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Challenge: Happy Birthday!

What Happened To Simple Kids' Birthday Parties?

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I am concerned for all of us. I think kids' birthday parties are getting out of hand and I know you probably agree.


In 1982 I had a birthday party at my house, a few friends came over for lunch. We wore paper hats when I blew out my candles. I opened a few presents and then everyone went home.

Those were simpler times.


Three weeks ago I went to a birthday party for a 5-year-old at an inside play facility packed with giant inflatables and a party room. It featured an appearance by two theater majors dressed as Anna and Elsa from the movie Frozen. They performed several songs a cappella. The table was stacked with monogrammed snack bags, color coordinated plates and utensils, and a dessert table that could rival a competition on the Food Network.

I have been to countless parties where the 4-year-old’s birthday cake looked nicer than my own wedding cake. My children have enjoyed plenty of birthday celebrations featuring a balloon maker, face painter, and in some cases a DJ.

Is this really necessary?


Does it really make your child’s birthday more special if they have pony rides in the front yard? Will their friends enjoy a party in your backyard if it only involves bubbles and not a presentation by Han Solo and Darth Vader from Star Wars? (My son almost had a panic attack when Darth Vader asked him about the dark Side while at a friend’s birthday party).

Do we have to spend weeks on Pinterest researching themes? Would it make a difference if every child did not have a personalized cape and wand purchased from Etsy?


I am just as guilty as everyone else. In years past I have fretted over the right kind of goodie bag until I remembered it was a token of appreciation for attending a birthday celebration and not a gift to an Academy Award nominee. I’ve realized my daughters and son’s friends won’t necessarily care if I didn’t offer an imported cheese and gluten free cracker platter and a live concert by an American Idol contestant.

What excites my kids the most is smashing a piñata filled with toys from the Dollar Store. They like to take the empty wrapping paper rolls and pretend they are swords. Most of their friends never remember to take the treat bags because they’ve already consumed enough pizza and cake.

Do we need to spend hundreds of dollars so a toddler can invite every friend they have ever made to Chuck E. Cheese or an amusement park? Do they appreciate the time it took to make sure there are plenty of crustless sandwiches, lightly battered chicken nuggets, and organic fruit bowls? Will they ever remember the way you made sure a train transported their friends around the block for hours?

They should be able to come over for lunch, blow out some candles, open a few presents, and then head home.

Shouldn’t they?


Scenes From My Daughter's Birthday Party

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