Even and Odd Birthdays: Managing Costs and Craziness in a Big Family

I do some things like my parents when it comes to parenting.  I guess, we probably all do as we are the products of our parents’ parenting efforts, we know what worked, and what didn’t work so well.  I, for one, will never throw my children a surprise birthday party because of how badly I disliked my own surprise party with a clown named Rainbow (I also dislike clowns).  My parents tried to make things special, but my not being prepared for it and a clown to boot led tonthe party being a disaster with me refusing to attend it at all.

One thing I did adopt from my parents is their even and odd birthday schedule.  On even birthdays we could have friend parties but on odd birthdays we could only have family parties.  I’m not sure how my parents came up with this idea, but with 5 children I’m certain it was a money-saver as well as a sanity preserving technique.  I think it’s pure genius, and I have enacted it as the law of the land in our house.

My six-year-old hates the even and odd schedule.  But, she has definitely learned the Math concept well.  “So because I’m turning seven, and 7 is odd, then I won’t get a party, right?”  She doesn’t like the idea that this year only my boy will get a party when he turns four.  She and my littlest will only get family parties as they are turning odd ages (3 and 7).  “So then next year the girls will get parties because it’s our even year, right, Mom?”  She asked this after I recently purchased some clearance items for birthday grab bags to use for my son’s party.  I can’t say that I liked this policy much as a child either, and I think it got me less invites to my peers’ parties because I didn’t always reciprocate an invitation with an invitation.  But, I think it also made me more appreciative of the parties I did get (except for the one with the clown).

My daughter had a medium expense party last year at her dance studio when she turned six.  She was allowed to invite all her classmates as well as all her dance mates.  I did not limit the number of invitations like my parents did.  We were only allowed to invite the number of guests equal to the number of years we were turning.  I did warn my little dancer that I didn’t think the male turnout would be strong, and I was right on with that assumption.  A snowstorm the day of her party also prevented guests who had intended to show from arriving as well as the cancellation of the prima ballerina, but all-in-all she was pleased with her day and spent it doing what she loves most.

I did feel like a cheap mom when we later attended one of her friend’s birthday parties where a party bus with indoor gaming systems made an appearance and bouncy houses of every kind littered the lawn.  I wondered if what I had spent was enough considering my penchant for thriftiness and my rejection of social trendiness for the most part.  The I read an article on Slate.com that confirmed that parents are spending more and more and more on their kids’ parties.

You can blame it on what Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank calls an “expenditure cascade.” In short, as people at the top of the income pile spend more on an item, it causes everyone to upgrade their expectations and expenditures. Happy extravagant birthday…

The birthday market for children’s parties is big business.  I understand that parents want their children to be socially accepted and well-adapted, but I still think we are feeding a smart industry.  I was thrilled this summer when my daughter received an invitation to one of her male dance mates parties.  It was held in a public park, and all the kids were invited to come dressed as their favorite superhero or princess.  The mom just let the kids run around and play, and she didn’t make a huge fuss over organized activities or lots of food.  Cupcakes and juice were served at the end, and my daughter who was dressed as Ariel from The Little Mermaid could not have been happier.  I liked the return to old-school simplicity.

This year for my boy’s first friend party, I plan to host it at the YMCA (for the space and clean-up help), and I think we will just do old-school games with old-school treats, and I won’t worry that it wasn’t enough because it will be enough for him.  As for my daughter, she’s already making plans for her Sweet Sixteen, and I have told her that I will not host one of those, but if she will learn French to the point of fluency by 16, then I will take her to Paris (I would love to go).  She doesn’t always agree with me or get me, but someday I won’t be surprised if she adopts some of these birthday traditions with her own kids.


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