There was a fuss in the news recently because a parent whose child didn't show up for a classmate's birthday party was sent an invoice for, I think, the cost of a ticket for some adventure park or something.
Then another fuss because a well-off family issued invitations to children for their child's birthday which requested a gift of around ten pounds rather than actual birthday presents because the child would rather have a tablet and a desk than a bucketload of junk.
At the risk of sounding like a Bah Humbug Scrooge, I'm a bit against birthday parties for children. I know that most of the children have a good time, or at least I hope they do.
But the headaches, the heartaches. If you foster you see the downsides so starkly.
If and when a foster child has a birthday while they're staying with you there's every chance they've attended a birthday party of a classmate while they have been with you. You're stuck. If you took your foster child to another child's party it's an unwritten rule that you return the effort and stage a birthday party and invite the child who invited your child.
More often, foster chidren aren't invited to other children's parties for a bunch of reasons. Then again, sometimes they are invited precisely because they are foster children by well-meaning parents who are only trying to do their bit.
We have an interesting thing going on at the moment. Our foster child has recieved an invite from another child to their birthday party, and he can't quite work out why. He never plays with the child, hardly knew his name even though they're in the same year. I know the reason for the invite. I believe the child who invited my child is also fostered. I don't know for certain, nor should I. Nor do I know if it's a factor. If it is a factor I don't know if it's the child or the child's foster carer behind it.
The foster child only barely wants their own party, because what they really want is to be back home where dad would buy them a massive toy out of his benefit money and take everyone including his surreal girlfriend (but not including his real wife) to MacDonalds.
Birthdays, like Christmas, can be a poignant time for foster children.
Children's birthday parties have got a bit out of hand. You find your child has an itinerary that would have taxed the late Princess Margaret, known for her ability to party:
2.00pm Meet at 23 Acacia Avenue.
2.30pm To the Odeon for "Toy Story 8"
4.30pm To Nandos for tea (Please advise any dietary concerns).
5.30pm Back to Acacia Avenue for cake and games. And Beppo the clown.
6.30pm Lear Jet to Antigua for Punch and Judy face painting and amateur magician sowing bee on Bouncy Castles with ponyback Karaoke.
Ok the last bit, not yet maybe, but you get my drift.
Parents feel obliged to put them on, as if social services will come round and investigate if they don't.
Gone are the days when the selected 6 guests turn up and play pin the tail on the donkey, pass the parcel, blow out some candles and eat crustless peanut butter sandwiches and crisps then go home with a piece of cake wrapped in a paper napkin.
What to bring or give as a present? You don't want to look cheap and let your child be the only one who brought a bag of sweets. Or the swankpot who's given something that cost fifteen quid.
Don't get me started on the goodie bag.
Then there's the "Thank You" letters or cards.
But all the above is nothing compared to the kid who is left off the invite list.
Devastating. But mum and dad stipulated the number at six, based on cost and size of living room, not the size of the child's true circle of friends, which is foggy anyway. One or more children who might have attended don't get an invitation.
All the dubious joy and happiness of the six is a molehill compared to the kid who's dissed.
Kids are smart if not ethically rounded. Some play the game and use their party invites for power and punishment, oh yes. Just like adults maybe, but adults can cope better.
There was one parent who once invited the whole class, to get around the uninvited child problem. Didn't work, needed a tazer for control. I can laugh about it because that parent was me.
So, having learned, we say to our foster children "You can either have a nice present and a party, or an even nicer present".
No foster child has ever taken the party option. Not yet.