English singer and presenter Myleene Klass opened an enormous can of worms by challenging moms at her daughter’s school about lavish gifts they wanted parents to join together and buy for their own children.
It all began last week when Klass shared an email with her thousands of Twitter and Instagram followers that she had received from some school moms. It read:
“Jane and Hannah would prefer a class birthday gift for their daughters this year. Sarah would like a Kindle and Lola a desk (very studious choices!) so if you would like to join in, please can I collect a suggested £10 [$17] from you before the party on February 9. If you prefer to send £ via an envelope in your daughters school bag, marked for Jane/me that works too. I will pass on a voucher and card to each at the party. Thanx and no obligation of course.”
Klass, mom to Ava, 7, and Hero, 3, also published a second email from another parent who was offering to collect the funds and suggested that £10 [$17] would be a “popular amount” to contribute. The parent, however, did add: “Feel free to give what you like or indeed, to give your own gift.”
Sarcastically, Klass responded with an email of her own with the subject line: “Let’s put the fun back into Bdays!” It read:
“Dear all, For Ava’s birthday, she has requested a real, live Unicorn. I will be collecting Unicorn money via her book bag, in the playground or at www.getwhatyouregivenandendthismadness.com. (Additionally I’d like a Ferrari and Leonardo DiCaprio, so by all means, do feel obligated to contribute to this too). If you don’t wish to, please don’t feel any pressure from the countless emails I intend to follow this up with and clog your inbox. Love and thanks!!”
Not surprisingly, when Klass went to pick up her daughter Ava from school later that day, she was met with anger from the moms involved. One called across the playground: “Why did you do it, Myleene? Why?” Other parents immediately wrote to the head teacher, complaining that Klass belittled them very publicly. One mom added, “She isn’t going to have any friends left.”
Was Klass brave or stupid to criticize the parents who turned their children’s birthdays into some sort of present machine? Personally, I commend Myleene for having the guts to stand up to the school moms, as incurring such wrath isn’t for the faint of heart. But moreover, I applaud Klass because she makes a very important point: Children’s parties have gotten out of hand. From the huge production the party itself has become to the pressures of gift buying, it’s all too much. What used to be a small event held at your home with a few games and some cookies and chips has become some ridiculous competitive machine that costs far too much money and takes up far too much time and energy to organize.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been sucked into this regime myself. I rented a hall, hired an animal entertainer replete with chinchillas, snakes, and a skunk, spent way too much on food and drinks, and had over-the-top goody bags — all for my son’s fourth birthday party. I look back and blame it on my working mom guilt, yet have I changed my ways? Nope. Now that I have a daughter, I feel I should give her what my son had. The only good thing is that because these parties are so expensive, we always get my kids small gifts; they understand that the expense of their parties is the main present. And it’s not like I’m using the gifts from other parents as a fall back. Just this year for my daughter’s birthday, there was something that didn’t sit well with me when we came home from her party with 20 gifts. Christmas was a mere three weeks away and here she was with more gifts than in Santa’s sack. It felt slightly obscene. I ended up hiding some away to bring out on a rainy day because giving them to her all at once felt like I was beyond spoiling her.
Because really, I think the true meaning of the celebration gets lost in the production of it all. And Klass agrees. She responded to the moms’ complaints by writing an article in the Saturday Telegraph where she urged us to get back to basics and remember what the day is all about: celebrating your kid’s birth. Not presents. Her aim is to stop the “culture of materialism.”
On this, she also has my vote. By encouraging parents to contribute to a Kindle for a 7-year-old, aren’t we validating children being consumed by stuff? She also argued that if this is what’s expected at the age of 7, then what sort of gifts will parents be expected to buy for teenagers?
One mom at the school defended the arrangement, saying: “It is to make it easier for parents so they don’t buy expensive presents that nobody wants. There is no obligation. Myleene has misunderstood the school’s community spirit.”
To me, it isn’t community spirit, it’s greed. When it comes to birthday parties, children should get what they’re given and no mom should be expected to join in with a certain “suitable” amount to contribute to a Kindle, or any other gift. Many parents might not be able to afford £10 ($17) per gift if they’re expected to do this for all of the 26 kids in the class. I have spent literally hundreds of pounds over the years on gifts for children’s parties and it’s getting a bit outrageous. In all honesty, what is wrong with a yo-yo and some stickers? Or crayons and a coloring book? As Klass says, it’s time to get back to basics. Who’s with me?