When I was a kid, the most extravagant birthday party I attended was… well, my own. My mom bought me this gorgeous, crushed velvet floral blue dress that looked like a toilet doily and she let me wear lipstick, blush and teased my hair. I had two outfit changes, we pretended that my jungle gym was a pirate ship and we threw popcorn at the chickens. When the party ended we ate leftover cake in our pajamas. IT WAS THE BEST PARTY EVER.
Anyway, point is – birthday parties have become ridiculous. The competition between parents to throw the ultimate birthday party has gotten completely out of control, and for a long time I really got sucked into it.
For Mikayla’s first birthday party in 2012 I baked 50 red velvet cupcakes (it was super trendy back then), all individually decorated with fondant flowers and sprinkles. She had a double-layer chocolate cake with ganache filing, covered by fondant butterflies and flowers… that took me a week and a half to make and still looked pretty terrible (thank goodness no-one really had Instagram back then and I didn’t know any other moms – so mom shaming wasn’t really a thing for me yet!). I spent most of the party sick in bed with extreme nausea from making all that cream cheese frosting and licking the spoon – I still cannot face red velvet anything. 3 kids attended the party (they were brothers). She did not eat the cake, but stuffed her face with the marshmallows I carefully placed on super sharp sosatie sticks (because who cares about safety if it looks pretty, right?). I am so glad I found the internet to show me the error in my ways.
In 2013 she had a Minnie Mouse Party, I made Minnie Mouse headbands for all the guests and covered the entire roof in pink and black balloons. I also made a 35cm gigantic cake with a vanilla, chocolate and strawberry layer, and covered it in handmade round milk chocolate discs. 2 kids attended and we had left over cake for days. They spent most of their time on the jumping castle and neither of them wanted to wear the head bands. This was also before the pressures of motherhood started weighing on my shoulders.
In 2014 I went a little batshit. Mikayla started pre-school and this is pretty much where everything went downhill, because I met other moms and realized how I was failing in every way as a parent. I hired a party planner and we did a My Little Pony party. EVERYTHING was themed. No-one gave a shit, all they wanted to do is jump on the jumping castle. This is also the year I discovered Instagram.
In 2015, after the Constantia mommies’ disapproving looks at the previous party were edged into my brain, I decided to up my game a little. We did a rainbow themed party and I spent a freakin fortune. I made personalized goodie bags with awesome gifts, and spent hours sorting everything into the different colours of the rainbow… even the smarties (f@$%k you Pinterest). I hired a fairy to tell the kids stories and do a scavenger hunt, I hired someone to do face paint as well as a photographer. 15 kids attended. This party was an absolute winner, because of the fairy and the fact that we held it in the forest… but guess what, the kids did not give a shit about the decor and probably spent all of 2 minutes at the table. Oh, and they wanted to know where the jumping castle was. All of this, only three weeks after Knox and I got out of the hospital! What are we doing to ourselves?
in 2016 I still had not learned from my mistakes and spent even more time and money, I hired TWO party planners and a photographer. It was, after all, my son’s first birthday and my daughter’s 5th birthday party… and I think I was over compromising for the fact that I was giving them a joint party. You won’t believe how people guilt trip me over this joint party situation. The theme was Star Wars, and it was INSANE. The cake was organic, diary and gluten-free. I made personalized gift bags, personalized bubbles, the works. Knox and Mikayla even had outfits made for them! Once again, the kids did not give a shit and half the kids did not even show up. All they wanted was cake, sweets and the jumping castle. That being said, I don’t regret this party for a second. IT WAS EPIC. It just cost the same as a small wedding.
In 2017 we had our first birthday party on the farm. It was Knox’s 2nd birthday and Mikayla’s 6th. By now a little voice in my head started telling me that I need to calm the fuck down and simplify my life, so I only made a 2-tier Hello Kitty and dinosaur birthday cake (which almost ended up looking like a weed plantation) and had two horses for the kids to ride around the property. The kids did not give a shit. They each had one or two goes on the horses and bolted for the jumping castle (are you seeing the trend yet?).
This year, we did nothing. I did not stress about the party and start planning it 3-months before the time like I normally do. I only invited people a week before the party and I hired a jumping castle. The cakes were made by a family friend who insisted on making two, once again due to the shock and horror of a joint birthday party – if I had my way we would have bought a cake at Pick n Pay. I threw a hay bale next to the table for dramatic effect and served some hotdogs, fizzers and flings. There were no party packs, personalized gifts or photographers. I was so stressed about it on the day… what would people think? Does it look like I don’t care about my kids? Am I a bad mom? Should I have put more effort in? Well, the kids had the time of their lives.. I ended up having the best day and I didn’t bankrupt myself in the process or stress myself into a complete panic for days at end.
There is nothing wrong with going the extra mile for your kids and throwing extravagant parties – if that is your thing. I just feel that we really need to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to impress other people. We end up wasting money, and our kids really don’t care that your hand-glued 1000 sequins onto a paper plate. All they want is cake, a jumping castle and to have some fun with their friends.
Your kids party is just that – a party for kids.
It is not meant as a test, or an opportunity to show off in front of other parents. When it comes to a kid’s birthday party, keep it simple. You don’t need a 3-tier cake with each layer a different colour of the rainbow. You do not need special, see-through helium balloons with confetti inside that lights up in the dark. You do not need a nail technician, a singing mermaid or a hair stylist. Personalized party bags – they each get a slice of cake, gets to fuck up your house for an entire hour or two and you don’t charge them to use the jumping caste – that’s more than enough. Homemade Bunting – it is overrated, enough now. Just relax and have a good time.
For those who are horrified that my kids have joint birthday parties, relax. First of all, it has nothing to do with you – it does not affect your life in any way whatsoever. Secondly, we do it because that is what my daughter wants, every year. She wants to have a party with her baby brother. One day that will stop, I know it will. But, for now – let me just love my kids a little bit more, before they are not little anymore? Don’t ruin the cuteness of my daughter being the most love drunk big sister with your “ag shame” comments. Stay in your lane.
I have another controversial situation when it comes to birthday parties, something that I know irks a lot of people. I do not allow my kids to open their presents at their party. They have to wait until afterwards. There are a couple of solid reasons for this…
- I am the mom and what I say goes
- I am the mom and I know what is best for my kids
- I don’t want your kids to ruin my child’s brand new toy/outfit/colouring in book/whatever
- Not all my friends can afford to buy my kids gifts, but they give us gifts throughout the year that are priceless. Love, kindness, a few hours alone and support. I am not going to make them feel bad by making a public display about gift-giving at parties.
- I don’t want to make a big deal about the gifts, I don’t want the party to become about the gifts. It should be a celebration of their special day, and sharing it with the people you love.
How do you feel about kids’ parties nowadays? Am I being insane? Or lazy? Do you think we need to take a few steps back to basics? And if you are really brave – how much time and money do you spend on your kids’ birthday parties every year, and do they even notice the effort?