“Mommy, can I go to Aiden’s birthday party? Please! Please! Please!”
My daughter thrust a crumpled-up sports-themed party invite into my hand while she excitedly hopped up and down. I skimmed the invite and asked her who Aiden is.
She replied that Aiden is one of her best friends. However, not once during the entire school year did my daughter ever mention him.
I told her “we’ll see,” which we all know translates to “no freaking way.” I slid the invite into a stack of school papers piling up on the countertop and went back to making the afternoon snack, hoping my daughter would forget about it.
Now before you label me the birthday Scrooge, you should know that I used to be that mom who planned a themed, beautifully decorated party for each of my four kids, every single year. Everything perfectly coordinated, from the paper goods, to the games, to the snacks.
Truthfully, it’s rather ridiculous, and I think we need to take kids’ parties back to the 1980s. Keep it simple. But I digress.
I’d spend months prior to the big day ordering and organizing party supplies. I’d also have the dreaded task of badgering parents to RSVP so I knew exactly how much food to buy. Then the big day would arrive, and in a matter of three hours, start to finish, it was over. These parties were expensive and exhausting.
I certainly appreciate the time, money, and creativity parents put into throwing their kiddo a birthday celebration. But the reality is, birthday parties kind of suck, for several reasons.
First, can we talk about how awkward it is for parents who don’t know each other to stand around a laser tag facility or skating rink for two hours? We know it’s rude if we don’t engage with one another, instead burying our heads in our phones to scroll through Facebook. But we also would much rather be doing anything else. Anything.
Out of obligation, we make torturous small talk. If we’re feeling extra generous that day, we might exchange phone numbers after an artificial suggestion of “getting together” so the kids can play.
What about the kids? Parties are no different than school. Kids break off into their cliques, the birthday child clinging to his or her one (true) best friend. Feelings get hurt, and parents get to hear all about it.
Of course, we all also wonder, are parents supposed to stay at the parties? Should we drop our kid off and come back, even if the parents in charge are total or near strangers?
The party is a social nightmare for all of us.
Many kids can’t afford to attend the party for a myriad of reasons. Some parties require particular attire or equipment that the child doesn’t own. Other kids have parents who don’t have transportation to and from the party. Some parents work weekends.
I know a few kids who have skipped parties because their parents can’t afford a gift for the birthday child. It’s less embarrassing for the child not to show up to the party than to show up empty-handed or with a dollar store gift.
Speaking of gifts, watching the birthday child open gifts for 20 minutes is incredibly boring and annoying. There’s always that one kid who sits about two inches from the birthday child, “helping” open gifts or standing up directly in front of everyone else’s line of view. And most of the time, the birthday kid either opens gifts like the Tasmanian Devil, never uttering a “thank you” or bothering to read the to-and-from gift tag, or the kid moves at a snail’s pace. Meanwhile, the kid’s parents are either completely disengaged or angry-whispering, “What do you say?” to their child.
Can we please talk about kids and food allergies? There are so many kids who can’t have all sorts of things: gluten, artificial food dye, dairy, nuts. A birthday party is a gamble for these children. Will there be ice cream cake? What about a trail mix? Pizza? Of course, some kids cannot even catch a whiff of a peanut without having a dangerous reaction.
Sure, those kids can DIY their snacks, and perhaps they are used to doing so. But it takes a lot of planning on the part of their parents in order to make sure their child has something comparable to eat and won’t be exposed to allergens.
In our large circle of friends, many of the children have disabilities that prevent them from engaging in typical birthday parties. The venue may not have a wheelchair ramp or appropriate bathroom facility. Parents decline the invitation because the child cannot physically participate.
For my family of six, it’s a pain in the rear when one kid gets a party invite but siblings aren’t invited. On one hand, I totally get it. I don’t expect a parent to pay for my entire family to go bowling. On the other hand, what am I supposed to do with the other three kids for two hours in the middle of a day so my daughter can hang out with her “best friend” Aiden?
Thanks, but no thanks.
Honestly, we’d rather spend our weekends doing the things we truly want to do. As the weather warms up, we swim every day. We have endless house projects and errands. My older girls have music practice, and we have church on Sunday mornings.
These are our priorities. And we aren’t ashamed of them.
If we are going to attend a birthday party, it’s going to be for a legit best friend who is going to allow my other kids to attend too. In this case, we’re all-in.
I’m going to pour fruit punch, hand out slices of cake, help the parents tear down the decorations after, and our kids are happily going to play nearby. Because they are truly friends and not just the friend-of-the-week.
I know what you’re thinking. What about all those stories of kids who had not a single child show up to their birthday party?
I’m not heartless. I feel for those children. I am a special needs parent myself.
I think it’s really shitty that parents RSVP and then don’t follow through, leaving the birthday child without anyone to celebrate with him or her. That’s not just rude. It’s heartbreaking.
That’s another reason why we’ve decided that instead of throwing a huge, themed, expensive party for our kids, we’re simplifying things. My kids get to take one friend on a special date to celebrate. The one-on-one time is magical, and I’m not blowing money and losing sleep over a mega-party that may or may not be a success.
I don’t feel obligated to show up to every party we’re invited to. And you shouldn’t either. No matter what your reasons are. You don’t need to feeling guilty about it.
Just make sure you RSVP.
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