Children’s Birthday Parties: Yay or Nae?

vanilla cupcakes

I hate birthday parties.

Not just a little bit, but a lot. Can’t stand them.

I had my first ‘proper’ birthday party – meaning that there were friends invited rather than just family – when I turned eight. Bless my mother who had to organise the thing just a few weeks after a divorce and a house-move. I am quite sure that there was delicious cake and lovely party bags and lots of fun to be had… but about ten minutes into the party I was in floods of tears having been given some over-enthusiastic ‘birthday bumps’ and that remains my abiding memory of the day.

Eight years later, I decided to try again, and held a joint party with a close friend for our 16th. That too was pretty awful. We hired a DJ, but he left early in a huff because no-one was dancing. That’s because they were all down at the bottom of my friend’s garden swigging vodka out of the bottle and smoking weed. As both sets of parents were at home supervising, we birthday girls were unable to partake. We mooched miserably around the empty rooms, feeling horribly sober, desperately uncool, and adolescently awkward in our sparkly dresses. We vowed never to do such a thing again.

I don’t have a problem with birthdays themselves. I just think that they should be enjoyed in private. In my ideal world, you wouldn’t even have to leave your bed on your birthday. You could just lie there, and people could pop in throughout the day with books and chocolate and gin. Failing that, a quiet dinner out with a few close friends is probably the way to go.

DorkySon turns three at the end of the month, and so we have been trying to work out what to do for him. I don’t want to be a meany spoilsport parent just because I hate parties myself – as I know from a 3rd birthday party hosted by my lovely friend Emily and her family a few weeks ago – they can be a lot of fun. But that was a nice relaxed affair. There was plenty of food and drink, and lots of excitement when the cake was brought out, but mainly the kids were just left to get on with it. There were no *shudder* organised games. No pass the parcel or pin the tail, thank God.

We got another birthday invite the other week from a nursery classmate of DorkySon’s. This one is taking place in a local hall, and I think the brave parents must have decided to invite the entire class because I’ve never met them, and couldn’t pick the child in question out from a line-up. They must have just asked the nursery for a list of everyone in the class and done a blanket invite to us all. I think they are doing a lovely and generous thing, in inviting so many people to share their child’s birthday. I also know there is also no chance in hell that we will do something similar. As DorkySon is so keen on saying just now, “No Way, Jose!’

DorkySon doesn’t much like having kids round here. He gets upset when they mess up his carefully constructed traffic jams, and he gets grumpy when they talk over the top of his Peppa Pig DVD. If there’s a chocolate cake on the go, DorkySon’s attitude is that no-one else should get a look in until he’s done with it. I know that learning all those social skills – sharing, being a good host, and not freaking out when people are in your personal space – are important skills to learn. And as he gets older he will learn them, like all kids do. But not on his birthday. Birthdays should be about doing what makes you happy. I am pretty sure that a big party in a hall with thirty other kids would not make DorkySon happy.

So what will we do? Well, by chance it looks like we’ll be having a friend to stay with us the night of DorkySon’s birthday. It’s someone he likes a lot, so that already makes the day a little bit special. We will have cake and presents. We will probably have Skype chats with some of his aunts and uncles and godparents and grandparents who are scattered around the globe. And maybe we will go out to a museum, or to a farm park, or for pizza. But that will probably be it.

I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ve reached that decision by thinking about what is going to make DorkySon happiest; not just what’s going to be easiest for me.

I don’t mind being put under pressure, but that pressure has to come from the right place. I’m not going to have a big party for him just because it’s what other parents do. But nor will I ever refuse him one just because it’s my idea of a nightmare. If DorkySon asks for a big birthday party next year he can have it. He can have piñatas and party games and as many chunks of pineapple on a stick as he likes. Of course he can. He’s my son, and I love him, and I’d do anything in my power to make him happy.

But jeez.

I really, really hope he doesn’t ask.


22 responses

  1. That is a great way of looking at it, what is going to make the birthday boy/girl happiest? It’s so difficult not to bow to parent pressure and do what everyone else is doing. I lasted until mine was 3 and then gave in to the soft play party pressure, goddammit. Having said that, that was what he wanted, so he was happy. But then again, he wants to go to New York this year and so he may well be disappointed…

  2. We will be in Crete again on Z’s 3rd birthday. His 2nd bday was spent building sandcastles on the beach and eating pizza for lunch. With lots of cake. I suspect his 3rd bday will run along the same theme. I think that at this age, all that is important is that there is cake. And presents. That is true of my age too, although I fully expect there to also be wine 🙂

  3. I hate parties. I’ve never had one for my older child, who’s nearly 10 – but that’s because he hates them too. Daughter loves them; we started having them when she was five and had school friends to invite. But they’ve always been at home, playing in the garden. That seems a good compromise. It’s hard work, though!

    • That does sound like a good compromise – must be a lot easier for children with summer birthdays who can do outdoorsy things. Thanks for the reassurance that I’m not the only one who hates parties!

  4. Ooo, I’m with you on this one. Really not keen on birthday parties for myself. I much prefer a nice quiet dinner with family – I’m even happy to cook it. I’ve had a birthday cake phobia for a long, long time too. I remember a friend’s 6th birthday and she spat all over the cake when blowing out candles. I’ve not eaten a piece of birthday cake since. Makes me feel nauseous. Luckily, cupcakes are all the rage so no one blinked at no large cake appearing at my son’s last birthday.

    • Ooh good! There are lots of fellow party haters out there, I’m feeling much better about it now! That’s awful about the cake, can definitely see that it would put you off!

  5. We had a big party for F’s 1st birthday last year. A garden BBQ, cake, drinks, paddling pool and sandpit. It was great. But I don’t know if we’ll do the same this year. Last year, it was more for us, to mark the day with all our friends and family. This year, although every birthday is obviously special, that huge big sense of occasion doesn’t feel so important to me. So I think we’ll go with a more low-key affair. Enjoy it while you can, you’re right to just do what you think will make DorkySon happiest. After all, next year he may demand a magician, bouncy castle, 50 friends and lots of cake!

    • A big garden party sounds lovely – much less stressful than having to organise indoor entertainment.

      I am putting my fingers in my ears and singing lalala very loudly – I can’t hear your chat of magicians and bouncy castles!

  6. I think you have to do what’s right for DorkySon, and it sounds like having a special friend round and all of his family making a fuss of him will be enough.
    We did a 3rd birthday party for Blake last October – but simply hired a soft play which laid on some party food and party bags. I only had to provide a cake.
    But I was guilted into doing it because his big brother (who is a total ‘look at me’ exhibitionist) has had a party every year of his life. It started as a get-together of NCT buddies and their babies when he was 1, but over the years we’ve done the big party at home, and we’ve done a bouncy castle party at the local leisure centre.
    In future, if DorkySon wants a party but gets stressed about kids spoiling his toys, I’d say consider hiring somewhere outside of the home. I spent much more on food and entertainment in my own house. It was cheaper and easier (and you didn’t have the mess to clear up) to go to a kids party venue and pay so much per head for food and entertainment.
    But not every child needs all the chaos and attention of a big party.

    • I can imagine that having an older sibling complicates things somewhat if it creates an expectation… I like the idea of heading somewhere else and getting someone else to do all the work though 😉 As you say, we’ll see what his preferences are as he gets older. He may, like me, just be missing that party loving gene!

  7. My son has never enjoyed parties and so we never ‘had’ to do them for him. He chose for years to stay in a hotel with his Dad ‘special time’ I guess. My daughter’s birthday is today and I’m doing her party, an art and craft party. I run a children’s party business and so my concept is to try and make it as stress free for the parents as possible. I do the invites, party bags and 2 hours of entertainment. the parents can stay with us or I’ve had some sneak a glass of wine or do gardening. I’m not trying to plug them as I only do girls parties! Just saying I know exactly what you mean- it needs to be as stress free as possible. I find it harder doing my own children’s parties!!

    • Ooh crikey, if even a professional planner finds it hard to do them for their own kids, what chance do the rest of us have!? I like the phrase ‘special time’ – I think that’s probably a good thing to bear in mind, that for some kids a party will be what they want and for others some other kind of ‘special time’ will work better 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

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