Why I am Not Throwing My Almost Two Year Old a Birthday Party

8 April 2014

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In a couple of days my son is going to turn two. I’m looking forward to it albeit my heart strings ache for the baby that’s no longer here and the excitement at the kind of boy he’s becoming.

 

And he’s not going to get a 2nd birthday party.

 

Before jumping into the judgemental band-wagon and classifying me as a cheapskate of a mother, let me provide you some background info.  I love celebrating life in general and usually get excited over any excuse to celebrate. My son had a 1st month introduction party, and a half-year birthday celebration before his first birthday extravaganza. For my son’s first birthday Nijntje-theme party, we rented the Chapel room of the Centraal Museum of Utrecht with 100 of our closest friends and family. To celebrate, he had his own catered buffet of Filipino delicacies served with Villeroy & Boch plates and cutlery, a dessert buffet with 12 different sweets, a play corner, a professional photo booth with accessories, a wishing corner and a three-manned refreshments table offering the finest organic juices and beverages. For his more discerning guests, he served ham and cheese sandwiches in the shape of Nijntje and their choice of unlimited Fristi and Chocomel.

 

Thrown in for good measure, my son also had his own private baptism with a choir and two accompanying guitarist. Of course, one of Amsterdam’s finest photographers to hallmark the special occasion was also there. He had two special outfits – a three piece Janie and Jack suit and tie and a Ralph Lauren button-up with matching corduroys to get dirty in later. Yes friends, it was a first birthday party that was truly memorable, no expenses spared for our little prince.

 

BUT…

 

My son was absolutely miserable, clinging desperately to me and his dad throughout the entire time.

 

And since I’ve now welcomed an open invitation for unwarranted criticism on my little space on the internet, here are my reasons for not throwing my son a 2nd birthday party:

 

1. The Costs
I really would love to simply throw a party in our backyard but I’m wise enough not to even bother praying to the weather gods of the Low Countries anymore.  Any venue able to accommodate all our guests plus food, decor and other miscellaneous rentals would cost as much as three round trip tickets to San Francisco. I’d like to start being more mindful of our expenses instead of going for broke. It’s a special privilege to be a stay-at-home mom and there’s no shame in being more kind to our fragile bank account.

 

And in the future when or if my son does ask for a party, I’m definitely going Dutch and literally severing only cake to all his guests – one piece each and off they go. Maybe I’ll throw in an extra cookie, or cupcake and one of those jumpy castles for good measure. Maybe.

 

2. The Guests
We really are blessed to have a lot of people who love and care for our little man. They’ve actually been incredibly generous with us throughout the years. But inviting them to these occasions without being able to spend quality time  is quite embarrassing and one step closer from testing the ties that bind. You also recognize their glass-eyed look of utter boredom that you’re are all too familiar with. And bless the hearts of parents who bring their children along, as well as ones who have no children at all. In fact, everyone and anyone who ever attends children’s birthday parties – there’s a special place in heaven for them.

 

Chances are birthday parties for the non-verbal and non-school age kids (the four and under crowd) are for the parents anyway. The sooner we’re all honest about this, the sooner we’ll all be happier. Perhaps birthday parties should be renamed as “Surviving the (insert year) of Parenthood”. Rather than giving the child another unnecessary present, wouldn’t it make more sense to give a bottle of wine, or champagne to commemorate the parents for keeping their child alive for another entire year?

 

3. The Gifts
Whether or not we ask for gifts, chances are that we were going to get gifts anyway. So confession time – I was one of those moms who actually specifically requested what gifts we would want for our son- either duplo, cold-hard cash, wooden toys or books. And we still ended up with a Chakra candle. I’d like to believe that my son is pretty advanced for his age, but I’m sure that a candle would be a perfect opportunity for a one year old to burn the house down.

My son has everything he could possibly need, or even want. Even in terms of books, which I used to be a firm believer that you could never have too much of – we’re one step closer for having to stage an intervention and keep it under control. Not to sound ungrateful, but I’d rather spend the money we threw on the party (see costs) on a memorable family trip than accumulate more material stuff that we don’t need.

 

4.  The Giveaway Goody Bag
Not only do we have to consider food and location expenses, but we’re also supposed to send all of our guests with parting gifts. The more “affordable options” consists of cheaply made, cancer causing plastics covered in toxic paint made in some obscure factory guilty of several human rights violations and are guaranteed choking hazards for babies. We all collectively suffer from having too much stuff – do we need to create another generation addicted to accumulating crap? As a firm believer in having some kind of consciousness for the environment, I thought I would sidestep the cheap, toxic crap by offering home-made sweets instead. In hindsight, I’m not sure whether avoiding the threat of cancer and choking, or causing an intolerable, murderous sugar high would be better.

And let me be the one who says it – you know those personalized giveaways with the picture and/or name of the birthday child and date? There’s a good chance that it will end up in the garbage bin along with unnecessary guilt for getting rid of it. Guaranteed future trash to continue polluting our planet earth.

 

5. The Time (Before, During and After)
Anyone who wants to throw a decent party knows how much a time investment it takes before, during and after. For a neurotic, detail-orientated mom like me, the planning in my head starts at least six months prior. Then there’s the actual preparation for the party days before and day of, a practice in the art of logistics and planning and more than a few helping hands. During the party, we’re preoccupied trying to make sure that there’s enough food, that the drinks remain free flowing and that the guests are okay. And I had to do it with a 12 kilo bundle of joy permanently attached to my hip. I don’t even want to write about the cleaning that goes on afterwards, even if a cleaning service was hired. Personally, I would rather spend the day giving undivided attention to my son and spending quality time as a family.

Let’s also not forget that the timing of the whole birthday party would actually be around the afternoon, an inconvenient time which coincides with my son’s regular two-to-three hour nap. God forbid he gets the idea that there’s a wonderful party happening all this time when he’s asleep. But more realistically, I know that my son would be giving Jekyll and Hyde a run for their money. Chances are he also might simply insist on simply sleeping through the majority of his own party (which he’s already done held on Halloween and Christmas). So why should I even bother inviting people to a party for someone who would rather be sleeping?

 

6. The Toddler
Excuse me for being presumptuous but most of the time, the three and under celebrants often appear stressed, tired and on the verge of an epic tantrum, nervous breakdown style (unless they already had one and are on to their second, or third). They say that children mirror their parents…

The last reason for not throwing my son a 2nd birthday party and arguably the most important – it would simply be for his sake. He’s a precocious child who loves, loves being outdoors. As his mother, it’s my duty and honor to nurture his highly sensitive soul. And though it’s also my responsibilities to set boundaries and to challenge him, I also need to be mindful of who he is. His birthday should be about celebrating him.

 

 

Shouldn’t a birthday celebration revolve around the wishes of the one we’re celebrating? Perhaps I’m also becoming a bit more Dutch in that I would rather have something low key for our little man for the gezelligheid (undefinable Dutch terminology evoking warm, happy cozy feelings). It would be less of the standard birthday party but more centered around him and all the things he loves to do, or would like to do.

 

Notice the apparent absence of the excuse that the child won’t remember it anyway? Pictures say a thousand words and maybe one day my son would be wondering what we did for his 2nd birthday. I’m prepared to let him know that we decided not to throw him one for his sake, that we wanted to make it special based on the child he was and not the child we thought we’d have. He’ll get an entire weekend with the undivided attention of his parents, a birthday cake, his favorite foods (probably dinner or lunch at sushi restaurant) and weather permitting, a trip to the zoo and a walk in the woods. And we’re still going to be taking pictures, tons of it actually.

 

My arguments for not throwing my toddler son a birthday party are obviously a byproduct of first-world problems.  I should be expecting thank-you notes from our dearest friends and family soon for NOT having to make them go through another three-to-four hours of torture. And if you happen to still get invited to a low-key event for our little Junior in the future, you can’t say you haven’t be warned.

 

  • We didn’t have a bday party either until my big girl was 4 years old. And you are right about most of the things- also, I was not aware of having to hand out goody bags… why??? Since I am now aware that I’m suppose to make goody bags, instead of making goody bags, I’ll just consciously decide not to make goody bags. Also, with 2 year old… well they just won’t remember that much anyway.And we only had a party for my 4 year old because she wanted it…

  • I’m with you when it comes to not having big birthday parties for little kids who may not even fully understand what’s going on. Our son’s going to be one soon and we’ve decided to have a small party for his baby friends (and their parents!). We’re hoping that the weather’s going to good so we can go to have a picnic at a nice spot that’s about five minutes’ walk from our house.

  • Anton de Jong

    Good idea. The birthday party should be for the child, and thus should be enjoyed by the child. Go do things HE likes to do. Have FUN. Celebrate LIFE.

  • Stephanie Brooks

    my almost 2 year old loved his first b day party and he was laughing and having a good time must of been a more adult geared party theres nothing wrong with having a b day party make it fun not boring and uninviting for your toddler umm my son sorta remember his first b day hes existed for his second b day hell he wasn’t even scared of Halloween this year wow parentce these days don’t want there kids to have any good time or memories or anything to enjoy when they get older and say mommy or daddy how come i didnt have a second birthday your gonna feel like shit. my son somewhat remebers opening presents cuse he trys to say paper or there things related to opening presents hes also says fun its good for kids to feel appreciated and loved also to feel like there is something special for them.

    • Naomi Taylor

      I *think* I understand what you wrote, & if I’m reading it correctly, you come across as extremely judgemental. If you want to throw parties, good for you, but don’t make out that parents who don’t must somehow care less for their children.

  • Lauren W

    I think the key is keeping the guest list at no more than 20-25 people. And doing the party at your own home. It also helps that my almost 2 year old seems to be very extraverted so she not only welcomes all the attention, she thrives on it. I think the under 4 birthday parties are the most fun because they are, like you said, for the parents. I dread the days where we have to invite and keep track of 25 children and make sure everything is up to par for them to prevent melt downs…

  • SGre

    Enjoyed your comments. Although we are having a party for our little one in a couple of months, it is about him. Intimate with family and close friends. Good reminders on the take home gift: the chemical smells that come off of those cheap dollar store items are horrendous.

  • As

    We just celebrated our 1 year old’s birthday (just us 2 parents and his sister) and daughter’s 3rd birthday is upcoming in May. If she has any party it will be about her likes: pizza, park or zoo, and icing (because seriously that’s what she thinks the cake is all about- *possibly* my fault). I’m doing what is best for our family and children rather than what is best for anyone else. We do not have the money to throw a party, we have a small apartment so not enough space, coordinating schedules with family is difficult for just babysitting, and there are no toddlers in the family or the neighborhood to invite. Currently my children play with each other. And if their laughter is accurate it’s the best time they’ve ever had. Long parties just make them tired and cranky.

    It worries me how much everyone is expected to conform to someone else’s expectations. Some people love parties and can organize them easily. Some have the resources to do so. Some want to share the day with extended family. That’s fine. It’s even ok to have a large party to try something new. And it is equally ok to have a smaller celebration that is only geared towards the child.

    What is not ok is telling another family they are wrong for their choice. Big or small. Organized or free-form. If you’re awesome at throwing parties, great! I’ll look for the invite in the mail (if you were one of my friends/family) and thank you for the effort. I’m personally terrible at throwing parties, making food, and juggling cranky kids. Plus the financial situation just adds more stress so I’d rather forego a big party and thank anyone who sent along a gift with pictures of the kids opening or playing with them. Or I’m fine with the person stopping by and giving the birthday child a gift in person. But don’t expect me to do a song and dance too because it would be very awkward. For both of us.

    I hope people start realizing it is about what makes each family happiest and not how you can outdo each other.

  • Har Davids

    Too often, the interest of the child is of secondary importance, because the party is the chance to show off (for the parents). Children don’t really need that much, and overwhelming them with people, food and presents seems like a cruel thing to do.

    And we all have too much stuff already, so why bother adding to it?

  • Cassandra

    I completely agree. My job is to entertain my child, not a bunch of adults who I haven’t really seen in the last 2 years. My boys, 4 & 2, will not miss a party or the adults who would have been invited. They will have fun with the people who love them most doing something they actually enjoy.

  • Naomi Taylor

    I absolutely agree with you. My little guy is 2 in September *sob* & I refuse to spend lots of money on something that he’s going to be too overwhelmed to enjoy & that most guests wont bother turning up to (or even RSVP’ing). So instead, we’re taking our boys out for the day, with a big picnic (Mr Tumble style) & a couple of extra presents. He’ll get for more enjoyment out of the day & I wont become bald from stress 😀

  • Leogona

    I agree with the writer of this story wholeHeartedly!

    I did the birthday thing with my first child until he was 5….I love my children, but all of the fuss, expense, headache, logistics….*ugh*
    I learned a lot
    When my second child came along, i went low key, dinner for for or five a Friendly’s (a family restaurant which has Great ice cream), then did the ‘have the parties in class’ thing.

    They are no worse for wear…

    NOw… for those modern Moms….

    let’s keep it real

    It seems that the birthday party is more to upstage, outdo, or impress the other Moms with themes, party content, ideas, bouncy houses, giveaways, food (some of these parties have a more extensive menu than the nearby local restaurant… what happened to the kid’s parties that served kids food #nuggets #chickenLegs #taterTots #fruitCups ?)

    Living in NYC with the rents being as high as they are, I don’t know what these Moms do for a living that they can afford to spend nearly $1000 on a party, with all of the trimmings, for a one, two, or three year old. -_- that more than likely the child will only be reminded of it by tons of phone pics that you will have to show the child over the subsequent years.

    Yes, celebrate the anniversary of the birth of your child. Who doesn’t like a party? But these things are just getting bigger and bigger for no real reason except to stroke the ego of the people throwing the party, and, based on my observation as an attendee to several of these events, the birthday baby is either oblivious, asleep, unaware, unable to participate, and becomes a “show piece” in an outfit for unspoken bragging rights.

    Keep it simple…
    Babies don’t need a costumed character to jump around at a party to make a successful celebration of their birth. They don’t need a lot… just love…they need that everyday. On their birthday and the other days too…they don’t need a lot of “Stuff” and a lot of glam to understand that they are loved and appreciated…

    Take that time, effort, energy, and expense to spend it on the daily needs and have a simple thing with the family that will be there every day if you feel you MUST have some kind of celebration

    And when they’re older, do the party thing at school…
    -all of their friends will be there (not full of random ppl that they barely know)
    -they will learn about graciousness when their least favorites in the class are there too
    -the students/teacher can deal with the clean up
    -you don’t have to worry about what to serve (cupcakes, and maybe add pizzas when older)

    My children are big people now…college age and older…
    I would like to think that they enjoyed the times they had celebrating their respective birthdays, sometimes in school, sometimes at home, sometimes sharing the date with a cousin, or whatever they did, they knew that they were loved, and I used that extra money I saved on trying to impress someone else on things they needed every day #food #clothes #rent #utilites

  • April

    Just happened to find your article. (Love it). Our son will be 2 on June 3rd, but due to circumstances, I’m not well enough to throw him a big elaborate party like we did for his first. Okay, not exactly an elaborate party, but a backyard BBQ and pool party. It really saddens me but my husband and I were just discussing that since we don’t know if I’ll be back in the hospital or on bed rest within a months time (this past month has been awful! In the hospital for almost all of this month), I want to either plan something just for us or a very small dinner with few family members. This time is about family, and I plan to spend as much time with my son as possible, even if I don’t have the strength. Whatever we plan, of something happens to where I’m not around, it will be planned so that my husband will still have the ability to celebrate our son’s 2nd birthday- I love him more than anything and I’d do anything I can. No doubt about it. Thanks!

  • Found this while deciding on what to do for my almost two-year old. Being in the middle of packing and moving doesn’t help either. I’m going to invest in more learning toys for him since I’m a work at home mom and baby priofing our new home. When we’re settled, we’ll have a house warming party to accommodate his my birthdays (August babies!!) thanks for being so open. It’s truly important to live life on your own terms as it makes for long-lasting happiness. Stay blessed!

  • Pooja Bajaj

    Hi… I have been into similar situation… I had a good party for my baby’s 1st Birthday and wanted bigger for her second birthday. After a lot of thinking and analysis found party is actually not fun for my baby… She enjoys more going out with me and her daddy… So I decided to make her day special and decided to keep it as private event for us…
    Good to know It’s not just me… Other mom’s have similar opinion for their kids.