In Defense of Birthday Parties


If I’m being completely honest, I mostly loathe children’s birthday parties. As a big, fat introvert, they are just super challenging for me; they come with an extra helping of social awkwardness and a side of sensory overload. And on some days, especially in those late summer months, it seems like there are just so many of them.

The culture of parenting today is stuffed full of event after event – and it can be very overwhelming – and this addiction to busyness we seem to have developed isn’t good for anyone. So generally speaking I’m a huge advocate for saying “no.” We don’t have to do everything single thing to be happy. In fact, I’d argue to be happy we absolutely shouldn’t do everything.

Except, maybe, the birthday parties. To me, a birthday party is a circus of stimulation and obligation, but to the birthday boy or girl, it’s much more personal than that.

Whenever I plan my own child’s party, my biggest fear is no one will show up for him. We’ve been fortunate not to be in this situation — yet, as a teacher, I have seen it firsthand more than once. Children bring in a full set of invitations to class, eagerly passing them out to every single student. I’ve talked to parents who booked four tables at a party venue, who made 30 sets of gift and goodie bags, who spent hundreds of dollars booking entertainment — and had not one. single. child. show up.

If you haven’t experienced this, take a moment to imagine yourself at the trampoline park, at the pool, at the neighborhood gazebo, in front of your home with a bounce house or a video game truck, streamers, balloons, matching plates, cake, and ice cream — and nobody is there for your son or daughter.

It’s devastating. Yes, it’s a waste of money. It’s a waste of resources. It’s a waste of energy. And it feels like rejection.

Are children resilient? Of course. Can they get through this and learn something from it? Sure. Is it the end of the world? Probably not.

But, still. As grown ups, we can do a little better here. We can teach our children to be kind, to make other people a priority. We can teach our children about why we have birthday parties — not to entertain each other or to impress each other — but to celebrate and honor one another. We can use birthday parties to teach about hospitality and gratitude.

Sometimes we can’t go. Sometimes there is a baseball game or a swim meet. Sometimes we were just up too late, or we just really need some family time. That’s okay too, but in these cases, I urge you — I beg you —  to RSVP. I too have been guilty of not responding to an invitation. I think, in may cases, people just forget. For me, not responding was often a way of not committing to something I might not have the energy for on the actual day. But, upon reflection, it was pretty selfish. I’m working on it, and you can, too. Because on the other end of that RSVP is a momma, just like you, trying to stuff treat bags and reserve party tables, secretly afraid no one is going to show up for her child.

So, today, I’m going to run to Target and pick up a LEGO® set for a nine-year-old birthday boy. I’m going to wrestle my kid into some sunscreen and sit by a stranger’s pool for a couple of hours in the hot Texas sun. I’m going to put a smile on and resolve not to complain about all the things I could or should be doing instead. I’m doing all of this not because of how much I enjoy birthday parties, but instead because it is going to make a little boy feel loved and important. And that’s a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.


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