The $50,000 Kiddie Birthday Party

Limos. Petting zoos. Did we mention spa treatments? When it comes to their kids’ birthdays, status-seeking Philly parents now say it’s their party, and they’ll spend what they want to.

“Kids are so damn precious, you want to celebrate them with everything you have,” says one Main Line mom who swears she’d hire Starr Events for her four-year-old’s next party — if only her husband would let her. “Why do you have to go so over-the-top?” he asks her every year. “You go to one party and the favor is $12. You go to another, and the favor is 50 cents. Why do you have to be the schmuck that does the $12?”

Her response is simple: Because we can. They waited to have kids until they were older, had built their careers, and now they have the income to do things the way they want to — well, the way she wants to. Why not spend it on the kids? It’s better than spending it on herself, right? 

Lafayette Hill’s Jamie Joffe is motivated by something a bit more primal: guilt.

“When you’re a working mom living in a more affluent area, you try and compensate for not always being around,” admits the publicist. “I have my own business. I work a lot. And so I’m going to throw this kid a killer party.” When her son turned 10 in January, she spent several thousand bucks treating 20 kids to a ride in a Hummer limo up to Spring Mountain in the Poconos, where they went tubing for the day. On the way back, everybody got $15 iTunes cards to take home as favors. “My husband and I do our thing. We’re not out of control,” she says. She pauses, then adds, “I hope we’re not out of control. But that [party] was totally out of control.”

Joffe certainly didn’t have parties like that when she was a kid. “I always wished I had parents who made a big deal about parties,” she says. 

Tiffany Gabbay is the flip side of that coin: She had outrageous parties as a kid. Ponies. Petting zoos. When she was nine, her parents sent her and her friends in a limo to the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, where they had a suite, and candy served to them on silver platters. “I want to pass that on to my daughter,” she says.

The intention may be good, says Center City psychologist and author B. Janet Hibbs, “but this has nothing to do with the kids and what they want. It has to do with the parents’ needs.” To give your kids what you had, what you didn’t have, what you wish you’d had. To assuage your guilt. To prove that you have money. To make sure everyone knows you love your kids, not 50 cents’ worth, but $12 worth. Or $13,000 worth.

Whom, then, is the party for?