PARENTS

Why Have Children's Birthday Parties Become So Competitive?

22/08/2014 11:21 | Updated 20 May 2015

Children Blowing Out Candles on a Birthday Cake

Whisper it, but I love having a summer-born son. I know, I know, they're supposed to be disadvantaged in the education system, lagging behind their autumn and winter-born peers in verbal, motor and reading skills.

And if truth be told, my youngest son – who turned seven last week – does seem a lot younger than his super-articulate classmates who already have the confidence to speak in front of an audience of adults (my lad hides at the back, hoping no-one will notice he can't remember the words!).

I came to terms long ago with the fact he might be a shade behind his friends in development terms but I reassure myself that when he reaches adulthood he'll make his mark in the history books just as August-born Neil Armstrong, Usain Bolt, Barack Obama and, er, One Direction's Liam Payne have done!

Besides, right now, he uses his Youngest Kid in Class status to his advantage, with both girls and boys tending to treat him more like a pet chimp than as an equal.

Still, he loves being cuddled, so where's the harm? But his ongoing cuddliness isn't the only reason I love having a summer-born son.

Whisper it: he's cheaper and a hell of a lot less hassle than his older September-born brother and December-born sister.

Why is this? Well, it's because of a phenomenon known as Competitive Birthday Partying.

I'm sure you've witnessed it, and may even be partly responsible for it being a trend in the first place.

It's the practice whereby parents crank up the costs of their kids' birthday celebrations as the year progresses and as their children move through their school careers.

For when it comes to our children's parties, all sense goes out of the window: we break the bank to give them that extra special experience that they take for granted to the point that it has become so un-special they expect us to fork out a fortune as a matter of right.

This is confirmed by new research that says the cost of kids' parties is soaring because of parents' competitive need to have bragging rights over other mums and dads.

Four out of five parents feel they have to impress their friends with more than traditional food and games, sending the average cost of the events up to £152.

And one in 10 are breaking the £250 barrier for an under 12s bash that would normally have been covered by a few pounds not so long ago.

One in five parents admit to spending more than £40 on party bags for the young guests to take home, says the survey by Cussons Mum and Me.

And some find it so stressful they claim to dread the whole birthday party experience, turning what is meant to be a fun celebration into a chore they can't wait to finish.

Thirty per cent of the 1,000 parents polled feel that birthdays have become 'very competitive', with only one in seven not believing they were being judged by other mothers and fathers.

One in seven (14 per cent) would make a point of not inviting other 'competitive' mums and dads, with just one in 50 believing they could get away with spending under £50.

Parents are likely to spend the most on their child's fifth birthday - often the first celebrating with their new school friends, with first and 10th birthdays also among the most expensive.

A third of those questioned said they felt pressure from other parents, and almost as many could not face letting their child down with a below par party.

One in 12 actually 'dreaded' organising a kid's birthday party, while others felt under pressure from their child's friends or from their own family.

Seven in ten will start planning the big event at least a month in advance, with seven per cent beginning arrangements up to six months ahead.

It's all too exhausting isn't it?

But what's a loving, sorry, competitive parent to do if they're to avoid being bitched about behind their backs at the school gates? Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Hence, when my September son's birthday comes around next month, I'll be forking out around £100 to take him and his pals to a day's rock climbing or go-karting or a pool party to beat last year's trip to a bowling alley and the cinema visit the previous year.

And when the eldest has her celebrations in December, we'll have to re-mortgage the flat to trump the visit to a theme park with her friends she had for her 12th birthday last year.

This creates a climate of stakes-raising amongst the mums and dads of October-onwards-born children, who are thus obliged to outdo my go-karting or pool party or rock climbing or theme park with, perhaps, an F1 racing experience, a ride in a hot air balloon or a trip to space (which, of course, my kids benefit from).

Which brings me back to my August-born son.

He didn't get a party on his birthday! It's not that we didn't want him to have one. It's just that none of his friends are around in the summer holidays because they're all either abroad or visiting relatives.

Which, you might think, would make our youngest son sad. But not a bit of it. When we asked him if he'd like to have a party in September when he starts Year 3 instead, he shook his head.

"My birthday's in August, not September," he said, before adding: "If I can't have a party, can I have a bike?"

And so last Saturday, we all rode to the park – just the five of us – and threw our little lad an exclusive VIP very non-competitive picnic party. And it was great.

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