This week Aasma ponders the minefield that is children’s birthday parties
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 tobegan 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.
One weekend, we had three – at the same soft play centre.
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.
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.
As for party politics, it’s a real minefield – starting with the issue of invitations.
Who to invite becomes a thorny issue. 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. After all, we said, some are bound to have prior commitments.
“They won’t all come.”
On the day all 45 turned up and had the time of their lives while Hubby and I ran around frazzled for the duration.
All the parents told us afterwards how their children had gone home declaring it: “a fantastic party”.
Hubby and I, meanwhile, gulped a stiff drink and vowed: “Never again.”
As our children have got older, birthday parties have dried up with many parents opting for a “birthday treat” instead with a few chosen best friends.
This makes the guest list even trickier, and can be a difficult decision for a child to pick which two or three friends they want to share their birthday day out.
In these circumstances, when a child performs a “no show” or cancels at the last minute, it is highly annoying.
This year the story of parents landed with an invoice for £15.95 when their son failed to turn up to a party at a dry ski slope made headlines.
While the tale made me chuckle and is something I wouldn’t dare do myself, I did feel sympathy for the mother who sent the bill, having several times been in her shoes.
These culprits always wait until a day or two before the party to cancel, having previously assured you their child would love to attend and is really excited.
By this point, you have already paid a non-refundable bill, and with many activities costing around £15 a child, that’s not cheap.
However, more importantthan any financial loss is the disappointment of your child at being a friend down. And at such a late stage, you can’t invite another child without making them feel like an afterthought or second choice.
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 blasting each other with laser guns and climbing a tilting “rock” .
But after contemplating all the “party politics”, I think next year it might be safer to hire a party planner.