Five Signs Your Kid’s Birthday Party is Over the Top

I’m probably about to forever ruin my son’s chances of ever again being invited to birthday parties for writing this post, but I need to get something off my chest.

I have a love/hate relationship with birthday parties, including the ones I’ve thrown for my kid.

On the one hand, it’s easy weekend entertainment for my singleton tot, D2, who is five.

When you have an only child you tend to rely on play dates and parties for weekend socialization.

It’s only February though and we’ve already gone to five birthday parties.

I’m burned out.

Judging from the other parents I’ve talked to, we are all sick of birthday parties.

We are tired of throwing them.

We are tired of going to them (unless there is an open bar).

What makes the birthday party death march even worse is the increasing rampant excess.

It really hit home for me when my mom came with me to the birthday party of one of D2’s friends.

I’d become so anesthetized to how crazy these parties had become I barely noticed anymore until my mom pointed it out.

This one was at our local science museum. There had to be thirty kids there with their parents.  A table was groaning under the weight of a mountain of presents.

There were three STEM-themed craft stations, a clown followed by a catered Chik-fil-A lunch and a live appearance of the Chik-fil-A Cow who did photo ops with all of the kids.

Two hours later we were handed a goody bag and made our departure.

What about opening the presents? My mom asked.

I explained that no one opens gifts at birthday parties any more for practical and social reasons.

The practical reason being there are just too many presents and it would take a long time to open them all in front of a bunch of pre-schoolers jacked up on sugar.

The social reason being that it would be awkward for some parents who might not have spent much on a gift.

Cue disapproving stare from my mother.

Well, do people at least send thank you notes? 

I tell her sometimes but not usually.


Let’s reminisce for a minute, shall we?

Do you remember when a birthday party used to be pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, maybe a clown followed by cake and ice cream? You’d open the presents and then everyone went home.

Not so much anymore.


If we parents stick together we can change the alarming trend of over-the-top birthday parties.

After having now attended dozens of birthday parties over the last few years, I’ve compiled a short list for how to know if your kid’s birthday party is spiraling out of control.

Consider this your early warning system:

Your invitation includes a gift registry or wish list of your tot’s most desired toys.
No. No. No. No. NO. NOPE! Don’t do it. You risk making yourself the laughing stock of the AM school drop off group and the topic of numerous withering Facebook posts. One mom explained to me that she preferred wish lists so that she knew what to buy and was assured that the birthday tyke would like the gift. I get the practicality of this. I just think it’s hard to pull of without looking tacky and making your kid look greedy. Thankfully, I’ve not seen this too often so clearly other parents agree with me on this one.

You are freaking out about what to put in the goody bags.
I don’t understand this trend. It’s un-necessary and only contributes to giving my kid more crap he doesn’t need.  Besides, you’ve just shelled out $500 bucks or more for an entertaining venue, lunch, snacks and cake. In exchange your kid has received a present. Do kids really need goody bags? I think not. Can we make a parent blood pact and do away with goody bags forever?

You are frantically searching Pinterest for a birthday party theme that hasn’t been used yet
because you’ve already been to Frozen, Cinderella, Lego, Planes, Doc McStuffins, Transformer, Young Scientist, Jungle, Fire Truck, Sponge-Bob, Bubble Guppies, and Jake and the Pirates-themed parties. Planning a birthday party used to be just about balloons and coordinated plates and napkins. Now it’s practically a necessity to be a professional event planner. I fell into this trap last fall when I planned D2’s cooking-themed party at our home and nearly had a nervous breakdown. Never again.

Your kid has received so many presents he’ll be a teenager before he has time to play with them all.
This one really gets me. The amount of presents kids now get for birthdays is over the top.  This is partially because of the accepted norm of inviting an entire class to the birthday rather than just close friends.  One cool trend I am starting to see is parents asking for donations to a favorite charity instead of gifts.  We recently attended a birthday party for one of D2’s classmates who collected food for our local Humane Society.  I love this idea because it teaches children about philanthropy, sacrifice and caring for others.

You’re contemplating suing the parents whose kids are no-shows.
I understand your rage. In this day and age of Evite and Paperless Post, there is no excuse for not RSVP’ing.  It’s easy. It takes five freaking seconds. Still some parents still don’t do it. At D2’s fourth birthday party, only a 1/3 of the people we invited responded one way or another. It’s irritating as hell. But don’t take it too far.  One UK mom made international news when she sent a $24 bill to a little boy who was a no-show to her son’s ski-themed birthday party. The child’s dad tried to reason with the mom but she wouldn’t budge and  threatened to take the family to small claims court to collect the money. This mom needs to chill.

Don’t get me wrong. Birthdays are special and deserve to be celebrated with fanfare, cake and (yes) even a few gifts.

I’ve thrown D2 two parties and while he had a blast, I think he would have been just as happy inviting a few friends over for lunch and playing games.

I spent way too much and was far too stressed out during the planning.

D2 is  growing up far more privileged than either Dr. D. or I did and we don’t want him to have a sense of entitlement. So we resolved to keeping his future birthday get togethers very small.

So what do you think? Am I overreacting? Do you think kids’ birthday parties becoming too elaborate and expensive? Let me know what you think in the comments.


Showing 7 comments
  • Gina

    As 6 is the magical age in Germany, I feel with you. Katie’s B day is coming up. and we are soooo busy with work and house building, i simply don’t have the mental resources to organize a party. Not to mention having a bunch of maniac 4/5/6year olds wreak havoc at home. and clean up (!) afterwards. No way.

    I succumbed to paying for my lack of time – we go out to a fairytale park. Kids will entertain themselves, all we have to do is bring cake and ensure they don’t kill themselves or each other within the 5 hours or so that we are there. and get them home again.
    Easy…worry-free…and just what kids want.

    BTW – we have a rule in Germany saying that you can always invite as many people to your party as you get old in years. Meaning for your 5th birthday, you can have 5 guests. or 6 for your 6th. That makes that whole party thing so much more doable. and because of that rule being very well known and followed, you also don’t need to reciprocate invites… your kid has to choose carefully and it’s ok not to invite those who invited you.

    Best wishes,

    • Boss Mom

      Gina, I love the idea of having the same number of children as the age of your child. I wish that were more of a tradition here. Also, I’m a big fan now of the “outside” (meaning, not at my house) birthday party. Truthfully, I naively thought it would be less work and cheaper to do the party at home but it turned out to be just as expensive and waaaaay more work. Lesson learned!

  • MomOfFour

    I know I’m late but happened upon your post and was reminded of the latest birthday party we attended. The child was turning … well let’s just say she is a toddler,aged 5. There was over 50 guest maybe 10 were actually children. Weeks, or was it months, went into the planning. Let’s just say many were recruited, willing or not, to help over extended periods of days. So of course you were a captive audience to hear how much money was spend on each category of the event. In all $800 was spent to which it had the opposite effect on me – I was not impressed, rather is was insulted. There was NO entertainment, just decorations and food, not that entertainment is required. That being said they ran out of food, but they didn’t see it that way – they felt since there were no leftovers that they did a great job in serving their guest many of which did not eat anyrhing. Who invites that many people who rarely see the child if at all then purchases one tub of macaroni salad a few bags of chips some dogs and burgers and calls it good?

    The child did not interact with her guests, constantly pulled toys away from the kids and mostly sat in mommy’s lap. Well, I guess she really does not have any friends so she has no social skills at all.

    She did open her presents in front of her guests and to my shock one parent was blasted for the gift they puchased in front of all the guests. Apparently the gift was not the exact doll she asked for. Very uncomfortable for all who attended. The gifts were put up so she could later enjoy them. They are still “put up” eight months after her party, never have been touched by a humans hand. I could have spent that $40 on my own children who have very little compared to this spoiled brat (sorry now I am venting). To end the party we had to make a big scene about an expensive trip they would be taking their little snowflake on to which I had to explain to my four little ones when they asked if I could please take them there as well that maybe we could spend the weekend at Nanas house as they are still too young to understand that mommy barely can pay the rent, utilities and still have money to feed them. After they went to bed I cried myself to sleep for thinking I disappointed them.

    The next morning, they reminded me just how special our little family is by planning our trip to Nanas house (which lives only 20 minutes away) planning the board games we would play, the park we would walk to and all their imaginary games that they have so cleverly created over the years. So I guess when all was said and done I really didn’t diappoint them at all. We did go to Nanas the next weekend from which they take away many loving memories I hope they will cherish for a lifetime.

    As far as little snowflake, her magical trip has never happened. But party plans are already underway for snowflakes next party with the statement that they will have alot of work to do to one-up little snowflakes last party. Will my children and I be attending this GALA event you may be asking … heck no, we have a date with Nana and we will be selfish and spend that $40 on ourselves. Oh my gosh I must sound like a horrible mother but thank you for allowing me to share our experience.


    • Boss Mom

      Hi, Mom of Four! All I can say is, “Wow”. WOW. First thanks so much for sharing your experience. I wish I could say I was surprised but I’m not. It’s out of control. Each time I think I’ve heard it all someone tops it! On the bright side, I do think parents are starting to realize how crazy the birthday party racket has become. As it turns out, we didn’t do a birthday party for my son’s sixth this past year. We had a family friend visiting and so he helped my son make a three-layer birthday cake (at my son’s request) and we went out to pizza at his favorite spot – just the four of us. And you know what? He was as happy as a clam! Just goes to show you that sometimes these parties are more about us as parents than our kids. Thanks for sharing and happy New Year to you and your bunch!

  • Daniel

    I just did a kids birthday party. It was over the top insane. They spent over $200,000.00 on a kids party. Check out my facebook fan page to see photos of some of the over the top events I’ve done.

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