The “Good-Enough” Birthday Party (+ One Thing I NEVER DO)

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.


The Flower Birthday Party

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.

Star Wars Themed Birthday Party

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…

  1. I am the mom and what I say goes
  2. I am the mom and I know what is best for my kids
  3. I don’t want your kids to ruin my child’s brand new toy/outfit/colouring in book/whatever
  4. 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.
  5. 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?



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( mm / dd )

26 thoughts on “The “Good-Enough” Birthday Party (+ One Thing I NEVER DO)

  1. Kim Muller says:

    Oh preach! I spent hundreds, possibly thousands of rands in the last 6 years on birthday parties for the boys. And the kids just don’t care. Like you, all they want is the jumping castle. I’m also with you on not opening gifts during the party.

    This year, for Matthew’s 7th birthday, I’m having something small on the beach. The kids can have a ball playing in the sea (and with the drought I think this is the best idea ever), there’ll be minimal snacks and no stress! Plus, his birthday is on 21 Jan, which is the worst time of the year financially to have a birthday lol.

  2. ella says:

    I’m just over here thinking, but now why do people care if you have a joint party? like why? like how? NEE MAN! I’m considering a joint mommy and me bowling party this year because I can do whatever the heck i want with my kid and my money, so there!
    also why do people care about your gifts, nee man Maz, people be crazy!
    PS. love the pics

  3. Jodie says:

    Good on you for “downscaling”. Like you say, it’s not the money that counts. I am all for having something very simple. Also, for the last few years I’ve had a joint party – my kids’ birthdays are 6days apart – but last year, I had two separate age appropriate parties. For my 6year old, we did a movie night at home…hotdogs for the kids and a movie that my sister downloaded for us. No party packs, no cake (I made a rainbow cake and sent it to school on his actual birthday) and just popcorn and soda with the movie. The kids were chuffed because it was an evening party and all they really wanted to do was play with Ethan’s toys so they abandoned the movie half way through and I let them play. For my younger one, we went to the Spur. Invited two kids his age and his cousins and that was it. In total, the parties probably cost me around R2,500 together and that’s because we paid for platters for the adults and drinks at the Spur which we usually do if we have a Spur party ๐Ÿ™‚ The kids loved their parties and that’s all that counts!!!

  4. Christie Mann says:

    This is the first year that my kids are not having a joint birthday party. But I finally get to have a girly Spa Party with my baby girl so I am good.
    It was going to happen, we ran out of themes that worked for boys and girls and the big kid wanted to just go to movies with a friend.
    Our parties have been epic – 30 odd kids, parents, food, cold drinks and a slippy slide for both kids and adults.
    I think because I’ve had to do joint parties, I’ve gone a bit overboard but we also only had one party a year instead of two so it was worth it in terms of effort and cost.

    My real job is a photographer specializing in cake smashes and parties (www.christiemann.co.za) and you are 100% right – the kids don’t care about the decor, they just want sweets, cupcakes and a jumping castle and maybe their face painted. The pretty co-ordinated decor and beautifully laid out tables are just for us mommies – the kids do not give a sh!t. And so it should be until they have their own kids and plan their parties.

    • Maz says:

      I know my kids will grow out of it eventually – but that will be their choice. Damn, I wish I did a smash the cake photoshoot when my kids were babies!

  5. Simone Cameron says:

    You are me…this is my story. I order the cakes months in advance….cakes that cost more than my wedding cake cost me. I imported tinkerbell themed sweets and boxes……… I paid over R1000 just to have themed boxes made for our minnie mouse party that looked like a mini wedding. I have cried afterwards realising nobody even knew the sweets were imported or said: Wow these are the most gorgeous tinkerbell sweets ever. Tutus made for every kid. 100 macaroons at R10 a pop…to impress people that didn’t even know what they were. LMAO I would make a special themed punch that cost me hundreds of rands…and people drank that stuff like it was free. Cause i guess it was. Kids didn’t give a crap…..

    This year I also finally came to my senses. Well last year….took my eldest indoor wall climbing with 7 friends. I bought pizza and put out a platter of mini lunch bars, chips, dip and 2L cooldrinks. My son….I went even cheaper and took him and 3 friends to a trampoline park (pretend jumping castle)…..sent the kids home with a party pack and a cupcake.

    It’s liberating to get to this point. I just have this little issue where I’ve given my daughter the best and biggest party for 8yrs of her life, middle son had 5 good party years, but now with 2yr old I’m over this shit. So I need to figure out how I’ll explain that sister has fancy party pics for many more years than the boys. lol.

    Love this post…it made me laugh so much as I related to every word of it!

    • Maz says:

      Thank you Simone! And thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment, I appreciate it so much. The kids won’t even notice if you start downscaling – trust me. THEY DONT CARE! Good luck

  6. thea lennox says:

    I absolutely loved this blog. The most expensive party was my son’s 21 party. I spend a few thousand but because this was the first party that he wanted. So i actually was a lucky mom. Mag thanks for the great advice and laughs in between

  7. MrsFF says:

    We learn eventually … I went all out for my daughterโ€™s first birthday because afterall it was her first and she is my only child but the one thing I refuse to do is go bankrupt. Thanks to having โ€˜saneโ€ and prudent friends I learnt early that kids donโ€™t appreciate the grand show and just want to have fun and eat and now that is all I focus on. This year I made my daughterโ€™s cake (Iโ€™ve always paid some one to make it because it has to be perfect) and she declared it is the best cake ever. Because she requested I make it and make it all pink and glittery and that is exactly what I did. I didnโ€™t spend a fortune. Cake mix, ready made icing and ready made flowers from the Bake shop ๐Ÿ™‚

    And yes I donโ€™t understand the reason why people open gifts at the party. I am the mom and what I say also rules so we wait until Daya sometimes weeks after because surely if you get 5 or more gifts you really donโ€™t need to see them all at once

    • Maz says:

      The gift thing really annoys me. It is just too much sensory overload for them, and for some kids it is torture having that much attention on them. I love the idea of holding on to some of the presents for the next day/week… that is actually brilliant MrsFF!

  8. mommaBearTrax says:

    Dude! What mommies are you hanging with that’s judging you over kiddum parties?! When did this become a competition? That’s so pointless. Also, who’s so worried about you have a joint party for YOUR OWN kids?! Lastly, is that a thing? that gift opening vibe?…I think I’ve been living in bubble then.
    I know I love throwing a party – big or small- because I freakin’ LOVE doing it for my kids. It’s a personal choice, really. I’m one of those people who are passionate about it, and get a kick out creating something that I know my kids will enjoy – free from worry over whether some Tom, Dick or Harry approves of it. So I honestly don’t feel the stress of it – except the slight spike in nerves when Im up baking till 2 am cause I had to work late the day before. But I know it’ not everyone’s vibe. And that’s ok. We don’t all like the same things, or have the same passions in life, and that’s okay. So very okay. And I think its twisted that there are ppl out there that would use kids parties as a platform for mom-shaming.(how freakin lame are they?!) Im sorry you were made to feel like that. But good on you for down scaling and doing what you felt like. Do what works for you and your kids, and what’s bring you and your crew joy in your celebration. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ˜‰ XXX

    • Maz says:

      Not by choice, trust me. Your parties are the bomb.com – but that is because it is who you are! I mean, you decorate your house to the max for Halloween and Christmas and I love it… but yo do it for YOU and for YOUR KIDS, not to impress other parents. That I can respect and it is awesome. I mean, I want to be your child!

  9. Angela says:

    I agree with you 10000%. My “policy” is that the kids can have a celebration/party with friends every second year. In fact, we didn’t have a party this year for the second year in a row because we bought a house. So for two years they’ve really just had some cake, a few gifts and a visit from close family & friends. We don’t invite their entire school class to their parties. We try to make it clear that gifts are not a requirement. I would never allow them to open gifts during the party. I also intend to have a combined party this coming year.. and their birthdays are 2 months apart… Time/Money/Stress/Pressure. I don’t see anything wrong with this scenario. The girls have agreed on a Unicorn theme, but I know that all they actually care about is a jumping castle, some sweets, cuddles from granny & a good laugh. I have nobody to impress. I just have to remind myself to ignore the disapproving comments/looks.

    • Maz says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Angela! I quite like the idea of doing it every second year and doing a small get-together in-between. Buying a house definitely impacts things… with the stress, money, etc. Too much crazy! I suppose joint parties are easier when you have two girls / two boys… but I am going to keep doing it until it doesn’t work out anymore. It just saves so much time and money and the kids love it.

  10. Lauren Mendoza says:

    You’re brave to host joint parties! My mom tried it once as my sister and I are three years apart on the same day. But this was back in the day when the entire class came to a party. She never did it again! I must say I do recall my special homemade cake she made for us each year, we chose them from that woman’s weekly cookbook with the train on the front?
    Even though she now admits to many tears and hours of work, they were amazing efforts. Well done for rising up against the peer pressure of disapproving moms.

  11. Carla says:

    Oh my word. These are my thoughts EXACTLY!! My son’s first birthday is coming up and I was just having this exact same conversation with my mother! Kids parties have become all about the adults which is so sad, as the day is all about celebrating the child! The best birthday party I ever had was riding bicycles around our farm with 5 of my friends, and watching a video eating ice cream that night, followed by a sleepover.

    Girl I salute you!! Great blog post. Xxx

  12. Carina says:

    I don’t have kids but I definitely would do it the same way you did. When I think back to the parties I attended, I don’t remember the decorations or the gifts given. I remember running around like a hooligan and jumping on the jumping castle or swimming for hours.

    The party is definitely for the kids, not the parents.

  13. Frances Bosman says:

    This article is very well timed for me as Iโ€™m just beginning to lose sleep over my girlโ€™s birthday party next weekend.

    I learnt last year that a banana bread is soft and sweet and much more enjoyable for little hands than a fancy fondant bedecked monstrosity.

    One jumping castle on order.

  14. Cherralle says:

    A positive reminder to focus on what counts. Bringing together friends and family, a cake, oh and the jumping castle! My daughters are turning 5 and 2 this year and your posts is relevant.

    I have been telling myself Iโ€™m not doing this hectic intense party for my kids Their birthdays are 4 weeks apart and Iโ€™m convinced it needs to be joint party too. Thank you sharing your story!

  15. Glynis says:

    I dont have children yet, so I cant comment on kiddies parties however I so relate to this post in terms of my wedding planning that I did a couple of years ago. My bf and I started seriously planning our wedding and it all went to shit because I was considering what everyone else was going to think, instead of what I wanted. Needless to say – my bf and I decided to put things on hold with regards to wedding planning because it became so stressful and led to fights that we shouldn’t have had in the first place – I completely lost my mind. The decor and favours and dress and and and… I was planning a wedding to impress other people. Anyway, we have vowed that when we do get married – that it will be what WE actually want which funnily enough is the complete opposite of what we originally planned… Small in number with only our nearest and dearest, intimate and fun because its about us making a vow to each other and NOT about all the freaking decor on the tables that no-one remembers and not having people attend who we never see or spend active time with in our everyday life… and who will in any case most likely just complain about the food anyway. So cheers to US for not keeping up with the Jones’s and being true to ourselves ๐Ÿ™‚ PS: I’ve been putting off writing my first blog after deleting my old one and doing a bit of a revamp…but you have inspired me to get going again, so Im challenging myself to do a write up by Sunday! So thanks for that ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Mia says:

    I just had a baby and have already started thinking about her first party. Partly because I’m a crazy person, partly because I love event planning, and partly because my work schedule is a nightmare and I will need to start doing small bits very early if I even want there to be a cake. I definitely think people go WAY too crazy with kids’ parties. Her party will probably have a handful of kids a bit older than her (kids of friends and family), who I already know do not care about decor or how fancy a cake I can make from scratch.

    I think we all need to mind our own business more and judge each other less (me included). Good for you for giving your daughter the party she wants, since your son probably doesn’t care much yet. Even if you were just doing it for your own sanity and budget, I wouldn’t not begrudge you that choice.

    I hope I remember to look back at this next fall when my planning reaches a fever pitch.

  17. Bronwen Esterhuyse says:

    Fuuuuck yes! Iโ€™m done. I did two crazy parties and Iโ€™m done. If you look at me skeef at my party then we are not buddies. I also secretly hope my kids only have a few friends so we can do intimate real and genuine things to celebrate.

    • Maz says:

      I used to go ballistic with their parties and it was just such a waste. A dinner at Spur, a home made cake, jumping castle and a few friends – they are happy as an be!

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