This is one area that did not fall into my domain as house husband, except in so far as the leg work was concerned. Left to me, birthday parties would not exist. If they did they would be very small affairs, catered for and organised by a third party.
My wife instinctively took over arrangement for the party. She organised everything from party guests to games and music. I stayed in the background making suitable noises and completing errands when necessary. I did not suggest that, perhaps, Small was a bit too young and would not really understand what was going on. It would have been dangerous to articulate that Small might not be happy about all these people invading his space. It would have been disastrous to point out that the afternoon was the time most Smalls are grouchy and thinking about a nap.
The point I quickly managed to wrap my head around was that birthday parties, at least for the very young Small, are not being held for Small but for the parents (ok, let’s face it, the mother – there, it’s been said, judge me if you must). It is a once a year opportunity to show off how brilliant their Small is and, by reflection, how great they are at being a parent.
Because humans are genetically competitive, even if passively (if we weren’t we would not have been the ones to survive), there was an inevitably element of making sure Small’s birthday party was better than anyone else’s: more balloons, better games, bigger prizes, a more sumptuous spread of food, trendier music, a hand crafted cake in the shape of Small’s favourite thing and more elaborate gift bags.
The outcome was hyper tense and exhausted parents and a lot of over wrought Smalls that had had every sense pounded and really just need their afternoon nap. There were tears all round but as the organisers we had to keep ours in until all the guests had gone.
Over a number of years we developed the following party rules and even tried to follow them:
- The number of guests should be no more than one for each year old Small is.
- Not to over-elaborate. To keep things simple. Smalls like to shout, smash things, throw things and eat sweet sticky things, not necessarily in that order. A circle of Smalls with a pile of doughnuts in the middle might be the perfect party.
- If it was affordable, to go to a third party. There are plenty of activity centres/leisure centres out there that run organised parties. If it all went wrong we could blame them.
- If a parent tried to drop off their 1-2 year old and disappear, then to turn them away at the door, Small and all. They knew their Small better than we did and there would be a reason they needed ‘to do some urgent shopping’.
- When Small was at pre-school or greater age to be aware of class politics. It was vital that Small’s main rival was not inadvertently invited. Certainly never to invite the whole class, there was always a trouble maker and you only needed one to wreak havoc.
- When Small was old enough, to ask him to come up with a guest list. When he failed to list someone who we thought was a close friend then we learnt to query this but if Small said no, then it was no. Although we did have to endure some awkward conversations and put up with some judging looks in the school queue.
- To encourage Small out of parties as soon as possible. Once their value assessment skills had kicked in, to suggest an extra present up to the cost of the party – it hasn’t let us down yet (although they do try to sneak in a sleep over and a cinema trip with a couple of close friends).
- Finally, to remember that we were not there to enjoy the party. Our job was to make sure it ran as smoothly as possible whilst looking calm and relaxed, which was a bit like juggling red hot rocks with smiles on our faces.
Not so much a parenting guide full of advice, more the reality of parenting kids and being a house husband and father, written by a stay at home dad to three children.
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