It used to be that a child’s birthday party was a fairly simple affair. Parents would drop their children off with a token present and a cheery goodbye at the birthday child’s house. There would be some traditional party games, such as musical bumps, pin the tail on the donkey, and pass the parcel (with a prize only for the winner instead of in every layer of wrapping).
There would be a few cheese sandwiches, jelly and ice cream, and everyone would go home with a party bag that had a bit of cake and a couple of token plastic toys. These days, however, there is nothing simple about the average child’s birthday party. Those of you who have children starting school for the first time are about to get hit with a tsunami of invites and the differences between the parties of your childhood and today’s children are stark.
1. You Have To Stay With Your Child
For the first few years of school, you are expected to accompany your child to every party and stay with them. Thankfully, around about year 2 or year 3 this changes. However, until then, you are forced to make small talk with a bunch of people whose only common traits with yours is the ability to procreate. You will become familiar with every soft play and farm park within a 50-mile radius by the end of the year, ensuring that you will never want to set foot in one again. Also, the coffee in most of these venues is terrible.
2. The Entire Class Is Invited
Gone are the days when a Mum would tell a child to choose 5 friends. These days, the entire class is invited, plus all the kids of the parents’ friends, and the usual array of cousins and other family members. As a result, expect to find yourself surrounded by around 40 children whose combined decibels could rival the number reached by a volcanic eruption. Trust us when we tell you to pack paracetamol.
3. There’s No More Pass The Parcel
Party games are considered quaint, even boring. These days children’s parties involve some sort of professional entertainer or the hiring out of a entertainment venue, such as a soft play centre or farm park. Even the entertainers have been upgraded. There are no clowns (which is probably a good thing because they are, frankly, terrifying) and instead you have teams of professional actors, dancers, singers, acrobats and more. You will start to see the same few over and over again and wonder just what substance they are on they makes them always so hyperactive and downright annoying.
4. The Cake Is Professionally Made
A wonky Thomas the Tank Engine Cake made by the birthday child’s parent with way too much blue fondant and the barely legible words “Happy Birthday” written with icing is no longer acceptable. Unless the parent is a professional baker, or knows someone who is, then the cake is supplied by a local cake “artist” (they’re not called bakers or decorators anymore). Much like a wedding cake, it has three tiers of differently flavoured sponge cake and is adorned with intricate detail according to the chosen theme. Just like a wedding cake, it also costs an arm and a leg.
5. There’s Enough Food To Feed An Army
In the old days, a child might get half a cheese sandwich and some sausage rolls. Now there is an entire buffet, with various sandwiches, pizza slices, hot dogs, chips, and vegetable crudités that won’t get touched apart from by that one kid forced to by their mother who only ever dishes up organic broccoli and quinoa for their main meals. Some parties have cardboard lunchboxes for each individual child with enough food to fuel a soldier for a day, whilst the more extravagant venues will take an order from your child at entry for a hot meal.
6. You Shouldn’t Rely On Being Able To Eat Yourself
Even though there’s a full banquet laid out before you, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to eat any of it. Parties that happen over lunch time or tea time inevitably involve groups of anxious parents lingering around the food table wondering if it is socially acceptable to eat some of the leftovers. You will try to act cool as you look around, watching for anyone making the first move. Often, no one will, and you will be forced to grab a packet of crisps from the vending machine to eat on the way home. Sometimes, however, one brave soul will step up for the team and take the first chip. After that, it’s a free for all.
7. There’s Always That One Parent Who Likes To Brag
As all the parents are forced to spend a couple of hours together most will engage in some general chit-chat and small talk. Children’s parties are particularly good for finding out the latest gossip from the school, including which teacher is shacked up with the head. It’s generally benign, but there’s always that one parent who will make some not so subtle enquiries about your child’s reading levels and then mention loudly to everyone how much further ahead her little darling is.
8. They Cost A Small Fortune
With venue hire, catering, entertainment, the cake, and party bags, the costs soon rack up. Some research has suggested that the average cost of a child’s birthday party is £166, and that’s before all the presents. What’s more, you’ll find that as the year goes on there’s a game of one-upmanship. The first party of the year will be in the local community hall with the parents doing all the catering and putting on the entertainment. The final party of the year will be in the massive farm park 50 miles away with the children all getting free entry and free turns on all the rides, and a cooked meal to order.
9. Your Child Will Be High On Sugar For Days After
The entertainer will throw out lollipops, then during the food part, there is usually a mixture of cakes, sweets, marshmallows, biscuits, and chocolate bars. If that is not enough, your child will be presented with a party bag filled with yet more cake, this time from the birthday cake which is coated in brightly coloured (by e-numbers) fondant, which is pure sugar, plus a selection of sweets, including mini packets of Haribo and Refresher bars. They’ll eat it all in the car on the way home before you even notice and then will spend the next three days running around non-stop before finally crashing with an epic meltdown – the likes of which you have never seen before.