Loving My Kids, But Hating Birthday Parties

by Amanda Magee
Originally Published: 

It isn’t that we avoid all commercial celebration. We spend obscene amounts of money on Halloween costumes (I learned the hard way that homemade costumes for three end up being every bit as costly). We have seasonal window clings, straw scarecrows to wrap around the mailbox, and a wooden reindeer with white twinkle lights. We have drawers of Disney princess nightgowns and have even delved into the world of American Girl dolls and matching outfits, but I can’t get on board with inviting the whole class to a party in a sticky venue with crappy pizza. While I say this without apology, it is not without some degree of shame.

I want my kids to understand for as long as they live that I was never happier than on the day they each were born. I just can’t make sense of a party that includes classmates my kids don’t particularly like, a venue that I can’t control, and teenage employees leading “Happy Birthday”—to me that doesn’t feel like we are celebrating anyone. We end up with a table full of gifts that make no sense, because inevitably a harried parent standing in an aisle at Toys”R”Us with their kid, running late for something or other, purchased after asking their child, “What does she like?”

The kid shrugs, “I don’t know. Let’s get her this.” The this being a $46 toy.

“Naw, buddy, that’s too much. How about this?”

The this being a $7 My Little Pony that will be featured in triplicate on the gift table, making everyone feel awful.

I took my youngest to a party at a Zumba studio. My husband and I had essentially negotiated who would go and what the other person would have to do as a reward for the one who went. I was stunned stupid when the host mom greeted us, said hello to my daughter and told her what would be happening and then said to me, “We’ll be done in 90 minutes. Go, take some time.”

“Huh?” I really said that out loud. Then I gathered my senses, “Wait, leave? You don’t want me to stay?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? If I could go and have 90 minutes to do whatever I wanted I’d sprint out the door. Parties are awful, but the kids are going to dance their tushies off, have a bit of cake and then sleep for you! Have fun! Thanks for coming,” she said with the widest, truest smile I’d ever seen from another parent at a party.

I walked out the door into a sunny Saturday afternoon and proceeded to walk through the neighborhood, all but calling out hellos to passing birds I was so giddy.

I wish it didn’t feel so nontraditional to not want to throw lavish parties.

My girls will always get a special day, but I don’t want to be responsible for conditioning them to wait for grand gestures to believe that they are loved.

When it comes right down to it, kids don’t need the streamers, themes and lengthy invite lists. They want to run around, feel special and blow out candles. The same is true for me; I don’t need a spa day as much as I need to spend a little bit of time taking a walk.

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