We’ve just been through birthday season in my household. My older daughter turned 10 a couple of weeks ago, and my younger daughter turned eight last week. Somehow, though, we managed to get through the season without a party. Neither girl really wanted to have a bunch of friends over, though they’re both still regulars on the birthday party circuit with their classmates.
While I’m not a total curmudgeon (though I’ll admit to being something of a Scrooge!), I must admit that I was a bit relieved by the lack of celebration. In our materialist world, birthday parties have gotten totally out of hand, with entertainers costing hundreds of dollars, or thousand-dollar excursions to the American Girl Café in New York seeming to be de rigeur these days. And those goodie bags that are apparently required at the end of every party tend to be filled with nothing but junk that gets played with for a minute or so (if that) then shoved in a drawer for a few months before being dispatched to the nearest landfill. Slate recently posted an interesting story on the topic, written by a mother who has organized “book exchange” parties for her son for several years.
In an e-mail exchange among the Working Parents’ bloggers, Anne wrote that about 80% of the parties in her son’s kindergarten class have been shared (ie: at least 2 birthday kids) and have specified no presents. All of these are great ideas in my book. I don’t want to deny my kids the joy of presents, or the fun of playing with their friends. But I do think that by piling presents on our kids at every occasion, we cheapen the notion of gift-giving. It creates an expectation of receiving among children that I feel is unhealthy.
As BusinessWeek’s Asia Editor, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the factories in China where much of this stuff is created. Obviously, this isn’t something we can blame on China. But the availability of all manner of junk in our society makes it easy and economical to pile on the gifts when what is really needed is more attention given to your kids … time spent reading, playing, or just hanging out. So excuse me while I go see my girls.