Influence and Inflatables: How Kids Parties Have Evolved

The recent explosion in kid’s parties had me thinking: why have they gotten so big? Why are parents willing to spend so much time and/or money? Is it parental competition for “best mommy” accolades, or something more ingrained? As I thought about what our parents did for us, and their parents did for them, I couldn’t help but wonder how birthday parties graduated from cake and balloons to bouncy houses and pony rides. How did things get so inflated (pun intended)?
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In fact, all of our familial celebrations have become grandiose. The Christian Science Monitor reports that “TheKnot.com and WeddingChannel.com’s annual Real Weddings Study revealed that the average amount spent on a wedding in 2012 was $28,427, with couples dropping more cash than they have in the past four years on all aspects of the event.” The average bridesmaid spends up to $1000 for the “honor” of being in the wedding party. Parents of graduating teens are doing major home improvements to prepare for high school graduation parties and impress throngs of friends and family they haven’t seen in decades. With all of these shifts in the culture of entertaining, it’s not hard to see why children’s parties have morphed into more larger-scale events.

Influence comes from everywhere and they are rapidly changing our expectations about what a party should look like. Reality TV has showcased how the rich and famous throw parties, making the latest, must-have trend feel like a must-do. Pinterest and Etsy have played a huge role in the resurgence of crafting and entertaining as legitimate art forms on the heels of Martha Stewart’s billion-dollar empire. The internet has become a clearinghouse of tutorials, photographs, recipes, and ideas that would’ve been unattainable only 15 years ago thanks to partnerships between blog authors and photographers.

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Tori Spelling has made a second career with her party planning books and TV appearances.

These trends are really nothing new. Dinner parties were the showcase for American middle class success during the 1950s and 1960s. These adults-only gatherings allowed couples to socialize, discuss current events, and enjoy a few cocktails during a three course dinner. But the other purpose of the dinner party was a way to show your circle of friends just how fabulous entertaining in YOUR home could be. Women would spend hours ensuring that the fine crystal was spotless and the silver was polished. Her china pattern was the mark of her taste and style. The type of food she prepared reflected her sophistication and skill in the kitchen. Inspiration was found in publications such as Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens. Along with the dinner party, events like ladies’ garden club luncheons and afternoon teas demonstrated one’s ability to entertain within the social expectations of the day. A beautifully planned luncheon could propel you into social goddess status. The upper echelon joined organizations like Junior League, coordinating charity galas and benefit dinners.

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A 1950’s Better Homes and Gardens Book Cover
Photo courtesy of vintagecookbooktrials.wordpress.com

All of that time, energy, and planning for the dinner party has been transferred to today’s children’s parties. According to Wikipedia, 42% of U.S. households have two or more income earners and they’d rather spend the time/money/energy on something for their children. With both parents working outside the home, dinner parties have given way to neighborhood block parties, birthday gatherings, and other family-friendly events. What hasn’t diminished is the desire to showcase personal style and the ability to entertain. Some are more comfortable buying ready-made party decorations, while others are DIY mavens. Some love the ease of a Build-a-Bear party, while others love preparing for the idyllic teddy bear picnic at a local park. Parents are spending anywhere from $10 to $35 per guest for on-site party packages, while others are spending much more for private venue and professionally planned parties. Parents socialize while the kids enjoy the activities and it becomes more of a “friends and family” gathering.

I love party planning and I firmly believe that how you entertain is your “brand”; it shows people that you value your guests’ time and company. I find it difficult to justify planning a party exclusively for adults and would prefer to throw a family-friendly gathering. A child’s birthday is usually the perfect excuse. What do you think? Is this leading to an entire generation of entitled kids? Do you feel like children’s parties have become a pressure-cooker of unrealistic expectation? Does the creative benefit justify the cost?

Resources:
http://www.parents.com/fun/birthdays/ideas/top-10-birthday-chains-for-kid-birthday-parties/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affluence_in_the_United_States
http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2012/0604/Wedding-cost-Flat.-Fewer-marry.-Wedding-boom-over
http://vintagecookbooktrials.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/bacon-cornettes/

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