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A friend of mine once confided something strange to me. "I'm so happy E's birthday is in January" she said. "Why?" I asked. "Because it comes before A's and I don't have to compete with whatever her mom's latest party idea is." I totally understand. I know this kid and her parties are so over-the-top that I've written about them on this blog before.
As much as we'd all love to be strong and confident enough to not feel competitive with other parents, it's hard. Providing for our kids is at the root of our role as parents. While intellectually we may know that if we love our kids and provide them with a safe, loving home, good food, and a good education we're providing all they need, that's hard to keep in mind when it comes to parties. Your kids may go to school with kids from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds and you don't usually think twice about it. But, parties make differences in money and available time very apparent. It's ok to accept that your feelings are what they are and that they're normal. There's nothing worse than feeling bad about something and then feeling bad that you feel bad about it! But, you don't have to spend a lot of money or time to feel like you're throwing a party that rates. If you want to do something special but save money, have fewer guests. Not every party every year has to include the whole class. By reducing the number of kids you have you can expand the idea of what a "party" is to include special events and shows.
You can also try picking one special thing that you think you're great at. Maybe you always make the best cake or have the best games or the best party favors. Maybe you're great at decorating for a theme. Whatever it is focus on the element of the party that means something to you and your child and focus on that, not on everything else. Don't forget that entertainment is a great, not-too-expensive way to provide a unique party experience. So what if one family can rent out a children's museum, you have a comfy living room and a balloon twister that can make each kid feel special. Although I truly believe these feelings are natural, I also believe it's important to keep them in check. Think about what you would tell your kid if he complained that someone else had nicer toys. Would you say "Well, honey, you just have to work really hard to make it seem like your toys are just as nice as his." I didn't think so.