A Birthday Rant – or how to spend a fortune on a birthday party

07 Feb

I may have written about this elsewhere, or just perhaps mentioned it when it was boy-child’s birthday the other day.

For me when I was growing up, having a birthday meant spending time with family and perhaps having a friend over to so something special.  It always involved cake and the celebrators choice of food for the day.  We had a party for significant birthdays – when we were 5 and we started school, 10 because double figures is totally cool, 13 because a teenager deserves a party, 18 (if we wanted a party) but generally we opted to go out and celebrate in a pub or club to drink alcohol legally and then at 21 when we were given the key to the door we had a huge shindig.  I liked this theory.  The birthday would always be celebrated but it wasn’t a part of a competition, that was just the way everyone celebrated a birthday.  There was no ‘I had more friends at my party’ comments or concerns and everyone had fun  I loved that the people that celebrated my birthday with me were important to me as the birthday child.

We are now trying to do something similar with our family, although with a huge extended family it isn’t quite as simple.  A birthday here now seems to span 3 days – presents and cake on the day with just us, a family barbeque on the weekend and special treat for the birthday child with up to 3 friends and more cake.  

Today, birthday parties for kids are becoming a competitive crazy element in our world.  I know that everyone has their own views on how to celebrate and there is no right or wrong way to celebrate, but some of the celebrations the monsters have been invited to are excessive.   My case in point is some of the parties the kids have been invited to.

Insane first birthday parties

  • kite making and flying – the birthday boy wasn’t physically capable of taking part in any of the activities
  • a jumping castle – fantastic for the older kids, not so much for the birthday child who didn’t even get a bounce!
  • McDonald’s.  My guys loved it they were old enough to eat the offerings and appreciate that they wouldn’t be likely to eat there again!

For some reason second birthday parties were mellow, perhaps it was because the families were still reeling from the cost and insanity of  the previous years shindig.

Crazy third birthday parties

  • pony rides at home – the birthday girl was terrified of the ponies
  • pony rides in a park, those that didn’t like horses still had fun
  • fairy entertainers
  • play centres full of other birthday parties

The four year olds seem to miss out on ‘big’ parties also.

Five year old parties are filled with total madness.  To date some of the parties have included

  • fairy parties at special fairy filled shops
  • sport parties – coaches teaching the kids a specific sport
  • gymnastics parties, unfortunately not at any local gyms
  • swimming parties, fortunately at local swimming pools
  • sleepovers and movie marathons
  • circus parties
  • parties at a Lego play centres

As I sit here trying to recall the different parties that the kids have attended, I am starting to notice that the big parties really are only on the odd age birthdays.  Is it because the families have made a conscious decision to only party hard on alternate years or is it because they can’t afford bigger and better every year?  I have no idea.  

What happened to parties with home made decorations and simple activities?  Pin the tail on the donkey, pass the parcel and musical chairs.  Then when games are played, why does every child have to win a prize?  Why  should each child expect to win a prize every where they go?  Are we that desperate to pander to the sensitive needs of our children that they always get what they want, that they always win?  What happens when eventually they don’t win or get a prize and have never not won before, how will they cope?  Surely losing gracefully is something that can be taught to children at a young age.  I picture a world full of teenagers throwing a tantrum when they don’t get a prize?  I digress, that is a rant for another day.  

Then there are the party favours and lolly bags, they are a huge hit around here.  Just what the kids need after being hyped up on sugary treats and fizzy drinks all day, a few more sugary treats to take home with them  along with some much needed plastic crap.  

What about the guest list?  Do you invite the entire class, only the kids who you know your kid likes, do you invite families to stay?  Argh it is all too hard.  Even if you only invite the children that have previously invited your child to a party, the house is full.

I really shouldn’t go too hard on the hosts of these parties, we have been known to throw some huge parties, with gazillions of guests but they are low key and involve next to no organising.  Despite being a birthday party miser, I don’t want my guys to feel as if they missed out on an extravagant party, I just try to find an easier and more affordable way to do it.  I really don’t have the expendable income to hire a performer or treat an entire class to an outing.  Who has a spare $150 to pay for someone to distract the kids for maybe an hour and if you are lucky have them slap some face paint on them?  Why buy paper cups and plates that co-ordinate with the helium balloons and also the party childs outfit, they will all end up in the rubbish anyway!   Are these decorations even for the kids benefits, or is it the parents trying to impress, showing the guests that they know how to co-ordinate.  Surely the kids aren’t so superficial that they require everything as meticulous and co-ordinated as a major function or wedding.  


For almost every party we have hosted there has been nothing more extravagant than fruit platters, crackers and dips, perhaps a few chips or lollies if I thought to buy some and of course some birthday cake.  Birthdays 1 and 2 were really just a gathering of family and friends – it wasn’t like the birthday child actually knew what was happening anyway.  Birthdays 3, 4 and 5 were child focused and were themed around an interest of the child at the time.

Boy-child celebrates his birthday in the summer school holidays and as a result many of his friends are away.  For his third birthday we found a local kite festival that was occurring and sent an email invite to practically everyone we knew telling them about the festival.  All we did was take along some picnic rugs, cake, fruit and water bottles and said what time we would be cutting the cake.  It was simple, easy and very affordable.  Everyone seemed to come back from their holidays to go to the festival, and of course to celebrate his birthday with us (luckily the cake was huge).  The parents showed their own kids around the festival and the day was fantastic.  His fourth party was a picnic in a new park we had discovered.  Again all we needed to do was bring along enough fruit, drinks and cake for everyone.  We were actually planning a barbeque in the park, but it was too hot.  His fifth was his first ‘parents are welcome to stay, but you really don’t need to’ party.  He had a super hero party.  I made capes for all of the guests out of left over white fabric, they decorated them with textas, stickers and glitter before running around in our park (over the road from home) playing super heroes and eating cake.  Birthday number six was spent climbing trees and eating cake in the park.  This year he hasn’t even decided who to invite for his special treat, but he is leaning towards only inviting one person so they can play wii together.

Girl-child has had similar no fuss parties.  Her third and fifth parties were awesome dance parties.  A big-girl friend from the same dance studio dropped in and taught a dance class.  The third had the guests playing dance games and the fifth had them learn a mini dance routine to show their parents when they came to pick them up.  The kids were too busy dancing and having their faces painted to really want to eat the fruit and snacks that were set up.  For her fourth birthday she asked for a garden, so we built a potted garden on the balcony by her room.  She had a garden party where her friends came over for a play and each potted a flower to take home.

So that is how we have celebrated birthdays around here.  Now we have moved on to the era where the kids can have a few friends over to do something fun and eat cake.  I hope that they don’t look back at their birthdays and think that they have been ripped off because we haven’t taken them to adventure parks or fairy lands, I hope they look back at their parties and think that they had a party that suited their ever-changing needs and that they were surrounded by people who loved them.  I hope that the also realise that you don’t have to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on entertainment to guarantee a great time.


With all that ranting, I really couldn’t complain the kids enjoy going to parties and on this stinking hot day, boy-child is at a friends house after an impromptu sleep over last night and girl-child is at a circus party.  The venue for the party is an hour away from where everyone lives so they are being transported there and back by a hire bus.  The end result is that she gets to spend hours with her friends and I get to spend hours at home not having a hot and sticky child draped over me.


Posted by on February 7, 2009 in all in the family


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3 responses to “A Birthday Rant – or how to spend a fortune on a birthday party

  1. Ali

    February 7, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Hey there, thanks for delurking on my blog today.

    I am not a fan of over the top kids parties either. I just find the whole thing overwhelming. I do one every couple of years for my kids but we favour something small. I think it ends up being a lot more fun if it’s just their good friends doing something special.

  2. Lea White

    February 8, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    For Bianca birthday 1 was at a touch and feel farm (which was also open to the public) where the kids could feed some animals, and they had a party room where we could bring our own food, a bouncy castle was included by the venue (and that was great because Bianca loved going on it). We chose a venue as our house was really small and we needed to invite a lot of family and friends.

    Birthday 2 we just moved to New Zealand so we didn’t have anybody to invite and it was just the 3 of us and a Winnie the Pooh cake.

    Birthday 3 we invited 8 friends from daycare and the kids ate food and played with Bianca’s toys and opened presents. I did spend a lot of effort making her cake, and I dressed her up as a fairy.

    Birthday 4 was a party at hospital with a bunch of strangers as she was just diagnosed with leukemia and then on her actual birthday we had a party with just the 4 of us (Caitlyn was around 3 months then) and Bianca’s levels were too low so we couldn’t invite anybody.

    Birthday 5 we had 4 friends, they played pass the parcel (and yes, I’m a sucker so they all got a little something), they decorated t-shirts with t-shirt markers and we had a big bag that we filled with balloons, stuck on the ceiling and when you rip it open all the balloons fell out – that was the best!

    I expect Birthday 6 to be way bigger because she is in big school and has lots of friends, still thinking what to do, she wants pass the parcel again. It is only in June, but has to be indoors because it will be winter then. So I’ll need to think a bit.

    For Caitlyn birthday 1 was just us (she didn’t know anything anyway)

    Birthday 2 for Caitlyn will probably be just us again and a few close friends maybe, depending on Bianca’s counts and whether it will be be safe for her to be around other people. But it might just end up being us. I think Caitlyn will be happy with a few balloons, a cake and presents. So we’ll see. She doesn’t really have friends from daycare as such and I think birthday 3 will probably be a more memorable one for her.

  3. FFG

    February 9, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Growing up, my family only had “friend” parties every other year and it was always simple, but fun.

    Now days, parents really do go crazy. Plus, it seems like there is a party every week. I finally opted out of the last one.


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