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Emily Writes: The rules of birthday parties for children

It might seem like there is a breathtakingly obscene amount of incomprehensible unspoken, unwritten rules around children’s birthday parties but really it’s all quite simple. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes has crafted the definitive set of guidelines.

A few weeks back I hosted my son’s fifth birthday party. In my life I’ve hosted six birthday parties. We didn’t give my youngest a birthday party one of the years because I don’t know, it’s all a blur because we didn’t sleep and suddenly we were like oh wow, you had a birthday and we didn’t notice. Don’t tell him. He’s a baby, he won’t know.

The last birthday party – the fifth one, the big one – was a dream. I had it in the afternoon so we could day-drink and my father paid for a disgusting bouncing castle germ pit that gave a bunch of the kids gastro (but also entertained them for hours). We drank wine while the children played in a fenced-off area and all the mums and some of the dads gazed adoringly at Eric Yum Pry Mews. I assume drinking at birthday parties is a no-no, but I felt like I needed a drink to cope with the fact that my tiny baby somehow grew into a five-year-old overnight and my husband almost ran us off the road when I suggested we have a third.

My son with Eric Yum Pry Mews at his Eric Yum Pry Mews themed birthday party

Discussing birthdays with other mothers, I’ve seen there is a real need to nail down the unspoken rules for birthday parties. Since I haven’t seen these anywhere, and I’m on deadline with nothing to write about, I figured I would bestow this gift upon the parenting community myself.

The rules are quite simple and I’ve thought about them for at least a handful of minutes. Let’s break things off into groupings…

Invitations

You must invite all of the kids in your child’s class or centre or kindy

Sorry. You have to invite everyone. Because what if one kid misses out? What kind of monster wouldn’t invite all 45-75 children in your child’s class? Do you want Little Jimmy to be in therapy for the rest of his life because he didn’t get an invite to Little Maydeeesynz’ birthday? Why did you even have kids?

You must keep the invite list to five kids or less

Sorry. But you can’t invite more than five kids unless you are some kind of climate-change denying planet-hater. By inviting more children than that, you’re encouraging people to have too many children. Do you know we have to have seed farms now? Do you know that? Haven’t you seen that documentary?! How do you even have space for more than five children?!?! What is your carbon footprint like?!?! WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS?!!?!?!?!?

Your invite needs to be homemade

This rampant consumerism needs to stop. Why would you buy a $2 pack of invites when you could spend 20 minutes desperately trying to get your child to make 160 invitations, and then give up, and then make them yourself while crying and drinking gin straight from the bottle? Why would you Karen?!?!

Your invite needs to be made by BabyVitesForeverLove Ltd

Don’t you love your child? Don’t you love them as much as RelatableMama87 on Instagram? She has a code for 20% off and all the mums are using BabyVitesForeverLove Ltd for their cards. I mean you don’t have to use them but I mean…why did you have kids if you can’t afford them?

The Food

You need to have organic wholemeal gluten-free paleo quinoa oil

Some parents want to kill their children with sugar. If they just did some research they would see how DANGEROUS sugar is. What kind of mother gives their child cheerios? Mother Bates? Mrs Eleanor Iselin played by Oscar-nominated Angela Lansbury in the landmark 1962 thriller The Manchurian Candidate? Fairy bread? Why don’t you just serve them bees holding knives? LET’S JUST SMOKE CRACK – you’re half-way there if you’re going to serve Twisties. Honestly, organic wholemeal gluten-free paleo quinoa oil based kale grain free wholemeal artisan chips are easy to source if you cared about your children enough to spend longer than three seconds preparing for their birthday party.

You need to have cheerios and fairy bread

Why do children’s birthday parties need to have healthy food? Why can’t our children just enjoy themselves?!? CAN’T THEY HAVE A CHILDHOOD?!?!? Why are you depriving them of sugar?!?! Why do you hate them!?! Why did you even have them?!? I can’t stand sanctimummies and their obsessive sugar obsessions what are you Kate McAlister of Home Alone and Home Alone 2 leaving your child at the airport or something? Just let them eat cheerios and fairy bread you monster! In my day we just gave them a bag of cane sugar and they just ate it and they were happy. Not like mothers today. ALWAYS MAKING A FUCKING FUSS.

The shark cake at my son’s second birthday, made by dear friends. Vegan and delicious (the cake – though my friends are too).

The cake

You need to make your cake at home

You need to make your child a homemade cake. I mean it’s not hard. I made my children an exact full-size, anatomically correct Mister Maker cake. I collected all of his measurements by Tinder. It took only 160 days, a two month course on fondant, and a small piece of my soul but it was worth it. Because I love my child. No judgement friend.

You need to buy your cake

What is this shit? Buy a cake that looks good – your appalling attempt at the train from the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book reminds me of the 1946 Hunan rail disaster. Jesus Karen get your fucking shit together.

My baking – AKA a $13 ice cream cake from Pak’n’Save

The presents

Insist on no presents over $8.25

Stipulate the amount all presents must be. I believe $8.25 is the perfect amount. Ask for receipts and if any mother goes over this amount cast her into playgroup oblivion. Put a photo of her face at the entrance to all cafes and insist she cannot be served.

Insist on “no toys”

Do you know a seal ate a My Little Pony and it got excluded from the colony and now it lives in my bathtub? Don’t put that on me Karen. Don’t make me have to adopt all these fucking half-plastic sea animals. If you give children plastic toys you hate dolphins. Why do you hate dolphins!?! What the hell is wrong with you!? You shouldn’t be allowed around children.

Insist on charity donations instead of presents

Excuse me, my children don’t want presents because they care about charity. Look, we all spend what, $15,000 each per present when we buy a birthday present for a party. We go to what, 150 birthdays a year. Add that up over six years! We could have $64,000 to give to the Everyone Needs A Custom-Made Handbag To Match Their Mountain Buggy Foundation. Make sure you bring a receipt you cheapskate – I’m going to check to make sure you actually gave money to the Ponsonby Shih Tzus Rescue Alliance.

Don’t you dare put the interests of your child on the invite to helpfully give us an idea of what they might like for their birthday

It’s really cool that you think I’m made of money and can afford to buy a Star Wars battleship star lego playdough castle. Little Soriasis has more fucking shoes than I do and literally everything she could ever fucking want and now I have to buy her an Elsa That Pees too?

Presents or no presents are fine

What am I a fucking wizard? Tell me what is socially acceptable. Do I let my child pick a present based on what they think your child will like or do I get away with not doing anything? Is this going to bite me in the ass somehow? Don’t ostracise me. Please. I need this.

Handmade presents only please

Yeah, coz I had nothing better to do than to make your child a fucking origami orangutan while I try to get off watching old episodes of Sons of Anarchy.

Goodie bags

Now this is controversial. It’s just important that you know that you need goodie bags. But also do not have goodie bags.

Other extremely, extremely important rules

  • You can leave your child at the party if they’re over the age of 308 months.
  • You can bring more than one child if the invite says you can bring more than one child.
  • You can bring more than one child if you have more than one child.
  • You cannot bring more than one child if you have more than one child.
  • If you are going to the birthday of twins you need to get them a gift each.
  • If you are going to the birthday of triplets you need to get a gift each for the first two but not for the last one to create a healthy rivalry.
  • If you are going to the birthday of quads you need to get just one gift and make them fight for it.
  • You need to bring baking – but don’t go to any trouble – two days of baking isn’t trouble.
  • Please leave your husband who talks too much at home.
  • Your au pair can only come if she’s less attractive than me.
  • Every child gets a turn at Pass the Parcel or you’re never allowed to host a birthday ever again.
  • Excuse me, pinatas are cultural appropriation and they encourage violence.

Birthday high tea which I barely remember because I’d just had a second child and by the looks of it hadn’t brushed my hair in some time.

I hope you’ve figured out by now that this is a joke. It has taken me a while to realise you can’t do a birthday “the right way”. It will always be “wrong” to someone. But all that matters is that your child is happy.

After my son’s fifth birthday, which I went all out for, I asked him if it was his best birthday ever (don’t judge me – I wanted validation from him).  He said “It was my second almost best birthday”. Before I could say WHAT THE FLEPPEN HECK CHILD I LITERALLY ORGANISED YOUR HERO TO ATTEND. He continued: “My best birthday was your own one birthday when we got our nails all done nice and we had cakes and teas.”

For my 30th birthday we’d had a high tea and then even though I have bitten my nails down to nothing, I let my son pick nail polish for me and we got manicures. I still remember the beautician looking at my nails like “Woman, get on some anti-anxiety medication.” I guess I forgot how much my son loved that day. All I remember was that my boobs hurt and I was exhausted. To him it was special because it was just the two of us, having some time together. It was a reminder that the little things matter just as much as the big stuff, and we can’t lose sight of that.

Birthdays are a way for us to celebrate every sleepless night, every giggle and joyous moment. It’s also a way to mark that you got through the tough stuff too. For us, five signalled something really special – we still have our baby, when others who were in the children’s ward with us don’t. So many parents lost in the pain of infertility or miscarriage would love to struggle through the politics of just one birthday. Others mark birthdays with tears as they no longer have their baby with them. Not every birthday is guaranteed for children or their parents.

So do rules matter? No. I don’t think so.

Maybe the one rule we really need is just gratitude. No matter what we do, we must do it with a thankful heart.

Emily Writes is editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out now. Buy it here. Follow her on Facebook here.

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