parent opinion

OPINION: 'Sorry, but first birthday parties are a complete waste of time. And money.'

If you thought the hardest part of parenting was... well, all the famously hard parts of parenting, you’d be wrong: the hardest part of parenting is planning a first birthday party.

For the (blessedly) uninitiated, you might be wondering what exactly could be so difficult about it. Surely, planning a first birthday party just involves throwing together a cake and a few balloons. You aren't far off, except in 2023, that the cake is probably custom made by a professional in the shape of a jungle scene complete with realistic fondant tigers, and the balloons are part of a balloon arch that cost $400.

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Somehow, in the time between the current generation of parents celebrating their own first birthdays (or not celebrating them, as the case may have been) and celebrating their children's first birthdays, the first birthday party has gone from low-key event to full-blown extravaganza. Each new invitation brings a new round of questions: Will there be a petting zoo? (Probably). Will there be a professional photographer? (Almost certainly). Will the cake cost more than my wedding cake? (Unquestionably).

If you Google 'how to plan a first birthday party', the results range from the reasonable (suggestions on how many people to invite) to the ridiculous (recommendations to hire photo booths, engage professional party planners and print personalised menus). Pinterest is full to the brim with first birthday party "inspiration", from folding your own origami napkins into the shape of little suns (Theme: First Lap Around The Sun) to personalised party bags containing handmade cookies bearing your child's name. If you aren't a professional artist, baker and/or millionaire, you might be thinking that this all seems like a bit of a headache, not to mention costing more than your monthly mortgage, and you'd be quite right.


But despite rising cost-of-living concerns, the trend towards extravagant first birthday parties isn't slowing down: on the contrary, they seem to have become an opportunity for parents to show the world - through the universal language of balloon arches - exactly how beloved and special their baby is.

That sentiment in itself is pretty hard to fault. After all, there isn't a one-year-old on Earth who isn't special! There isn't a one-year-old on Earth who isn't beloved! There isn't a one-year-old on Earth who isn't gorgeous and snuggly and delightful and deserving of celebration!

There's just one problem. 

There also isn't a one-year-old on Earth who remembers their first birthday party. 

So all of that effort is just a teensy-tiny, little-itty bit... totally wasted. 

Of course, that doesn't stop the Pinterest crowd from insisting you should push ahead. Sure, your baby might not actually remember this party, the argument goes, but they will look back on the photos when they're older and feel special and loved to think you put in so much effort. (The unsaid part, of course, is that you if you don't, they'll look back on the photos that don't exist and feel un-special and unloved. But no pressure!).

While my own son isn't yet old enough to ask questions about his early birthday parties, I think there's a pretty simple solution to this one: save the time and effort you might have spent planning an elaborate first birthday party and put it into future birthday celebrations that your child will remember and enjoy.


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That isn't to say that you shouldn't go all-out for your child's first birthday party, if that's what you would like to do. After all, making it through a year of parenting is no small feat, and one that is undeniably cause for celebration. But given that your baby won't remember – and dare I say, will probably not enjoy – the grazing table you might, hypothetically, spend hours putting together, it's probably useful to accept that throwing a big shindig is much more about you, the parent, than your child.

And since that's the case, here's a wild idea: why not celebrate your little miracle's first year of life in a way you'll actually like, rather than spending the day running around like a headless chicken folding napkins into shapes and checking that all the Peppa Pig figurines you built out of marshmallows still have their heads attached?

Why not, for example, hire a babysitter and use some of the cash you've just saved to treat yourself and your partner to a nice dinner and a glass of champagne? You've earned it, and you'll enjoy it.  

And – unless you go way overboard on that champagne – you'll actually remember it, too. 

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