I always loved throwing birthday parties for my sons when they were little. Their happy little faces glowed in the light of birthday candles as family and friends gathered around in love and laughter – then dove into the cake.

Today’s kiddie birthday parties, by contrast, have become lavish and costly mega-bashes that rival adult rehearsal dinners or anniversary parties. Some of these events stretch on for hours, days or even nights – all to celebrate the little one’s Big Day.

But they just might be a Big Waste of Time and Money.

One couple recently threw an over-the-top Disney-themed birthday bash for their three-year-old daughter that tipped the scales at $39,000 and included a performance by an Australian Idol contestant. Other “Minnie Mouse” catered events include face-painting, costumes, silver cutlery and shabby-chic toned linens. Some people rent out entire petting zoos, swimming pools and ice rinks for their child’s birthday splurge.

Some parents book rooms at upscale hotels that feature elaborate ice carvings and servings of sushi and caviar.

Little girls who can’t even tie their shoelaces yet are treated to elaborate mani-pedi salon parties. There are sledding birthday parties in summer (courtesy of fancy snow machines) and eco-friendly planting parties with centerpieces composed of organic lettuce leaves and herbs displayed in vintage food tins.

The celebrity world, of course, knows all about birthday excess. Last year Kourtney Kardashian rented a pig (or was it a horse?) dressed as a unicorn for her daughter Penelope’s first birthday party. The family spent $150 per balloon (yes, you read that right) for over 30 balloons at a bash held at the luxe LA mansion of Kris Jenner, Kourtney’s mom.

Back when my 16-year-old son was six, he was invited to a party for a boy in his class. We showed up at a warehouse filled with enormous inflatables that kids happily bounced on in honor of “the king of the day.”

For everyday Americans, the birthday splurge has been a decade or more in the making.

The “king” soon clambered up into a tall, inflated throne wearing a plastic crown ceremoniously placed on his head. One by one, the little guests approached and offered him elaborately wrapped gifts, then hastily retreated to their tables.

Honestly, I half-expected court jesters – or maybe even a few parents – to start cartwheeling across the room. Some moms and dads were so enamored by the proceedings they rushed to book the same experience for their child.

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Not this mom! I thought.

Birthday parties used to consist of a cake, streamers, and a few balloons. Maybe you wore a dress or a suit, and if you were lucky, an uncle showed up and did a few card tricks. If you were really lucky, Dad took you and your pals for bowling and pizza. Either way, you were the focus and you had a ton of fun with the people closest to you in your life.

Today’s mega-celebrations miss the opportunity to express personal values, celebrate bedrock family traditions, and show children how to keep to a budget for special occasions.

Parents can and should relax and enjoy their child on his special day – without breaking the bank and losing all perspective. As a young mother I reminded myself that birthdays come around every 12 months, which, for some of us, was tremendously reassuring. If I messed it up one year, I got another chance to do better the next. I also had one more chance to show my child that he was loved and cherished – and that this day was for him, not for anyone else and certainly not for show.  

And I didn’t need an ice carving or a snow machine in the middle of summer to prove it!

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