I recently heard about a 5-year old boy in the U.K. who failed to attend a party hosted by a school friend at a local ski park. A few days after the party, he brought home an invoice for roughly $25 from the hosting family who felt it appropriate to request a no-show fee to help defray the cost of the party.
I had a hard time wrapping my head around the perspective of the family who was compelled to send such a bill, so I read the full story which then led me to stories about expensive children’s parties, including a story about some Minnesota parents who rented a bar for a princess-themed birthday party for their little girl. The guests were picked up in limos and taken to the party where there was live music and champagne for the adults.
The last children’s birthday party I attended was a simple affair hosted by my funny and feisty daughter and her equally funny and feisty husband. They have two kids with birthdays 6 days apart (in December of all months), and just didn’t have it in them to throw two parties in the same week. So they combined the celebrations into one raucous afternoon affair. There was no petting zoo , lunch buffet, or Disney-themed cake. Just a bunch of kids playing with reckless abandon at a local park, a store-bought piñata, cupcakes (at the request of the birthday girl), donuts (at the request of the birthday boy), and a few brave supervising adults to ensure that the parents of the party revelers would pick up their children at the stroke of 3:00 p.m. in somewhat the same condition as when they were dropped off –except a little dirtier and amped up on butter-cream frosting.
Not long before the December birthday bash, I had attended a birthday party that my beautiful and sweet daughter-in-law hosted with the help of her very crafty neighbor. It was an Alice in Wonderland tea party with a dozen little girls all dressed up, drinking tea from bone china cups and lunching on strawberries and scones. As they arrived, each little girl crafted an adorable hat made from toilet paper rolls that my daughter-in-law had snatched from the waste baskets of friends, and there was a photo booth crafted from a brightly painted picture frame. It was a triumph.
Which did the kids prefer?
Which gave them more joy?
Which, when they are in their 40’s will the kids look back on more fondly?
The kids had exactly the same amount of fun and, while we adults will remember every detail, the kids will likely forget the particulars of both parties before their graduation from grade school.
Birthday parties should be tempered to reflect the means, talents, and temperaments of the families that host them. What’s so wonderful about the parties for my grandkids is that they were the perfect reflection of the children whose birthdays were being celebrated and the moms (and dads) that lovingly hosted them.
With Christmas around the corner and two birthdays on the horizon, my daughter kept it simple, banking on the fact that the kids would have fun if she provided a space to run and some sweet treats to eat. My daughter-in-law took advantage of beautiful spring weather, a very girly daughter, and a neighbor whose skills rival those of Martha Stewart to host a party filled with beauty and whimsy.
So, going back to the story about the little boy who was billed for failing to attend his friend’s birthday party and the trend toward parties that stretch our skill sets and bust our budgets…What’s that all about?
Apparently, it has to do, in part, with what our parents (or grandparents) called “keeping up with the Joneses”. According to Cornell Professor Robert H Frank there is a modern-day corollary to this popular idiom which is referred to as “expenditure cascade”. According to Dr. Frank, this is where one group’s spending redefines the spending standards for people just below them on the income scale. In lay terms, it means we’re happy with what we’ve got until we see something that has been purchased by someone whose income is just a skoosh above our own. We now embrace a new standard and can’t be content with what we were so happy with before. This principle applies to our clothes, our cars, our homes…and our parenting.
Practically applied, here is how it works. We attend the birthday party of a friend whose income level, artistry, and enthusiasm are suitable to produce tie-dyed t-shirts for party guests, create movie-set-caliber decorations, provide abundant prizes for the victors of multiple party games, and construct a cake that rivals those created by French pastry chefs.
We now become insecure about the simple party we had planned for our own child, which was to feature store-bought cupcakes and Dollar-Store gift bags. In a panic, we abandon these plans and, despite the fact that we don’t have the money, the time, the passion, or the skill set, we attempt to create a party that will, at least in some small way, meet this new standard. As weeks of begrudging toil come to an end and party day has drawn to a close, we’re in a state of exhaustion, sporting a serious case of buyer’s remorse, and barely speaking to our husbands who are completely incapable of grasping just how hard we’ve worked to pull off a respectable party for our beloved offspring.
Don’t get me wrong. I tip my hat to those of you who can enjoy both the planning and the hosting of beautifully planned parties with special features that delight children. I admire your ability to wade through thousands of Pinterest posts, choose one that speaks to you, and actually recreate what you see there. For the rest of us, these birthday extravaganzas are nothing but a throw-down; an invitation to fight a battle we just can’t win.
So how do we avoid unproductive comparisons and find our way back to reasonable expectations? As always, Scripture is a good place to start.
“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well…” (NLT)
We are meant to be a great big family with each of us providing something of irreplaceable value to the whole. Some of us are incredibly artistic; creators of beautiful music, and art, and poetry that add whimsy and beauty to our lives. Others of us are gifted organizers; planners, and problem-solvers that provide structure to all that beauty.
Each of God’s natural and Spiritual gifts is good, conferred on us with deliberate intention, a part of God’s divine design. Our gifts aren’t intended to be used as a means to measure ourselves against one another, but rather to be celebrated, appreciated, and used for the good of all.
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NLT)
So, let’s stop the comparisons already. Let’s learn to enjoy the gifts we have and truly appreciate the gifts that others bring to the party (no pun intended).
As the 19th Century humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw once said “Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope.” Let’s share the longer, less narrow view of ourselves and of one-another.
Let’s learn to be real about our gifts, and our finances, and our kids. Let’s celebrate one another’s achievements while unashamedly sharing our shortcomings. Frankly, people who cheerfully reveal their flaws have more friends. Perfect people are simply too hard to spend time with.
I leave you with this quote from New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover…
“This thing about you that you think is your flaw – it’s the reason I’m falling in love with you.”