I could not imagine my parents forking out the dough it takes to have one of these modern children's birthday parties. I know I wouldn't - even if I had the money. We are getting ready for Cava's birthday party in a couple of weeks, so my wife and I have been looking at our options and weighing costs, pros and cons
Gone are the days of pin the tale on the donkey and homemade cake. Gone are Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines and even Carvel Cakes, to be replaced by cakes that can cost $80 and up.
In a survey, 7 out of 10 parents said that they spend $300 or more on their child's birthday party (Our family tends to come in around $200). 1 in 7 said they spend $1,000 or more. There are those who even spend $10,000 or more. And the younger the child, the more they spend.
A kid's party planner said that the average at-home children's party has a budget of $2,000. It's as if parents want to be like the character John Hammond in Jurassic Park braggingly telling everyone, "I spared no expense."
Parents are spending the kind of money that would be college tuition or even the cost of adopting a child. An example being one family that recently spent $32,000 on their 6 year old daughter's fairy tale birthday to make it "perfect."
And what did the child think?
She threw a tantrum that the bird on the eight-tiered cake was purple and not blue.
But why are the parents doing this?
When asked, many parents claim that they do so because they want their child's day to be "special" and "unique." It is a striving to make their child's birthday better and different from other kid's parties. Susannah Guthrie wrote about this, "Money is spent in an effort to satiate a growing need for differentiation." It's not enough to have someone dressed as a super hero or Disney princess show up. Now one has to rent exotic animals, bands, a portable disco with DJ, a portable arcade, or even an entire amusement park. And it's not just celebrities doing these over-the-top birthdays, either. The upper middle class is fueling an industry that didn't even exist when my oldest son was younger.
That the world revolves around them.
These kids will not only grow up with unrealistic expectations but when the real world doesn't meet up to their Disney World dream one, they are going to complain, "That's not fair!" (Back when I used to interview potential students for college, every one of them, without fail, said that they would make at least $60,000 coming straight out of school).
And what will the response of those around them, such as their bosses, be?
It also encourages consumerism in these kids. They will learn that to be happy one has to acquire more stuff or that to love someone you must give them gifts. All this does is breed more discontentment that feeds into a culture that tells them they must buy bigger, newer, better stuff to be loved, accepted, or attractive.
The question then remains: why do parents do this? What causes them to spend exorbitant amounts of money on a kid's birthday party. Most would say they do it out of love for their children, but love should be extravagant not the amount we spend on them and, too often, people have equated the two as the same thing.
It's no longer just children who come to the birthday parties, but also their parents who accompany them. Do we feel we have to perform to a certain level to be considered a good and loving parent or for these other parents to be impressed by how lavish a party we can throw?
What it comes down to is insecurity in the parents. They feel the need to exhibit to excess in a desire for the approval of not only their children, but those around them.
Too many people believe:
But is that true?
Studies have shown that, compared to our grandparents, we spend more and actually enjoy less. The more we spend, the more we buy, and the more discontent we are. In the magazine American Psychologist, Dr. David G. Meyes (who also wrote a book entitled American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty) stated, "Compared with their grandparents, today's young adults have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology.Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being."
We spend so much time getting and spending, including for birthday parties, that it takes our focus from the very things that can nurture happiness and contentment: such as relationships with family and friends, and our relationship with God. Is it any wonder then that the Bible warns us to "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have. . ." (Hebrews 13:5). That's a slogan you won't hear in any new car ad. Luke 12:15 also tells us to "Take care and be on your guard against covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). This is not what Madison Avenue wants people to believe. Instead, we are innundated with advertisements that are meant to make us feel insecure, envious, lustful, and craving whatever they are selling in the hopes that it will make us happier, sexier, and important. We are tying our self-worth to our monetary worth and our belongings. We are no longer defined by our character but by our consumerism.
In his book The High Price of Materialim, Dr. Tim Kasser found that "when people organize their lives around extrinsic goals such as product acquisition, they report greater unhappiness in relationships, poorer moods, and more psychological problems." Kasser distinguishes "extrinsic goals" as that "which tend to focus on possessions, image, status and receiving rewards and praise" from "intrinsic ones" that "aim at outcomes like personal growth and community connection and are satisfying in and of themselves."
We have replaced community with consumerism. This has caused us to focus on what we lack instead of what we have to offer. Discontentment gnaws away at peace of mind and we attempt to fill that with something we can buy. Our moods become tied to our goods. We are feeding our insecurities with designer birthday cakes. But those goes contrary to what God wants for us. As Paul wrote in Philippians, "Not that I speak from want for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." This goes contrary to our society that tells us we are what we own. They have taken impersonal consumerism and made it not only extremely personal, but defining in a way that our grandparents would be horrified by.
Fear and insecurity fuel our consumerism, including how much we spend on our kid's parties.
The sad thing is, studies have shown that the more materialistic we are as parents, the less nurturing we are to our children. We aren't raising compassionate children, but tiny consumers who believe that their every wish and desire should be satisfied. In her book The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard writes, "Our primary identity has become that of being consumers - not mothers, teachers, or farmers, but consumers. We shop and shop and shop."
Our consumerism is fueling perpetual dissatisfaction. We have everything and are grateful for nothing and we are teaching this to our children. It effects their own self-image as they falsely believe they have to live up to images that are perpetuated by media and the entertainment industry. Consumerism breeds self-hatred in an attempt to measure up to standards that no one can measure up to (not the super models, athletes, actors, singers, etcetera).
Isn't it time we stop, not just for our own well-being and the well-being of our children, but for others?
Francis Chan said, "The concept of downsizing so that others might upgrade is biblical, beautiful and nearly unheard of. We either close the gap or we don't take the words of the Bible seriously."
Our consumerism is heretical. If you don't believe we are responsible for the poor, the downtrodden, the orphan, those in slavery and human trafficking then we have not really read the Scriptures because God does not ask us to take care of them, He demands it. Once we let go of our wants, we will begin to see how freeing life was meant to be.
Instead of being possessed by our possessions, we will be filled with a sense of gratitude and contentment. We can give our children so much more than expensive birthday parties: we can show them that the greatest gains we can have are not related to what we buy but by what we give to others so that we move from consumerism to compassion. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others, competing with others, and start loving others more than we do ourselves. It's not about how lavish the party is, but how lavish the love we give is, not only to our children, but to our community and those around us. Our prison is our preoccupation with our possession, but, as believers, we know that Jesus has broken us from our prisons and our chains.
Mother Teresa once said, "The more you have, the more you are occupied. The less you have, the more free you are."
We need to walk in that freedom.