From the Associated Press
Birthdays Without Pressure:
. PAUL, Minn. (AP
) _ Having decided on a ballerina theme for
her daughter's sixth birthday party, Michelle West drove all over
to find little dancers for the cake. Then she put 50 little
beefeater guards around the edges. And she gave it beautiful white
icing with peppermint trim.
And what happened? The kids wouldn't eat it.
It wasn't long afterward that she joined a group of St. Paul
parents determined to end the birthday party arms race.
Birthdays Without Pressure is taking aim at the oneupsmanship
that drives moms and dads to throw parties that will really, really
impress the kids and the other parents, too.
''We feel there's a kind of cultural runaway going on right now
around the birthday parties of kids,'' said William Doherty, a
University of Minnesota professor of family social science who had
a hand in organizing the group, launched publicly earlier this
Birthdays Without Pressure has started a Web site and launched a
Among its suggestions for more modest, stress-free party
planning: Hold gift-free parties, with a note on the invitation
that says any presents will be donated to charity; eliminate theme
parties and gift bags for the guests; instead of organizing
elaborate activities, let kids play outside or hold a treasure
hunt; and invite children only, not their parents as well.
The organization has also started collecting horror stories from
other parents to argue its case. Among them:
_ A birthday party for a 1-year-old featured a gift-opening that
lasted two hours. The child slept through most of it.
_ Seven-year-olds were picked up in stretch limos to attend the
birthday party of a classmate.
_ A 6-year-old guest at a St. Paul birthday party didn't like
the contents of the gift bag and declared: ''This is a rip-off.''
The race to provide a unique experience at kids' parties can
even get dangerous. In December, a 4-year-old girl was mauled by a
cougar that was brought in as part of the entertainment at a
birthday party for a 7-year-old in Coral Gables, Fla.
Doherty, who previously led a crusade against what he called
overscheduled kids, got wind of frustration among parents after a
colleague related how a mother at a parenting class had lashed out
against the gift bags that have become a staple of kids' parties.
That mom was Linda Zwicky.
''I just found myself wondering, you know, does he need another
pencil? Does he need another rubber ball? Does he need another
whistle?'' Zwicky said.
But when Zwicky began planning her son Wyatt's third birthday
party, she found herself engaging in the same kind of oneupmanship.
''I was going to do gift bags, but I was going to do them
right,'' Zwicky recalled. The party had a train theme, so she got
sticks and bandannas and made ''hobo packs'' that included animal
crackers and bubble solution.
Zwicky said that party was a turning point for her. She helped
found Birthdays Without Pressure.
What the members want, they say, is a general agreement that not
every party has to be more memorable than the last.
''Why are we feeling the pressure to do all this?'' said Julie
Printz, another parent in the group. ''Let's come up with ways to
do this that's in your comfort zone, and have a broader spectrum of
what's acceptable in terms of kids' parties.''
When Wyatt turned 4, Zwicky put on a much more modest affair: No
theme. No gift bags. Simple party games involving milk bottles and
''The kids had a great time,'' she said. ''That's the thing _
the kids don't care what kind of effort and planning you put into
it. They're kids.''
I personally like the tiger story myself.
The website is a lot of fun ... especially the "share your experience"