Hands up, who hates children's parties?

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 Photo: Getty Images

They should be a nostalgic day of simple pleasures, celebrating your delightful darlings with a few select friends and family. So when did children's birthday parties become so... stressful?

As misfortune would have it, my three children's birthdays fall in February, March and April - and I have just calculated that I have spent around $1,000 ensuring Charlie, seven, Edward, four, and Jemima, two, had the best possible celebrations. I am fully aware this is a ridiculous amount to spend, especially as two of them aren't even at school yet and may not remember it, but the collective costs of cakes, entertainers, village halls, food, party bags and outfits soon add up.

So it came as no surprise to me to read that a survey by American Express, published this week, found the average parent shells out a whopping $545 to celebrate their child's birthday. Gifts ($122), entertainment ($94), food ($91) and venues ($90) were the main culprits cited by the 560 respondents.

No wonder the Middletons are doing so well with their Party Pieces company.

This year, our eldest son was treated to a Star Wars-themed Lego party - we sent out customised invitations, dutifully decked out our village hall with Star Wars paraphernalia, laid on hot dogs, ice cream and jelly and spent hours crafting the themed cake we'd promised him.

For our two-year-old daughter, it was a family only, at home affair but I still managed to spend over $200 on finger food, paper plates and presents.

When I was around the same age our eldest son is now, a McDonald's party, with a special cameo from Ronald, was seen as the pinnacle of envy-inducing sophistication.

But now it seems, a game of pass the parcel and a few sausages on sticks (a choking hazard if ever there was one) simply will not do.

A friend's four-year-old recently went to a party at the Natural History Museum, where the children were treated to a re-enactment of Jurassic shark fighting and played with life-like dinosaurs. Another friend spoke in hushed, reverent tones about the delicious cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery and the bespoke, hand-embroidered canvas party bags her daughter had been given at a recent party.

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My children and I have, in the last year, been treated to an Irish Batman, lizard ladies (that is, a woman with reptiles and tarantulas) and cake, prosecco and paper butterflies.

Of course, these parents won't ever admit how costly and time-consuming the whole thing is, saying ''it's no bother at all''.

So I can't help but fall victim to this one-upmumship.

It's only going to get worse as they get older. A survey last year found today's parents spend a staggering $19,000 on children's parties, with the first, 13th and 18th birthdays being the most expensive ($750 a pop for each milestone). By the time the poor things get married - well, it really will be sausages on sticks time.

Who, in their heart of hearts, would say they actually enjoy children's parties anyway?

There's no booze, you're left to pick at rubbery carrots and soggy dips while the kids get free rein on the best sandwiches and cakes, and you have to make small talk with a host of virtual strangers. I once got stuck talking to a tax auditor with a roving eye and halitosis for an hour and 20 minutes while the Peppa Pig theme tune played tortuously on a loop in the background.

When organising your child's event, navigating the tricky etiquette of conflicting parenting styles and expectations (Horatio is allergic to humous, Harry is an ankle-biter, etc) makes it a migraine-inducing nightmare.

The great irony is that the amount of effort you spend always seems to be in reverse proportion to the amount of enjoyment the children get out of them. Last year, when we treated our seven-year-old son to an opera singer, he got uncharacteristically overwhelmed and hid under the table.

Next year, I am going to try to buck this trend and am seriously considering giving our children nothing but a pizza and a paper bag to play with. Who's with me?

Tips to keeping parties stress-free

  • Keep it nice and small - encourage your child to select 10 friends to invite
  • Serve simple food such as wraps or hot dogs, and nibbles for the grown ups, plus prosecco - they'll love you for it
  • Go halves - if a friend's child has a birthday around the same time, throw a joint party. The children will enjoy it and you can split the costs.
  • Ask friends or family members to help out with simple activities such as face painting or setting up an obstacle course in the garden.
  • Relax - keep things in perspective and remember you don't have to prove anything to anyone.

The Telegraph, London

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