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Am I being a bad parent... if I don't throw my son a birthday party this year?

This week, three experts consider one reader’s dilemma ahead of her young son’s big day.

Image: Unsplash

EACH WEEK, WE hear from a reader who can’t figure out what to do about a tricky parenting situation. To get a balanced take on the dilemma, we ask Irish parenting experts to weigh in.

From choosing whether to push toilet training to allowing a baby to ‘cry it out’, being a parent involves decision after decision – and a whole lot of questioning yourself.

This week, one parent is deciding whether to give in and organise a birthday party for her son – or figuring out an alternative that doesn’t involve hosting (and feeding) hordes of young kids.

Have a parenting dilemma you’re struggling with? Let us know anonymously here and we’ll share it with our panel of experts.

This week’s dilemma

It’s my five-year-old’s birthday in a few weeks’ time and I really don’t want to throw him a birthday party. We’ve had a party every year since he was born but I can’t help but feel that they aren’t worth the hassle. From the expense to the politics surrounding who to invite (plus the mess), I’m leaning towards skipping a party this year. My son has mentioned his upcoming birthday a couple of times and asked about a party. To be honest, I’m thinking of telling him we’re just going to have a fun day out ourselves this year. 

I said this to my sister and she was totally against the idea of skipping a birthday party and said I’m being totally unfair to my son. I think if I hype it up enough, though, he won’t mind. Am I being a bad parent by not throwing my child a birthday party?

What the experts have to say…

No, you’re not being unreasonable. Yes, birthday parties are part and parcel of growing up. However, they are not compulsory! It’s a great idea to change it up by marking his birthday with a special day out.

To keep him included in the plans, maybe ask him what he might like to do so he has some choice in the decision-making; there are plenty of opportunities for the official party in years down the line. As for your sister, you’re not being unreasonable so I’d leave her to it!

- Aoife Lee, Parent Coach at Parentsupport.ie.

Yes, you’re being a bit unreasonable. Personally, if the child wants a party I am happy to throw one with limits on numbers, because I love the feeling of joy it brings to the house and I am a party animal! I’m just recovering from throwing my daughter’s 11-year birthday party, where we had twenty adults and fourteen children in our home. Of course, parties are not for everyone – kids included.

Either way I’d take your lead from him. It’s worth bearing in mind that in school, a lot of expectation and anticipation centres around having a party, so I’d consider decisions not to have one carefully – especially if your son really wants one! At five, you don’t need many invites. Five kids and associated grown-up family and friends should be enough. If you feel you need to do the whole class thing, then you are better off not having it at home. Activity centres, sports clubs, museums and art workshops all offer parties at a cost. You can always share such a party with another family, or you can simply have a picnic and games and pizza in a local park or community hall. Lots of families do that. A fun day out with two friends or just your family could also fit the bill. 

 - Krysia Lynch, Maternity Care Expert at Krysia.ie. 

You’re not being unreasonable to find this situation difficult. Take your child’s lead: if he is happy, you will be happy. My boys were born on the 21st and 22nd of the same month and they will be having joint parties on a random day of that month until one of them says otherwise. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it suits us just fine for now.

We will evolve, as will the parties with them. The bottom line for me is this: we as parents need to do what’s best for us and ours, and stop being forced to parent by what we “should do”, what’s “normal”, and what’s expected of us by others. Blaze your own trail and show your kids that going your own way is a good thing! 

- Deirdre Holland Hannon, Behaviour Specialist at @deehollhan.

So what’s the final tally? Is this reader being unreasonable?

Yes – 1

No – 2

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Have a parenting question you want answered? Let us know anonymously in our survey here or email us on family@thejournal.ie and we’ll put it to the experts.

More: Am I being a bad parent… by not fitting in enough quality time with my young kids?>

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