Both of my kids have summer birthdays, rapidly approaching. My son will be two, which means this may be the last kid’s birthday party we throw that doesn’t have to be about the kid.
We don’t exactly throw a ton of parties here in post-kid land, so I see our kid’s birthday parties as an excuse to finally get around to having our friends over—cake, grown-ups drinks, busy-happy kids and no babysitter required.
I know a lot of people think you’re nuts if you make a big deal of the first few birthdays. Of course, the kids could care less what you do, but I believe they’re important occasions for celebration for the parents. As in, “Woo hoo, we made it through another year! We rock!”
Eventually—and this has already started for my daughter, they do care. She wants to decide who’s invited and what the “theme” is (ie. what’s on the paper plates). Our big debate for her fourth birthday was whether or not it should be “girls only,” which we postponed last year, maybe for the last time. This year there’s talk of Princess vs. Tinkerbell (alt-princess) vs. Word Girl. On the one hand, I’d really love to encourage her to embrace a girl superhero with a big vocabulary. On the other hand, the first two are done after five minutes on Amazon. Word Girl means more work for me.
My son has a favorite tv show—Handy Manny. And since it’s Disney, not PBS Kids, it was a cinch. He’ll be happy as can be with just that ,and cares not a wit, at least as much as he can tell us, who comes to celebrate. We could stop at grandparents and call it a happy, happy day.
I’ve been to all kinds of birthday parties in my five-year stint as parent. I’d bet we’ve topped 100 by now, or nearly. Cookie-cutter easy, party-package from a kids’ space, a sweet dessert at the playground, and over-the-top party-planner perfect. We’ve seen it all.
And we’ve had a least a little fun at most. I’m not crazy about the ones where the kids sit and eat while parents stand behind them like individual wait staff and are assumed to not want petty things like cake. Yeah, if I’m going to sit through a kids birthday party, I’m gonna need some cake.
Birthday parties are definitely a one-size-does-not-fit-all kind of parenting situation. Some parents love to throw parties and enjoy every creative minute and others could hardly be bothered to think about it at all. I’m sympathetic to both and everything in-between.
What I don’t support are parents who make themselves miserable over-doing whatever they’ve decided to do. Invite everyone you know! Invite just the people you happen to see on that day! Invite no one! Invite your kids to eat cake after dinner! Do whatever makes you and your kid happy, but don’t complain later. There is no right or wrong way to do this.
The other thing I don’t get is judging other parents for what they do. I had this realization while judging another mom for her superior birthday party throwing skills while scheming about how to live up to it with my next party and… oh wait, that’s stupid. She clearly had fun doing it. I would not have had fun trying to live up to it.
So, if you’re a minimalist, good for you! But maybe someone else is really happy doing something big. We shouldn’t judge the hostess-with-the-mostess anymore than we judge those parents who don’t even tell their kids that it’s their birthday.
Like my parents. The only birthday party I remember was when I turned 16. Apparently, my parents didn’t tell us (I’m one of four!) when we were really little, since they couldn’t really afford to throw four birthday parties a year, it was just easier if we didn’t know.
My husband, however, had themed birthday parties with his friends every year. I’ve seen the evidence—both in photos his parents took and in what he thinks we should do for our kids. They certainly know when their birthday has arrived.
Birthday parties are one of the many things you have to do together with your parenting partner that you never discussed during your courting phase. Can you imagine? “What’s your vision for our future son’s second birthday party? How many guests are appropriate for a first birthday? When should the slumber parties begin???” Yeah, not so much. All that fun comes later.
Our daughter has parties I couldn’t have dreamed up, and I’m (mostly) happy to be able to do it for her. But I do want her to understand that every family does it differently. So, next time we’re at one of those “meet-up-at-the-playground-and-have-a-pastry-with-a-few-friends” birthdays, she doesn’t assume there will be a goodie bag when we leave.
It’s my mini-contribution to a world where you can do—or not do—whatever you want for your kid’s birthday. Hopefully, it’s also an early step toward her understanding that other people do things differently. And that’s ok. Because that’s the kind of grown-up world I hope for her.
As for my own birthday issues… I’m gonna start planning a blow-out party for when I turn 50. Because I can. And maybe leave the kids at home for that one.
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