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Expectations for children’s birthday parties have skyrocketed as the pressure for parents to make birthday parties bigger, cooler and perfect continues to be the norm in our consumer culture. Party costs, expensive gifts, extravagant themes and venues, and multiple birthday celebrations are all contributing factors for over-the-top kids’ birthday parties. Parents are also guilty of setting high expectations for themselves to throw the greatest birthday party and maintain or raise the bar that’s been set by other parents in the community. However, many parents have expressed frustrations about how over-the-top kids’ birthday parties have become. Together with these parents and the support of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development, I developed a community engagement project called Birthdays Without Pressure to raise awareness about what’s happened to children’s birthday parties and offer alternatives for parents who want “cultural permission” to have simple, yet special birthday parties.
Over-the-Top Kids’ Birthday Parties Affect Parents, Kids and Communities
Children’s birthday parties should be a joyous celebration for everyone involved. Unfortunately, high peer expectations and the stress of party planning for time-constrained parents have taken the fun out of birthday parties not only for parents but for the kids. Communities suffer too.
- For parents, birthday party planning can be overwhelming and expensive. Some may run up debt for their child’s parties as well as buying gifts for other parties. Parents with financial constraints may feel guilty that they can’t uphold community standards and, as a result, feel unsatisfied with their children’s birthday parties. In fact, a study was conducted on how low-income rural families celebrate children’s birthdays. These families were aspiring to throw costly birthday parties because they felt their children were good enough to have them. The study found that about 11% of the low-income rural families did not or could not celebrate children’s birthdays in ways other families do because of the lack of financial resources and time constraints.
- For kids, over-the-top birthday parties can create feelings of disappointment, envy of friends who get more, and stress from large, orchestrated parties. They can also begin to feel entitled to what they want, not just what they need. In the long-term, this sense of entitlement and wanting more can cause materialistic values to form.
- For the community, over-the-top kids’ birthday parties contribute to a culture of entitlement and envy which emphasizes more of everything, me first and too much stuff.
3 Tips for Parents to Throw a Birthday Party Without Pressure
Parents can and should be able to celebrate children’s birthdays without expending too many resources – and guilt. Here are three recommendations for parents to bring back the basic (but still fun!) birthday parties:
- Ask yourself, what are your values for celebrations? Don’t be pressured by the cultural norm and instead, stick to your family’s values.
- Give yourself permission to have a low-key but meaningful birthday party if that’s what you prefer.
- If you’re going to make a change and break from convention, it’s helpful to have other parents make the change with you. Organize a party circuit that’s willing to have low-key birthday parties for their children.
Check out our infographic with tips for a birthday without pressure:
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