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Tracy Briggs, Published June 23 2009

Parenting Perspectives: Stop the birthday party insanity

Remember that infomercial a few years ago where that woman with the spiky blonde hair screamed at us to “Stop the Insanity!” She was talking about dieting. But I think it could apply to children’s birthday parties.

I read a recent report that showed parents are NOT scaling back on their children’s birthday parties because of the recession. For example, one California woman spent $6,000 dollars on a

pony-themed party for her 5-year-old daughter, complete with rented ponies, a pony-themed bounce house, magicians and merry-go-rounds.

Whatever happened to “My Little Pony” paper plates?

We just got through birthday party season at my house. And while my daughters don’t expect Pony Princess Galas, they have come to expect more than I ever did. I recently ran across a Polaroid of a birthday party I had in the ’70s. There we sat in our bell-bottoms and Marcia Brady hair, grinning from ear to ear, high on sugar frosting and Hawaiian Punch. The Twister mat lay behind us and Pin the Tail on the Donkey was taped to the wall. Kids these days have come to expect so much more from their birthday parties. We take them places. To hotel swimming pools, the circus, the zoo, gymnastics venues, pottery stores or roller rinks. Not a donkey or tail in sight.

This year, my daughter wanted to do a movie party. She got the idea from a friend of hers who had just shown “High School Musical 3” at her party. I was kind of excited because this didn’t seem that extravagant. A little popcorn and cake, stick a movie in the DVD player, no big deal. My heart sunk a little when my daughter told me how neat it was that the movie was projected onto the wall like a “real theater” while she showed me her backstage pass and her painted face.

Oh no. The stakes were raised.

Fortunately, before I panicked too much, I ran into the birthday girl’s mom and she talked me through how to do all of this easily and inexpensively. Crisis averted. After figuring out how to set up our mini-multiplex, our biggest problem became keeping the guest list down. My daughter wanted to invite just about everybody who has ever crossed her path. I think she might be running for Congress. Still, I don’t think we went too crazy.

Of course, if we as parents think we’re going overboard on our children’s birthday parties, we only have ourselves to blame. We can say “no.”

I admire one friend of mine who chooses not to give her children birthday parties every year because she doesn’t think it’s necessary.

Of course, now she has to deal with her 7-year-old son who claims he can’t always remember his date of birth because his mom doesn’t let him have a party every year. It’s always something.

Obviously, the temptation is there to give our kids the best and the most. We want to do that for those we love. What’s better than seeing your child’s eyes light up? It’s like a drug. And it’s not just birthday parties.

Kids are getting picked up in limousines from the last day of kindergarten and girls are spending more on prom than many of us spent on our weddings. It’s too much too soon. I worry children of this generation are being set up for some big disappointments in the future. They expect to be given so much for doing nothing. How will that go over at their first job?

It might not be easy to dial down the “wow” factor of our kids’ birthday parties. But it makes sense for our bank accounts, stress levels and kids’ futures. Stop the insanity.

Remember my daughter’s “Movie Theater Extravaganza Party?” Well, after about 20 minutes, the girls tired of watching the movie in glorious surround sound. Instead, they found their way to the living room and started playing “Twister.” No kidding. Just like we did 35 years ago. Maybe, next year I’ll see how Pin the Tail on the Donkey goes over.

Briggs is a mother of two and a personality for WDAY AM 970