“I love kids’ birthdays,” says Lois Montague, mother of two young children in Napa, Calif. “We invite everyone.”
“Even just while speaking about these super-organized theme parties makes me anxious,” says Matthew Koehler, father of a 9-year-old girl in DC “My wife and I are introverts.
“Oh, the treat bags are where I feel the pressure, of course,” says Jessika Boles, a mother of two in Nashville. “Some moms have custom-made cookies that they individually wrap with ‘so and so’s fourth birthday’ and a princess tiara on it, that sort of thing, and a bunch of little toys and candies, and you can say, well, it probably costs $15 or $20 per child.
After various periods of pandemic pause, the birthday party scene has restarted, and parents understand exactly what that means. Gifts or no gifts? The whole class or just a few friends? Where do we do this, and do we want to do that ? As weekends get booked up, parents say celebrations often veer to opposite ends of the party-planning spectrum: either more explosive than ever, as design fanatics get to grips with their muscles. creative; or decidedly softer, as families adopt a relaxed atmosphere.
“I think everyone is so exhausted,” Koehler says. “They want to do something special for their child, but they also want it to be an opportunity to just have their friends, and not be that kind of stressful situation.” In his social circle, he says, that has meant ditching pre-pandemic house parties in favor of gathering in communal spaces outdoors.
“People use public parks or the playground after office hours,” he says. “They don’t need to rent accommodation. It is less expensive. They can invite whoever they want and people bring food and drink instead of gifts. It’s much lower.
Others, however, are thrilled that the festivities are resuming. Montague, a doctor who is part of a Facebook group for ‘party planner’ moms who work in the medical field, says the stress and burden of the pandemic years has actually increased their focus on their children’s birthdays. . The online group is “incredible in its sheer scale,” she says. “I think covid has valued the opportunity to come together and celebrate things a lot more.”
Social media, of course, has amplified the urge to stage a picture-perfect backdrop. But the desire to indulge is not so much superficial as a necessary form of balance, at least in one’s community: “I know that among my colleagues in medicine, we cling to the non-medical aspects of our lives like a form of escape,” she says. .
In Nashville, Jessika Boles saw her parent community go straight back to the pre-pandemic birthday party pattern, meaning she and her two children attended many larger group gatherings in gym studios and dance studios and Chuck E Cheese Parks and trampolines.
There are things she doesn’t like much about this pre-packaged party approach — the cost, to begin with (she spent $500 on her son’s last birthday at a trampoline park), and the impersonal structure and stereotypical of it all. But, she adds, for families who can manage the price, there are also some advantages. “I am a working mom. I am a college teacher. I have a second job in healthcare, and that’s a lot of mental energy to spend on — “Where can I find decorations? And where do I bake the cake? So I appreciate that there is a one-stop shop,” she says.
In Montana, Susi Milligan only recently entered the world of throwing birthday parties for her 6-year-old son’s friends and classmates, and she says she felt no sense competition or a uniform set of expectations for what a celebration should look like. Some families only invite a few friends to their home; others “go out of their way with pool parties at local hotels, filling the pool with inflatable toys,” she says. A family they know “had a pizza and party in a glow-in-the-dark bouncy house in the upstairs open space of a local bar,” she adds.
She finds the variety rather liberating: “Everyone does what is good for them. I don’t feel the pressure to do something big, just something good for my child. (For her son’s birthday, she says, that meant inviting a few of her friends over for a snowball fight.)
“I still get torn sometimes,” Milligan says. “Does it say ‘no gifts’ on the invitation?” Are we inviting the whole class? Her guiding principle, she says, is “to try to understand where our child is. What are the things we want to teach him at this age, how will he feel celebrated, and how will we help him love the children around him? »
Caroline Willson, an educator and mom to a 6-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son in Memphis, has noticed significant — and welcome — changes to the birthday party scene in recent months. Before the pandemic, she says, parties were bigger, with bouncy houses and princess performers and professional face painting and the feeling that parents had either put on a plot of effort or paid a plot money to outsource this effort.
But as parents adjusted to accommodate covid safety measures during the pandemic, those gatherings were replaced instead with smaller, more intentional celebrations, and that seems to have stuck. “Next week, my daughter is going to a birthday party that’s just the birthday girl and two friends, and they’re going to do something special together,” she says, “and that’s it.”
She heard other parents echo her own relief at the change. “It’s really like people are happy to be able to reinvent the way we do things,” she says, “that it doesn’t have to be a high-pressure thing. It might just be a few friends hanging out.
Willson says she herself was someone who ordered all of her color-coordinated streamers, streamers and cake toppers from Etsy, who stood around decorating the cupcakes. so much until 2 a.m. the night before the party (something her kids never seemed to notice once, she adds). Now it’s someone who lays a stack of pizzas on a picnic table at the park and watches his son and his friends squeal with joy as they run around with Nerf guns.
“Before, I felt like, in order to be a good mom, you had to do this lavish do-it-all stuff,” she says. “And then, not being able to do anything allowed me to understand: there may be things that children are interested in, and we can always do these things. But for the rest, for whom were we doing this?