Whatever Happened to the Basement Party?


Kids standing behind a couch with party hats and blowers.Let’s put the simple back into birthday parties. 

I remember homemade cakes, party bags filled with plastic toys, magicians, and screaming friends in basements. Birthday parties have always been filled with fun and joy for the special birthday child and their friends and family. But lately, the parties are replacing bowls of chips and twisted streamers with limos and catering.

What is happening? What was wrong with the parties of old?

Recently I dropped my child off at a party where there were two water slides, a crew of three people making volcanoes and teaching science to the kids, a DJ, a photo booth, and a catered spread for the parents and another for the kids. What?! If you pay more for your son’s 6th birthday than you do for your mortgage, you’re doing it wrong.

At another party, a group of nine-year-old girls and their moms went to the city by limo, got pampered at a salon, and went to dinner and a candy “bar.” That may be the definition of excessive, in my opinion. Did I mention they wore matching personalized shirts?

Think about it. What are our children learning from this kind of extravagance? Children quickly learn that money and spending equate to being loved and celebrated.

I remember being appalled last year when I handed a goodie bag (filled with a few pieces of candy and some little treats like pencils) to a kindergartener who had just spent the last hour and a half jumping and bouncing, dancing, and eating at my expense. This child took the bag from me, peered inside, and said, “That’s it?” THAT’S IT? Whatever happened to “Thank you for having me?”

As smart, thoughtful mamas, can we band together and cut out this nonsense? Let’s teach our kids to enjoy the simpler times and help them not to be so expectant of outrageous experiences at every turn. Here’s my six-point plan for returning to birthday parties that don’t make your wallet explode.

1. Switch out the fondant, tiered, monogrammed, and personalized cakes with pictures printed for the boxed cupcakes or a simple sheet cake. We do not need the Cake Boss for your kid’s first birthday.  

2. If you can’t invite everyone in the class because it will be too expensive, you’re doing it wrong. (PS I am also a firm believer in inviting everyone). Think of the kids who are overlooked and never invited. Imagine the heartbreak of being that mama, but that’s another ranting post entirely.

3. Choose to have a simple goodie bag or none at all. Then kids will not miss it, and you won’t have mothers cursing you later that night for all the new plastic garbage toys that litter their floor. In other words, beware of the party store trap. Themed goods at the party store can be cheaply made and more expensive than alternatives. 

4. Skip anything you have to mail away for. This includes but is not limited to personalized banners and invitations, personalized Etsy-style outfits for the whole family, and personalized themed water bottles and chocolate wrappers.

5. Skip the catering. Go back to pizza and a juice box. Your kid will like it just as much as the sushi table. I promise. My eyes need a rest from all the rolling I’m doing when I see such nonsense.

6. Keep it simple. Think retro. My daughter just went to a pajama party (now called sleep unders – what’s that about?) and had a blast. There was dancing and pinning the tail on the puppy. They had cupcakes and played hot potato. Think about your favorite birthday party memory and recreate it for your child. As a result, their smile will be thanks enough.

I know I will have some moms read this and think, why can’t I? If I can provide that for my child, then why not? To them, I say, this is just my opinion. You do you! But if your kid has a candy bar, DJ, and photo booth at eight, what will she expect for her sweet sixteen, her college graduation, or her wedding?

Most of all, try keeping it simple, one time. What’s the worst that can happen? And one day, far, far away, when your kid expects you to see a loan officer to bank their twenty-first birthday in Aruba, remember, I told you so. 

What’s your opinion on birthday parties? Comment below!

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Kristen is the proud mom of two wonderful, smart and sassy daughters (born in 2007 and 2011). Raising her kids as a single mom is a challenge and an adventure and she loves every minute of it. Kristen loves bringing up her girls in the same area of Westchester that she grew up in, having only moved a few miles from her childhood home. A long time passion for working with children led Kristen to pursue a career in education and she has been an elementary school teacher in the Bronx for over a decade. Her teaching career has taught her that every day is a new experience and to "expect the unexpected." If she can find any spare time between teaching and motherhood, Kristen likes to read, binge watch horrible romantic comedies on TV, bake, and go on road trips with her girls.


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