Birthday conundrums

Remember how your birthday was the best day of the year when you were young? As a parent, I now find myself on the organizing side of this event. And that is a very different experience.

Two sides

Let’s look at some impressions. Made up after the fact, of course, I could barely write at seven:

It’s still dark outside, but I’m awake, in bed, waiting for the clock to reach that point where I’m allowed to get out of bed. Soon I can get up, and I’ll go to the living room. There will be banners and buntings, and some balloons!

Then I’ll get to eat a cake my father made, and blow out the candles on it. Seven of them. There will be presents. Will I get the cool Lego spaceship I asked for? Or maybe I’ll get other Lego when my friends come over. It’s gonna be an awesome day.

– me, age seven

And on the flip side, my daughter’s sixth birthday party.

Finally, I’m done. Tomorrow is the big day and we just finished hanging up the buntings. There are balloons, because our daughter loves them, even though they’re bad for the environment.

The presents are upstairs, wrapped, and we finished a bunch of party games to play when the other kids come over. Seven kids. I don’t want to think of that just yet. One of them is apparently just out of Covid isolation. But we have games to play and a schedule that’ll probably go out the window five minutes in.

I just hope the kids are not too rough on the swivel chair or accidentally launch themselves through the windows. I’ll be so glad when tomorrow is over.

– me, last year

As you can see, the experience is somewhat different for each side.

A tangle of obligation

Let me say one thing first: I want my daughter to have great birthdays. It’s important to her, and I want it to go well. I love her, and I want her to be happy. That doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful.

Hosting a birthday party for a young girl (or boy) is a lot of work. It’s not something I thought of as a young child, but all those cool things on your birthday party have to be engineered. And the modern age has not made things easier.

The first problem, of course, is to decide who gets to come. That’s mostly up to your child, naturally, but it can be a problem. If you’re lucky, your child has a group of close friends and you can invite them and have fun. However, what if you’re child has very few friends. Covid has made socializing harder. What to do?

And on the flip side is my daughter. She has too many friends. It seems like a luxury problem, and maybe it is, but we can easily rack up a list of fifteen friends for a party. And that would probably break us mentally. Also, my daughter cannot divide her attention to all those children. You can try to limit the list to class mates, but there is an etiquette issue here. You see: my daughter has been invited to a lot of birthday parties the past year. And if other children invite your child, shouldn’t you return the favor?

It’s something which some of you may also recognize from weddings: who to invite? Who not? And unlike your wedding, which is hopefully a one-time event, birthdays return yearly.

Birthday games

Of course, the next problem is entertaining a group of children for a couple of hours. My respect for teachers, and especially daycare teachers, has vastly increased over the years. I am not made to take care of groups of children. My own daughter is a single child, and if the number of children in my care surpasses the number of eyes I have, I get stressed. I don’t hate children, but honestly, play dates wear me out.

And that’s a personal thing. Some people love it. They’re not stressed out at all, but actually enjoy that time. I’m mostly terrified one will break an arm or start crying uncontrollable. So a birthday party with ten odd children freaks me out. I cope, but at the end of the day I’m very tired and very glad I have a year of respite.

Treats and cake

Another conundrum is what to feed those kids. Not just at the actual birthday party, but in Dutch tradition, children get to hand out treats at school. But what treats?

You don’t want them to be unhealthy. But a child handing out apples runs the risk of being laughed out of class. Oh, dear.

Also, whatever you use, you also need to get it to class intact and you need some two dozen. So, something in a glass is out, and big squishy things could be a problem.

And after crossing that chasm of despair, the next problem is allergies. There’s a child with gluten allergy in my daughter’s class. That’s a problem. Other fun allergies can include peanut allergy, lactose intolerance, and who knows what else. Nobody can help being allergic to something, and nobody wants to be left out. But it makes things even more problematic.

And I haven’t even mentioned possible religious problems. Hot dogs are often neither halal, nor kosher, for example, so tiny hot dogs are probably out.

As you can imagine, this is another stress factor.


In short, birthdays for young children are great for those children, but they can be very stressful for some parents. If you are one of those stressed-out parents: you’re not alone.

If you feel differently, more power to you, but maybe you now understand where some of us are coming from.

But, we all power through, of course, because the reward is a very happy, smiling child. Which in the end makes it worth it.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy author/blogger from the Netherlands