Have parents gone too far with over-the-top birthday parties?

What’s the story these days with all the extravagant birthday parties given even for very young children? I‘ve recently been hearing about many of these parties, usually held in public places like those tumbling gyms, water parks, zoos, museums and amusement parks.

Parents invite many, many children, along with their parents. Fancy appetizers and full bar is served to the parents, along with children’s food and birthday cake for the young attendees. The gifts to the birthday child are overwhelming and the goodie bags the guests take home are equally, if not more, lavish.

I know of a child turning 2 whose parents invited 18 children and their parents to one of those gymnastics centers. The kids all ran around while the parents had drinks and schmoozed. It’s a lucky thing none of the children were hurt. This child, who has a late November birthday, then received 18 gifts, right before the holidays. Overkill, if you ask me.

Another 3-year-old child I know had a “princess birthday” with a tent castle set up for all the little girls and boys to “dine” in.

They were to sit down and eat royal food (chicken nuggets?) while a magician and juggler performed for them. Three-year-olds sitting down? Again, there were many extravagant gifts and parents eating and drinking to celebrate.

I think back on my birthday parties, which consisted of a few girls coming over (one per year of age, I think) for games in the backyard.

There was drop the clothespin in the bottle and pin the tail on the donkey, with ice cream and cake. The kids were dropped off, only my parents were there. OK, I know I’m dating myself, but these parties were fun!

With my own kids, we had scavenger hunts and relay races where you had to run to a chair and sit on a balloon to pop it. Prizes were given to all, and cake and ice cream were served. All the parties were at home and no other parents stayed.

Why this shift to such opulence? Is this another status symbol for parents? Another competition? The bigger, the more expensive, the more generous the better? What unnecessary pressure for parents who already have enough stress on them.

What about the children? What are they learning here? Are they having any fun? Is the party for them or for their parents?

I find it interesting in this time of economic challenge for so many people that this practice is occurring. How about gifts to charity instead of to a child who probably already has everything he or she needs?

How about a simple party favor for each child guest, but not bulging bags of toys, personalized lunch boxes, costume jewelry and princess makeup kits I’ve been hearing about? Gift bags for Oscar nominees, or for 2- and 3-year-olds to take home?

What about the ecological consciousness of cutting back on things?

Are events only fun if you get something from them?

How we celebrate says lots to our kids. How we do everything models for them a way of life and the values and principles that go with it.

Our best memories are usually of something simple and meaningful. Once again, let’s think of the children first.

Martha McClellan has been an early care child educator, director and administrator for 36 years. She currently has an early childhood consulting business, supporting child care centers and families. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.