent on others to take care of them and they never feel satisfied by anything.

Too much essentially means never having enough, because a person always wants more and needs more to be happy. Notice the child in the picture with the presents – happy as can be. Someday, he may understand the damage that is being done to his ability to get along in the world as an adult.

I remember a birthday party for Darling Daughter at about age 8 or 9. She had over a few kids from her school class. One little boy was not like the other kids. He was small, nerdy, and probably not often invited to birthday parties. I was glad DD was kind enough to invite him.

He came dressed in a suit, and he spent his time surveying our house as though he had never been in one like it. He may not have been. He seemed to be from very modest means. Needless to say, I was shocked and somewhat sad when he handed over his birthday present – a card with a $20 bill in it. It was so much, I thought. I was sad he thought that was necessary. We were used to very trinket-like gifts at our parties.

Darling Daughter:  And you have to take into consideration inflation! – that $20 was 35 years ago. You know the REALLY sad part – I don’t even remember getting the $20 bill. I remember the party and the games but not a single present. I guess that shows you what really made an impression and where the focus of a kid’s party should be.

Dr. Mom: There’s nothing more convincing than hearing it from the child herself. This is how we know what we do about overindulgence. We started asking adults how it affected them and still affects them. Your comment really makes a person think. Thank you for sharing.

Today, those $20 gifts seem to me to be the expected present. I can’t imagine families having to budget presents at that cost for party after party all through the year. I also can’t imagine paying for a birthday party today that involves $100’s in charges for entertainment and a special location. What happened to “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” in the backyard or basement?

I think it is “Pin the Nose on Olaf” nowadays and it costs a fortune in royalty fees. <g> We’ve run the gambit on the party scene. Ezzy’s first party was when she was 4 or 5, and it was only a play date party with her best friend at school. She had a few more play date parties, but we expanded them to 2 friends instead of one. (That was what Ezzy wanted. We were not putting any kinds of limitations on her.)

We moved to a new state before E’s 8th birthday and thought it might be good to have a birthday party at a party place and invite 8 or 9 kids from school – so she could make some new friends. That party didn’t have the turnout or results we were hoping for. (We only had a couple kids come – 2nd grade cliques are an awful thing – but that is a topic for later.).

By 9 & 10 we had moved up to the big-bucks party rental places (like the skating rink). E and her friends seemed to enjoy them, but it felt like we were paying a lot of money for not a lot of service.

This year we are going old school. We are having a party at home. It will be chock full of games, a scavenger hunt, cake, and hopefully lasting memories. Now I just have to find time to get my house in order for all the guests. (One reason the big-bucks parties are popular – they are at someone else’s “house.”)

Sounds like great fun. Let me know how I can help. Maybe you could share your list of games and activities along with the supplies needed here on the blog.

39 Sidebar 2

Only you can know whether the party you have planned for your child is overindulgent or not. One situation can be just right for one child and overindulgent for another. For example, something large and special for one particular birthday might be OK, but parties every year that are big deals and get bigger every year may be overindulgent.

One important thing about overindulgence is that it is not always about what you can afford. Even if you have enough money, it can still be too much and more than is good for your child.

We have been invited to some crazy big parties. They had magicians, face painters, and balloon animal artists (all at the same party). I actually felt uncomfortable at the extravagance and overindulgence going on.

It does seem to the outsider to be overindulgent, but I like to remind parents that only they know what is overindulgent. I try to remind myself not to make that judgment. I know I am being extreme, but what if the child was seriously ill and wasn’t expected to have any more parties? It might not seem so overindulgent then.

Or what if the party was a gift from a relative and to not accept it would be a marriage conflict or inappropriate because the relative is very ill? These are all extreme cases, but they point out that it’s best that parents make their own decision about what is overindulgent.

Here are some ways to help you think through your answer to the question, “Is this party or gift a case of overindulgence?

First, be sure you know what you mean by overindulgent. How would you explain what is too little? What is enough? What is abundance? What is too much? Once you know what these terms mean to you, it will be easier to avoid too much and overindulgence.

Second, ask yourself questions like those below.

  • Will the number of presents or type of party allow your child to learn the things he should be learning at his age.

Is he learning about appreciation? Or, will there be so much happening that he will not be able to focus on appreciating what others are doing for him? Is he learning that love is about a lot of stuff or about enjoying one another? Is he learning to create fun by using his imagination? Or, is he becoming dependent on toys with bells and whistles to keep him constantly amused?

  • Is the number of presents or type of party meeting a need of yours rather than of your child’s?

Does this help you impress others? Do you think this is necessary to make sure your child loves you? Does this make you feel less guilty about your busy schedule?

  • Do you have the resources (time or money) for the number of presents or type of party planned? Does all that it takes to have this party take away from things that need to be done for others in the family – including yourself?
  • Is anything about this party harmful to others – including the environment?

(Thanks to Jean Illsley Clarke for connecting these ideas to overindulgence.)

Read All About It

GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson, and David Bredehoft


 Surf the Internet:
  • kids’ birthday parties
  • overindulgence
  • money management for kids,

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