Taking kids' parties too far?

Over-the-top parties unnecessary?
Over-the-top parties unnecessary? Photo: Getty Images

Has anyone else noticed how intricate children’s birthday parties have become? My toddler doesn’t even really have friends yet, and I’m already a little stressed out about my future role as event planner. Gone are the days of parties that consisted of balloons, streamers and store-bought cake. Our ever-increasing quest for parental perfection has made throwing a party for a child a huge endeavor – one that is stressing us all out.

A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Culture reveals that mums are shifting from outsourcing elements of their children’s birthday parties to making everything from scratch. This isn’t necessarily a new idea – my mum did something similar when we were kids. The difference is, Do-It-Yourself used to be something parents did to save money. Now, it appears DIY is turning into a litmus by which we judge who the best mothers are.

“As the marketplace increasingly provides goods and services to support mothers and parenting, the extent to which this is acceptable is a source of anxiety for the enactment of ‘good’ mothering in some social groups. The maternal visibility that birthday parties demand adds further strain.”

Translation – if you’re outsourcing all of the elements of your child’s birthday party instead of making everything yourself, you’re a crap mum. And if you do decide to put a DIY party together for your child, it better be Pinterest-worthy, lest you be judged. Anyone who has spent any amount of time on a birthday party Pinterest board knows that living up to these expectations is not an easy feat.

When did being a Martha Stewart clone become synonymous with motherhood? When I decided to be a mother, no one told me I would basically have to be a food stylist and interior decorator to pull off a successful party for my child. While I understand the point of this study has a lot to do with pushing back against consumerism, I refuse to believe that the ability to execute amazing DIY projects and parties makes someone a better parent.

Sites like Instagram and Pinterest have placed a magnifying glass over the competitive element that sometimes exists between mothers.

When I was a child, birthday parties for children consisted of some streamers, party hats and a store-bought cake. There may or may not have been bags full of dollar store goodies that mums put together to send home with the little guests. I don’t recall days of preparation being involved. When did parties for our kids turn into another way for mums to stress out, yearn for perfection and think they are not doing it right?

“The findings show that mothers could publicly demonstrate their intimate knowledge and care for their child by personalising the birthday party through the gift of their time and effort to create a ‘homemade’ event.”

That is actually a beautiful idea, only our ever-increasing need to document and display everything we do has forced the pendulum to swing completely in the other direction. Instead of truly rebelling against the consumerism of children’s parties, now we’re over-exerting ourselves in addition to overspending. Sites like Instagram and Pinterest have placed a magnifying glass over the competitive element that sometimes exists between mothers. It’s no longer who’s spending the most – but who has the best ideas and who can execute them expertly.

I’m pretty sure my child has no concept of how much effort goes into one of these “homemade” events, nor does he care. Children – who are known to jump up and down with glee when they receive a plastic Happy Meal toy – couldn't care less whether we do it all ourselves or outsource every, last detail.

I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t pull one of these parties off. My child will be three in the fall and I have every intention of visiting a party store, purchasing matching Elmo plates, napkins and streamers and calling it a day. The thing is; these items will thrill him. The un-Pinerest-worthy cake I intend to bake will also thrill him. He just wants to blow out candles – whether they sit atop a tower of homemade French macaroons or a poorly executed box cake is totally inconsequential to him.

It’s important to remember the images that are convincing us we all need to be crafty dynamos are basically just the highlight reels of people’s lives. No one “pins” the cake they just burnt or the party favors that look like garbage. Nobody’s perfect – and whether you outsource every last element of your child’s party or craft everything yourself – the most important detail is that you are truly present to enjoy your child’s joy.

What do you think about the DIY kids' party perfection culture? Unnecessary stress or a legitimate way to express your love for your child?