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.

Brielle’s first-birthday carnival certainly wasn’t Brielle’s idea. But it wasn’t her mom’s, either. Gabbay had been to a birthday party just like it on the Main Line a few weeks before — as a vendor. Gabbay owns Couture Candy Buffets. The buffet she created for that four-year-old’s party was Spider-Man-themed, with red and black webs stretched between skyscraper-shaped candy jars, and tiny Spider-Man figurines climbing all over them. The candy cost the parents $4,500, on top of the food carts and bounces and portable petting zoos. Gabbay looked around at the spectacle and thought one thing.

I want that.

 “IF IT’S IN YOUR BUDGET," says Lafayette Hill-based party planner Valerie Felgoise, whose specialty is preteen parties, “why not?” 

Actually, there are a lot of reasons why not — “Especially if the expensive birthday party comes with a general attitude toward parenting that your child is the center of the universe,” says San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, whose book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement came out last year. Consider, as a case study, the Bucks County parents who literally turned their son into a king for his 10th birthday, dressing him in a robe, handing him a scepter, and insisting that throughout the party, all guests refer to him as “Your Majesty.”

All this pomp and circumstance isn’t the parents’ fault … entirely. To find the real culprit, flash back 40 years to the 1970s, when the “Me Generation” was raised, aided and abetted by school programs aimed at convincing every kid that “you’re special.” In the 1990s, those special kids now had kids of their own to helicopter over, and were determined to give every Zack and Caitlin even more of a never-ending ego boost than they had as kids. First came the magicians, musicians and balloon-animal twisters. The stuffed-animal makers and the face painters and the comedians — comedians! — followed, until the shows were taken on the road, to places like Hi Spot Lanes or Sweet & Sassy, where seven-year-olds can get mani-pedis. Then came the country clubs. Then acrobats. Then limos. Then back home again, but this time with the yard tricked out like Dorney Park.

The result: the most self-absorbed kids ever.

One Upper Gwynedd dad, a well-known entrepreneur, suggested to his son that for his 12th birthday, he take six friends to a Philadelphia Union game. “That sounds great!” the kid replied. “Can we get a suite?” The dad thought, What kind of monster did I create?

Of course, he’s looking into that suite.

“Parents don’t want to ever see children be disappointed or have hurt feelings or feel less-than,” says Main Line family therapist Sheri Fay. Which is very sweet — and very wrong. Scepters don’t teach a kid how to navigate the real world, where disappointment abounds. Also, “Kids need to have a relationship in which they feel safe and emotionally connected,” adds psychologist Hibbs. “Does a $50,000 party make a child feel emotionally connected?”