The Birthday Party Wars: Waving the White Flag!

Lessons on motherhood come in all shapes and sizes, even ones that are disguised as something as harmless as a birthday invitation.

When my oldest daughter’s first birthday rolled around, we planned a family get-together with the obligatory “messy cake face” picture.  Her second birthday was simple with playtime with cousins, cake, and ice cream.  Her third and fourth birthdays were much the same. 

Upon her entry into school (cue the music to Jaws, please) I was introduced into what is now referred to as “The Birthday Party Wars.”  This refers to the practice of you “evaluating” the previous party your child attended, and tweaking yours so it will be all the talk at the water cooler the next day. The one that other moms will aspire to. This was serious business; there was no room for rookie mistakes. 

The Birthday Party Wars: Waving the White Flag!

The Battle Begins

With my daughter being a March baby, she had the opportunity to attend several birthday parties throughout the school year, with the first party setting the tone.  First out of the gate was at the girl’s home with games, playtime outside, and cake.  Nothing fancy, just good old-fashioned fun. 

Just my speed. 

The next party was at McDonald’s where there was a Play Place. Next, The Play Station. After that, Chuckie Cheese.

You see the pattern.

As my daughter’s birthday drew closer, she continually would ask, “Where am I going to have my party?” I, being that rookie mom, decided to buck the trend and just do a nice party at home with a craft, games, and some cake.

Mistake. BIG mistake.

Let me set the scene…it was a cloudy and windy early March day and too cold to go outside and play.  I decided a craft with paint, yes, you read that correctly…paint was the best choice of medium for 6-year-olds. 

The girls arrived in their most adorable Flap Doodle and Gymboree outfits and had fun until it was time to leave.  As the moms gathered their little party-goers out the door, a stiff breeze whipped up and plastered the freshly painted masterpieces onto the kids’ clothes! Oh, the horror! 

Well, rest assured, I had definitely accomplished the goal of being the “talk at the water cooler” the next morning.  I had marked myself and my child as the “birthday party disaster.”  Thankfully, she was not ostracized from the party scene and moved on with minimal scars. I had learned my lesson. By the time her 7th birthday arrived, I had sensibly booked a party at The Play Station, with the “extra tokens” package.  There would be no disasters this time.  

I was back in the game.

As my next two daughters arrived and started having their birthday parties, I was beyond taking chances.  I had been sucked into the “Go Big or Go Home!” party theory. Birthday parties had become a silent war among moms.  Soon sleep-overs with Wii and Dance Party, ball games, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and magicians were common practice.

What hasn’t been done?  What could I do to ensure my child’s name on the “Greatest Birthday Party of All-Time” list? 

Water Park!

Yup, I would do the Water Park.

Waving the White Flag

I went through with it, with a sleep-over thrown in for good measure. While gazing over my ransacked home and cleaning up the pizza boxes, spilled punch, and forgotten swag bags that I had carefully picked out, I realized I had probably dropped $400. Give or take a nickel. For a 12-year-old’s birthday party?

Was I nuts?

At that point, I decided to wave the white flag. My girls would now celebrate their birthdays with a couple of special friends, a rented movie, and some Jack’s pizza. If they wanted a magician, I could show them how I can clean a whole house in 10 minutes flat. Just say the magic words, “Mother-in-law on her way!

Sometimes we moms think “going bigger” will make our children happier or feel more loved. My kids don’t remember the big splashy parties they had, only that mom and dad made them smile by celebrating their special day with their friends and family. 

The tradition of the “birthday wars” was still a thing with the other moms, but thank goodness I pulled out my white flag…not in defeat, but for sanity’s sake.

Do I have advice? 

Not really, just my experiences to share with you. What I can say is try not to get caught up with trends or get roped into doing what the other moms are doing. Do what we all try to teach our children to do…to just be themselves.  You might find yourself being the new trend setter!


Make sure you never miss out on a parenting or community-related blog postsign up to receive CRMB posts in your inbox.  While you’re at it, join our VIP List to ensure you’re one of the first to know about upcoming Cedar Rapids Moms Blog events and promotions!!


Brenda is a working wife and mother of 3 daughters. Almost an empty-nester, Brenda will be adjusting to a quieter home-life by trying her hand at writing about her motherhood experiences. She attended the University of MN-Duluth with a Bachelor of Applied Arts Degree in Art and Interior Design graduating in 1986 and marrying her husband of 26 years, Scott in 1990. After moving around a bit for her husband’s job, they settled in Cedar Rapids for good in 1996. Currently working as a high school secretary and holding down a part-time job as well, Brenda still finds time to enjoy her daughters’ track meets, scrap-booking, tending to her 2 dogs Tucker and JJ, and attempting to show some swagger in Zumba class!