I’m a party pooper. There’s no better way to define my general bad attitude about birthday parties, many of which I find too fussy, too commercial, and too expensive. More often than not the child in the center of the celebration is either bored or overwhelmed. Sometimes both. And these observations arise from the parties I’ve hosted for my own children, not only the ones we’ve attended as guests.
Each year I’ve scaled our parties back considerably. I’ve experimented with parties at home, parties with no gifts at all, and parties where I suggested a nonprofit organization to which parents could contribute in lieu of gifts. However, as the “in lieu of gifts” maneuver is gaining popularity, I’m finding the idea increasingly preachy and presumptuous and maybe even self-righteous. So now I’m back to letting the kids get gifts. After all, allowing a child one day to get spoiled is not the worst thing—that is, unless the parent has confused that child’s birthday guest list with her wedding day. In which case, yes, gifts are a problem.
The good news is that the gift issue no longer bothers me now that we’ve stopped—brace yourselves—inviting the entire class to our kids’ parties. We’re down to a handful of friends and it’s so much more manageable and dare I say, enjoyable, for everyone. Nevertheless, there’s one party tradition I can’t seem to squash and it’s the one that bothers me most of all because it makes the least sense. Party favors.
Why in the name of all that’s sensible are we parents perpetuating this worthless tradition of handing out junk at the end of a party? A party that we’ve already graciously hosted no less. When did the party itself not become favor enough?
I can understand the purpose of party favors in certain situations. At a wedding, for example, when many guests have travelled far and incurred expenses to do so, then perhaps a pretty little bag of mints at each place setting adds a touch of gratitude on behalf of the bride and groom.
But if I’ve spent money to take my son and some of his friends to our local indoor trampoline park of terrors where they were happily entertained for an hour and a half then fed pizza and cake, why must those kids also leave with a present? Isn’t it my son’s birthday we’re celebrating? Wasn’t the party something of an experiential “gift” to the guests?
But party favors teach kids to think about others, you might say.
See, I doubt that. I think we’re teaching kids—the guests—to forget about the reason they’re at these parties in the first place, which is to celebrate someone else. It reminds me of the idea that everyone on a team needs to receive a trophy instead of celebrating a few players who made big strides that year. It’s as if we can’t let one person feel good unless everyone feels good.
One of my daughters has a bad habit of discussing the goodie bag she hopes to receive the second she opens an invitation. “How about we think about a creative gift for your friend?” I’ll suggest. Somehow I’ve failed to impart on her that these parties are about celebrating other people and when it’s her birthday, we’ll celebrate her. This is ultimately why I came around on the birthday gift issue. I like the idea of giving each child (not just mine, but everyone’s) an opportunity to celebrate his or her one special day. Why do all the children need to receive a token gift at all the parties? And my issue is not simply that most party favors are plastic bags full of junk. My kids have also returned from parties with some seriously overpriced parting gifts, but that’s more of a “keeping up with the Jones” issue.
Let me illustrate my point with the worst call I’ve ever made vis-a-vis birthday parties. Once upon a time (two years ago), before I saw the light on small parties, I let my daughter and her friend persuade me to host their joint-birthday party at Build-a-Bear. Since we were splitting the party with another family, I did not think it was the worst idea ever. As it turns out, it was the worst idea ever for numerous logistical and economical reasons. But the lowest point occurred when a few of the kids asked for their party favors before they would leave the store with their parents. These kids could not see that the bears were the party favor.
Kids are accustomed to doing an entertaining project of some kind at a party or being treated to a few hours of fun and still leaving with something else. They are used to taking the focus off of the child whose birthday they’re celebrating and thinking about what they’re getting in return.
I don’t like it—any of it. And although I know there are other parents who cannot stand the junk that comes home from these parties, I suppose I’ll have to be the first in my circles who will finally let the party end with “thanks for coming” and a friendly wave goodbye. The revolution has to start somewhere.
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