Parents Drop Lavish Amounts on Over-the-Top Kids' Birthday Bashes

Parents put up big bucks for outrageous birthday bashes.

February 20, 2011, 5:43 PM

Feb. 21, 2011 -- It's almost expected that celebrities throw their children over-the-top birthday bashes.

Tory Spelling's and Dean McDermott's son Liam celebrated his super-sized third birthday with a super hero theme.

Sean "Diddy" Combs bought his son Justin a $360,000 car on his 16th birthday.

But today, even everyday moms and dads are spending big bucks to say happy birthday in style, which is the subject of the new TLC reality show, "Outrageous Kids Parties."

One couple featured on the show, Nicole and Jason, planned an over-the-top party of their own for their soon-to-be 6-year-old daughter Gracie's birthday.

"This is going to be a fairy tale fantasy party for her because she is still in that prime age where she still believes in fairy tales," Nicole said before the big day.

"This is not a normal party," Jason said.

Gracie may not be a real princess, but she might as well be with a party like this. They spared no expense -- from Gracie's spa treatments the day before the party, to the perfect pink dress befitting a princess, to the exact cake of their daughter's choosing.

Not to mention 42 center pieces, 2,000 flowers and 300 costumes. The party's budget? $32,000.

Before the party, the pressure was on.

"It's crazy because Gracie didn't want anyone else to get her dress," Nicole said. "Here we had all these hairdressers and she just wanted mom."

When the big moment arrived, Gracie and her parents emerged from a horse drawn carriage.

All did not go as well with the cake, however. Gracie began to cry when a bird on the cake was purple instead of blue.

"She's a bit of a perfectionist," her mother said.

Doesn't sound like your childhood birthday parties? Today, birthday parties for kids have become a big business with big expectations -- billions are spent every year. An American Express study found that British families alone spend nearly $2 billion on first birthday parties.

The parents who spare no expense are fueling a booming industry. Leesa Zelken, a children's birthday planner, said her business, Send in the Clowns, has exploded over the last decade.

For the kids... or the parents?

"Twenty years ago a clown making balloon animals was a big deal, princess playing games with children was a huge attraction and drew a lot of oohs and ahhs from people," Zelken said. "Over time that's become run of the mill. Now people are trying to not only outdo one another but trying to outdo themselves."

Zelken told us about another child's birthday party she had planned based on the Wizard of Oz.

"We had all the characters there and lots of other bells and whistles and of course the yellow brick road," she said. The party, which also featured a search for the ruby red slipper and of course puppies, was in the $40,000 range, she said.

Jennifer Waldburger, a licensed clinical social worker, warned that parties like these might not only break the bank, but also set children's expectations too high.

"It sets up an expectation for kids that every birthday, every graduation, every milestone in their life is going to have these fireworks where no expense is spared," she said. "So the bar keeps getting set even higher and higher and each celebration has to outdo the last."

Critics are wondering if parties like these are for the children or for the adults.

"You may not be able to afford that new luxury car or buy the home of your dreams," Waldburger said. "But you can drop a few thousand dollars on your child's birthday party and make a pretty big impression on 150 of your neighbors."

Waldburger also said elaborate and expensive parties can give parents a sense of validation.

"This unforgettable experience gives parents a lot of validation and makes them feel like they are doing a good job," she said.

Back at Gracie's royal 6th birthday party, mom and dad planned a special surprise for the grand finale -- a new car.

"Mom, I don't know how to drive," Gracie said after her present was unwrapped.

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