Ah the birthday. Swings round faster and faster each year doesn’t it, and often makes us parents look back over photos of years gone by with rose tinted glasses thinking a two year old on a potty looks cute, forgetting you’re stood behind the camera silently begging them not to sh*t on the sofa again!
Here’s the first thing you need to know about what I think about kids birthdays. YOU SHOULD CELEBRATE YOU! You’re the one that’s done another year of parenting. No one thanks you so sodding well do it yourself. On their birthday pour yourself a glass of something nice, or buy yourself a gift and say WELL DONE ME, ANOTHER YEAR COMPLETE. Look at all I’ve accomplished with this tiny maniac! GO ME!
OK now we’ve got that bit out the way we should probably focus on the kids. OK FINE. Here’s my tips and advice on all things birthdays.
I’ll tell you a secret, the thing I enjoyed most about the first lockdown back in 2020 was the fact that children’s parties were cancelled! As lovely as it is for our kiddos to have their special day, surrounded by friends, hyped off their wee faces on party rings and Wotsits, running around a village or church hall/soft play/leisure centre/our house, for me it is probably my least favourite way to spend a day. However, if there’s a drop off option then I’m all over it. Who doesn’t love a couple of hours of free childcare? Except it isn’t actually ‘free’ is it? Because at some point during the year you will have to return the favour and have 20 odd children under your care for a few hours… gulp!
I am also yet to experience the holy grail which is both my children at a drop off party at the same time. Won’t that be the weekend treat for me and their dad?! Our day will come, I’m sure of it.
But while they aren’t my favourite way to spend a day (and I know my kids certainly didn’t seem to mind in the first lockdown when their birthdays rolled around and no party happened) I’ve still been lured back into the world of parties, feeling the need to also book halls and bouncy castles so my two can experience the same delight as their pals.
Expensive aren’t they? I made the mistake of asking Florence what she wanted for her 6th party this year and because she is a May birthday she had been attending parties for 9 months like a guest on that old TV show ‘Four Weddings’ (remember that?!) judging them all and magpie-like collecting ideas for her own bash. Which it turns out was based on another early 00’s hit TV show, My Sweet Sixteen. She wanted it all. A disco, a bouncy castle with a slide, a white range rover sport she could ride in on (I kid you not!) and a chocolate fountain and sweetie station. Just a quiet one then Flo?!
I looked into it but every element was so much money. The hall, the disco company, the bouncy castle (I only want to hire it not LIVE in it FFS!) - so we had to scale down. She chose the disco, I got the food platters from Sainsbury’s and we made our own sweetie station with some second hand sweet jars and a visit to the local sweet shop. We got a white ‘range rover’ which was her main present - also second hand off Facebook Marketplace. She loved every minute of it.
Ewan on the other hand wanted to go bowling and for pizza with a few mates. Phew! Much easier to arrange and manage. He was my favourite kid that week obvs. But still, it wasn’t cheap.
So I just want to say this. If you just have a few buddies over to your house, and turn some music up, and let them all run about and play a few classic party games like pass the parcel and musical statues then kids love it just as much. They don’t really care. Especially when they are pre-school age. You don’t need to book anything. The fact there’s a cake and presents is enough to make it special when they are little. I promise.
When Ewan turned 3 we had a pizza party in our garden. We invited a few friends we met through antenatal classes and I let the kids ‘help’ make their own pizza, choosing toppings. Our friend loaned us his outdoor pizza oven and we cooked them all while the kids ran around with all the outdoor toys. We also asked the local ice cream man to come around our house at a certain time and that was pudding, they all chose what they wanted from him and no mess for me to clear up. This was my fave party - mainly because I also got to drink prosecco with my friends and eat pizza. Parties like this are the best!
At first I thought the sweetie cone as a party bag was quite a good idea. But when your kids have 5 parties between then over a weekend your house starts to resemble Woolworth’s circa 1998 and you can actually feel like you can see your kids’ teeth perishing before your very eyes. I stash them away and save them for the school holidays where I make a little pick and mix station before we put a film on the TV to mimic going to the cinema. But still, we seem to have them coming out our ears. Is it just me?!
So for our party bags this year here is what I did.
I got paper bags, small biodegradable flower pots with soil pellets (you just need to pop some water on them and they turn into soil to grow things in) and sunflower seeds so the kids could grow their own (I put these in tiny envelopes with a ‘thank you for coming to my party’ message on them), a multicoloured colouring pencil and a temporary tattoo. All the items are HERE.
Basically as little plastic and tat as possible, and I shoved in a slice of birthday cake as the kids gave them out at the door. I have no idea what the other parents or kids made of them. But I felt OK knowing that maybe they might grow some sunflowers instead of add to landfill. My friends all probably said FFS though. Let me know guys!! 😉
We also attended a party which had what I thought was a brilliant idea. It was a joint party (always a good idea to save money) and the parents gave everyone a jar at the end. The jars had clearly all been saved from jams etc. and were filled with the dry ingredients to make cookies. A little bit of ribbon was tied to the top with a tag that gave instructions and ingredients. Very planet friendly and likely a lot cheaper than ordering a load of plastic crap that will break within seconds.
Now I’m aware not all parents have time to make up jars or party bags and that’s the brilliance of the sweet cones. I get it. If you’re time short you can also order pre-made party bags online from loads of companies, Etsy have tons.
I personally would enjoy it if we could all collectively agree as parents that party bags are stupid and just stop doing them. Deal?! Who’s in??
We are the kind of family that tend to do a one big present, and some little ones, OR a few medium ones. It depends what the kids ask for and how likely we think they are to actually get a lot of use out of whatever it is. Now obviously presents have changed a lot over the years. When my two were babies I bought nearly ALL their birthday and Christmas presents second hand. They didn’t know any different and were thrilled with just the wrapping paper and boxes anyway. The great advantage of second hand is also that they come pre-made. There’s no screwing bits together or trying to take pieces out of a box which some insane person has cable tied AND screwed into the cardboard lest it should budge a millimetre in transit.
My babes enjoyed second hand Brio tracks, doll pushchairs, toot toot cars, Happy Land houses and people, and tons of baby walker and baby gym type things. ALL bought from local selling sites.
Now they are older they see all kinds of crap on TV adverts or on You Tube and ask me for it. I can’t get away with the second hand as much but I did recently turn an old bureaux we had in the garage into a desk for Florence with some paint and help from Grandad to fix the broken bits and she was THRILLED with it. So never rule out an up-cycle. My friends spray painted their daughter’s old bike and gave it to their son. Perfect!
My top tip is either go with what they love or buy open ended toys. Florence loves Barbie’s and plays with them constantly so even though I am loathe to add more pink plastic to our house, that campervan has been worth it’s weight in gold for the amount of peace it’s bought us all! By open ended toys I mean things that can be played with multiple ways. Blocks, teacups, vehicles, magnetic toys, Duplo are all great examples of things we get out over and over again.
If you want to know the sort of things I think are actually worth having, then there is a list of all my recommended toys on my Amazon shop which you obviously don’t have to purchase from, you can just use as inspiration, but if you do buy a teeny percentage of the cost of the sale comes to me. You are charged the same. It’s how I make enough money to cover the costs of running this website!
Presents and cards for other children
Oh this is always hard. Especially when you are buying for a kid you have never even met. It’s so tricky. I mean obviously a text to the parent asking what they like is a good idea if you’re totally stuck, but I am never this organised. I tend to cover myself by having a ‘back up presents’ hoard in my cupboard under the stairs. Here is where I keep presents we have duplicates of or general gifts. I stock up on these in places like B&M. They often have two for £15 deals on games so I get a few for the cupboard. I also buy about 20 of their general kid birthday cards here. Always handy and a bargain, but when we run out there is nothing wrong with your child doing their buddy a home made card. Kids love that shiz.
I often gift items like colouring pens, paper and activity books, paintsticks or playdough - because that stuff runs out so a constant supply is often handy as a parent. Baker Ross is also good for this kind of thing.
Now those of you who follow me on social media will know this already but for some utterly insane reason (I blame birthing a 9lb 5oz baby for this) I decided from the beginning that I would always make my kids their birthday cakes. With my own fair hands. Pre-kids I used to really enjoy baking. I liked working through recipe books with the radio playing in the kitchen as I iced cupcakes that I could eat in peace with a cuppa afterwards. Baking post kids though is very different - see here for tips from an expert i.e. NOT ME. I have to basically find a way to get the children out of the house now the day before their birthday so I can create some bonkers idea they’ve requested in fondant. I usually end up drunk and using cocktail sticks to hold it together at about 9:30pm questioning my life choices. So if you’re at the start of your parenting journey wondering if you should bake all your kids cakes I’ll say this… there is nothing wrong with a Colin the Caterpillar!
But on we go. I have now made 14 birthday cakes from scratch. Some very easy like the ‘sweeties’ one Florence wanted for her 5th birthday and others were a nightmare like the ‘Lego, dinosaur and football’ cake Ewan asked for on his 5th birthday, which had a very specific man in a clear plastic lego ball part to it. You can imagine which child was my favourite then!
I always use cake recipes from this book which is my baking bible and below I’ve shared some of my creations in case you too have made a mad promise and are in need of some inspiration. They look better in photos. You can’t see all the triple folded fondant icing sliding off the back!!! 😉 But also, just to say, the look on the kids faces when I show them what I’ve made always makes the icing sugar clouds and buttercream splattered ceiling worth it. Just about…
So there you have it. 8 years of children’s birthday learnings all laid out here in case you’re looking for inspo. Feel free to comment or message with your own top tips. I am definitely no expert and every time May swings round I think - now what did I do last year?! I have NO IDEA how you parents of December born kiddos are doing it. It no doubt requires a heroic effort. Also remember kids don’t have instagram. They aren’t comparing. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do some perfect sugary OTT vision of what a birthday should be. Kids just love the fuss and love surrounding them, a present or two and some candles on a cake. That’s plenty to make it special.
and don’t forget to celebrate yourself on whatever day it is that you became a parent and many happy returns to your little ones. Cheers!