The politics of kids’ birthday parties and entertaining the parents

To stay or not to stay – that is the question. Please don’t, is the answer from me

The self-dubbed favourite child had his birthday party with all his school friends last weekend – a whole month ahead of his actual birthday. He was a little bit confused by the timing but, as a birthday party veteran at this stage, I know when the opportunity to share a party comes along, you grab it with both hands. Timing is somewhat a secondary consideration.

It wasn’t always so however. In the olden days when I was green in all things birthday party related and oblivious to the politics involved, enthusiasm ruled my heart and head. My eldest was the youngest in her class which meant a whole lot of birthday parties preceded hers. These were the days before the shared party notion took hold, when the pressure was felt to do something different, and when the first-timer in me was keen to prove I could step up to the birthday party plate.

Except sometimes a spanner was thrown in the works in the shape of a parent who wanted to hang around. To stay or not to stay – that is the question, often pondered by parents of younger children.

Please don’t, is the answer from me.


Because while I have no problem attempting to entertain 25-30 children, I don’t want to have to entertain the parents too. And on those occasions where nostalgia and naivety got the better of me and I decided to host an old-fashioned birthday party at home, it didn’t help having an unfamiliar adult there to witness my domestic goddess failings.


While my wonky, lopsided, messily decorated buns might have impressed the four- and five-year-olds in attendance, I feared the parents might think there was too much food colouring in the rather vivid icing.

And I didn’t have the fruit platter option for the kids, that one parent requested while looking on in horror as I served pizza and chips to the party attendees.

Then there was the fact that the party games, so painstakingly planned, with the guarantee through the carefully managed stopping of the music, that every child would win a prize, were over in 10 minutes flat – with just the bare hour and 50 minutes of the party remaining.

So I learned quite quickly that there are many advantages in taking the party out of the home.

Our first venture out was to the zoo, with 20 odd girls and a toddler and baby boy. Nothing could surely go wrong, I figured, failing to factor in a peacock eating half the sandwich supplies I’d brought while I opened one child’s juice.

Absolutely ridiculous

A six-year-old tapped me on the leg as I looked on in disbelief. “My mum said that this is absolutely ridiculous,” she said, referring to her mother’s displeasure at having to traipse halfway across the city for a party drop on a Saturday afternoon.

By that stage I couldn’t have agreed more.

Birthday parties these days are a more relaxed affair and though a degree of birthday party politics still remains, it’s not obligatory to participate. I love that my children’s school has a “no invitations in school policy” – it saves hurt feelings and takes the pressure off parents when it comes to numbers.

But the present debate still remains – some favour money, others favour gifts and the “how much to spend” question is still an issue.

I even heard tell of one parent complaining that the gifts were not covering the cost of the party! On the flip side another complained that the suggestion of no gift parties was just depriving the children.

As a party veteran I’m set in my ways. There’s great solace in the shared responsibility and workload that shared parties bring, while the added bonus of the vastly reduced cost is the ability to invite the entire class.

The shared workload was my saviour on this particular occasion. A chickenpox shaped plague had hit our house and taken down all those who had previously escaped her in a merciless fashion. Four itchy, spot-covered, miserable children, and one Florence-Nightingaled-out mum were feeling the cabin fever. The phrase “as sick as a small hospital” could quite literally be applied to our home.

The birthday boy was the last man standing. I fled the house the morning of his party like a caged bird set free and watched my son, the fellow birthday boys and their friends celebrate together.

“It doesn’t matter that it’s a month early,” I reminded myself. Timing is secondary – or at least it was.

Five minutes before the end of the party, he lifted his top to reveal a rather spotty belly . . .