The Pre-schooler Birthday Bash Dilemma

Thomas will be three in just under three months. On the one hand it seems ages away. I look back at how much has happened and how much Thomas has changed in the last few months, and it seems ridiculous to be looking that far forward already. But then, last week, I was sent in to a spin by receiving not one, but TWO birthday party invites for him in October. The second one is just two weeks before his own birthday. The idea of “doing something” for Thomas’s birthday – or rather whether we needed to plan to do something for Thomas’s birthday – hadn’t been afforded any brain space until then, but I instantly felt under pressure to think, make decisions and plan.

For Thomas’s first birthday, we had a family day out to the aquarium. At one, any celebration is as much for the parents and family as it is for the child. Whilst I think it’s important that they enjoy their day, let’s be honest – they’re not going to care or remember exactly what you do. We picked the aquarium because Thomas loved watching the fish, it was something we all enjoyed too, and we had something concrete to tell him in years to come that we actually did with the day. We also had cake – that I handmade because I really wanted to – and of course wrapping paper! I remember the day mostly because it was also the day Thomas had his first taste of chocolate and took his first proper independent steps (the boy’s got timing, you have to give him that!)

For his second birthday, we had a small family party. Thomas was thoroughly spoilt by seeing all of his grandparents on the same day. He devoured his (handmade again) train cake and loved playing non-stop with his new toys along with his cousins. I don’t think he totally “got” the concept of a birthday, but he had a fun day nonetheless.

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In the last year, however, things have changed. Thomas is definitely much more aware of birthdays as special days. He frequently asks when our birthdays are, talks about presents and loves to sing “Happy Birthday”. He has also now been invited to, and attended, several organised parties by his nursery and preschool friends. And boy have things changed since I was a kid. Gone is the tendency for these parties to be hosted in people’s homes, with a few sausage rolls and pass-the-parcel. Now people go all out, hiring a hall, theming their parties and handing out elaborate party bags.

Despite Thomas’s enormous enjoyment of these shenanigans, I still hadn’t considered that we might want to do the same thing until these most recent invitations arrived. One is from a close buddy – one of our NCT cohort who lives just down the road. Given how many of these things he’s been invited too, is it rude not to take our turn? And more importantly, will Thomas be expecting his own party with all his little friends attending? Will he be disappointed if we have a family day again, or just go out for a meal?

I don’t want to throw a party simply to keep up with what everyone else is doing. I know that isn’t really relevant. But I do want Thomas to enjoy his special day. And I’m still unsure what to do.

The problems, of course, are multiple. For starters there is my own anxiety. I’ve talked before about how I find it difficult to make friends and along with this comes a depressing tendency towards self-doubt. For years and years I’ve shied away from organising anything for my own birthday because I’m terrified that people won’t want to come. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the way I feel. It was my major anxiety about our wedding, that everyone would decide they had better things to do that day (of course they didn’t, but it stressed me out for weeks!) I suppose I’m a bit afraid of rejection, and now I’m afraid of rejection on my son’s behalf. I know I have to get over this, in order to prevent a self-fulfilling prophecy, but right now I’m still worried that although I know many of the nursery parents to chat to, I’m not really “friends” with any of them, whereas several of them are a part of a strong friendship group. No matter how well our kids get on, at this age the decision to drag your child out (on what could be a cold and wet November afternoon) to go to a party rests mainly with the parents and how motivated they are. I have visions of hardly any kids showing up, and I can already imagine how that will make me feel.

But let’s say I manage to put that anxiety aside. What about the proximity to his little friends’ birthdays? I fully understand why people don’t have pre-school birthday parties in their own homes, and we definitely don’t have the room for hordes of boisterous children. In our town there is really only one option for where to host a three year old’s birthday party. Having done the research in the last few days, I know this to be fact. The party package is so much more affordable than a DIY equivalent or similar party. Each party Thomas has been to has been at the same venue, for good reason. Other excellent venues cater only for older children. Or you’re looking at soft play, which I simply refuse to do if for no other reason than the cost! If we hold exactly the same party just two weeks after one of Thomas’s best buddies does it, will he even be able to differentiate between it being “for him” or just another play session? Or am I underestimating him? And how will I be able to stop myself comparing my efforts at hosting when the dates are so close together? Will mutual friends want to do it all again so soon, or will they pick just one party to attend?

And let’s face it, these parties don’t come cheap or stress free. By the time venue hire, food cake and party bags are taken in to consideration, you’re looking at at least a couple of hundred pounds. Wouldn’t Thomas get more out of that money spent elsewhere? Put towards another holiday, days out or even more trains (for the train set he will be getting for his birthday!) And in “compensation” we’ll get lots of small birthday gifts from his guests when our house is already over-run with toys anyway!

Do three year olds really need birthday parties, or can I delay this stress for another year? What did you do? Or better still, what would you do if you were me? Hold an identikit party a couple of weeks after our friends, and Thomas’s third in one month? Hold a different party and hang the cost? Or not bother at all? And if we do organise a party, should I have done it already, given that we’re getting invites for October already? Who knew you had to think so far ahead?!

So many questions. A three year old’s birthday seems such a silly thing to be getting stressed about, but I think this is my first taste of a different side of parenting that comes as your children grow ever more independent. I know full well that I will look back at this post in a couple of years and laugh at my anxieties. But right now I’m still totally undecided on what to do, so could someone please talk some sense in to me?!

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4 Replies to “The Pre-schooler Birthday Bash Dilemma”

  1. We did first birthday parties for our NCT friends and our family but they were of the sausage roll and cake at our house variety. Kitty got a second birthday party of sorts, we went to H’s parents for the weekend and they threw her a party for family but it was the weekend after my Mum died so we weren’t feeling up to much celebrating and I needed to pull in a few people to spoil her to compensate, but last year she just had a family birthday tea and a day out to the butterfly farm. We haven’t decided what to do about this year, I know she’d enjoy a party but We’ve not got space to do it at home again and that rather ramps up the expense – eek! When does this stop being a parenting quandary do you think?

    1. I’m not sure if it will. It will help when he can express, with full understanding, what he wants. But then, knowing Thomas, he’ll want some prohibitively difficult of expensive! I just need to learn to take the “what other people expect or will think of me” part out of the equation though!

  2. I’ll give you my experience. We did one for Arlo’s 3rd bday. My thinking was that he had just started preschool and it would be nice for him to get to know some of his new buddies, and it would be nice for me to get to know some of the parents. In reality, he very nearly missed his (expensive!) party due to illness, we didn’t really know who to invite as he hadn’t made any friendship preferences yet, but he had a great time and still talks about it.

    Really, we should have kept last year as the ‘off’ year and this year as the big party year. His 4th is October and I already have hall booked – he’s very clued up on parties, no way was I getting away with it this time! And he has former friendships with his preschool buddies so working out who to invite will be much more simple.

    Next year (5th bday) he will have only just started school and again will be finding his feet with friendships and new environment, etc, so we won’t do the party thing.

    At three, they know what parties are, but I don’t think they yet have the sense of entitlement that THEY should have one, so it’s pretty easy to not have a party. I think the choice comes down to whether YOU want to throw the big party for him – if the answer is yes then go for it!

    1. Thanks for these thoughts. I think the honest answer is no, I don’t really want to throw a party. Especially not in the circumstances of there being limited options and other parties so close in dates. I think I’d much rather out the money towards something else – even new toys to foster his fast growing imagination – selfish as that may sound! But he’ll get more out of that long term.

      The “party” in question is at a venue that also runs play sessions for pre-schoolers two or three times a week and we often go with friends anyway. These sessions are pretty much identical to the party set-up, just without the party tea. So we can easily take him to a play session there that week and I really think he won’t know the difference!

      I think we will save it for his fourth next year – providing he wants a party then, of course. I hope Arlo’s party goes well!

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