Arranging the perfect birthday for a toddler can push many parents over the edge. Here Cherie Clark-Moore, mum to two-year-old twins, gives some advice
Should you go for a performing clown and magician or just stick to a bouncy castle? And is the catering to be done in-house or outsourced? Then there’s the question of whether to go for cupcakes or macarons.
These days, holding a birthday party for a toddler is like staging a major theatre production. Guest lists have to be strategic and the entertainment needs to be amazing.
Add to this the pressure on parents to hold a bigger, better party than the last one and you get the idea why the occasion has most mums and dads tearing out their hair.
I know only too well the feeling of running around Muscat to find appropriate gifts, cards and wrapping. Or working out how you are magically going to turn your toddler into a fairy princess for two hours when she hates wearing clothes. Not to mention trying to be social by holding broken conversations with 20 people while stopping your toddler taking the entire tray of chocolate éclairs off the buffet table or terrorising the family cat.
My childhood was filled with parties that included no more than about 10 children. There were one or two games, children were allowed to play rather than being entertained and there was a homemade birthday cake with perhaps a small bag of sweets to take home. These were child-centred celebrations that did not require party planners and catering staff and, most of all, they were fun.
How things have changed. These days, children’s parties seem to be more of a display of social standing rather than a celebration for the children. There can be a great deal of pressure on parents to throw elaborate themed events including designer cakes, balloon sculptures, face painters, bouncy castles, catered buffets and beautifully handmade gift bags.
Equally, for the attending parents and children, there is pressure to make sure that your little one is seen to be enjoying the whole thing and to provide the perfect gift in fear that it may be returned or, worse still, posted for sale on Facebook as an ‘Unwanted Gift’ (this does happen).
“Kids these days expect to walk away from a birthday party with a goodie bag, which in my time, were unheard of,” agrees Laurine, a Muscat mum with two toddlers.
Sometimes, the party seems more for the parents than the actual child. Children under three years don’t need huge celebrations and are likely to be overwhelmed by big events. There are stories of wildly over-the-top parties for one-year-olds.
As party planner Linda Kaye says: “Regardless of what gifts and activities are hitting the top birthday party chart of the week, there’s one concept that reigns supreme, and that’s designing a birthday party centred on the age and interests of your child.”
The older the child, the bigger the expectations can be.
“My little girl loves birthdays, the bigger and ‘blingier; the better,” says Emer, a mother-of-two.
“She turns five in June and it’s all about the theme. She also loves getting to invite all her little friends and bringing cupcakes to school. Last year when she turned four, we really noticed a difference in how she reacted to parties. She loved planning her own and talking to friends about theirs.
“My little boy, however, will turn two soon. He is not into big crowds yet and I know he would not enjoy a big bash; it would scare him. We have been invited to lots of lovely second birthdays but for my little man I will be keeping it low key so that he feels comfortable and enjoys his day,”
Kaye, who has planned parties for stars, says: “Party ideas do not have to be complicated or expensive. Sometimes the simplest idea is the most successful which is actually how I started my business. I made baking the cake the party itself for my daughter Marcy’s sixth birthday and this was the concept behind the formation of my company.”
For my children and I, the most enjoyable birthday parties have been held at home or in an open location such as a park. My twin girls have just turned two and are only beginning to understand the difference between a birthday party and a play date. For now, we will keep it simple.
We asked three Muscat mums: “What do you plan to do or did you do for your child’s second birthday?”
Josephine O’Brien, mum to Marlow, two: “We had a small family party when we were in Australia over the winter holidays, one party for each of the grandparents. It was just a cake, some basic decorations, grandparents and a couple of aunts, uncles and nephews. Marlow’s birthday was later in the year when we were back in Muscat, but we decided just to keep it small and celebrate with only our family. Marlow doesn’t like big groups of little people so having a big party for him didn’t seem like the best way for him to celebrate.”
Amanda Campbell, mum to Isabella, 21 months,: “For Isabella’s birthday, I’m thinking about either renting out a jungle gym or having a teddy bears picnic in our garden with a paddling pool.”
Cherie Clark-Moore, mum to twins Mya and Zoe, two: “We just celebrated our twins second birthday. We decided to have a very small party at home with three other friends of the same age. I made a cake, bought a few helium balloons and had a BBQ outside. It was easy and stress-free and the girls didn’t end up with a ton of presents they didn’t need.”