Getting Off the Birthday Factory Bandwagon

birthday - Boston Moms Blog

What’s a mom to do? Kindergarten has introduced a whole new level of birthday complexity into the mix. A worrying trend has appeared. I call it… the birthday factory. It is the antithesis of days of yore when kids just came over to your house to celebrate your birthday. There was cake and maybe some pin the tail on the donkey. We’d all sit around after and open presents in front of the people who presented them to us. Our closest friends were invited, usually no more than six — ten if things got crazy. It was simple. And it was nice. 

Fast forward to 2018. The entire class is invited (don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings). Due to guest numbers, the party must be held outside of the home — nobody wants their house torn to shreds, demolished by a bunch of rowdy 6-year-olds. And who has the time to cook or bake a cake these days? Best to take it to a birthday factory location. Don’t get me wrong, the kids LOVE places like Jump On In or Launch, but I, personally, can’t think of a worse way to spend a Saturday (…and there go all my future birthday invitations!). It seems every weekend we celebrate at a birthday factory location. We do it for the kids. We love our children. The ease of just handing over the credit card to pay for a packaged birthday party is similar to that of ordering toilet paper off of Amazon. It’s click-of-a-button easy. 

Yes, there are positives to hosting a party at a birthday factory location:

  1. A monkey could plan this party. It’s just THAT easy.
  2. The kids love it. 
  3. Let’s go back to ease. For exhausted parents, there is sometimes no alternative.

But there are negatives. Dare I call these types of celebrations… impersonal? A few examples:

  1. Gifts are deposited in a large cart, which is then brought to the car at the end of said birthday. Gifts are opened later, in an undisclosed location, depersonalizing the gift that someone’s mom or dad went to the trouble of choosing.
  2. Level of craziness factor is high, thus never really allowing the birthday girl/boy to accept happy birthday congratulations. You’re lucky if you see or even speak to the child of honor during the entire ordeal… errr, event.
  3. Watching the kids eat at the main table as parents sit around the perimeter of the room awkwardly making conversation with other parents they barely know.
  4. Expensive! Is it really reasonable to spend $500 on your child’s birthday party? Perhaps if you’re Beyonce and Jay-Z.

So I obviously have an issue with many aspects of the birthday factory events. I yearn for simpler times when we didn’t need to go all out for kids’ birthdays, and that was fine. Cake and streamers were all you needed because your close friends were coming over — and that was exciting! Inviting the number of people equal to the number you are turning was expected. Call me a party pooper, self-righteous, not inclusive enough, but all I can think of is Arcade Fire’s lyrics to “Everything Now.”

Everything now! I need it.
Everything now! I want it.
Everything now. Everything now. Everything now.

Are we teaching our kids to expect pony rides, rainbows, and fireworks for their birthdays? What if not all parents can afford that? Or want to buy into the hype of the factory birthday? How much is too much? What lesson does that teach our children? 

As I plan my son’s sixth birthday, I’ve been grappling with these questions. Let me be clear, I make no judgments on parents who choose the birthday factory alternative. It’s just not me. I want my kids to greet their guests. I want them to open up the presents they are given in front of the person who gave them (when did that stop, anyway?), and I want them to appreciate the simplicity and the beauty of getting together with friends and enjoying their company. This may come at the expense of my house being torn to shreds or staying up late to bake a cake for the birthday girl or boy, but it’s only once a year, right?