Cake Wars

The Booming Business of Competitive Parenting

Keeping up with the Joneses meets social media.

By Marianella Orlando September 1, 2015 Published in the September 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Image: Shutterstock

Imagine stepping out of a time machine and realizing that you’ve landed in the Triassic Era. And you’re in someone’s living room. You’re in a Triassic living room. Got it? Anyway, that scene might look a lot like Leticia Parga’s Channelview home did a few Saturdays ago. Parga had allowed her couches to be temporarily displaced by rows of tables decorated with elaborate centerpieces of artificial grass and rocks, plus plastic tyrannosauruses, stegosauruses, T.rexes and triceratopses. On one wall was a candy and dessert bar, which featured fossil cookies, dino droppings made of chocolate and dino eggs made of taffy. Oh, and there were lots more dinosaur figurines on a nearby cake which, judging by the number of whoas and ahhs it received, was an unqualified success. “Happy Birthday, Anthony,” it read.  

In honor of her son turning 7, Parga had invited lots of Anthony’s friends to partake in this prehistoric ritual, but also some of hers. Both contingents were impressed. “My friend already told me, ‘I’m going to steal your idea,’” confides Parga while serving a plate of rice and refried pinto beans to another friend. “She’s having a dinosaur-themed birthday party for her son too.”

Throwing extravagant birthday parties for 7-year-old boys is hardly a new thing. Indeed, when this generation sees old photos of simple parties from the Randall’s sheet cake era, they are usually left baffled and wondering where the ninja is, just as the Randall’s generation was scandalized by a previous generation’s homemade cakes. With each passing decade, the investment of time and money grows, however, and the task of celebrating a child’s milestone inches ever closer to becoming a fulltime job. 

Who are we kidding? It already is, at least for Ahidee Romero. She’s the woman who planned and executed the party for Parga’s son in Parga’s living room, after consulting with Parga, a time-strapped 29-year-old mother of two. But the rapid growth of her party-planning business, Little Posh Events, can’t be traced to moms being too busy, Romero says. Moms have always been too busy. No, what’s making Little Posh so big these days, she says, is the pressure social media exerts on parents. 

“They want to throw the best birthday party that everyone will be talking about,” says Romero. “People don’t want to feel like the bad mom who doesn’t go all out.” 

It was around the time that she started Little Posh, in 2012, that Romero first noticed the many ways that the digital revolution was fostering insecurity, and how that in turn was fostering her business. She quickly found herself throwing four parties a month, each seemingly more over-the-top than the last. Stilt walkers and blowup bounce houses gave way to petting zoos and pony rides and marine biologists, which led to live DJs and bands, and then backyard water shows, women swimming in mermaid costumes, and a mechanical bull. That’s right, a mechanical bull, because as everyone knows, there’s no better way to mark the birthday of a two-year-old. That’s right, a two-year-old. The large inflatable waterslide on Parga’s front lawn seemed Spartan by comparison.

And the one-upmanship isn’t confined to entertaining. Everyone seems to want a tiered fondant cake at parties now, Romero says, along with a photo booth, along with a regular photographer, along with a videographer. These aren’t so much birthday parties as—well, she calls them mini weddings

“You have to remind parents to let some things go, and ask if the party is really for them or their kids.”

But letting go isn’t easy, not with the explosion of do-it-yourself crafts on Pinterest and the long list of ideas promoted on Facebook and Instagram. And then there’s the competition among the kids themselves. “My oldest son is starting to notice,” says Carmen Salazar, a childhood friend of Parga’s at Anthony’s party. “He’s like, ‘Mom, I want to have my party here,’ or ‘I want what he has.’ It puts pressure on me because it depends if I have the money to do it.”

But you get the sense that Salazar will find the money, just as Parga did, just as most parents do, and always have. The parties may have changed, but the undying desire to throw them is eternal, as is the joy they inspire.  

“There’s nothing like a smile, the pure happiness from a child when they see the party for the first time,” Romero says. “That’s why I got into this business.”

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