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Children's Birthday Parties Under Scrutiny

Updated on May 13, 2017

The truth behind extravagant children birthday parties

Since I became a grandmother in 2004, I have noticed that the birthday parties of babies, toddlers and pre-school children are much more extravagant as when I was a young mother. Although the same things are still on the menu - a birthday cake, red and green soft drinks, all sorts of candy, potato chips (crisps), popcorn and ‘lucky dips’ - all of the rest have changed.

To name but only a few of the changes I regard as 'extravagant':

  • The most extraordinary invitations;
  • Balloons filled with helium all over the venue;
  • Extraordinary large and wacky cakes;
  • A theme with matching table cloths, serviettes, plates, cups, glasses, and what-have-yous;
  • Jumping castles, swings and slides, all hired at great expense;
  • A funky venue - anywhere, but the child's own home.

Why do mothers, supported by their husbands, put so much effort and money into the birthdays of their children, while the children are not even old enough to appreciate all of it?

"Because we love our children!" I've been told.


The birthday parties I have under scrutiny have nothing to do with the love a mother has for her child, but rather with the love she has for herself. The truth is as clear as daylight: Mothers of today are competing against each other, each one with the hope that she will be admired and regarded as the 'Best Loving Mother'.

Have I said something wrong?

Let me compare today's birthday parties to those of 'my time'.


In my time -

  • We did not invite the grandparents; we knew they would turn up.
  • We did not invite the uncles and the aunties and the cousins. All of them knew they were welcome to pop in for a piece of cake, and we would accept their absence without any hullabaloo.
  • We did not invite our personal friends, except when their children were the same age as ours.
  • We invited the friends of our children and their parents personally, and even via a telephone call, as they were usually our neighbors. (Nursery schools and pre-primary schools were still a new concept, and only attended by the children of working mothers.)

Of course, the family's tradition was still practiced: The person celebrating their birthday, whether baby, child or adult, was awakened with the 'Happy Birthday" song, sung by the entire family living under the same roof as the birthday person. Besides gifts, the person celebrating their birthday got breakfast served in bed, or at least a piece of cake. A party in the afternoon, evening, or coming Saturday, would be on the agenda, but nothing out of the ordinary. (If there was a special party during a person's childhood, it would have been on their 16th birthday. A formal 21st birthday party went without saying.

In the current milieu -

Every single guest receives a most creative invitation in writing with a RSVP date, delivered by hand or electronically via e-mail or cell phone.


In my time -

The theme of a toddler/child's birthday party was "balloons". There were many colorful balloons to be played with until they burst. The birthday cake was the shape of the child's age, and the appropriate number of candles were on it to be blown out by the child. Only the most creative mothers surprised their kids with a cake that looked like a Walt Disney character.

In the current milieu -

The cake and all paraphernalia have to communicate a particular theme: Dalmatian dogs, crocodiles, angels, sponge pops, flowers, cats, and so forth. Balloons have to be filled with helium in order to display the chosen theme. Even the guests, and especially the children, have to wear whatever compliments the theme.

Fortunately mothers come to their senses

By the time the oldest child turns seven, most mothers of today come to their senses and realize that they were on an ego trip for almost seven years. From here on their children are allowed to decide what they want to do with whom on their special day of the year. Most mothers are surprised, as their children don't want expensive and extravagant birthday parties. Their only desire is to spend time with their favorite friends, and this could be as humble as watching a movie in the local theater and/or having a milkshake in a local restaurant. They are even willing to have a birthday without a party as long as they receive the gift of their choice.

The birthday parties of my own grandchildren

I must admit that my daughter and daughter-in-law never competed against each other and their friends for the 'Best Loving Mother' award. Their only intention was to create an opportunity for their children to enjoy their special day of the year with family and friends.





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    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Hi Sunshine, oh, what do we know? But I remember my mother had the same kind of complaints about parties for kids when I organised my children's.

      People develop all the time... I wonder what will it be like 10-20-30 years from now?

      Thank you so much for your insightful and profound comment, and for making my birthday so special and enjoyable - a never-to-be forgotten memory... :)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      My daughters favorite birthday party memories were sleepover parties. They were fun, cheap and easy (that doesn't sound right, but you know what I mean!) The kids had a blast, ate pizza and stayed awake all night.

      Parties that my daughter has for my granddaughter and a bit more pricier and I advice her that a party doesn't have to be extravagant, but what do I know? If a child is turning 3 they should have 3 guests, a 5 yr old should have 5 guests etc...but Faith has tons of mini friends:)

      Needless to say the parties are always a success! My stepdaughter just had her twins first birthday party which was for grandparents dogs on the grill. We had a blast. To each his own!:)

      Birthdays should be FUN no matter what AGE you are! We should all have a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!:))

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you, emilybee :)

    • emilybee profile image


      7 years ago

      Great hub and nice photos, too! Voted up!

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      marcoujor – My children and grandchildren are the centre of my universe, although I am living my own life and actually a bit reserved. My daughter is living right next to me, but I am not part of her family – I am on my own – independent mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, friend and neighbor. Besides the latter I am the same to my son and his family who lives 3 hours away from me. Sometimes my daughter (of 38) complains – she ‘feels’ I am not as close as she wants me to be. Then I must remind her that I am not her Siamese twin.

      Thanks for hopping in, Maria. Can I offer you an ice cream and soda, and what about some cub-cakes and lollipops :)))

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Martie,

      Just felt like a party tonight and this was clearly the place to come! What love and joy is evident throughout this piece... your family makes you glow!

      Voted UP & FAB! Hugs, mar.

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      thougtforce – You sound exactly like my daughter. Every year she tries to maneuver herself out of this dreadful ‘responsibility’, but somehow she can’t manage to swim stream-up. But it seems to me she is ready to accept some assistance (from me) do to just that. “Doing ‘this’ instead of a birthday party”, is already a hub in my mind. Your are so welcome in my corner!

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      9 years ago from Sweden

      I think I am one of those who felt I was forced to have these hysterical parties with a lot of games and surprises for my daughter when she was a child, and I never enjoyed it! And if the parties where dull, the kids where even worse! But I did it anyway, for her! Expectations among children are higher today, that´s for sure. Glad those parties where I had to be the play "leader" is over because I was lousy at it! Great hub!

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      tonymac04 – To be honest, the only party I had as a child – when I was 10 – was not a patch as nice as the parties I’ve organized for my own children. I know what they mean when they say a mother lives her life over, having much more fun, through her children. As a grandmother I don’t experience the fun as such, but I enjoy watching and appreciating the doings, manners, expressions, feelings (so clearly understandable) of my children and grandchildren. I feel like an old contented owl, just sitting on a branch, watching and enjoying life lived by them. But don’t forget I am still Myself – the pit without any sprouts – and at this stage of my life I enjoy my own doings and not-doings much more intensely as ever before.

      I’m so glad you came to the party. Kry vir jou ’n glas wyn en ’n bordjie eetgoed, dan gaan sit ons onder die boom en kyk hoe baljaar die spul in die swembad :))))

      Enjoy the kids in your life!

      Mighty Mom – I’m so glad you turned up, just in time for watermelon and ice cream. It is true, the memories last a lifetime. All I was trying to say with this hub was that mothers should not overdo it. The secret is: Make it all worthwhile for the kids without spending too much money and energy. Have a piece of birthday cake and something to drink, and enjoy the children’s laughter in the swimming pool.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      9 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Happy to have discovered your delightful and very sensible hub. Excellent job with the graphics! Parties have come a long way since I was a kid, that's for sure. And I'm not sure it's all for the best.

      But if the parents enjoy planning and hosting it and the kids have fun (including enough sugar!) then it's a success. And good memories are made that last a lifetime -- or at least until the next child's birthday! MM

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Martie my vriend - dit was nou 'n lekker partytjie! The children are wonderful. I think children's parties are fun, really. And now I have the bonus of not only an eight-year-old daughter who loves to party with her buddies, but two growing gandchildren who also have parties! Well at least the granddaughter does, the grandson is still coming up to his first!

      Thanks for sharing the fun pix too!

      Love and peace


    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      liswilliams – thanks for the visit! Yes, those were the days. We were the first to have TV in our circle of friends and family, so many of them arrived every evening to be in time for the opening at 6:00pm – there were no shows during the day. Ohhhh, and I had the baby and his sister.... and a husband who did not support me.... I thought they're going to drive me crazy. But then one after the other they bought or rent their own TV’s. Memories of this make me smile. Grab a bite before you leave.

    • liswilliams profile image


      9 years ago from South Africa

      a beautiful hub, amazing the then and now. I didn't know SABC was that new. Thanks for the read :)

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      epigramman – so nice to see you :))) Your compliments is heartwarming and much appreciated. Let me get you some of those delicious snacks and a drink... :)

    • epigramman profile image


      9 years ago

      ...hard to be a party pooper when you get the privilege to hang out with beautiful people like yourself - and your hubs are awesome and beyond .......

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Storytellersrus – I would have enjoyed that party! You gave me an idea now. We actually like themed costume parties. It is becoming a habit for annual office parties – on the day in September when we celebrate the beginning of spring.

      Believe me, when the grandchildren come, you will know why you had to live for a while in an empty nest.

      Thanks for coming by. Have some cake before you leave!

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      BobbiRant – I see two of them every day – they are my neighbors – and I can’t end a day if I did not hug them. It is 9:45pm now, and I was just surprised by the little girl – she came to me because she ‘forgot’ to give me a hug. (Apparently the best way to postpone bedtime :)))

      Thanks for the visit, Bobby! Enjoy some snacks and a drink :)

    • BobbiRant profile image


      9 years ago from New York

      I love a good party and I love this good hub. The children in the pictures just make me want to hug them, they are so darn cute. Great write. Loved it.

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      9 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      My most successful party was a Cinderella themed event where the girls came, dressed in their finest party clothes. I think they were five or maybe four. When they came in the door, we pulled burlap sacks over their dresses and they enacted the part of Cinderella complete with Fairy Godmother (my mother in law) and Prince Charming (my husband). They had to remove their shoes upon receiving their sack cloths, lol. It was so much fun and the girls loved playing the part of this beautiful Princess... yes, my nest is now empty, but I have these memories to inspire me when I achieve grandchildren, lol. Thanks, Martie!

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Nellieanna – You must be the wisest person on this planet, for you’ve pinpointed the soul of this issue with your thoughts: “A good party which communicates love and fun and brings on appreciation - well it must be a good thing... Only time will tell if the results are for the better or the worse....”

      When we look back in time we see thousands of thoroughly-thought-out ‘good’ practices in societies that turned out to be very bad for us humans, and vice versa. Who said: “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”

      So yes, let’s play it by ear and focus on NOW. If NOW asks for a party, then give the best you are able to give. There are enough boundaries to be kept in mind for the wise and to be ignored by the fools.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’ve sensed physical tiredness between your lines – and of course I may be wrong. But I do hope you are fine and well rested by the time you read this.

      Take care of yourself, dear lady, for you are so valuable to all of us. You always manage to broaden our perceptions on all issues. If I could, I would give you a function: The Magnifier - enlarging all issues beyond the truth.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      9 years ago from TEXAS

      Such a colorful and dazzling subject and array of pretties. I love a good party - but I was in my 40s before I really experienced one, I guess. Oh there were some parties when I was off at school - but neither the kind at home you remember having and giving nor the elaborate ones given today. My intro into them was mostly for and with adults for occasions like Halloween, someone's birthday or any other excuse.

      I found that I LOVED to create a party around a theme and did 'em up right.

      Now it seems that kids have more extravagant parties than any I remember adults having. I dunno. Mixed feelings about it. I'd written a LONG comment about my observations and concerns, i but think I'll just leave it at that. I honestly think people must do what they feel they must. Only time will tell if the results are for the better or the worse. A good party which communicates love and fun and brings on appreciation - well it must be a good thing.

      And if they're going to host them - might as well get into the spirit and enjoy - and not rain on anyone's parade!

      It's too easy to judge from the sidelines when most of the time, it's all done in the best of spirits.

      I think your grandkids look like they are having a ball & have no concern about anyone's motives in giving it to them! They're adorable.

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      saddlerider1 – Now I am all over confused, for you are actually convincing me that there is eternal-value in birthday parties. Considering your bad memories, you needed those parties – it was crucial for your personal development. Your mother was quite a mother!

      So we should not all together stop giving parties, but perhaps every second or third year and in between educational outings. Mmmm, thanks for improving our ideas!

      Yes, that is me in the picture, bragging with the kids. Thank you for the compliment, sir. I’ve got to confess, though, that I kill about ten photographers per year :)))) for they just can’t manage to impress me with myself.

      Now fill your tray with snacks and a drink and enjoy the party :))

    • saddlerider1 profile image


      9 years ago

      Absolutely delightfully delicious. I am licking at the icing from my fingers from that inviting cake and all the other condiments that go with a super duper birthday party.

      My mom always did up a grand birthday party for us kids, no matter how poor we were at times. I have fond memories of having tons of fun, laughing till my gut split and enjoying so many friends over to eat, play games and sing Happy Birthday to me. I wouldn't have traded it for the world as a young boy.

      Thank you as well for sharing those wonderful pictures taken and if that is you at the very bottom corner, let me congratulate you on your beauty and your kind soul that radiates. Peace and hugs my friend.

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      equealla – So nice to see you! Making a party of every occasion is actually the spontaneous and correct way of socializing – in my opinion. It goes with Carpe diem. I will enjoy reading how your mom organized your parties. Thanks for coming by. I always appreciate your visits.

    • equealla profile image


      9 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      Martie, your photo collages are wonderful, and you may brag with the kids anytime. They are just absolutely adorable.

      I guess I was lucky. My parents gave us a big birthday party every year, did not matter if the finances were pinching or not. But my mom planned it in the budget, like a normal household neccesity, right throughout the year. We were 4 siblings.

      My poor kids grew up in the middle of Africa, in the bush, and did homeschooling. Friends were few and rare, and nature was their playground. They had few birthday parties, but made a party of every occasion when a couple of friends happen to be at home.

      Great read, as allways.

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      kldroncil – I think your idea is brilliant - changing the ‘party’ to an educational and soul-enriching event. Honestly, spending so much money on stuff that has no eternal value, and burdening yourself all the way with unnecessary stress, is not in balance with what it means to the ‘beneficiaries’. Sadly every mother has to arrive at this conclusion on her own, because when it comes to her children she believes only her own heart and mind. Thanks for reading and surprising me with a comment :)))

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub mom. After the last bday party in July (Mia's bday party), I decided not to do that to myself again... most children do not appreciate all the evert put into the organising of bday parties and actually EXPECT/DEMAND OF the parents to arrange a big party for them with lots of presents etc. I will only sent cupcakes to school if the bday falls on a schoolday. And if it falls on a weekend I will arrange something exiting like for instance a movie at the teatre or a visit at the zoo etc. Not worth the stress and effort for me. Sorry guys.

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      always exploring – Always nice to see you! I should actually thank the theme of this hub, for it gave me the opportunity to brag with the kids. :))) Before I became a grandmother, I couldn’t bear listening to grandmothers bragging about their grandchildren. I thought they were trying to impress each other in a very silly way. Boy oh boy, I knew nothing! The moment I saw my 1st grandchild vir the 1st time, I’ve entered another world – a wonderful world. But this I have to hub... one day. Get some snacks and a drink, my friend. Make yourself at home. Come sit next to me and tell me all about your new house :)))

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      9 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is so adoreable, and i know your parties are the best. The children look so happy. My Son and Daughter-in-law are party lovers, they never miss one and they love every minute, me, i,m more like you. I can do or not do. enjoyed your story and cute pictures.

      Cheers and God Bless

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      JY3502 - So nice to see you in my corner (for a change). That was the standard and norm when I was a child too. Now = third generation after us. How will the forth be? A world war or another terrible disaster might bring everyone back to basics again? Thanks for commenting. You may have a icecream and a piece of cake, or what about a red colddrink with ice :))

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 

      9 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      My "parties" were always just my brother's and sister, mom and dad. Mom sang happy birthday and I got A present...a shirt, pants or other useful item. No invitations, friends clowns, pony rides or the like. Didn't need them. We were raised knowing there were many children who never got a decent meal, much less a birthday celebration

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      De Greek – I guess like all other things in life you can categorize the motives –

      1) Some moms (like my daughters) organize these parties because they really love to allow their children to live for at least on their birthdays in a perfect world, filled with everything they desire.

      2) Some moms regard it as an opportunity to socialize.

      3) Some moms need to prove to their friends that they deserve the international award for Mom-of-the-Year in the category Kiddies Party’s.

      Thanks for turning up. Help yourself – get some sweeties and cake and icecream and cold drink and whatever you like. Enjoy some jumps on the trampoline. Swing! Blow some bubbles. Come-on, don’t be a party-pooper! Be a boisterous child...

      When the clock strikes 12, you will turn into a frog.... :)))

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      9 years ago from UK

      Ane excuse to socialise with friends Martie. :-)))

      I used to love kids birthdays because I have a sweet tooth. I shall expect an invite for the next one you set up :-))

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Micky Dee – When I was young and beautiful I was a party animal. I could create lively and vivacious atmospheres suitable for extroverts as well as introverts. But the older I get the more I need to be alone at Lake Woebegone. However, in order not to confuse and upset my loved-ones with my selfish ‘old-woman’ needs – I will never poop their parties. But when it’s over, I jump on my pooper scooper and make a B-line to Lake Woebegone. I’ll greet you there when I see you, but please don’t talk to me. I want to be ALONE!

      Thanks for leaving a smile-enticing comment, party-pooper!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 

      9 years ago

      Martie! This is beautiful! I have have to admit- I am a super-duper party pooper! I could screw up a pooper scooper! So I'll run off alone, to my own Lake Woebegone!

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Judicastro – You’re so welcome in my corner and I love your comment! You reminded me of the lot my poor son had and still has - being born on NewYearsDay. Imagine: all his friends far away on holiday, everybody in the household and the rest of the family soooo tired after saying ‘bye old year, hi new year’ until the early morning hours of HIS birthday, making him look like nothing in comparing with a relativeness called YEAR. Oh my word, the poor soul had a hard time and still has a negative attitude towards his birthday. The thought just popped up: I’ve GOT to write a hub about this.

      Your sentence “By this time these kids were just lucky to get birthday presents let alone a party,” made me smile from ear to ear. I can, for sure, identify with them, for I was the eldest of five and had only ONE party, and that was when I turned 10. The guests were only my siblings and 5 friends and there was only homemade cake and red colddrink in white paper-cups on the menu.

      Thanks you so much for your pleasant comment :)))

    • Judicastro profile image


      9 years ago from birmingham, Alabama

      I was raised in the 50's and 60's and the youngest. Up until my dad passed away when I was 13 I always had 2 birthday parties. One for my kid friends and one for adults and family. I just thought that was how everyone did it. Then when I got married and had my first child I had our adult friends over for her first party and had it catered. I went on later to divorce her dad and few years later remarried and had 3 more children. By this time these kids were just lucky to get birthday presents let alone a party. All three were born very close to Christmas. (-; Great hub, love all the pics!

    • MartieCoetser profile imageAUTHOR

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Petra Vlah – I guess all generations of parents try to give to their children what they missed in their own childhoods (and remember man always covets more than Life offers him), and in the process they load themselves with financial and emotional obligations that cause stress and anxiety. I did the same and worked and stressed my ass off to meet mine. If my children know what I really think about this issue, they will not at all be happy with me – as I was not with my parents and in particular not with my parents-in-law when they merely suggested that I overload myself in order to stay on the level I have chosen. Even my ex-husband, when I entertained our guests – especially his parents – wanted to know who I am trying to impress. I thought he didn’t understand and support me, and I was so unhappy. All because of my own choices! But guess what, if I get those years back, I’ll do exactly what I’ve done. Because that is how I’ve made myself happy, with or without the support or recognition of anybody. Anyway, the parties are always well-organized and very much of a treat. Thanks for reading and leaving the first comment.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles

      While the kidds are absolutely adorable, the parents are just plain ridiculous. I know people who spent thousands of dollars to hire a clown for a birthday party; the child was turning one year old!?!

      Maybe the parents wanted to stimulate the economy? That's not so bad...


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