Parents who stay at kids' birthday parties need to learn how to relax

Pure joy: my son Riley's 10th birthday party, and not a parent in sight.
Pure joy: my son Riley's 10th birthday party, and not a parent in sight. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Honestly, how freaking good were kids' birthday parties in the '80s?

A chocolate packet cake from Shop-Rite with a Smartie smile on top was enough. Pass-the-parcel was a highlight. Jumping on the trampoline - which didn't have a net around it, gasp! - with 800 friends and cousins was the best. And if you scored a purple Ring Pop in your lolly bag, you wouldn't stop sucking it (or shut up about it) for a week.

But what I truly miss from the 1980s is that parents would drop their kids off at a birthday party and then leave.

We have fun activities at our parties (like Star Wars ping pong) - you don't need to hang around to make sure your kid's ...
We have fun activities at our parties (like Star Wars ping pong) - you don't need to hang around to make sure your kid's having fun. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Like get in their car, drive away and come back at the time the invitation said to bloody well come back.

This just doesn't happen anymore. We live in the age of helicopter parenting - where parents pay extremely close attention to their child's experiences and problems. At birthday parties, this means closely monitoring their child's intake of red fizzy drink and coloured popcorn and making sure he gets a fair run in the game of statues.

Sigh.

I'm pretty rude when people drop their kids to my place for a party. I pretend I'm in the biggest rush ever. I meet a parent and their kid at the front door, smile as I take the present, quickly jerk the kid inside by his T-shirt sleeve, and then hastily close the door as I yell, 'OK, we'll see you at 4.30pm, enjoy the time to yourself!'

Nope. Some people just stand there, staring. One father once even shoved a new Nike in the door before it closed.

"Oh … I just thought I'd hang around for a bit."

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(Equals stay the entire time and then hang around whingeing about cuts to their public service department after every other child has been collected.)

Why? WHAT FOR? I can be myself in front of your kid but I can't be myself in front of you. I get nervous about pouring 75c lemonade from Woolies in front of you. I feel like I'm being judged. I cleaned my house to kid standard for the party but not parent standard. So why can't you just go and grab a nice coffee? Get your nails done? See a movie maybe?

The reality is, I spend all day talking to people. Making small talk. Asking questions. Building a rapport. I'm a journalist and it's my job. So on the weekends, I'd rather not have an awkward conversation with you. I don't care about how much of a bitch your EL2 is, how the tenant in your investment property wants the plumbing fixed or you can't get your kid into Grammar.

I want to be with the birthday boy while he's in his element, not fetching a glass of wine and making small talk with you.
I want to be with the birthday boy while he's in his element, not fetching a glass of wine and making small talk with you. Photo: Rohan Thomson

My sister, an early childhood teacher, tells me it's also a case of trust. Some parents don't trust me enough to leave their kid with me for two hours. OK then. But by hanging around, what are you teaching your kid about trust, independence and being able to tackle a situation on their own?

I'm the mum who lets my kids stay out till dark on their bikes, climb trees and walk to the corner shop (OK, it's a service station, because let's be real, corner shops are dead).

I'm an 80s mum. And I'm proud of it. So do me a favour and enjoy two hours of peace while I put your kid on a trampoline with 800 other children. It has a net, you know!

What are your thoughts? Are you happy for parents to hang around at your place during birthday parties?

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