Kids Birthday Parties: Yes or No?

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.

My son 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 my son'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 my son is so keen on saying just now, “No Way, Jose!’

My nearly-three-year-old 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, his 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 my son 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 my son'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 my son 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 my son 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. 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.

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This post originally appeared on my blog DorkyMum.

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