A birthday party is a great way for friends and family to gather around a person and celebrate their existence. It is a wonderful, fun, relaxing and happy time for everyone! Right? But any parent who has thrown a birthday party for their toddler has just answered with a vehement “No!”.
That is because organising a party for your kid means navigating a minefield of unfair comparisons, resulting in unmet expectations and unimpressed little people unless you are an actual party planner or have loads of cash and free time.
Let’s start at the unfair comparisons. My dad had a saying: “There’s always going to be someone better off and someone worse off than you”. I honestly believe that to be true, and yet for some inexplicable reason, we tend to ONLY compare ourselves to people that are better off. This means that there is always going to be someone who throws a better birthday party for their kid than you could for yours – and that can drive us to make some very bad decisions, like spending more than our budget allows.
“This weird Pinterest-inspired culture of elaborate birthday parties has failed to help us remember what our child’s birthday party is all about: celebrating their existence, how far they have come, and how far they will go.”
Here’s how we fall into the trap of “unmet expectations”: we ask our kids what they want to do for their birthday party. Now, maybe you’re lucky and your toddler says, “I just want to sit quietly while you sip wine” but what is much more likely is that your toddler says something like: “I want a fire truck party with a real fire truck and real firemen who put out a real fire”.
Now you have to find a fire truck that you can hire, firemen who get paid by the hour and who DON’T take their clothes off and a way to become an arsonist.
And even if … by some incredible force of willpower, determination and most importantly, cash flow, you manage to do what your kid asks for … they will arrive at the party and be completely unimpressed. The cake you spent so much on has fallen out of favour and has been replaced by the cheap sweets you bought as fillers. The incredible bouncing castle has been ignored, while the tennis ball found at the back of your car is the prized possession for the rest of the party.
This can make you feel like a fool and failure. I’m not going to lie to you – you may have been the former (we all have), but you aren’t the latter. This weird Pinterest-inspired culture of elaborate birthday parties is the failure. It has failed to help us remember what your child’s birthday party is all about: celebrating their existence, how far they have come, and how far they will go.
My wife and I are definitely not birthday party experts, but over the last few years, we have definitely improved. The first step is to look at what our kids like to do at other parties and play dates. For instance, our oldest tends to get overwhelmed in large groups and sticks with 2 or 3 of his best friends, so for his last party we didn’t invite everyone we could have. We kept it a small, fun and short time so that our little introvert could really relax and enjoy himself.
If you are the kind of person who really enjoys throwing big and elaborate parties, go ahead, but be warned: You do not want to set a standard that you won’t be able to keep for the foreseeable future. Also, be honest with yourself; who are you really doing it for? If the answer is because you know your child will absolutely love it and would feel really special, that is great! But if you are doing it because of the way it will cement your place in your social strata then that just seems kind of toxic to me.
Maybe being stressed about your kid’s birthday party is one of the things that we all have to go through and survive to make us better parents. If that is the case, be strong and may the odds forever be in your favour!
AfroDaddy, a.k.a. Terence Mentor, is a place for parents, especially dads, to come together and share in the “duality of parenting” – the fact that being a parent can be fantastic, wonderful and beautiful, while simultaneously being exhausting, frustrating and awful. A husband and father to two boys born 18 months apart, AfroDaddy shares his unique view and experiences, while opening himself to new experiences, learnings and people. You can find him at AfroDaddy.