“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
I always dread the pressure that throwing a birthday party brings. Writer Glennon Doyle Melton sums up my usual state of being before a party in her phrase “hostressing.”
I know I’m to blame for putting a lot of pressure on myself to throw a successful party, and I’m getting better at scaling back every year to ease my stress level.
It’s really interesting to observe the many different ways parents approach children’s birthday parties.
On the one end are the over-the-top birthday parties with rented ponies for the kids to ride. On the other end are the parents who forego a party altogether.
I generally fall somewhere in the middle of these two ends of the spectrum. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I do throw a party every year.
I’ve played the role of stressed-out hostess enough times to finally come to a conclusion about the type of party that works best for me.
Here’s the evolution of a recovering hostress:
First birthday party for son: I invited a lot of extended family on both sides, friends from out of town, and a long list of friends in town; I rented tables and chairs, had a ton of food, and went all-out with a Pinterest inspired Elmo themed party; I ordered fancy cupcakes from a bakery and a huge smash cake for my son; I hired an Elmo character to come to the party with a partner that made balloon shapes, painted faces, and set up obstacle-course games.
Result: 3/10 on the fun scale, 10/10 on the stress scale. There were WAY too many people to entertain, Elmo showed up with his tongue falling off of his costume and scared the birthday boy, and organizing this event was like putting together a wedding reception. Plus, my son wasn’t even walking yet and was absolutely exhausted by the end of the party. How much of the party could he even enjoy?
Second birthday party for son: I narrowed down the invite list quite a bit, but still referenced Pinterest for party ideas; I rented a large bounce house for the kids; I served beer for the parents; I spent a week deep cleaning my house in preparation for the party.
Result: 4/10 on the fun scale, 8/10 on the stress scale. Getting closer.
Third birthday party for son: I decided to move the birthday party to a local park thinking that this would save me the stress of trying to make my house look spotless and also save on decorations. Boy did this backfire. The park required a permit to set-up a bounce house (why did I feel the need to rent one when we were already at a park?!). Plus, the effort it required to schlep everything to the park and back was not worth it, and my husband had to get up at 5:00 a.m. to save the tables we needed.
Result: 2/10 on the fun scale, 9/10 on the stress scale.
Fourth birthday party for son: I felt burnt out after my last hostressing experience, so I decided to leave the party in the capable hands of my husband. He decided on an 80’s themed party at the roller rink. Needless to say, most 4-year-olds are not ready to roller skate. I spent the entire two hours of the party praying for everyone’s safety and taking my stress out on my poor husband. Sigh. Part of being a hostress is realizing that you are a tad controlling and have perfectionist tendencies. Duly noted after this experience.
Result: 1/10 on the fun scale, 10/10 on the stress scale.
Fifth birthday party for son: Asked son five times if he wanted to go to Legoland instead of having a birthday party; after he rejected this idea, I returned to the house party set-up; I put up a hand-me-down Little Tikes bounce house instead of renting a large one and put up a piñata at my son’s request; I noticed my husband sipping on a beer before the start of the party (at, ahem, 10:30 a.m.) and realized it wasn’t such a bad idea; I offered booze to my guests at 11:00 a.m. Parents took the bait. Recognized that I was on to something.
Result: 5/10 on the fun scale, 5/10 on the stress scale.
Sixth birthday party for son: Asked son 10 times if he wanted to go to Legoland instead of having a birthday party; after he rejected this idea, I returned to the house-party set-up; I put up the Little Tikes bounce house for kids’ entertainment and called it a day; Pinterest who? more like one-stop shopping at Party City; I baked boxed cupcakes with (gasp!) no cupcake toppers; deep cleaned house but didn’t sweat it that I didn’t get to the baseboards; scaled back on decorations and scaled up on booze; put five large bottles of wine out within reach for adults; downed a beer myself 30 minutes before the party started.
Result: 10/10 on the fun scale, 2/10 on the stress scale. It could’ve been the wine flowing (likely) or the right mix of company, but I had more fun at this last party than any other year. And I wasn’t the only one. Though I’d put a 1:30 p.m. end time on the party invitation, many guests stayed hours beyond this time.
In summation, here are the lessons I’ve learned in my six years of hostressing:
- The kids are going to have fun regardless of the entertainment you provide. They will have fun from playing alone. Don’t sweat this part if it stresses you out.
- Invite people who won’t judge you for your dusty baseboards, and
- All you need is love, except for when you need booze. Children’s parties are one of those times.
Some say let them eat cake. I say let them drink wine (responsibly, of course).
Now, carry on.