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Are we creating little narcissists?

Not too long ago I experienced my 128,743rd “parent-fail” moment. It was the evening before my daughter’s new friend’s birthday party. In the midst of organising and confirming a grandparent’s availability to take her to said party I realised that I had forgotten to RSVP. I know… it is a basic convention of social etiquette but this is where I fall down on my sword. My house is in a state of order (just don’t lift the curtains, look behind the bookshelf or open the wardrobes), I manage to run my business with satisfactory efficiency, I’ve written three blogposts, I attend some sort of physical exercise class at least 3 times per week I eat clean, cook all our meals and I am sure I’ve washed and blow-dried my hair at least once in the last week…. It’s the social etiquette admin that I seem to fail at. Examples of such gross miscalculated social faux pas include, but are not limited to:
1. Not RSVP-ing
2. Not listening to voicemails
3. Not reading E-mails (or if read not replying)
4. Failing to respond to an SMS – even though I honestly, hands-up, thought I replied ;(
5. Not calling, texting or otherwise “Thanking you” for: gift, attendance, invite, party etc.

So… back to the story. The point is that I hadn’t RSVP’d so I quickly, with tail between my fingers, drafted an apologetic and pathetically pleading SMS asking if my daughter was still able to attend said party. Now for anyone parenting children under 4 (or 40), once they think they are going to a friend’s birthday party, you better hope you can manifest friend’s birthday party because failing to make the party happen is stuff that therapist’s dreams are made of. I received no reply…. not until 20 minutes before the party was scheduled to happen. The mother politely told me that while she would love to have my daughter attend,that due to the personalised “lolly bags” with personalised gift included, my daughter would not be able to receive a “lolly bag”.

This got me thinking… Have we completely taken our children’s birthday parties hostage and created another platform that we feel the urge to compete with one another in a vicious cycle of bigger, better, faster, stronger? And, if so, what is the impact on our children?

It got me a little worried, as even I have been victim to such extravagances. At Mayhem’s 2nd birthday (my daughter’s name is not really Mayhem – although such a perfect name for her – I’ve used this pseudonym to protect her from the potential of even greater shame and embarrassment our relationship may hold for her) I put on a gourmet spread that included freshly made Peking Duck pancakes, 3 different frittatas (2 gluten free), a selection of 4 different sandwiches and rolls, 2 salads, etc etc. For Mayhem’s 3rd birthday, I thought we’d keep it low key by attending a fairy palace and having our own special fairy host the party for us! I find it hard to remember the last time I attended a children’s party where the greatest extravagance was the paper donkey on the wall and a few personally blown up balloons blue tacked to the wall and the food consisted of nothing more extravagant than fairy bread and meat pies and sausage rolls. In the halcyon days of my youth, RSVP’s were rarely that strict, kids would turn up that you weren’t sure you invited, siblings of invited guests would often stick around and this never really led to much drama because a lolly bag consisted of a white plastic bag with terrible clown pictures on it filled with a couple of “fun-size” Smarties and Milky Ways, and if you were really lucky a packet of sherbet!

In this quest to host the best, most perfect party for our children, I wonder if we are creating or setting benchmarks so high that real life will never be quite satisfactory for them? Are we running the risk that our children will start to believe that they are entitled to such celebrity-esque celebrations and that being ‘normal’ is somehow less than ok? While I want Mayhem to have wonderful memories of her birthday, I wonder if I have set her up for a fall.I know that the benchmarks we have for ourselves, our expectations and sense of entitlements are what predict how happy and satisfied we feel with life. In my mindless and unwise quest to be the hostess with the mostest, have I unwittingly set my daughter up to feel disappointed and unsatisfied with life?

I’d like to hear your thoughts and ideas and share some of your experiences with me.


It’s a big reason I’ve not been into big partied for either of my kids. The party is, ultimately, for THEM. If they want to have 15 friends over, and have everyone dress like a tank engine, well so be it. We can try as parents to make that happen. But I’ve not been overly interested in going overboard on parties for sub 6 year olds, as they really haven’t needed or asked for it. They just want some presents, maybe cupcakes, and some quality time with the family. And I think several hours of undivided attention is better than frazzled parents trying to put on an elaborate party that’s only there to impress the other parents.

Very wise indeed!

  • Elle
  • September 2, 2014

I think the issue is potentially so much broader.

I feel that kids these days are not learning to deal with dissapointment and setbacks because of these expectations that we fullfill. Now children’s games are set-up so that there are no winners and no loosers. I have been going to more and more kids parties and have noticed that in musical chairs, chairs are not removed. In pass-the-parcel, all kids get a present. At the hat parade all kids get a participation award and there are no “winners”. I kind of get it but wonder if this is setting our children up with not being able to handle dissapointment of loosing, or dissapointment of not having “the party” they want, or “the cake”, “toy”, “outfit” they want.

Or are we pandering to our pint sized tyrants because we feel guilty for being so busy with work, social commitments, life etc?

Hi Elle
Thank you for your comments. You raise a point that is very critical and due to the brevity of my post I haven’t yet really touched upon. One of the greatest challenges faced by therapists working with adolescents and young adults currently is low distress tolerance. Distress tolerance is an essential psychological skill and strength that predicts how well we are able to manage unpleasant emotional states. These states include anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration and are related to developing some of the more eusocial skills such as compassion, cooperation and mindfulness – to name just a few. Distress tolerance is partly genetic but we know form research that good-enough parenting in the early years is essential to nurturing this capacity. I have noticed a very large trend amongst parents who appear averse and almost frightened to allow their children to experience negative mood states. Life is rich with opportunities for children to be exposed to disappointment, frustration, sadness, loss, anger etc. Part of our role as parents is not just to raise “happy” children in the present moment, but children who are developing capacities to be “happy” in the long term. Parents may be driven by guilt or have low distress tolerance themselves, and so, may inadvertently be disabling their children by encouraging and tolerating only positive expressions of emotions. Children in the 1st world have an unprecedented access to goods, food, health and ‘things/situations’ that should lead to a great level of satisfaction and joy. However, we are seeing rates of suicide, adolescent depression, anxiety and difficulties coping with adult life roles at such high rates that we’ve certainly missed something. I encourage parents to be brave inn the face of their children’s distress, to stay calm and present (not dismissive). Attend to your child in a spirit of compassion but also in the knowledge that changing or getting rid of distress is not what is always needed. By riding the waves of distress, your child will become slowly more adapted to ‘riding the waves’ of distress, hopefully into calmer waters. With that they gain the confidence of dealing with these emotions.

  • Riccardo
  • September 3, 2014

I just got so intrigued by the story and then you left me hanging… Did you take Mayhem to the party eventually?

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