I have three children, each with their very own birthday, their very own group of friends, and their friends’ very own birthday parties. Most have been normal, standard parties. Some have been a little large, or the food and goodie bags a little junky, or the location a little pricey. But really, nothing unacceptable. Until now.
My 4 year old daughter has been invited to her preschool friend’s birthday party. The party is at a place called My Gym which is a prestigious gymnasium for children. They host birthday parties, and with a little researching I discovered that My Gym offers parties for $300. The package includes invitations, a table cloth, napkins, paper plates and a special gift just for the birthday child! Alright, not something I would choose for my children, but nonetheless, sounds like a place my daughter will have fun at.
I spoke with the mother and she told me that there will be 32 children, and that there unfortunately won’t be room for any other children (ie. my own) so I will either have to find someone to care for my other children during the party while I attend with my 4 year old, or I will have to drop her off. Since I don’t know the mother any better than most of the preschool parents, I am not just abandoning my 4 year old at the gym for 2.5 hours. Fortunately for me, a good friend (and co-blogger Healthy Green Mama) will also be attending with her son and is willing to watch my daughter for me at the party.
Those are the facts. We haven’t actually attended the party yet.
What has happened to make massive, expensive birthday parties the norm? What kind of example are we setting for our children? That we have to spend $300+ on a birthday party every year (for each child) in order to have fun?
That’s 32 children. That means 32 gifts. If each child brings a gift valued around $20 then that is over $600 in gifts! Brought by children who hardly know the birthday girl, and will choose some well-intentioned but inappropriate, or poorly-made, made-in-China toy. How long is the birthday girl going to play with one of those toys let alone 32 of them! Does she really need 32 new toys for her birthday, plus everything else her family showers on her? Of course not.
Those 32 children come from her preschool and various other activities she is involved in. A standard is being set (or followed, more likely) to include every child the birthday girl knows, more than likely so no one feels left out. That means parents have to buy an unnecessary gift for a the birthday girl who hardly knows their child. In a word, it is WASTE.
The parents have to buy 32 goodie bags generally full of candy and cheap toys that will break before they even get home. Fake tattoos made from toxic ink. Cheap toys made in China from an unknown plastic. Candy from the Dollar Store that likely originated in China. Just what you want your child to take home.
The food typical of these birthday parties are pizza or hot dogs, chips, pop and cake. I don’t feed my children these things and I shudder when they eat them at birthday parties. Lets think about saturated and trans fats, too much salt, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), sugar, genetically modified organisms (GMO) chemical preservatives, nitrates and nitrites, artificial color and flavour. Lets then fill our children with them at birthday parties.
The carbon footprint left behind the typical birthday party is huge. Paper or plastic plates, cups, cutlery, tablecloth, decorations. Roll them all up in the table cloth and throw them away. They end up in the landfill for the rest of your life and many lives to come. Balloons are chemically-produced and don’t biodegrade. Those made-in-China toys have a horrendous carbon footprint when you consider the packaging, the distance travelled from the manufacturer, the environmental pollution during production and the plastic and paint on the toy itself.
I am not blaming the mom for any of this. I am blaming a wasteful, consumer-driven society where we have to keep up with (or one up) the Joneses. It turns into an unnecessary spend-fest that gets worse every year. And the children come to expect it, year after year, and then they give their children the same kind of parties. It’s a vicious circle that needs to be stopped.
How can we stop it? Society expects big, disposable parties. They are the norm. But they don’t have to be. Here are some ways to drastically decrease your carbon footprint, cut your waste, and save money while still throwing a party and still having as much (or more) fun.
Have a party at home or at a park. It will be more work but you will save money. If you need to rent a space, look for a local community gymnasium where all children can participate, including siblings.
Invite only close friends, or if that is an issue, only invite one child. There are lots of fun things to do with one child, from ice skating and swimming to a play or a movie. If you are having it at a larger location, you can easily invite more children. But keep the following things in mind.
State ”ABSOLUTELY NO GIFTS” on the invitations. Have a donation party where “SMALL DONATIONS” will be accepted towards a charity. In the past, we have bought goats and chickens for needy families in Africa through World Vision, we have donated to the SPCA (animal shelter), and we have purchase charity stuffed animals through World Wildlife Foundation. The parents seem to appreciate the simplicity of it, the money spent is less, but when combined it provides a decent donation. Children learn how to give in order to help others.
Provide healthy food at the party. Not only will the parents thank you, but you won’t have out-of-control children hopped up on red food coloring or high fructose corn syrup. Some examples are sandwiches, fruit and vegetable trays, crackers and cheese, real fruit juice or water (what’s wrong with water?) and a homemade birthday cake with natural food coloring.
Don’t give goodie bags at all, or choose things that the children can do something with when they get home. One year we gave away tree seedlings. Another year we gave away bird seed feeders. One year Healthy Green Mama gave away sunflower seedlings, which turned into giant gorgeous yellow balls of sunshine later that year. She also gave away homemade cookie mix in a jar. I’ve been to a party where the only thing my son brought back was a giant chocolate chip cookie. There are lots of ideas online.
Use reusable tableware. Borrow, borrow, borrow! Check with your friends for cloth napkins, plastic or stainless steel plates, cups and trays. Use a real fabric tablecloth! They do exist! It creates a little extra work to wash them but we have even done it when away from home. We just collect the tableware in a box and stick it all in the dishwasher when we get home. Make homemade invitations or use online invitation sites like evite.
When buying a gift for someone, consider what they will actually use. If you don’t know them very well, try a gift certificate to a book store, or a restaurant. Buy them things they can use up like crayons and paper. Find green gifts like stainless steel water bottles. Make homemade gifts. Or head online to stores like Green Planet Parties
or Green Gifts Guide
to choose environmentally-friendly, charitable, or locally-made gifts.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be hard. But we CAN make a difference. We can change the way society throws birthday parties because we ARE society. Little by little, we can make a difference. The next time your child is invited to a birthday party think a little harder, and a little greener about what you are going to give. Make a statement at your child’s birthday party You might be surprised at who follows your lead. When you are planning a party, focus on fun, health, the environment and frugality instead of the Joneses. In the long run a fun birthday party, in a child’s mind, is not about how much money you spent but how much time you spent making it a good one, with your child.
This post has been linked to Living Well Blog Hop #23, Homestead Barn Hop, I Thought I Knew Mama’s Green and Natural Mama Thursdays and Frugally Sustainable’s Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways