Last week my children turned 4 and 6. They share a birthday (still not sure how we planned that!) so it means we have managed to get away with a joint birthday party for the last few years. I’m hoping we can get away with that for as long as possible! I find the whole mission of planning and preparing for a kids’ party harrowing. After a couple of years of organising parties for the ever-increasing numbers of friends, I decided this year was going to be different. I was not going to stress and worry, and I was going to approach this party with a calmer, more organised approach. Even when I put my back out days before the party, I still was able to stay calm.
My past experiences
First things first, I am no Mary Berry by any stretch of the imagination. So baking a birthday cake for my children takes weeks of mental preparation, stress and hours in the kitchen. The first birthday cake I made was for their second and fourth birthdays. My son decided he wanted a pirate theme birthday party so in a moment of craziness inspiration, I agreed to make a pirate ship cake. The cake itself was surprisingly easy, and spurred on by my cake-baking smugness, I moved on to the butter icing stage. This is where things started to go more than a little bit pear-shaped.
The night before the party I set on my mission to construct and decorate the pirate ship. Ingredients at the ready, I started mixing the butter icing. Unfortunately, it was also the hottest night of the year. Even with all the doors and windows open, our house resembled a sauna. The butter icing was melting before my eyes. Every time I tried to stick the pieces of the pirate ship together, they just kept sliding and slipping off. I ended up with more butter icing on me than the cake! At 11pm, I gave in, put the icing in the fridge and decided to leave the cake until the morning and have a very large glass of wine instead. Actually, the cake turned out OK in the end but I found the whole experience so stressful that I have bought birthday cakes ever since!
Baking isn’t the only thing I normally stress about when planning a kids party. The list is long! Here are just a few examples of what keeps me awake at night in the run up to the party:
- Inviting too many children
- Not inviting enough children
- Hoping that I’ve invited everyone I should have invited
- Getting all the invites out
- Getting all the RSVPs back
- Deciding where to have the party
- Hoping children turn up
- How to entertain young children for two hours
Why has this year been so much calmer?
This is the third year of planning and organising a birthday party for the children and I decided to learn from my past experiences. I was going to ditch the worry and the guilt I normally feel when planning a party and approach this years’ shenanigans with calm. Did I manage it? Well, yes I’m glad to say I did. I didn’t stress about the cake, I didn’t worry about entertaining the kids (well, not as much anyway) and I managed to invite and get responses back in a record two days. So what are my top tips for a stress-free kids’ party?
- Don’t feel pressured to bake. I can’t stress this enough. Having spent literally hours trying to assemble that blasted pirate ship birthday cake, I realised that my urge to bake was purely driven by what I thought was expected of me. What would the other parents think if I bought a cake? How could I possibly turn up to a party with a cake from the local supermarket? Having bought a cake last year (I was still scarred by that pirate ship!), I decided to do the same again this year. Was I scorned by other parents for not baking my own cake? Thankfully not. And did the children refuse to eat it because it wasn’t home-baked? No – it was chocolate and that was all that mattered to my children. I was just relieved that I’d saved myself hours of baking and stress.
- Invite smaller numbers. When my son started school I really felt that I had to invite everyone in his class to the party. This had been the norm for previous parties in the class throughout the year. We also invited my nursery friends and non-school friends. Numbers soon exceeded 30 children. Having had large parties for the last two years, we agreed this year that they would invite a few close friends for a tea party. I’m so glad we did. The party was calmer and much easier to organise.
- Try not to feel guilty. As parents, it’s normal that we just want to do what’s best for our children and when it comes to their birthday parties, we want it to be special for them. But often we can feel external pressures to do what we think is expected of us. Quite often, those expectations are pressures we put on ourselves though. When I decided not to bake the cake, I asked myself whether the children would be bothered by the fact that it wasn’t home-made. The honest answer was no. They really just want to blow the candles out and eat chocolate cake. I did feel a little guilty initially that we didn’t invite all their friends. My son did question why certain friends weren’t coming and I did worry about upsetting those we hadn’t invited, but I explained that we were doing a smaller party this year and he accepted that. On the day, they had a great time sharing the party with their closest friends.
- Text or email your party invites. Last year I seemed to be handing out party invites for weeks. This year I texted everyone the party details. Instead of the normal trickle of responses, we’d finalised numbers this year in just two days!
- Consider having the party away from home. Initially, were going to have the birthday tea party this year at home. That was until I put my back out the week before the party. The thought of having to prepare food and entertain small children with a sore back saw my stress levels temporarily rise. A quick call to a local soft play put my mind at ease as they agreed to let us have our little party there. They sorted the food and children spent the time playing on the equipment so no entertainment needed. Changing plans was much easier because of the smaller numbers. The only thing I provided was the birthday cake and party bags. While the children played and ate, the adults enjoyed a relaxing cup of tea with the added bonus of no tidying up after.
This year there have been no sleepless nights, no wrestling with butter-icing, no worrying about entertaining the children and a brilliant time had been all. I will definitely be approaching birthday parties in this way in the future. I’d love to hear your tips for a stress-free children’s party!