Of Birthdays and Dilemmas

I have a confession.

Of Birthdays and Dilemmas

I’m petrified of birthday parties. The birthday parties of little kids. Especially the themed ones! Barbie,Superheroes, Ben10, Disney, Spiderman, the list is endless. When someone invites me to one, I get the heebie-jeebies. What if I’m not able to find the right costumes/clothes for the twins before the party? What if my kids demand the same kind of party in their house? What if we stand out like a sore thumb in the crowd (Since my kids have no idea about the characters after whom the parties are themed)??

I’ve heard people say that theme parties are the IN thing today. Children dress-up, enjoy, have fun, get loads to eat and go back home with party favours, clearly, a contented lot. I attend very few birthday parties. I’ve barely taken my children to a couple of birthdays in their 4 years of existence. Its not as if I’m stunting their social growth (they are free to meet up with kids on other days), I just don’t want my children to get absorbed in the vicious web of themed parties, since that is what is expected and carried out these days :|. If keeping them away from birthdays is a way to curtail their demands of the same, then I’m all in for it.

But first, a little on what gets my goat.

I totally despise the notion that unless you don’t spend gazillion amount on your child’s birthday, you don’t love them enough. Frankly, I’ve barely spent some amount on my children’s birthdays all these years and we are all still a tightly knit loving family, thank you very much.
Secondly, who benefits from these parties?

Probably the event managers, they earn cart-loads. Probably the parents, gaining social standing, maybe even envy. Not your child for whom you keep the party. If your kids gets friends based on how lavish his birthday parties are, then chances are that he’s going to be really lonely during hard times. Bitter, but its true. Something like that advertisement that comes on television of an international car brand. A bunch of kids give special treatment to another classmate because he comes to school in that large car while the other gape in awe.

Here, the kid getting the special treatment has done nothing more than flaunt his father’s wealth, yet he is shown surrounded by a coterie of devoted classmates. This advertisement sucks on so many levels that it demands another write-up by itself.

Anyhow, I digress.

The children you invite for a party, do not enjoy the party based on how much you spend on it. children are fickle-minded. My party may not be the grandest they’ve been to. Children are fickle. Tomorrow if they visit any other event on a much larger scale, they will easily forget the party they had at mine. I can go ahead and buy all the stuff, streamers, balloons, party sprays, confetti, cakes, gifts,etc. But can I guarantee that the children will be truly have a great time?!

I cant help but compare it with the parties we had as kids. Mom would bake a cake with none of the fussy frosting. There would be plenty of goodies to eat. We would have birthday games like passing-the-parcel, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, memory (do children play this anymore??) and the best of the lot, the treasure hunt!

Usually, the elder siblings would take care of organizing the games and mom would be responsible for the food. Fathers looked around appreciatively, at times a mute spectator and at others, the appointed judge to resolve disputes. We would wrap up within an hour or so and the party favours would be distributed by the Birthday boy/girl.All went home hale and happy and the kids would talk about it for days.

Today, I have friends whose kids demand parties where a DJ is a must. Only because some other classmate had one at his party. Today, its more about peer-pressure. Of fitting in with the ‘haves’. The ‘have-nots’ are neither invited nor entertained. Heck, even the schools refrain from gathering students from different financial backgrounds.

On the twin’s first birthday, we donated the money. On the second, we went to a zoo, on the third, we had a little get-together at home with the neighborhood kids. In fact, we’ve had the neighborhood’s kids coming in each year, but we never celebrated any theme. I cooked food, the husband was in charge of the games. Everyone in the family would sit around and cheer the kids in their games. In all, we would have a warm, wonderful time.

We may not have the snazziest parties in town, but the truth is that all the children in our society remember the twin’s birth-date. Every year, they look forward to it. A week in advance, they would tentatively ask me if they are invited 😀 . Given the number of kids here, I think it’s an achievement!

So really, the charm isn’t in how much you spend, except maybe in terms of time. A lot depends on the level of involvement you show, the care and effort you take , the personal attention you shower. A bouncy castle or a magician can be found at any amusement park. A party at McDonalds is just another evening out. Little children only remember the generous way in which you stuff their plates with food, the kindness with which everyone is treated and the fairness of judgement when they play. Overall, warmth is all they need. You can keep your money to yourself!
If you haven’t tried an at-home party, try it. Keep it low-key on budget and high-key on enthusiasm. It makes all the difference.  Believe me, your children will love it more.

Noorulayn Syed is a full-time wife, professional, daughter-in-law and an all-time mother (that’s because she wanted to be a mother since she was knee-high). Find more posts on her twins at http://momofrs.wordpress.com

  • well norri, i too had similar kind of dilemma , should i call my office mates or just call the Bunty’s friends.. in the end, i wanted Bunty to feel comfortable and be by herself, wanted to attend her than the elite guest. so i called only her friends, the 3 neighbors on my floor. my mom enjoyed preparing food for her beloved grand daughter and kids enjoyed the most.. Bunty liked it as she was the attraction, everybody gave her gifts that she liked.. :)..
    i am too scared of exposing kids to the other side of world..just throwing away money is not the only way of celebrating..

  • My son turned in September and while I have shared his growing up on social networking sites and through my blog, many friends asked…so what’s happening for V’s birthday? What special plans? We didn’t do anything. Not because it isn’t special for us. It’s the one day in my life that I want to repeat all over again…but then the boy is too young to understand the fuss around the birthday. I wish to keep it till he turns 5, because its a traditional Bengali thing. But I am aware that in the next five years he would be invited for birthday parties. I’m prepared to have a tough time explaining to him why we dont celebrate his birthday…and I am already planning my answers!

  • I also did not throw a party when my son turned one recently. The point is it is his day and he should be the one who must enjoy the most. A one-year old is not made for parties. One year olds have a cycle of feeding-napping-playing going on the whole day, a party just disturbs the whole thing and the child gets cranky! I also somehow want to disassociate the cake and party routine with birthdays or any kind of celebration for that matter. Why are they so sacrosanct these days! I hate any kind of branded merchandise like ben10, dora, disney but recently I found that there was not a single shoe in my son’s size without a cartoon character. Phew, I can go on and on, but the bottomline is there is too much commercialisation and parents need to exercise some restraint. We don’t want our kids to value materials more than people and experiences, do we?

    • Exactly my point Reema.
      We need to teach our children to value people more than things.
      There are plenty of fun ways to celebrate a birthday, a party is just one of them.
      I think till the kids are young, its better to explore the options and let them decide how they would like to celebrate it. What say?

  • your post just reminds me of my mom favorite saying that family learn to love and share when they have very few things and unlimited time for eachother:)

    If I happen to teach this one thing to my daughter…I think I have done my bit..

  • Meera

    I couldn’t agree more with you … It’s seems like the lesser time parents have with kids, the grander the birthday parties are. At the risk of generalizing, parties at home with innovative & interesting games are def more fun. Awesome article!

    • Thanks Meera….I think the best gift we can give the kids is our time.
      And by personal experience(I’m a full-time professional), I can claim that the kids don’t ask for anything else!

  • whew! Thank God I am in the US….I seemed to have escaped all this tamasha!! Event managers for a child’s birthday party!???

  • Loved the post and believe each and every word of it. I’m a mom of an almost 2 year old. Her 1st birthday meant a quiet family vacation and we’re planning to do the same for her second birthday. I know she starts school next year and in a couple of years she would want her friends to come over. I wouldn’t mind that… but I know where to draw a line. Spending a fortune is absolute no-no. As you said, all kids want is to enjoy… and didn’t we enjoy the wonderful get-to-gethers we used to have when we were kids.

    I feel birthdays are becoming as a mode to show-off for parents than anything else.