Dear Amy: My wife and I have three young children who, thanks to generous financial aid, attend a local private school.

Often we ferry them to birthday parties of friends, and we are shocked and awed by these events. It seems that children's birthday parties have taken on the urgency of the nuclear arms race, as parents kill themselves trying to outdo one another by throwing the biggest, most outrageous parties imaginable.

Don't get me wrong - I think it is great to celebrate a child's special day, though we prefer to do so in a much more low-key fashion.

I often find myself bristling at buying presents for kids who already have plenty and for whom another present will mean very little.

The expense is considerable, even when we limit the number of parties our children may attend. Every so often an invitation will ask that a donation to a charity be made in lieu of a present, a practice that we find thoughtful.

I realize the problem is mostly my own, and that I perhaps should be less judgmental. Still, I wonder if any child really requires presents from 20 friends every birthday.

- Concerned Party Pooper

Dear Concerned: I share your concern about these birthday campaigns of shock and awe. It's fine to be open with your kids about your limitations, but there is no point in judging others. You convey your own values to your children every day and in every way. That is always going to be the most important thing to them.

Your children are interacting with people who have much more than they do, and your job is to make sure they continue to have their feet firmly planted in your family's reality. Consistently convey that you like your life - and theirs - just as it is.