I have a love/hate relationship with birthday parties. I love planning themed parties for my kids. I do all of this planning for months, and by the time I finally get down to trying to execute the plans, I remember that everything takes 20 times longer than I imagined, and I live the week before the party in a frenzied state, trying desperately to create an event that looks impressive.
Take Emerald’s first three birthday parties. First, I did an “Our Little Gem” theme, complete with gem-shaped candy, pink everything, homemade bunting, centerpieces, every detail carefully designed. She was turning one. Who were all of those cute decorations really for? Other adults, of course. She couldn’t have cared less that I found the perfect shade of pink satin to use as a backdrop. Or that I spent days of my life creating all the cute little accents.
For her second birthday, I chose a kitty cat theme. I spent a solid week of my life creating all the little details of this party, down to crafting homemade cat ears for every kid to wear. It was an adorable party. But, who were all of those minute details really for? Other moms, of course!
For her third birthday, she chose a Cinderella theme. I went all out, glittering old shoes to serve as glass slippers, creating a wall hanging, climbing on ladders in the church fellowship hall to hang lanterns from the ceiling. It was so cute. It was fun. But, I wasn’t trying to create a stylized party so that Emerald would be proud of it. She would’ve been proud of grocery store cupcakes and dollar store paper plates. I was trying, in some strange way, to prove myself as one of those awesome, soiree-throwing moms.
Fast forward to her fourth birthday. We went to the park. I bought cupcakes from Sam’s Club and Kool-aid from WalMart. I ordered Barbie balloons on Amazon. The kids played on the playground equipment until they were hot and sweaty. They paused long enough to run over and eat a cupcake and inhale their Kool-aid. Then they were back at it, sliding, swinging, and riding the merry-go-round until I was sure someone would end up throwing up. Do you know what I was doing up until a few minutes before that party started? I was hanging out at my house. I had played a game of Candyland with Emerald. I had cleaned my kitchen and done a few loads of laundry. Time that I normally would’ve spent creating a bunch of stuff to try to impress other moms was spent doing the things that really needed doing, and just spending time with the birthday girl.
Do you know what I was doing AT the party? Instead of running a bunch of games and running around like crazy, I was doing this:
Sitting at a table at the park with a bunch of my friends, chatting while all the kids entertained themselves.
Sometimes I think that we mothers have got it all wrong. Emerald had so much fun at her city park birthday party. All her buddies were there, she played to her heart’s content, she got cupcakes and juice, she opened presents, and she went home. She didn’t care about the sparse decorations or the lack of time and energy I spent preparing for her party. She walked away from there feeling just as loved and spoiled as any birthday girl ever felt.
Why do we make motherhood so hard, mamas? Why do we try so hard at the things that don’t really matter all that much, when what our kids really want is for us to be relaxed, to say, “Sure, I’ll play Chutes and Ladders with you.”
Your kids want you a lot more than they want adorable party decor.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a good, impressive birthday party that took a ton of time and effort to create. I enjoy doing those, and I will probably do more in the future. It’s fun for me, even if it is a little frenzied. But, sometimes we need to look up from Pinterest and Instagram and just remember that our kids are ours for a short time. And, instead of trying to live our lives in a way that is totally pinnable, maybe we should just try to look our kids in the face more, to put down our phones and our hot glue guns and quit saying, “I don’t have time” so often when they just want us to get on the floor and play with them.
I doubt Emerald will even remember her fourth birthday party, but I will. I’ll remember that in the days leading up to it, I saw her, really saw her. I wasn’t buried under a pile of tulle or preoccupied with elaborate planning. I wasn’t set out to impress a bunch of other moms. I just wanted to make Emerald feel loved. And, maybe in the end what is really worth remembering isn’t the kind of thing you can display on Pinterest.
As Emerald and I pulled up to the park on the day of her party, I was amazed by how luxuriously relaxed the day felt. Instead of rushing around trying to tend to last minute details, I chatted with her about her big day, and we giggled over something funny Sawyer had said earlier that morning. I noticed an eyelash on her cheek, and since I wasn’t too hurried, I plucked it off of her round little face and held it up for her to see. “Make a wish,” I said. She smiled up at me. “I wish we could stay together forever,” she answered, and then she pursed those sweet little pink lips and blew the eyelash out of my hand, into the never-ending west Texas spring wind.
Dear mothers, don’t you think there are times when simplicity is better for our kids? For us? When basic is best? Don’t you think that our kids would be happier if we stopped trying to be something that they don’t even care if we are? What child really cares what kind of party planner their mother is? What they want from us is attention, love, time, and energy. I think sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that impressing other adults is the same as impressing our kids. Do you know what impresses kids? Time. Undivided attention. Love. Not perfectly designed birthday parties.
All this to say, don’t be so hard on yourself, my friends. You may not be the most pinnable mama alive, but your kids aren’t really all that interested in how expertly you can throw a birthday bash. They just want you to make them feel like they are loved like no other. You can totally do that, no hot glue gun required.
Just listen. Hug a lot. Play. Tell them how much you love them. And, don’t let frenzied people-impressing get in the way of showing your children every day just how wonderful you think they are. I’d much rather be the mama that they want to be with forever than the one who throws a killer preschool party. Wouldn’t you?
Much love to you. You and me, let’s make sure we don’t put so much effort into what’s not all that important that we miss the really good stuff. The eyelash-wishing moments. Some things are just better left unplanned.