This post is also featured on Mamamia.
Disclaimer: I seem to start a lot of my posts with disclaimers. I’m a graduate of the behavioural sciences, so dissecting societal and cultural norms and trying to work out why we do the things we do as a society is a passion of mine, and something I’ve spent years training to do. It’s also the reason why posts like this aren’t directed at specific individuals, and certainly aren’t intended to cast judgement. However, I know from experience that people will take things personally, even when the intent is not to cause offence. I sincerely hope that is not the case.
*dons flame suit*
*takes deep breath*
We need to talk about parties. Kid’s parties have jumped the shark.
I went to a birthday party for a five year old last weekend.
There were plastic bowls filled with corn chips and Allen’s Party Mix. The kids jumped on the trampoline and ate Cheezels off their fingers. There was a ramshackle game of musical chairs that had too many chairs and people waving their iPhones around because the host forgot the music. It took several rounds before any children were even eliminated, and they couldn’t hear the music over all the adult laughter anyway. It was a complete mess. At the end of the party there was a lopsided homemade chocolate cake with rainbow sprinkles on top.
There was no theme. Nothing matched. No-one cared.
Everyone was too busy having fun.
In this age of super-slick birthday parties it felt so exotic, yet so familiar at the same time. It felt like the long-lost parties I attended as a child, the ones where a bowl of chocolate freckles, a bottle of creaming soda, a plate of fairy bread and a sponge cake with sprinkles would elicit squeals of delight. The ones where we’d spend most of the time free-ranging in the backyard, high on sugar and running endless circles around the clothesline like hyperactive kelpies.
It was a refreshing reminder that children don’t need lavish parties to have a good time, and it made me wonder why this trend of stage-managing our kids’ birthdays has become so widespread?
I call them “Pinterest Parties”, those tastefully styled shindigs with mason drinking jars and lolly buffets and massive fondant-covered cakes that look more like rubber props than food. They have themed party games and children’s entertainers and everything is obsessively micro-managed down to the tiniest detail; from the custom bunting down to the washi-taped paddlepop sticks and the type of twine used to tie the party bags.
Kids’ parties seem to be turning into a unique form of self-inflicted torture, with anxious mums fussing over custom cake-toppers, turning mini crossaints into crabs and making rice bubble treats in multiple shades of pink ombre. After hours spent synthesising Elsa’s “Blue-Ice Candy” with a fastidious perfectionism not seen since Walter White cooked up his last batch of blue meth, you might find them manically tying twine around everything, high on food colouring and delirious with party-preparation fatigue.
For every mum who says “I do it because I love it!”, there are others staying up until 3am to make tiny little farm animals out of fondant or carving a pirate ship out of a watermelon because they feel a sense of obligation, or the pressure to impress. It’s a lot of work for a few hours of fun: a lot of time and money spent. I’ve seen host mums spend the entire duration of their child’s party looking so tense and exhausted that the smallest gaffe or party-game malfunction threatened to unravel them. They didn’t look like they were having any fun. They looked like they wanted it to be over.
But WHY do people do this? I don’t think there is a “one-size-fits-all” answer to that question, but I came up with a handful of factors that I think might be influencing this trend, and I would honestly be interested to hear your thoughts. Feel free to correct me. Or tell me to stick it where the rainbow cupcakes don’t shine.
Because it photographs well for social media
We aren’t really that shallow, are we? Countless blog posts, Facebook photo albums, Instagram images, professional photo shoots and Pinterest pins seem to suggest otherwise. Lots of them look more staged and styled than spontaneous.
Because we feel social pressure to conform
Little Saffron had a circus-themed party with a cast of juvenile acrobats and a mobile petting zoo. Thanks a lot, Saffron’s Mum. If I can’t compete with that then Little Hugo is going to think that I don’t love him enough and all the other parents will think I’m a sad loser cheapskate with no sense of imagination or flair.
Because we feel guilty
If there is one thing I have learnt since having children it’s that parents feel a lot of guilt, which we sometimes compensate for with material things. Here son, have a big-ass party because I love you. Don’t believe me? I just paid that awkward-looking clown $100 for two hours work so he could tie a heart-shaped balloon for you.
Because we don’t want to disappoint our kids
I think we underestimate the capacity of children to get excited by simple things. We get the notion so firmly stuck in our over-thinking adult heads that Little Atticus simply must have a genuine cowboy experience for his 1st birthday party, when he’d much rather sit in the corner and slobber on wads of screwed up wrapping paper all afternoon.
Because kids have higher expectations than we did as children
When we were young, it was unsual for children to have a birthday party every year, and it was even more unusual to invite the entire class. Birthday parties were rare treats rather than an expectation. My four year old got invited to more parties last year than I did in my entire youth.
Possibly Most likely because I am an asshole.
Help me understand, wise citizens of the internet.
Have you ever organised a themed-party for your children?
Should I do one next year? LOL.
Linking up with Essentially Jess for IBOT.