Rich people and influencers are absolutely destroying the concept of a kid’s birthday party
If you’re a parent with an Instagram account, you probably follow some celebrity or influencer parents, just by nature of the beast. You may have noticed over the last few years that children’s birthday parties are taking on the extreme planning and expense usually reserved for landmark milestones like weddings or… weddings.
“It used to be that over-the-top was looked down upon, but now over-the-top is applauded,” Leesa Zelken, the founder of Send in the Clowns, a party-planning service in Los Angeles, told the New York Times. The recent NYT article uncovered the extent to which Los Angeleno parents are going to make their kids feel extra special on their special days. And it’s pretty ridiculous. Zelken tells the NYT that her packages for children’s parties start at $14,500. “For an event that I just booked, we’re doing furniture rentals, a performer, a glitter tattoo station, a craft station, a pancake artist, a party manager, and a lifeguard—because there’s a pool and we need to make sure no one falls in,” she said. “That’s a very midsize party.”
If you follow any of the Kardashians, you know this isn’t an exaggeration. One of the most recent parties they hosted was for Khloe’s daughter True’s fifth birthday. Apparently, this child likes The Octonauts. There were performers dressed as the Octonauts, actual stingrays, a dessert station that dreams are made of, and an elaborate balloon-arched entryway. Khloe shared the celebration in her Instagram stories.
Imagine being a part of this friend group (I realize that’s a stretch; just pretend you somehow scored an invite.) How do you follow up a party like this with a sleepover and Netflix?
The bash followed in the outrageous footsteps of Khloe’s other sisters. Kim’s eldest, North, turned nine last summer, and she and a group of friends took a trip any adult would covet. Guests (including Jessica Simpson’s daughters) took a cashmere-lined private jet to Wyoming for a getaway that included ropes courses and rafting. The kids got their own private indoor tents.
Yes, these are celebrities and rich Los Angeles parents, but the excessive planning and expense are leaking into the mainstream, too. A 2013 study found moms were facing increasing birthday “DIY” stress to make their child’s parties as extravagant as possible. But the thing about this “stress” is that we have the power to dial it back whenever we want.
In my childhood, every birthday party followed the same itinerary: a group of kids would come over, we’d play some games, we’d watch some present opening, we’d eat some cake, and we’d leave. If we were lucky, maybe someone’s mom would invite us all to a roller rink for a few hours. And it didn’t matter where we were, we were just thrilled to be together.
If we don’t start to course-correct ASAP, we risk children everywhere thinking this type of spectacle is the norm. And yes, we normies obviously aren’t inviting the Octonauts over for a birthday bash and buying balloon sculptures that cost more than our first car. But the act of going over the top (whatever that means for our budgets) is what may be convincing our kids they need a ticker tape parade for existing. Or that these outlandish events are something they can expect, in smaller form, from their own parents.
I am a parent who delights in being “okayish,” and even I fell victim to the extravagant party trend once. For my daughter’s sixth birthday, I decided to go for a princess theme. We rented out a place that had “princess makeovers”—little salon seats where the girls got their nails and makeup done. Then women dressed like Disney princesses galavanted around the room and took pictures with everyone. There was a perfect tier of cupcakes with little tiaras sitting atop each one. Did the girls have fun? Yes! Did they also have fun the following year, when we scaled everything back and had a low-key sleepover? Yes!
The expense, the stress, the planning—we’re doing too much. There are so many ways to chill out and let our kids have fun. Have you ever given a tween a roll of quarters at an arcade? They’re in heaven. Have you ever thrown a bag of cheap drugstore makeup at some nine-year-olds? There was a game that made the rounds at every birthday I went to during my ’80s childhood, which involved sitting on a balloon until it popped. The glee! The sheer horror! The loud noise! Children are simple, really.
If you ever find yourself planning a pizza party in your backyard only to suddenly wonder should I be doing more?—the answer is no. No, you shouldn’t. The best part of a birthday party is the togetherness and joy it brings, and regardless of how many ridiculous parties we witness on social media, nothing will change that.