Aasma Day: The politics of children’s birthday parties

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This is a party political broadcast ... it isn’t really, more a rant about the politics of children’s birthday parties.

Our twins turned 10 recently, prompting me to begin musing about birthday parties and how they have changed over the years. Gone are the days of parties at home with jelly, cakes, ice-cream and a gateaux from Iceland (or, if you grew up in my household, samosas, pakoras and Bombay mix, and then the Iceland cake).

Forget a sedate game of pass the parcel or pin the tail on the donkey. Children’s parties are now completely different with a level of upmanship guaranteed to send parents hurtling into bankruptcy. To be fair, when ours were really young, there were a fair few parties at homes – and even the likes of pass the parcel and musical bumps.

But even then there was usually a highly paid children’s entertainer with a colourful jacket and booming voice who would happily mug parents for a couple of hundred quid a pop.

As for the food, things have moved on a bit since the bowls of Wotsits and a hedgehog of pineapple and cheese cubes. Today’s darlings have far more sophisticated expectations and the canapes and nibbles often look like they’re straight off Masterchef. As our son and daughter have got older, so birthday parties have evolved.

We went through a spate of spending almost every weekend attending a birthday party at some soft play centre or other. But then the children reach an age where soft play centres are deemed too babyish – and that’s when the whirlwind or fantastically varied parties begins. We’ve had our children attend swimming parties, football parties, bowling parties, climbing parties and build your own teddy bear parties – all of which they’ve loved.

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But with each passing year, parents experience the pressure to better what they did last year or keep up with other mums and dads and put on “the best party ever” with things such as skiing, paintballing and horse-riding parties setting the poor parents back as much as the cost of a wedding or holiday.

When our children were younger, their parties used to be bigger and holding the event in a soft play centre or hall meant the guest list could be larger.

However, when they got to school age, the matter became a whole lot more complicated as you have to contemplate all sorts of issues such as returning the invites of children who invited them to their party and not wanting any child to be left out and feel like a party pariah.

Having twins in different classes also means it’s not as simple as inviting the whole class, you’d have to invite TWO – and that’s a lot of children. One birthday a few years back, we organised a disco party for our pair. When our son and daughter presented us with their desired guest lists, we realised they wanted to invite so many children, there were only a handful from the year not invited. So we decided we may as well invite them all.

On the day all 45 turned up and had the time of their lives while Hubby and I ran around frazzled. For this year’s party, our son and daughter had a laser quest and wall climbing party and together with their pals had a blast with laser guns and climbing a tilting “rock.”

But with the “party politics”, I think next year it might be safer to hire a party planner.

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