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?”

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  • Tenley

    I recognize that Philadelphia Magazine is not exactly written for the vast majority of Philadelphia residents. But giving the impression that children’s birthday parties costing thousands of dollars are somehow “the norm,” and that even struggling parents are doing what they can to live up to (or down to) this outrageous display of narcissism, only feeds the misperception at the same time it proves how drastic the economic divide really is between the wealthy few and the working-class many. You know what I do for my son’s party? I bake a cake, invite about a dozen of his friends, and have them play at my house or a park for a couple of hours. You know what he’ll get for his 16th birthday? A chance to get a job after school, so he can save up to buy himself a used car. Even if my salary quadrupled, I still would stick to my principles (remember those?) — money can buy entertainment, but it can’t buy love.

  • Jimmy

    These momo kids are going to be just like you know whatever like like like their idiot parents. 13 grand to spend on a bday party….makes me throw up. You better get a suite at the Union game…
    Unheard of when I was growing up and I’m not that old. But, that’s why rich ass couples cheat on each other and buys whatever to make them feel better. So enjoy your fake smiles and go fck yourselves

  • Kay

    Spring Mountain in the Poconos? Surprised this was not known, and obviously not researched (what else wasn’t verified in this ‘story’?). There are two references to it. It’s right in Montgomery County.

  • Babymama ♡♥♡♥

    Wow!!!! A lot of angry comments. Calm down people. Dang…who cares what people spend on their kids birthday parties. Its their money and their kids. I am not rich by any means but I love having super fun parties for my kids. Especially when I don’t have to clean up( ;-) lol) so I usually rent out a place like brunswick zone or Sahara Sam’s. Its not crazy expensive its affordable and tons of fun. The point behind having cool parties is making your child feel extra special on their birthday. If people do it for other reasons thats their problem and you should feel sad for their kids not get your undies in a bunch. You can’t buy happiness but you can’t find happiness being cruel or judging people either. Peace out and don’t forget to throw your children at least a handful of cool parties. Life is short and so is childhood and every kid deserves to feel extra special on their bdays even if you make certain they know their loved every day.