I have this friend who likes to remind me that when we first met I was talking about my plans for my daughter’s first birthday party. Not really something worth remembering right? Well, here’s a little context for you: At the time my baby was eight months old. She’d only just learned to crawl. And there I was, four months before her birthday, preparing to throw her the biggest party possible, complete with rainbow theme and out-of-town guests (because obviously nothing could be more important than the anniversary of my child’s birth). Wow. Was that really me? I mean, yeah, I do enjoy event planning, and I was a first-time mother, but all that time and expense on a day that my kid doesn’t even remember? All that stress, and mess, and time spent in the kitchen when I could have been paying attention to my baby? Hindsight tells me it really wasn’t worth it.
I suppose you could call me a bit of a party pooper these days. I can’t help but groan when my kids come home from school with yet another invitation to yet another party (and don’t get me started on the parents who fail to respond when you text them to RSVP). I’ve become so sick of the neverending birthday celebrations that I’ve even lost interest when it comes to throwing parties for my own children. The mother I was eight years ago would be shocked to hear that I haven’t made any plans at all to mark my fourth and final baby’s fast approaching first birthday. Sure, there are a couple of presents tucked away in my secret gift cupboard, but that’s only because I stock up on books and toys whenever I see a really good sale. Right now I’m not even sure I can be bothered making him a cake. Is that wrong?
My lack of enthusiasm when it comes to birthday celebrations has a lot to do with the fact that I’m low on time and energy now that I’ve got children coming out my ears. But for the most part I just feel like kids’ birthday celebrations are getting out of hand. Surely the 200-odd dollars (and trust me, that’s an extremely modest estimate) it costs to put together a party would be better spent elsewhere? Do kids really care about matching napkins, paper plates, and party hats? Are the goodie bags stuffed to the brim with plastic toys and whistles really necessary? I don’t know about you, but I’d be thrilled if my children returned from a party empty handed for once. Parents of birthday kids, please stop punishing me by handing out hooters to my kids. Please.
Before I made my transition from Party Mum to Debbie Downer, I did allow my children to have small, “affordable” parties. When my eldest daughter turned six (yes, the first-born has had the most parties by far, deal with it, subsequent children) she invited three friends over for cake and a couple of games. Only two kids showed up, which suited me, but for the amount of effort it took to get everything organised I may as well have invited her entire class. I baked and decorated a butterfly cake, inflated balloons, organised games (which included wrapping a small gift in approximately 500 layers of newspaper, and hiding around a million lollipops in the front yard), and shopped for and prepared party food (most of which the kids refused to eat because apparently fairy bread and sausage rolls are yucky). Clearly, when it comes to parties, you either need to go big or go home, and I’m quite comfortable here with my slippers and steaming cup of instant coffee, thank you very much.
I know it’s incredibly annoying when old people start wagging their fingers and talking about the way things used to be, but back when I was a kid the parties I attended were simple, understated, and awesome. There were no piñatas, no themes, and games were played for the fun of it, not for prizes. Goodie bags were a rare occurrence, but that didn’t matter because coming home with a giant piece of cake wrapped in a paper napkin was the best thing ever. Decorations were minimal, a few balloons were all it took to set the mood, and plates of party food were plonked on the table haphazardly, without a thought for whether or not the styling was on trend. Not once did I come home from a party feeling like it hadn’t been enough. It always was. Kids plus cake plus running around like wild things equalled ridiculous amounts of fun. Have kids evolved so much that a typical early-90s party is now lame? Or is it just that we, as parents, have taken things a bit too far? The fact that my children often come home from school reciting the same rhymes and jokes I enjoyed as a kid suggests the latter is probably more accurate. Pinterest has a lot to answer for.
A big part of being a parent is feeling like you want to give your kids more than what you had. I’m always thinking back to my own childhood and telling myself, Oh, I would’ve loved that, I’m going to make sure my kids get it.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s why parties are becoming bigger and bigger as time goes on. Even though I enjoyed the parties I had as a kid, I do find myself looking at the decorations and party loot available these days and wondering what eight-year-old-me would’ve thought of it all. Would I have pined after it? Yes. Does that make me feel compelled to splash out on it for my kids? Yes. Does that mean I have to? Well, no actually. It does not.
No matter how old we are, or where we’re at in life, I feel like everyone is always wanting more. And when it comes down to it, that’s just a part of life. We can’t have everything we want. We probably wouldn’t be any happier if we got everything we wanted. And I really don’t think my kids are going to be less happy because I’m not inviting 30 of their closest friends to a Disney Princess sleepover extravaganza (though now I’ve invented it I totally think that sounds like an amazing party). Knowing my children would love something doesn’t mean I have to make sure it happens for them. How many parents can actually give their kids everything their hearts desire anyway?
What I’m getting at here is that no parent should feel like they have to throw their kids a big party every year. If you’re reading this post and thinking, But I love planning birthday parties for my children, then that’s great. If you enjoy the process and are happy to spend the time, effort and money a themed birthday celebration requires, then I salute you. You are awesome. Your kids are going to be the coolest and most popular people at school, while children like mine will wish their mother was a
bit lot more like you.
If, however, you’re like me and you’d rather just do away with parties altogether, then that’s fine too. Your children do not need a lavish party to have a happy birthday. Throwing them a big birthday bash will not make them feel any more loved. Spending hundreds of dollars on entertaining a house-full of kids is not mandatory. Wrap up a gift, chuck some candles on a cake, and tell your kid you love them. That’s party enough, in my books.
– Fern xxx
I’m not a total grinch when it comes to birthdays. These videos prove it!
How do you celebrate birthdays in your house? Are you a Party Planner or a Party Pooper? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments section below.