The Struggle is Real

To birthday party or not?

Recently, for some reason, discussions about birthday parties keep coming up. Mamas that get stressed over how many kids to invite. Dads that can’t fathom sorting out food for all the dietary restrictions. Parents that feel the expense is ludicrous. The mama on my right declared that “Parties are such a waste of money!” while the mama on my left retorted “Seriously? You’d deprive your child of a birthday party? That’s selfish!”

And before the big guns could come out, I tried to diffuse the whole conversation with a nice solid “Everyone has to do what’s right for their family.” which worked.

(It always works!)

Personally, I think we’ve gotten a little out of control with expectations that are hard to fulfill. It’s happened with Weddings, it’s happened with Sweet 16s. Now it’s happening with birthday parties.

When one mom started talking budgets, she mentioned a cake for over $150. Food was hundreds of dollars because they’ve got a big family. Loot bags, branded theme paper products, an entertainer, a hall…

And then I understood why the budget was just bursting!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you *shouldn’t* throw a gala affair for the little one’s first birthday. Go ahead and find the perfect venue for the your kid’s 7th birthday. Spend what you want.

But realize you don’t have to.

Sometimes expectations get out of control. Sometimes it’s us parents – we forget that they’re just kids and don’t really understand. Even more – the party is not for them, it’s for us. We like throwing parties and we want to do it up. We have a vision. It becomes about fulfilling that vision.

I’ve thrown birthday parties for under $100 and I’ve thrown them for hundreds, (and gotten a smidge carried away, I admit).

I have this thing about birthdays. My mom taught me that we should celebrate ourselves, and I take birthdays very seriously (as in, it’s all about moi!). It’s the one day a year that you can make it all about you – and I do believe everyone deserves their day, including my husband and myself!

Favourite clothes, favourite food, a gift that they’ve really wanted, That’s the start. The kids never have to go to school on their birthdays – in fact, I’ve never worked on my birthday, and I’m 45.

I always ask the boys what they want to do. They can go ride rollercoasters, ask to go to a hotel for a weekend (check out my post on staycations) and they can also have a party if they want one, and they’ve always wanted one. (If they didn’t, that would be a different story).

I like to do big parties with all of their friends – the whole class and the whole daycare – because I want to celebrate my child. I want all of their friends to celebrate them, too. They won’t remember the presents, they won’t remember exactly what went on at the party, but they’ll always remember the big celebration and the fuss made over them.

When they were younger I invited family and some of our friends, but by about 3 they had enough friends for a party – and the family? I’m sure they weren’t too hurt to be let off the hook on a Saturday afternoon.

I’m lucky that one of my kids has a summer birthday. Although I worry about the weather ruining the party every year, I have a big party in the park (no venue fee) and I’ve never been rained out yet. My younger one has a May birthday, and we’ve had to keep it inside. I’ve found really inexpensive venues – the community centre has a cool event room for $29/hour – and they can go swimming too! I live in the city (Urban Mom Elisa) and my home is way too small for anything more than 4 or 5 kids, or I’d have the parties here.

My husband and I have celebrated milestone birthdays for each other with big parties, but the kids really love the tradition. It’s always what they want though, not me. I like baking the birthday cupcakes so the cake has never bit my budget. I have a big box of decorations, plates, napkins, and each year I add to that box, using what I have left over from last year’s festivities. Kids are easy to occupy, they like to play. It’s actually much easier than it sounds to occupy 25 kids for 3 hours.

One year one child wanted a movie birthday, the other wanted a play birthday, some years it’s costumes, other years it’s waterguns. One year we found a mini-zoo to come to the party, the boa constrictor was a huge hit.

Kids are easy to please. Parties don’t need to be $800 at the best local destination. They don’t need to be $2,000 affairs with custom loot bags. They should reflect what the little one wants, without breaking the bank, and most importantly, without bringing on stress. Parties are supposed to be fun – I don’t know how that was forgotten along the way, probably as specialty items became the “must-haves” and the costs started adding up.

There really is no right or wrong answer, and you need to celebrate your child’s birthday (and your own!) the way you see fit, but I love that it’s become a day to celebrate myself, and it brings me great happiness to see that my kids are learning to celebrate themselves in style!