never ending task list

Birthday Parties Are Their Own Separate Mental Load

And I don’t just mean when I’m the one hosting.

A group of young girls having fun with their friends at a birthday celebration
Flashpop/DigitalVision/Getty Images

It was a Saturday morning, and I was nagging my 7-year-old to finish the birthday card he was making for a classmate while I was trying to find the gift receipt for the present I’d purchased for her. My 4-year-old was whining because he didn’t get to go to a birthday party, and my husband was asking me if we were having lunch there, and if so, did I have any ideas for what he should feed our other kids?

Not long after that, my 9-year-old received an invitation for a birthday party from one of his classmates. It was scheduled for the same date I was hoping to host his birthday party … but hadn’t gotten around to booking yet. Because planning your own kid’s birthday party is its own beast entirely.

Have you ever been to a birthday party organized by a dad? I have not.

In my 10 years as a parent, I’ve received birthday party invitations from moms only, typically with the dad listed as a co-host. But likely, the dad’s main job is attending the party and having a good time.

Now, I know what many dads might be thinking. There’s no need to plan an extravagant party. They’re kids. We didn’t have big themed parties when I was a kid. (You probably did, you just didn’t realize all the planning your mother was doing behind the scenes.)

But by the time you invite 10 of your kid’s friends and their siblings and order food and dessert and make sure you still have disposable silverware in a box somewhere left over from the last party, it is a whole ordeal. And at that point you might as well add some decorations. And none of that happens on its own. A parent must take charge of all of the above.

I am not inherently better at planning a “Thomas the Train” birthday party, so why am I the only one who takes the initiative to do it?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have them. I’m not saying they should always be small or simple. There’s enough hard stuff in the world; we should absolutely let our kids spend two hours on a Saturday eating cupcakes at a Nerf battlefield.

But there’s a lot of work that goes into each party, whether you’re hosting or just attending. And it all falls to the moms. Add “planning birthday parties” to the never-ending list that is a mother’s mental load, I guess.

Because we get sent the invite it’s automatically on our “to-do list” — RSVP, buy the gift (make sure to check with the birthday kid’s parent first though!), figure out carpools, and on and on.

When it’s your own kid’s birthday, it’s the moms who are finding the venue, figuring out who to invite (the whole class? Just friends? Just family?) sending out invitations, ordering a cake, remembering the candle (and a lighter, a lesson I learned the hard way), figuring out a theme/decorations and hauling everything to and from the venue (unless you’re some kind of ambitious mom who is OK inviting 25 1st-graders into your home. I’m not).

And don’t even get me started on the favors.

I inherited what I thought was a genius idea from a friend (and it is a good idea, when executed correctly): my kids get a birthday party with their friends... every other year. But I learned the hard way that these “off year” birthdays can be just as expensive if not more than “full blown” years.

It just feels like there’s no winning. Of course I want my kids to have great birthdays. Of course I want my kids to celebrate others’ birthdays. There’s no stopping someone turning older. I just wish I had a magic wand to make all of it so much simpler.

Lauren Davidson is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor focusing on parenting, arts and culture, and weddings. She has worked at newspapers and magazines in New England and western Pennsylvania and is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in English and French. She lives with her editor husband, four energetic kids, and one affectionate cat. Follow her on Twitter @laurenmylo.