Remember that giant birthday party in the opening scene of Mrs. Doubtfire? Sally Field comes home with a simple birthday cake for her son, only to discover complete pandemonium.
Petting zoo animals roaming everywhere and eating everything. Dozens of kids jumping on every piece of furniture to the pulsing beat of loud music. Balloons. Ribbons. Abandoned paper cups strewn everywhere. Even a cop is there, due to neighborhood complaints. And to top it all off, there’s Robin Williams, dancing on top of the dining table with their son and a couple other kids. Pure chaos.
Or is it pure joy?
Sally Field’s character feels furious, betrayed, and quite possibly deflated. All she wanted was a simple family party for her son, not a booming block party.
Now that I’m a mom, I kind of get where she’s coming from. There’s some serious hours and money going into children’s birthday parties these days. Parents are planning elaborate, themed decorations, expensive cakes, incredible kid-friendly finger foods, goodie bags, invitations, highly structured activities – do a quick search on Pinterest. You know exactly what I mean.
Some parents spend months preparing for these big parties because they enjoy it. The kids have a blast. It’s awesome! But I wonder how many parents are doing it out of a sense of obligation, like this underlying feeling that if you don’t host elaborate parties for your kids every single year, you’re not a very good mom or dad.
The next thing I know, my one-year-old’s buddies are having more elaborate birthday parties than I ever knew existed outside of magazines when I was a kid. And all those parents are already wondering what my big plans are for my son’s second birthday … in November.
Am I always going to feel this pressure to create mega birthday parties?
Many of you have been parenting far longer than me, so I know that I’m not alone in wanting birthdays that are less about stuff and more about relationships. I’d like my son to feel special, but not just because he’s a year older. Because he is exactly who he is, and that is good enough.
You bet we’re going to do a few birthday traditions, like hanging just a few streamers and balloons and keeping this annual birthday journal. I’m sure we’ll pick up more simple traditions and drop others as our family grows older. That’s the beauty of just enjoying the day instead of building insurmountable expectations.
I remember how every so often, my mom would organize a birthday party in the backyard for me or one of my siblings, and we’d get to invite a couple of friends. The event usually involved regular old unstructured childhood play, a couple games, and cake and ice cream on paper plates we picked out at the party store. The years we got birthday parties with friends were huge deals: we got to pick out cake and ice cream twice!
I hope my son will see that we don’t need the whole petting zoo at our house to create a magical birthday celebration, and even though he just figured out how to climb onto our dining table via a chair, it doesn’t mean he gets to play and dance up there–not now or on his birthday.
As the saying goes, “Forget the cake, but look at the sweetness it gives you.”