I study the lives of mothers for a living and if there’s one thing that takes the wind out of a mother’s sails, it’s plotting, planning and pulling off a young child’s birthday party.
Man, oh man.
When executing a fete for our first-born’s fourth birthday, we go to ridiculous lengths to make it special. We’re making memories! we tell ourselves…as we kill ourselves to pull everything off.
Once it’s locked and loaded that we—and often we alone—are responsible for creating memories that will last a lifetime in a single Saturday afternoon, we panic. And when we panic, we go into overdrive.
Here’s what that looks like…
Spend hours stalking Pinterest for a few good ideas (and dozens of proof points that you’re a poor excuse for a crafter), scour the earth for email addresses for Evites, wake up in the middle of the night panicked that only two kids will show up, and run yourself ragged bouncing in and out of six stores picking up mediocre tasting chicken nuggets, blue cupcakes embossed with your son’s face, paper blow horns that never work, and a $39.00 piñata that comes with no candy.
Oh, and decorate the whole damn thing by yourself, including blowing up balloons until you’re lightheaded enough to feel like you’re back in high school and just inhaled your first cherry wine cooler.
As my son’s birthday approaches, I decided to do a little research (once a researcher, always a researcher.) I asked a broad range of people —men, women, children, young and old —one simple question: As a child, what’s the first birthday you remember, and why?
Here’s what I heard.
- 8 years old. I remember my mom washing my mouth out with Ivory soap in the middle of the party because she heard me say the word “shit” for the first time. I don’t remember the actual party.
- 10 years old. After the party, I remember throwing a rock in the parking lot and shattering someone’s windshield. I don’t remember the party itself.
- 13 years old. A roller skating party in fifth or sixth grade, holding hands with a girl for the first time during the couples skate.
- 15 years old. I seriously don’t remember a single birthday before age 15, when two guy friends stole a stop sign from the end of my street and gave it to me as a gift. I freaked out and made them put it back.
I’ll go ahead and tell you what’s already painfully obvious: your children won’t remember the perfect parties you’re hurting yourself to throw.
As mothers, we work ourselves up into a froth trying to create birthday memories that never actually make it into their memories because the kids are too damn young to remember.
Don’t believe me? What’s your own answer to the question?
I have hazy memories of what I believe was my sixth birthday (maybe seventh) because my parents bought me a pretty new blue dress to wear and I remember feeling special. But, like many others I spoke to, I don’t actually remember the party itself. I’ve seen plenty of pictures from my childhood birthday parties over the years, and it looks like I had a great time. But I don’t remember any of them.
While this might sound like a massive disappointment (sorry Mom and Dad), if you’re a young mom in the throes of party planning for young kids, this revelation should feel a lot like relief.
All the stressing, rushing, researching, driving and sweating doesn’t matter. Whether you decide to trash your own home or the party room in the back of an indoor trampoline park, they won’t remember. Whether you make the cake from scratch or pick one up from Costco, they’ll quickly forget. And whether you spend $550 or $50, they’ll never know the difference.
If you adore plotting and planning birthday parties for young kids, then have at it. You do you—and soak up the memories you make for yourself along the way. If, on the other hand, you find party planning rather time consuming, exhausting and pretty darn thankless, then let yourself off the hook.
Remember that no one is going to remember.
Release the expectation that your job as a mother is to throw a birthday party for a five-year-old that will be lodged in their memory forever and seal your fate as a good mother.
Neither one of those things is going to happen. And that’s a gift—so take it.
Take it easier this year. Ensure your child feels loved and special, but don’t hurt yourself along the way. For my son’s birthday party this year the plan is no stress, no streamers, no gift bags, just an afternoon of fun with friends and at least one great action photo, so later in life I can tell him how much fun he had on his ninth birthday.