Childrearing

Cupcake Competitions: Extravagant Birthday Parties Are Mean

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Just before the local school let out a few weeks ago, a little girl asked if her mother could bring in cupcakes for her birthday that would actually occur later that summer. Permission was granted. The other children with summer birthdays went home and told their mothers about the first girl’s plan. And so on the last day of school, the little girl’s mother brought in some beautiful homemade cupcakes for the girl to share.

Another mother also brought in cupcakes for her son’s summer birthday. Except her cupcakes were the $5-a-pop type with the sky-high frosting that you can buy at the local cupcake bakery.

Now, it turned out that the kids loved the homemade goods just as much as the fancy ones. But the fact that I — who don’t even have children in school yet — heard about this event illuminates another truth about birthday parties: These over-the-top birthday parties are actually quite mean, aren’t they! The neighbors were talking about this unsavory move from a mom who also has a reputation for, shall we say, making a point of highlighting her material positions.

I’m on record as questioning some of the messages extravagant birthdays send to the guest of honor. Focusing too much on your children over yourself or your spouse can kind of confuse a kid. And for others, throwing money instead of time at a child is also problematic. What happens when your little princess grows up and she doesn’t get a pony, fancy bag and guest musical appearance every year on her birthday? She’s going to be one sad adult, right?

But leaving all of that aside, aren’t these extravagant birthdays sometimes just a way to flaunt your wealth in a most unsavory fashion? I have absolutely nothing against — and in fact, could speak eloquently in favor of — buying your kids’ classroom treats over making them. I’m busy, I get it. But sometimes the way we handle these birthday celebrations are really just one giant “We are doing better than you” type party.

Something tells me the cupcake extravaganza will not be the end of this boy’s birthday celebration. And I’m sure the mother is mostly just thinking about her boy and how she wants him to feel special on his special day. I’ve heard about other local mothers spending thousands of dollars on their kids’ b-day throwdown. Many other mothers, in fact. It’s somewhat common here.

Obviously other children are invited to these festivals. Heck, my sister is in a constant state of birthday-party-chauffeuring for her three little ones. So the other kids attend and then what happens? They come home and are downright disappointed by their meager haul or simple celebration.

One of my friends doesn’t purchase anything for her children on their birthdays. But she does make them a very special cake in whatever shape they desire. The kids flip out. Let’s say they get invited to one of these parties where a celebrity performs and horses are brought in and a special light machine is setting the mood or whatever happens. What then?

Unless you’re so insecure that you need to flaunt however much money you’re bringing home, keep it modest, people. Ideally your kid’s birthday party shouldn’t be an indicator of your economic success.

Nice invitations are great. Don’t make them “too too” as I like to say. Purchased entertainment is overrated. Kids will go to town with an old cardboard box and some crayons. You don’t actually need a moonbounce-slash-water-park extravaganza. You don’t. A professional face painter is not needed. Get a local neighbor kid from the theater department and slip her a $20, if you must. Or smear the paint on yourself.

Keep the menu simple. Make it nice if you must, but simple. All of it will be completely wasted on the kids and half the parents will be too frazzled to appreciate it anyway.

And tone down the guest list, perhaps? A birthday party with three or four friends is actually quite awesome and helps your kids identify who they want to spend their time with.

I guess what I’m saying is, your kid’s birthday party isn’t all about you. Don’t make it become all about you. And it’s not even all about your kid. It’s just a slightly nicer day out of the year. Go ahead, make him feel special. But tone it down for his sake, your sake and the sake of your neighbors and friends.

(photo: clevercupcakes)