The Underachieving Mom’s Guide to Throwing A Birthday Party

This week in the TroubleFace house, we are going to be celebrating not one, but two birthdays. Rosalie will turn 2 on Wednesday and Olivier will turn 4 on Sunday. And I would just like to mark the occasion by taking a moment to thank Pinterest for ruining birthday parties for underachieving moms like me, everywhere, forever.

Now, I know that some of you saw me on Facebook lamenting the lack of Pinterest when I was engaged and planning my wedding 10 years ago. It’s true. I’m a hypocrite. Pinterest has it’s place in my conflicted heart. My favorite part of Pinterest is my “fails” board where I pin all the things that I think are ridiculous and make fun of them. Please do come on over and play if you speak sarcasm.

But Pinterest can disappear forever when it comes to birthday parties.

My oldest will be 9 this summer. When he was little, his birthdays involved inviting people, making lots of food, blowing up some balloons, and calling it a party. It didn’t matter if it was a big crowd or more of a play date situation. The end result was essentially the same.

Parties with themes and decorations and food that matched the themed decorations were the kind of thing you saw in a magazine. A magazine you rolled your eyes at as you went through the checkout line at the grocery store. Or if you are like me, you have those handful of friends who were throwing these incredible parties and were probably the inspiration for the creation of Pinterest anyway. I’m looking at you Shelley Carlson. You and your creatively themed, perfectly matched parties and showers. We marvel at these party planning goddesses and then wallow in our own party planning inadequacy until we remember that we are proud underachievers. No shame.

Then Pinterest showed up.

And seriously. For the love of simplicity. What the hell, Pinterest?

Suddenly it’s become expected that I put more effort into planning a birthday for my preschoolers than I did for my own wedding. I’m not even joking. I’ve got friends asking me for advice on how to decide themes and who to invite and when do you know if it’s too much?

Friends, I love you. But if you have to ask if it’s too much? We’re already there. One of the more recent conversations I had along these lines ended with the other mom telling me she’s relieved and doesn’t know why she puts so much pressure on herself. Why? Because Pinterest. That’s why.

I’ve managed to throw some huge, fun parties and some low key birthday “playdates” over the years. Our kids don’t get friend parties till they are in school, so it’s usually just family and sometimes some of our friends who may or may not have kids. Having 2 kids born in the same week only 2 years apart has lessened the party load even more because they share a party every year. No way are we having 2 parties, 4 days apart. I’d say “it’s almost like having twins” but then my sister, who actually has twins, would murder me in my sleep because the only thing like having twins is actually having twins.

And so, in my little attempt at a public service, here is my underachieving mom’s guide to throwing a birthday party:

1. Invite People.
Invite a few people or a lot of people. It doesn’t matter. Invite your entire block or your kid’s entire preschool class. Invite 2 friends over for a play date while the moms sip wine. Just pick some good people.

2. Get Food
Get enough food to feed the people you invited. Get the right kind of food for the time of day you’re throwing the party. Make sure it doesn’t have nuts. Because every party has a nut-allergic guest these days and we like to keep people alive and breathing at our birthday parties, don’t we? Good girl. Do not worry about what color the food is or how to tie in to your theme. Because you my friend, don’t have time for a theme. The theme is happy birthday to you, blow out the candles and go play. That’s your theme. Own it.

3. Decorate (sort of)
My husband has a way with streamers. Once he made a spiderweb out of streamers on our living room ceiling. Another time he sat and cut the edges so they were all frayed and Pinterest-y looking. And it’s a damned good thing. Because if it were up to me, the streamers would be streamed around the banister and the table where the food is, and that would be it. There are always balloons though, because my husband has a terrible phobia of them and it’s too much fun to unleash a room full of kids onto balloons that may pop and give him a panic attack at any moment.

The point here, is that the decorations are not about the children. They are for our own amusement. This year I plan to have Olivier’s dinosaurs eating the hearts off Rosalie’s cupcakes. As the center piece. Happy Birthday kids. Just be glad that dinosaurs are extinct and mmmm…cupcakes.

4. Eat Cake
Speaking of cake, you will need one of those. For Mateo’s 8th birthday last summer I bought a bunch of ice cream sandwiches and stacked them on a plate, with a candle on top. There was no whip cream frosting with sprinkles like the ones you will find on Pinterest. The crowning glory of that cake was that I unwrapped the ice cream sandwiches first.

that happened

You’re welcome kids. Now take those ice creams outside and go play. That’s right. Out you go.
You do not get bonus points on Pinterest if your cake requires no knife or dishes, but you get a knowing nod from the likes of underachieving moms everywhere. Well done.

5.ย  Treat Bags
This past weekend Mateo went to 2 birthday parties. At one, I helped the mom scoop gum and (peanut free) candy into ziploc baggies for the kids to take home. Gold star Meredith, gold star for you. One year I found a bunch of sand buckets on clearance and gave those away instead of treat bags. Once I had an open candy bar. The parents got to choose how much candy their kids were allowed. Remember that thing I said about not having a theme? No theme means no trying to match the treat bags to the monogrammed labels on the juice boxes. Because monograms are for towels.

6. Enjoy
Just kidding.
Nobody enjoys little kid birthday parties.
But do give yourself permission to shed the mommy guilt. I used to fret over the whole birthday thing until my friend Juanita told me to knock that off right now young lady. Sometimes you just need to take the advice of someone who has been there and done that with 4 kids, who are about a decade older than yours are. And she was right. And if you are new to this and your eyes are bugging out at the prospect of having to throw these large scale birthday soirees for your children – trust me. Knock that off right now young lady.


copyright (c) 2014 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

15 thoughts on “The Underachieving Mom’s Guide to Throwing A Birthday Party

  1. I wish my wife would read this. She saw a Firetruck Cake on Pinterest that she decided we had to duplicate for my Grandson’s birthday a couple of years ago. I like to cook, so I got rooked in. It actually looked looked like a firetruck when we were done. One that had rolled down a very long and rocky hill. Don’t even ask about the “Barbie Pool Party Cake.” for my Granddaughter. I’m still having flashbacks a year later…..


  2. This is hysterical! I love it and am sharing it with my Pinterest-phobic friends. ๐Ÿ™‚ Speaking of, have you seen the “My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter” board on Pinterest? You’ll love it!


  3. I laughed, I nodded my head, I empathized. I was told on several occasions by another mom I should not allow my children to attend the big birthday parties if I do not intend to reciprocate. That took a while to process and then process again and then quiz my big birthday party throwing friends to see if I was indeed unwittingly committing a major social faux pas by allowing my children to accept an invite I could not possibly afford to reciprocate. Not one mom expected it! If they were holding back, I cannot say but, they all seemed very genuinely surprised I would even think that or be told such a thing by someone else. They were all thrilled to have my children there because their child wanted them there! Cue huge sigh of relief.


    1. Oh boy! When it gets to the point that people feel that throwing an elaborate party entitles them or their children to a similar experience, or else don’t bother showing up, that is a huge problem! At that point you have to wonder if the other parent is throwing the party for their child or themselves. I think it’s fantastic when people who love to throw elaborate parties for the love of throwing elaborate parties, do so. But this is just what I mean – none of us should feel like we’re obligated to pull that off unless we actually enjoy it and want to. And I thought Pinterest put the pressure on. Something is wrong with the mom who told you that. Yikes.


  4. Most excellent!! As an under-achieving party mom, I supply the food, the kids supply the fun, and the hubby supplies the crowd control. End of story. No fancy games, no nothin’. I hated party games as a kid, and have not grown much fonder since. I am a self-taught cake decorator, and ran a biz in my home for a number of years, but even that has gone by the wayside as of this past September – even for my OWN. KIDS. I love being crafty but have no time. You have none. I have none. We all have none. My son got PChef’s microwave rocky road brownies for dessert at his party, that I made in front of him and his friends while they finished their supper…. no cleverly decorated cake this year. The next son, 3 weeks later, got a decorated one (lucky boy!), but I missed some details that apparently were crucial to that Pokemon character. Oh well.. how much can you do with 3 icing colours?. Next time I can print it on the printer, back the picture in foil, and slap it on the cake. Life is too short to sweat the details. I want my kids to remember fun and happy, not perfect. Sounds like you do, too. Ahhhh, kindred souls. ๐Ÿ™‚


  5. that was awesome. love it!!! I’ve done a theme once (my 1yr old) and that theme will be repeated for every year my kids are alive …. haha ๐Ÿ˜‰


  6. Totally checking out your Pindisinterest fail board. You speak sarcasm?? I speak sarcasm!!! <—spoken in my best Elle Woods from Legally Blonde voice ๐Ÿ˜‰


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