Are first year birthday parties really necessary?

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Birthday Cake

Emira, (author of The Boss of You: Everything A Woman Needs to Know to Start, Run, and Maintain Her Own Business), recently sent us a submission questioning birthday parties celebrating the first year of life. This is what she says:

One of the many beliefs that I held pre-mommyhood, which is now being right and properly challenged, centered around the first birthday party. Why, I naively questioned, would a bunch of adults want to sit around for an afternoon wearing funny paper hats watching a one year old try to stuff cake into her mouth? Who is the party for? If adults really want to have a party, don’t they want to maybe have a glass of wine and some adult conversation? And do one year old’s really notice that there’s a party going on just for them?

I did, in fact, have a whole theory/plan about what my one year old’s party would look like, when and if I ever got here. It would be a cocktail party in celebration of the parents, who had successfully made it through the first year of parenting in tact. It would be a chance for dressing up. There would be champagne. It would be glorious. The baby? Would be at home with a babysitter/loving grandparent asleep. There would be no paper hats and faces smeared with cake icing on the first anniversary of my baby’s birth. That ritual could begin somewhere around year two or three when the kid actually clued into the party thing.

I’ll admit, part of my concern about forgoing the first birthday party is — somewhat ridiculously — bound up in the loss of the photo opp. I worry that my daughter will look back on photos of her as a baby and wonder where the one of her smiling cake smeared face with the iconic “1” candle in the foreground is. We already failed to get a decent (read not blurry or very poorly lit) photo of her in front of her first Christmas tree, and I didn’t even think about braving the mall Santa.

I’m currently thinking I’ll probably try to have the best of both worlds. A small family party, complete with the cake, candle and balloons at her birthday. And then sometime later that week and evening out for her dad and I, with friends, to both celebrate our lovely daughter and to ensure that I get that well deserved glass of champagne.

To party or not to party — what do you guys think?

Comments on Are first year birthday parties really necessary?

  1. I am all about celebration so go on and get your party on, but I have to admit, I find it kind of odd too. It does make for awesomely funny pictures-especially the ones where the birthday kid is CLEARLY not that into it, and a lot of the adults are CLEARLY loaded, lol.

  2. I actually do enjoy going to 1 year old parties, obviously its all for the parents but that’s the point!

    For me personally though I dont think we will have one. I tend to get kind of stressed out hosting parties (all the planning, pre cleaning, cooking etc) and I imagine it wont be any easier once we have a kid.

    I do want the photo op tho! We have dinner with my family every week so I think we will just take a birthday cake and photos there, and then do the same thing at the regular bbq with my husbands immediate family. Two celebrations is better than one right? And no planning/clean up or stress 🙂

  3. I don’t see why it can’t be both a party for the kid and a party for the parents. A daytime party with cupcakes and champagne and bright colors and people me and my baby enjoy sounds pretty sweet to me. Now, if only I could figure out how to get folks to tone down the presents. That part seems pretty overwhelming for a one-year-old.

  4. I have a confession to make. When it came to my Son’s first birthday party I stepped right out of my realm of comfort and gave into my family’s ways of going over-board for the 1st birthday party. I have a big loud Italian family–I mean there are ALOT of us. I always thought growing up that I would NEVER have that really big, loud, clumsy, super-sized, too much food birthday party for my child. Wellll… I did. I was stressed for a full month, questioned my sensibilities, cried and was an all out not so nice person to be around at the time. My boyfriend, my self and son lived in a very, very, very tiny house on a huge piece of land. I decided that I was going to make the pirate cupcakes, my boyfriend was making a treasure chest piñata, I made all the appetizers and everyone would hang out in the yard. When all was said and done there were 87 people there- ALL FAMILY like close family, crazy I know. My Son “seemed”, like he had a great time. Our Family was glowing, so happy to see him crawl around the yard, they took tonnes of pictures, everyone got a chance to play with him all of his younger cousins had a great time getting him to giggle. My Boyfriend and I were exhausted and vowed to never do that again. I know that I may have had a momentary slip in my mommy sensibilities, however I was really happy that the family had a great time loving our little guy. I will never do something like this again, but to each his own..right??? lol

  5. Ya know…I’m one of those people who gets birthday presents for her cats so…I’m sure I’ll eventually be the kind of mom who throws like a completely ridiculous first baby birthday, lol.

  6. I had a party for my son’s 1st birthday with close family and a few friends who had kids the same age. I wanted to celebrate my baby turning 1!! That’s a milestone that no one should miss 🙂 I took tons of pics that will make for good memories not only for me and his dad but for my son as well as he gets older. He’s 8 now and likes to look back at photos to see what life was about during different stages in his life and is happy to know that we make big deals out of his day of birth 🙂

  7. We hadn’t originally planned on anything, but as it gets nearer, I’ve been thinking of having a small get-together with our usual bunch of friends. No other kids, because we’re the first to have one, but he doesn’t really play with others yet anyway. And I’m that mean mom who doesn’t let my kid eat cake, so not that either.

    Honestly, I have like four baby pictures of myself. And I could care less. My first birthday party was when I was maybe seven, it was really fun, but earlier than that I don’t think I would have had as good a time.

  8. Trevor and I enjoy throwing parties at our house–it was one of the factors we considered when we bought our home several years ago. Sadie’s 1st birthday was much like any of our other parties. There was good food, most of our friends and some of my family members were there, my husband had made homemade beer for the occasion. The differences were that there were a handful of kids, there were some (green apple) themed decorations, and there were cupcakes (Because, really, who doesn’t like cupcakes? Oh, wait…my husband.). When Trevor and I got married, we didn’t make a huge fuss over cutting the cake, the first dance, etc. It was kind of the same for Sadie’s birthday. Sure, she had her own cupcake to make a mess with, but we didn’t make her front-and-center, mostly because that’s just how we roll. We asked people to bring donations to an animal shelter if they wanted instead of gifts, because we live in a small house and didn’t want a ton of toys to suddenly bombard us–we figured we’d rather invite everyone we ever wanted to invite, instead of limiting the guest list to the number of presents we felt like we could manage. It was a fun time for the adults and the littles. Now, if I could just make up my mind about her upcoming 2nd birthday…

  9. My son is 4 months old and my mom is already discussing the details of his first birthday party. I am strongly advocating a low-key event. He’s the only little one on both sides of my family and people want to spend time with him. So a party would be a nice way to keep him connected with family. There are 8 other family members with the same birth month so I think I’ll just call it a fall celebration and put everyone’s name on the cake. Plus I can’t pass up the chance to make invitations for the date 9.10.11. Now my only dilema is how to handle presents. I don’t want to deny aunts and grandmas the joy of baby shopping, but we really don’t need piles of STUFF. Most importantly I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to bring a gift. what about: “Egan requests gifts of hugs and kisses” is that too cheesy?

  10. I just have to say I find the range of comments super refreshing. I was under the impression (I read too many parenting forums) that EVERYONE went all out for the first birthday, with invitations, themes and scads of age appropriate playmates. I didn’t have the time or the inclination to do that so monkeys birthday was us, the grandparents and monkeys “best friend” the 7 year old neighbor boy and his Mom. We did the cake thing, it was cute, and he LOVED having happy birthday sung to him. To this day I can get a grin out of him in the crankiest of moods if I sing happy birthday. As for the photo op thing, me and hubby are so bad about pictures all we have are a few blurry cell phone pics. Oh well… he will have to trust us that he has a good time 🙂

  11. Our family treats kids birthdays as very adult-friendly. We all gather, there’s a nice meal, some cake, the kids play, the adults chat, the birthday kid gets presents and the adults get lots of cocktails. Very civilized.

  12. Disclaimer: I’m a flow-over reader from OBB and I don’t have kids, or plan to have them in the next 5 years.

    I think it’s quite interesting how different people view birthdays. For me and my 3 siblings growing up, it was always just a day – acknowledged with a cake and a present – but not a very big deal.

    I started having parties in kindergarten and stopped when I was 8. I still don’t do anything for my birthday (except eat pie!) and it baffles my fiance. Heck, I’m turning 21 in 8 days and I’m not doing anything.

    To me, a 1 year old party seems foolish – yeah give em cake and a present, but an entire party isn’t necessary until they really have friends.

    But, that’s probably just because I really don’t like parties!

  13. I totally got performance anxiety when it came to Alice’s first birthday because so many of her friends had these expensive, all-out parties for the kids and it was intimidating. I felt I could never live up to that! First, I decided no party, then yes party, then maybe just a baby playdate. Organization was non-existent, it ended up raining for part of the day, so I cancelled it since it was going to be outdoors, then the rain stopped. I had no idea what I was doing! I didn’t want gifts, people ended up giving her gifts, it was awkward! I ended up just giving Alice a special dinner that night, and a few weeks later, we had a cake with my family at our annual summer family dinner.
    Stella’s first is coming up and I’m feeling the same performance anxiety! Eek! But I’ve learned my lesson. I’m not a party planner, so we’ll just do a cake with family or something. I’m done stressing!

  14. my son aiden’s first birthday was the biggest headach….. i was against having one and i was also VERY pregnant with my son cameron @ the time yet people were offended that I didn’t have one. so i had one and it just didn’t work out. so for my son cameron’s birthday, i’m not doing anything

  15. We had 4 (yes, 4) birthday parties for my daughter when she turned 1, primarily because so many people in so many different places wanted to celebrate her big day. You may find that as well.

    Originally, I too was anti-first birthday parties. Luckily, I only had to host 2 of the parties, one of which was a potluck.

  16. I struggled through 4.5 years of a wait and one loss before finally getting pregnant with my oldest son. I was damn sure going to have his 1st birthday party. It was just family there, a few kids sprinkled throughout, but it turned out really well. And the bonus is that my son took his first steps at his party because he was trying to chase a little boy there. 🙂

  17. I’m facing this in about three weeks. I sort of want to have a party, just because I want everyone who loves my son to get a chance to see him have a birthday, and not necessarily because I think it will matter at all to him. Oh, and I want an excuse to make cupcakes. But we can’t have it at our house because its super tiny, and we can’t have it outside because it’s the middle of the winter. Everyone else keeps making suggestions for these over-the-top things, and all I want is to take a few pictures of my son in a silly hat eating some sweets. I guess we’ll see how I feel the week prior…

  18. I’m all for having a party if that’s what you want to do. Like many have said – it’s a celebration of one crazy year!

    However, please try to be realistic about it! I work as a cake decorator at Wal-mart and I’m amazed by how many people buy our biggest, most plastic-covered, most expensive cake for a first birthday, demand that they have to have an individual cake for the 1 year old, and then pay for it all with EBT. Save the extravagance for when the kid can remember and enjoy it!

    • I don’t think it’s necessary to point out that they paid with EBT. As someone who needed that extra help with my first I definitely felt looked down upon for it. But I do agree that first birthdays shoudn’t be extravagant. I baked my son’s individual cake from scratch and decorated it myself, and made cupcakes for everyone else (I had been planning to bake and decorate a big cake but turns out I’m not much of a baker)

  19. We had a family get-together for her first – as you say, it’s kind of for the photos! A friend of mine did a drinks party for the grownups on her daughter’s first.

  20. Birthdays are a big deal in our family, but not until you turn 5 and can actually remember. For our kids one year old birthdays we were surrounded by family and a few friends. We did do the smash the cake for picture sake! But I will say the party was more for us as parents celebrating the first year of our kids life. None of our kids had any idea what was going on, and in reality could care less. So I say it’s all about preference but my advice would be save the big bucks for the future, because you will need it! When my daughter turned 5 we spent about 500 dollars on her bday party! Yikes! But it was worth it, she actually remembers it and appreciated it!

  21. Born in the ’80s, I happen to have a very long (and to anyone else, probably boring) home movie of my first birthday party. And I absolutely love watching every minute of it. It’s so funny to see my aunt and uncles as sarcastic teenagers having to sit through a one-year-old open presents and I enjoy seeing chubby-cheeked me with my ruffly party dress and hairbow making adorable one-year-old sounds and faces and comparing it to what my own son was like at one. My mom was very good at capturing my childhood in photographs and home movies and I want the same for my son someday. His father barely has any pictures of himself growing up, his parents were big into taking pictures or having a lot of “clutter” to hold on to. I’m the total opposite. I love savoring memories I can’t remember and hope someday my son Ryland does too.

    So yes, in short, the first birthday party was TOTALLY for me (although I spent the morning beforehand puking my guts out for whatever reason so I had to grit my teeth and get through it more than enjoy it), and I had a great time at a simple backyard barbecue with all of our family and friends and their kids splashing in kiddie pools and sprinklers that we’d set up throughout my granparents’ yard. But in the long run, it will be for him when he gets to look back on that time and how many people were there to celebrate his first year of life.

  22. We had a small brunch party with close friends and their kids, with mimosas for the grownups and cake, so I feel like we had the best of both worlds really.

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