I've seen it firsthand. I've been right in the thick of things, surrounded by chaos. The screaming, the crying, the damage done to person and property.
I was a birthday party entertainer.
For two years during college I worked for a company that provided edutainment science programs for kids in after school programs, summer camps, and birthday parties. For two years I put on the same show three to six times each weekend as I drove all over the Los Angeles area in a 1989 Civic with no A/C.
In that time I saw everything. From families who had likely saved all year to hire me as a treat for their kid, to lavish spectacles where I was one of several acts and felt lost in the shuffle. I was often paired with, or pitted against, some sort of inflatable structure. Some parents were engaged in the show, others used it as a time to grab a drink and chat with friends. That's how I once ended up being the only one to notice a bouncy house full of children tipping over and deflating. I sprinted across the yard and pulled eight kids out of the rapidly collapsing 500 pounds of PVC before anyone came to help out. Still, I realized I had it easy when I left a party with Batman and Buttercup the Power Puff Girl. When Batman got around the corner to his car he removed his rubber cowl and so much sweat poured out it looked like he had dumped a bucket of water over his head. The guy in the Buttercup costume didn't seem to be doing much better. By comparison my teased out half-fro and lab coat seemed like a blessing.
Even as I was doing it I couldn't believe that this was a thing. Hiring from our company wasn't cheap, and of course there were up-sells and add-ons on top of the base price. I was paid for each performance, plus tips, which I relied on. Whether I was treated like a star or an after thought I knew I wouldn't have a version of me at my kids' future parties. As much as I appreciated being able to pay my way through school on the wallets of these families I think it was a waste of money. Becoming a parent has only hardened my resolve. Parties at gyms, bouncy places, or climbing establishments run $250 and up in my area. No way my friend. I bristle at spending more than $50 for snacks, there's no way I'm buying trampolines and pizza for twenty.
I'm not a total party pooper. It's just that I still believe in the power of the old school parties we had growing up, at home. My two oldest children have birthdays five days apart. For them we have one party on the closest weekend to their birthdays. This way all their friends can come over and destroy my house once and I'm done for the year. For a couple years we prepared activities for the kids. Once our kids chose to perform a play for their guests. Over the years we've found that the activity is usually ignored in favor of just running around the house, or the yard (or the house and the yard). The last party involved half the guests grabbing light sabers and muskets and waging war on an imagined enemy, while the other half sang karaoke into a purse/boom box. Other times we've simply rolled some balls out in to the yard, or helped the kids make super hero capes. The point is, kids don't need a bunch of froo-frah to have a good time. All kids really need are some friends and enough space to roam around. And cake, kids go ape for that stuff. Our home and park based parties are enough. My kids have never asked for anything else.
I get that there are different families with different needs. Some people have more money than time and would rather not have a gaggle of rug rats run through their showpiece homes. Some people just hate cleaning up. For us, a single income family with a stay at home parent, we'd rather spend that $250 on a season of dance lessons, or art classes, or sports dues and equipment. Hell, you'd be better off putting that money in a 529 plan and giving it to them when they're eighteen. Elaborate birthday parties are a waste. I don't think most kids really care all that much, and I'm not willing to get caught up in keeping up with someone else's lifestyle. I'm lucky that my kids feel the same way. Besides, why hire entertainment to occupy them while I grab a beverage with the other parents, when they can entertain each other for free?