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Mia Freedman: Why I'll NEVER be a DIY birthday party mum

This week I paid a storm trooper $250 to entertain 11 small boys. It may be the best $250 I have ever spent.

My youngest son turned 5 and to celebrate, he had his first ever birthday party. He’s my third child. Anyone with more than two will understand.

It’s not that we’ve IGNORED his other birthdays. I dimly recall some balloons when he turned one and a rug in the garden. And last year, he had three friends over after kindy and they all ran around the garden for an hour waving swords.

But this year, I had to step it up a bit. Poor kid. His older brother and sister had all manner of parties by the time they turned five. From those mobile zoos that come and set up in your garden to fairies and Disney characters.

I’ve always been a fan of out-sourcing the entertainment. Because I swear to God, time stands still during your child’s birthday party.

You look at your watch thinking, “OK, I reckon there’s only half an hour to go” and then you see the birthday party only started 25 minutes ago and you lose the will to live.

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Hiring someone to come and entertain the kids for an hour or so is an idea that only started to become popular in the past decade. Before that, it was all DIY pass-the-parcel and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey followed by musical statues and a Mintie hunt.

Chances are you will be flooded with happy memories after reading that last sentence, instantly transported back to your own childhood and birthday parties you had or attended. But I bet your parents would not be flooded with similar memories recalling your parties. It’s a bit like how great Christmas was when you were a kid and you just had to turn up and open presents. As opposed to now when you have to oraganise the whole thing plus maintain civilised small-talk with other parents you barely know.

So. I knew I needed outside help. For my son’s birthday party, we did a Google search, found ourselves on the Kapow Parties website and had a blast scrolling through all the character options. Superman, Batman, Buzz Lightyear, Luke Skywalker, pirates, transformers, power rangers and mutant ninja turtles.

We chose a Storm Trooper – despite my cautionary warning that some of the kids might be scared. My son would not be swayed.

So I booked the Storm Trooper via email and at the appointed time, he turned up in full costume carrying a stereo playing the Star Wars theme song and a bag full of games. The next 90 minutes were a dream.

As anyone who has ever thrown a kids’ party will know, even when you specify “DROP OFF” which I may or may not have done in capital letters in the texts I sent to the parents the week before (3rd child, did I mention that?) you still end up hosting a parallel party for adults.

This time, it was mostly relatives but there’s an inescapable amount of chat and tea-making that you must do.

If you don’t have an entertainer or someone completely focused on the kids, things can quickly get out of control as you try to run your parallel parties.

But apparently, there’s been a movement away from out-sourcing kids’ birthday parties by hiring entertainers in favour of a massive DIY push as parents (i.e. mothers) try to out-do each other with fancy shmancy home-made invites, food, decorations and games.

Not me. Not ever.

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Culture has revealed parents (ie mothers) are suffering from severe DIY party stress.

“Mothers shoulder most of the burden of orchestrating these events,” explained the study’s co-author, Jan Brace-Govan, a senior lecture in the department of marketing at Monash University. Well duh.

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According to one mother interviewed by Today.com:

“There are so many of these perfect birthdays on Pinterest. Nothing is store bought and everything is homemade and they have a desire to appear crafty too,” says Christie, whose kids are 2 and 5. “But you have to be aware of who you are. And honestly, that might not be a mother who loves making paper crowns.”

The point, she underscores, is that you have to personally enjoy doing these projects for your friends and family. And you can’t feel parenting shame if you’re just not someone who likes making your own party hats  or has the time for butterfly placeholders.

So I’m going to put up my hand. I am NOT a mother who derives joy from making paper anything. And my kids wouldn’t notice even if I did. And I feel no shame either. Not anymore (3rd child etc). I loved my Storm Trooper. I never wanted him to leave. If you’re a DIY person who actually enjoys the process (like iVillage’s editor Alana House) then go for your life. And may the force be with you.

Do you go all out when you organise a birthday party or are you anti-DIY like me?

ABOUT: Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted desperately to work in the media. She began doing work experience aged 19, became an editor at 24, had a baby at 25, another at 33, spent 7 disastrous months as a TV executive, pushed the eject button on her corporate career to start a blog which became a website which became an independent media company she now runs with her husband. They then acquired another website (iVillage Australia!) and the rest is history...

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