Why is the homemade birthday cake still seen as the holy grail of parenting?

Why is baking your child’s birthday cake still seen as the pinnacle of motherly devotion?

Why does the universe care whether the sugar-delivery mechanism to mark my child’s celebration come from a shop or my oven? More to the point, why do I?

I am terrible at baking. Spaghetti and salad? I’m your girl. But anything involving measurements, precision, folding and whipping, rising and cooling? Let’s just say, my skill-set is lacking.

This is a failing that only bothers me twice a year. On my daughter’s birthday. And on my son’s birthday.

Because suddenly, on those days, baking is less about domestic skill, and apparently about how much you love your kids.

Mum forums crackle with tales of staying up all night to make sure Jemima had her nut-free cupcakes to take to school, of hours spent pouring over the Women’s Weekly birthday cake bible. Facebook pulsates with images of thoughtfully-decorated choo-choo trains, dinosaur skeletons crafted from marzipan and pinata cakes that explode with sugar-free gummy bears at a gentle children’s tap.

Not in my house.


Pity my daughter, who, even when I turn to a packet mix cake mix, ended up taking this sort of thing to preschool:

Yes, that’s a real comparison. What the cakes looked like on the packet, versus how they turned out. The shame…

In my house, as birthdays approach, my anxiety levels begin to creep skywards. Invitations, home-made cakes, party bags, tasteful but age-appropriate bunting, they’re all things that parents (let’s be honest here: mothers) are supposed to be really good at. And they’re all things I have absolutely no natural flair for. And for reasons that I can’t even fathom, it makes me grumpy and anxious and insecure.

And so, this year, knowing that even a packet mix was too risky for me, I decided, like many a parent before me, that I was going to Fake It. Big time.

I tell the story of my halfway cake on the latest episode of This Glorious Mess, Mamamia’s podcast for parents. I bring it as a Nailed or Failed to the segment where my co-host Andrew Daddo and I talk about what we got right and wrong each week. Was this a triumph or a fail? You decide, by listening to the segment, here:

I show my children I love them in a million ways every day. I show them I love them by letting them sleep practically on top of me in my bed most nights, even though they have perfectly good ones of their own. I show them I love them by not banishing them to the garden shed when they want to watch The Lion Guard  for the 14th time that day. I show them I love them with the stories I whisper to them every morning, the ridiculous songs we make up together every bath time and yes, sometimes I show them I love them with food – their favourite fruit in the lunchbox; the ice-cream treat on the way back from the beach, by mushing vegetables to a pulp to stash inside my son’s “pie”. These are all tiny, tasty acts of love.

And this year, I faked my expression of love for them with a supermarket cake, a tub of pre-prepared icing, and a jumbo bag of Smarties and Flakes.

Behold, the halfway homemade cake:

birthday cake from woolworths
It’s amazing what you can do with some chocolate frosting and an armful of goodies from the confectionery aisle.

The halfway-homemade cake, I’ve decided, is the perfect solution for those of us who feel pressure to look like we’re conforming to the world’s idea of parental perfection, even when your domestic goddess rating is a miserable 3.

And you know what’s the best thing about it? It was gone in seconds.

Kids do not care how their cake was born. So why should I?

What’s the best “cheat” you know for getting around your domestic shortcomings? 

You can listen to the full episode – including stories about telling your child you’re going to jail, what not to do about teenage heartbreak and that time Andrew nearly blew himself up, here:

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Can’t cook? Here’s a simple way to make cake in a mug.

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