We can probably all agree that our culture is becoming more and more materialistic with each generation. Yet, most of us don’t want to assume any responsibility for this trend. Where does this materialism come from? How do we pass it on to our young? It probably happens in many ways, but I read a newspaper story the other day that provided a graphic illustration of one way we teach our children to be materialistic.
An organization has been established in Minnesota to help parents in one very tiny arena. The name of the group is “Birthdays Without Pressure,” and their stated purpose is to “raise awareness of this problem and offer alternatives for parents and kids who want birthdays without pressure.” The problem they are addressing is excessive birthday parties for children. In case you are not sure what qualifies as an “excessive” party, these are some examples:
- Sixty guests were invited to the party of a one-year-old, and gift opening took two hours. The birthday baby slept through most of the event.
- The parents of a three-year-old are in a quandary about how to top the child’s previous two parties when they rented a fire station the first year, and a private club with a pool the second. At this rate, by age twelve they might have to rent the state of Montana for a weekend.
- A wealthy New York father spent $10 million on a party for his 13 year old daughter’s birthday, featuring the band Aerosmith, and $10,000 gift bags for each guest.
Finally, someone is standing up and saying enough!
Most adults who have been around young children very much have observed this obsession with parties. I have always felt it was strange for me, an older man, to be invited to a child’s birthday party. Whenever I have raised my concerns, people look at me like I am crazy.
And the gift giving is even worse. Birthday parties where the gifts are stacked taller than the birthday child are quite common. When we keep adding to the excess, we might be doing more harm than good. Perhaps the most loving thing we can do for the child is not give them a present.
What are we teaching our children by allowing this excess? It is not just birthday parties, by the way. We give our children way too much stuff. They have more clothes than they can ever wear, more toys than they can possibly enjoy. Have you noticed the amount of stuff required to take a baby someplace? The strollers that are being used now are about the size of a small Volkswagen.
Children rapidly become accustomed to being surrounded by abundance. Many of them will never know the blessing of austerity. Rather than lavishing them with birthday parties and other extravagances, perhaps we should teach our children the prayer of Proverbs 30:8-9:
Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, Lest I be full and deny Thee and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.