Disclaimer: this post, like all the others on this blog, is about what worked best for us. I am not dragging anyone who chooses differently!
My son’s first birthday party theme was chosen before he was born. It was genius. People who didn’t even have kids said so! A pun on his name + a very popular cultural event = maybe the best party theme ever. This soon-to-be event was spoken of many times throughout his first year of life, and my husband and I were delighted that our favorite college football team had a bye week the Saturday nearest his birthday. About two months prior to the event, I sat down to make the guest list…
…and I said, “Nope.” No part of me wanted to do it. I didn’t want to figure out who made the cut of invitees, I didn’t want to scrub my house to host people and I definitely didn’t want to clean up after them, I didn’t want to guess at an ideal start time to hopefully coincide with his naps that day, I didn’t want to fake smile my way through entertaining guests whose biggest common denominator was our son, a variable who was in no way guaranteed to like having that much family in his face (or who might show great preference to one or two of them and scream when made to take photos with others.) I wasn’t having any of it, so we didn’t have it.
On his birthday, he celebrated with his friends at daycare, then his dad and I posed with him and his cake for a family selfie and filmed him half-heartedly poking into the frosting. We had my husband’s side of the family over for a birthday dinner before the date, and we took the baby to my family’s that weekend to celebrate with them. Done. He won’t remember any of it, we’ll remember it as being lowkey and meaningful, and I have 17 more years to use the theme, if I feel compelled to override whatever his preferred requests are in the future (if he got to choose right now, he’d have a Cocomelon birthday party and absolutely no thank you.)
I’m not here to convince you to not have a birthday party for your kid. This, like everything else in parenting, falls firmly into the You Do You category. If, however, you have an inkling that you might want to eschew tradition, I’m here to tell you that’s also very ok, and you’re not irreparably damaging your child by denying them a pivotal rite of passage. I’ve worked at bakeries and event venues in the past, and I’ve said this for years: first birthday parties are for the parents. There’s nothing wrong with that; keeping a kid alive for a full year is deserving of celebration– and a break! Squeeze that little nugget half to death, feel all the feelings about how much has changed in a year, then send them to Grandma’s house, if you’re able, to celebrate your big accomplishment in peace, complete with as much cake as you want.
Not having a party doesn’t mean people won’t still send gifts, but it does cut down on the (already massive amount of) clutter. I’m saying this from a high throne of privilege, from which I can see the sea of toys, books, clothes, and other gifts that truly generous people in his life have bestowed upon my son. Even if we’d put “no gifts” on the invite or asked people to bring toys for the local children’s hospital instead, you know we’d be left with more light-em-ups and whirly-gigs than we already have, even though his favorite activity is putting on and taking off the lid to a can of cooking spray.
If, when he’s older, my son asks, “What did we do for my first birthday?” I’ll tell him I got very emotional the night before remembering my nervousness and excitement at that time last year checking in to the hospital. I’ll show him the pictures of the simple cake I made him and remind him that I ate way more of it than he or his father did. I’ll tell him that we fawned over him and took pictures of him and he was the center of attention– oh wait, that’s been every day of his first year and well beyond because pretty much every day is your birthday when you’re a baby.