why guilt is not invited to my child’s birthday party

great post on why we don't need to feel guilty if we don't plan crazy amazing birthday parties and just have fun instead

From Facebook: I just spent an hour browsing pinterest for ideas for my son’s upcoming birthday, and suddenly I feel completely incapable of throwing a party for six 8-yr-olds.

Anyone want to fess up to feeling this way? I have, and my friends have, and maybe you have too. But you know what? It’s crazy. We love our kids. We clothe them, drive them to their many activities, and feed them three meals a day (hey, I only forgot dinner that one time). We help them with their homework, listen to their troubles, and sit up with them when they’re sick at night. We teach them to read, tie their shoes, and navigate the pitfalls of junior high. And then we feel guilty and inadequate when we can’t find the time, talent, or inclination to plan a birthday party complete with professional looking decorations, DIY drink stands made from recycled pallets, elaborate handmade favors and perfectly decorated themed cakes. Sound a little crazy to you? Sounds a little crazy to me. So why do so many of us feel this way?

I thought about titling this post “Why pinterest is not invited to my child’s birthday party” because it’s easy to point to pinterest as the root of the problem. It’s hard to look at photo after photo of magazine-worthy birthday parties and not start to wonder why no one’s ever pointed out just how spectacularly lame the standard game-and-cake-parties you usually throw are (or how bad you are at decorating cakes in general).


But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure pinterest itself is actually to blame. I kinda think it’s our own fault.

For some reason, we as women will take just about anything as proof that we aren’t quite good enough, or we’re not trying quite hard enough. It starts in junior high when we’re not pretty enough and continues in high school when we’re not popular enough, smart enough, talented enough, etc. It seems to just get worse once we have kids: Mommy guilt moves in and it’s terribly difficult to convince it to move back out. We don’t focus on all the ways we’re terrific moms, or on all the ways our kids are happy, loved and secure. Instead, we’re always on the lookout for the one little sign that says we should be doing something better. Of course it’s good to want to improve, but letting anyone else’s success be a signal that we just aren’t good enough is a hard way to live, and I don’t think it does our kids any favors.

Imagine this: you meet someone who has made it to the summit of Mount Everest. You’re impressed, right? I am – that’s pretty amazing. Do you immediately feel bad that you haven’t climbed Everest and start to wonder if your kids are suffering as a result? No way. That would be crazy, right?

So why do we look at pictures of various lovely and amazing things on pinterest and decide we should probably be doing every single one of them? Why do we let ourselves feel inadequate when our life doesn’t look like the sum composite of everything we see on the web?

Well, one problem is that, due to how it’s set up, pinterest tends to magnify the Everest summiters in every creative genre, and party planning is no different – the most beautiful photos will be repinned thousands of times, meaning they’re much more likely to show up in your feed and make you think everyone in the world is throwing amazing parties. In reality, most of us are doing exactly what we’ve always done: a low-key celebration that doesn’t cost much money or take tons of prep time. What it does do is let our child know we’re happy to gather family or friends to celebrate his or her special day. And guess what? That’s plenty. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilty about the birthday party you throw your child if it doesn’t look worthy of Martha Stewart Magazine. Does your child’s sense of self worth come from a beautifully photographed party? No. Does is come from the time you spend caring for her, clothing her, feeding her, helping her, reading to her, etc? You bet.


(I do want to make clear that I don’t think people who throw fantastic parties are wasting their time or trying to make the rest of us look bad. I think they’re amazing and talented, and that it’s obvious the parties they plan for their kids are a labor of love. I think it’s vital for all of us to find time to do things we love. But there’s no reason for any of us to assume we’re not as good as someone else because the things we love to do don’t result in viral pins.)

So how do we ditch the birthday party guilt? Here are a few ideas:

  • Think about what really makes your kids happy. Do they love playing with friends? Is a character cake going to make their day? Focus on one part of the party and make it great, then go low-key on everything else.
  • Think back to your favorite birthday party as a kid – chances are it wasn’t anything amazing – just a special day with people who love you. Provide that for your child.
  • If you want ideas from pinterest, try adding the word “easy” to your birthday party search– you’ll find a more ideas that are helpful and relevant and fewer that seem unattainable.
  • Doing it yourself has become really popular lately, and can be really fun. But it can also become the bane of your existence when things go awry (and they usually do) two hours before the party’s about to start. If you think “it might just be easier to buy the (cake, decorations, favors, etc.) instead of make it” – go right ahead and buy it!
  • Remember that what you see on pinterest often doesn’t reflect real life. Bloggers work hard to stage photos that will get noticed (myself included) because that’s how the business of blogging works, but that doesn’t mean their real life is anywhere near that “perfect” and yours doesn’t have to be either.
  • If it turns out that searching pinterest simply makes you feel bad, just don’t do it anymore. Plan your party the old fashioned way: ask your Facebook friends for ideas. 🙂

Since I only have 29 Facebook friends, I want your ideas. Leave me comments telling me your best EASY birthday party ideas. Things that won’t stress me out if I’m trying to throw a party for 8 (plus my own 5 kids) while my husband’s still at work. Games that don’t require lots of supplies, cakes that are simple to decorate (‘cuz you might have noticed by now that I’m really bad at cake decorating), party favors that don’t cost more than the money I’m spending on my own child’s gift. Simple decorations, easy invites. Tell me your best ideas, then share this post with friends so they can come share their ideas. I would love to combine all the comments into the biggest, best “stress-free birthday party ideas” post pinterest has ever seen. Seriously. Help us all start feeling capable of planning a birthday party again, and cross guilt off the guest list!



And if you’re cake-decorating challenged (like I am) you might like this post: 20 easy to decorate birthday cakes

linked at: Make it and Love it, I Heart Naptime, Whipperberry, Tidy Mom


  1. 1

    tasha says

    Hi! Just found your blog today, and thought this post was especially timely for me, as I’m starting to plan my almost 6 year old’s party for next month. Usually I buy birthday cakes, but this year we have a “theme” of rainbows, so I’m going to make cupcakes, and then one of the party activities will be for the kids to add icing and different decorations – sprinkles, rainbow candies, gummies, jelly beans, etc. Hopefully it will result in fun and colourful cupcakes that fit our theme and that I didn’t have to stress over making myself!!

    • 3

      Jessica McC. says

      Amen! I refuse to feel inadequate of perfect party preparations. My son’s favorite party happened when he turned 12 – we invited his friends to our small town Pizza Hut, which only had 2 arcade games. I gave them two rolls of quarters over the two hours’ worth of party and they had the best time. In that case, pizza with friends and ‘new’ video games were most important.

  2. 4

    Sarah says

    I never really comment on blogs, but this post really resonated with me. I have a sister and a mother-in-law who are brilliant cake creators, so it makes it even trickier not to feel like “everyone” has picture perfect parties (or cakes at least)! My one trick that worked really well this year is to make the simple cake, color some frosting and then add in the theme elements with toys/ things you already own (or can buy easily). I did a construction cake with “matchbox” size vehicles and green frosting on a sheet cake, I then added some crushed oreos for dirt piles and roads. Looked cute and was super easy. I think you could use this for any number of themes. Thanks for sharing your story and making the rest of us feel a little better and reminding us there is no reason to think we can- or need to- do everything to perfection.

    • 5

      autumn says

      I love the construction cake idea! I’ve seen plain cakes with little princess figurines on them too – an easy way to “decorate” and have it turn out looking great – thanks for your comment!

  3. 6

    Lara says

    I’m a bad Mom this year, my daughter’s birthday is February 19, and I have yet to have a party for her, with swimming on Saturdays and then mid-winter break always falling in around her birthday. UGH. However I’m hoping to go to JoAnn Fabrics this year. Mine is $125 for a two hour block for 8 kids, they provide a craft for all the kids, if you bring un-frosted cupcakes or cookies they’ll provide the frosting. You can bring in a cake and pizza. They do a “parade” around the store when done with the craft to show it off. It’s not a bad deal at all. The craft is (in my opinion) they’re goodie bag. The cake I want to do it a cake that’s stuffed with candy, so you make a round cake in a bowl, scoop out the inside of one of the sides, fill it, then frost it, cut it open and the candy spills out.

    I have always had one at home though, I’ve done a decorate a bag, and a tie dye (with markers and rubbing alcohol) t-shirts, so they were ready when they went home. For food, I did make your own taco’s one year and pizza another. One year I had planned games with prizes, another year I just let them play.

    It’s all as hard as you want to make it.

    • 7

      autumn says

      I’ve seen those candy cakes – they look like so much fun! And the tie dye shirts using markers and rubbing alcohol sounds like a fantastic idea. BTW, you are so not a bad Mom 🙂 A belated birthday just means you get to celebrate longer!

  4. 8

    Jacqueline says

    It’s refreshing to hear of a mom throwing “just” a simple at-home birthday party! As a teacher, I hear about a lot of birthday parties that involve things like indoor playgrounds, which are rather pricey. And I understand that some mothers get a bit overwhelmed by the idea of keeping a group of kids well occupied. But really, the birthday parties I hear the most about are the at-home ones with simple games like hide-and-seek, a scavenger hunt, or “play centers” (one mom just divided up her kids’ toys and created little hospital, store, and whatever else areas in the living room – the kids had a blast!)

  5. 10

    barbara macaskill says

    It has been a few years since I have had a Birthday party for a young child. My kids (now 24 & 26) told me their favorite parties were the ones where they played pin the tail on the donkey, had a piñata and pizza with cupcakes and ice cream for dessert. Simple yet just right! My grandkids (7 & 10) also told me they like the parties where they have a few friends over and “hang out”. I am a firm believer that we need to go simple for birthday parties otherwise we wind up competing with ourselves year to year. Trying to outdo last year’s party just doesn’t work for me.

    • 11

      autumn says

      Yep, the kids are happy with cake, games, and friends, right? No need to feel pressured to do much more than that. Good to hear from you, Barbara!

  6. 12

    Shelby Walther says

    For most of my daughters’ (ages 13 and 10) past birthday parties, they have asked to decorate their own cakes as a party activity. It does take some prep time, as I make a round 6 or 8 inch one-layer cake for each guest, but then I just set out lots of different colored frosting and “toppings” like sprinkles, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows and the kids have a blast. It doubles as a party activity and the refreshments, and I don’t have to frost or decorate a cake. The guests love it! You are right – our children just want to feel special.

  7. 13

    CharITy says

    I loved your suggestion to find the thing that matters most to your kid and focus on that–whether it’s an awesome cake, a great game, or just having as many friends there as possible. Brilliant.
    My best birthday party idea is skip the theme. Especially for little kids who really don’t care. I can’t remember a single birthday party having a theme when I was a kid. Cake and ice cream, balloons, maybe some streamers, a few games–that’s pretty much what it takes to feel festive. My kids (4 and 2) think a party occurs any time there is ice cream. It’s usually my own expectations that I’m trying to meet when I scramble to throw together a big themed party.

  8. 14

    Anna-Marie Bass says

    It is a good thing for me there was no pinterest when my kids were little. I would have
    probably gone into a deep depression. I love all these ideas, you ladies are amazing and you
    are the only one who knows the best way to raise your kids, including throwing a birthday party.
    The days of rainbow cupcakes are over for me, alas. I really miss those times. But I do dread
    the next birthday party coming up, the mother of all birthday parties. Sweet 16. Any ideas are appreciated!!!

  9. 15

    Amanda says

    Okay, this is going to sound so lazy, but with little kids, I’ve had a lot of success with providing a lot of tasty, but not spectacular food (fruit, little crackers, pita pizzas), water to drink, and a big place to play. Having something like a supervised pool or play set is nice, but a pack of wild preschoolers will still have a lot of fun with some balloons and each other. At the more ambitious parties I’ve been to, the kids still gravitate towards each other, and ignore all the cute printed things and clever puns on the food table. Moms are typically just happy to socialize, and not feel intimidated by your theme and decor.

    • 16

      autumn says

      Not lazy – just smart 🙂 It’s so true, a bunch of balloons with totally keep little kids happy!

  10. 17

    CTY says

    The best advice I can give is–have as much of the party outside as possible. They can run & jump & yell & no one cares! Even if it is a winter birthday–host a Winter Olympics or Winter Carnival theme run around outside then come in for some comfort food. Tell them on the invite it will be outside. Serve hot cocoa or cider, mugs of soup or chili. If you have a fire pit let them roast hot dogs or smores. The cake–Molten Lava of course.

    • 18

      autumn says

      Such a great idea! I love having outside parties for my kids with summer birthdays, but it never dawned on me to do it for the winter, too. Thanks!

  11. 19

    Heidi says

    Invest in a good bubble machine. Also, who says you have to have cake? Do your kids love something else? Birthday cookies sound delicious. How about a store bought pound cake with strawberries and whipped cream? I get so tired of people thinking that specific occasions have to have specific activities or food. Do what you want (or what your child wants). I agree with everyone that you can have the kids decorate the cake or you can just not decorate it – how about a drizzle of colored powdered sugar glaze?

    The best birthday party I ever had was when we made a “airplane” in our living room and had “hijackers” hijack the plane to Hawaii – these days it’s not so p.c., but it was fun in the early ’80s.

  12. 20

    DeAnna says

    Lots of great ideas, here! I always felt guilty because the parties we had were not spectacular, but my daughter looks back with fondness on them. The kids had great times! We did crafts at most of them, and either build your own sundae, decorate your own cake (sometimes it was just a piece but you got to put what you wanted on it), build your own pizza, etc.

    One of the funnest was a Hawaiian Luau at the park. I got the fake grass that you can hang up as decorations. We cut it in lengths that would just about go around a child, and then sewed ribbons across the top so they could wrap around and tie it on a grass skirt. (Okay, it sort of looked like a grass apron, but they didn’t care!) We played music and everyone danced. Then they would play on the playground equipment Then they danced some more.

    The other funnest was a mystery party. A bed and breakfast in town did mystery parties for grown ups. They were able to find a mystery party for kids. The kids all dressed up like a character in the story and had a great time! It was kind of expensive, around the same as renting a bouncy house, but it included all the food, and the gift bags. PLUS, they cleaned up. It was a hit!

    • 21

      autumn says

      I bet the mystery party was so much fun! When I was in high school my friends did a couple of the “how to host a murder” mystery games and we had a blast. The luau’s a great idea – I love having the food outside so there’s hardly any cleanup!

  13. 22


    One year my now 9 year old wanted a medieval themed birthday party. I spent way too much time and money making banners for the party to his specifications. We bought sheets of plastic that looked like castle walls to hang off the deck and garage. I special ordered a blow up dragon and plastic swords for everyone. I collected boxes for MONTHS to use in a storm the castle type relay race. The day of the (outdoor, backyard) party the wind was 20MPH and I had 15 kids showing up. We decorated the best we could, but it meant the plastic sheeting blew all day, the dragon deflated, the banners couldn’t be hung. The kids were given their swords as they arrived and immediately set to work destroying he boxes for the storm the castle race. We made cardboard shields and they ran around the backyard like heathens beating each other up with plastic swords for 2 hours. Three years later every kid who was there still talks about what a great time they had and how that was one of the best parties they’ve been to. I’d do it again, minus the stress of making banners and insisting on decorations being just “so.” Pintrest worthy, it was not. Kid I love worthy, it was.

  14. 23


    One of the best things we’ve done is limit the friend parties. Our kids get one ever 4 years (so when they turn 4, 8, 12, 16). You hit all the big dates, but not stress every single year for all four of my kiddos.

    My oldest got a polka dot party for her first. SUPER easy – the decorations were circles cut from construction paper. We played “pin the spot on the dalmation”, and decorated circle sugar cookies with smarties and m’m’s and skittles. I think I spent a total of $10 on that party.

    Actually, so far we’ve done a “pin the ___on the ___” at all the parties. For my son, we pinned wheels on a car. For my daughter’s just last month, we pnned beaks on to owls.

    at four, all they really care about is sugar, balloons, and playing. They each had a different theme, but followed the same pattern: 2 games/activities (pin the tail and decorating something), eating cupcakes and playing downstairs.

    Now, I did make my daughters 8th one a bigger deal. But 8 is such a big number for us (and church), that it was cool. And because I started planning it about 4 months early, it wasn’t a stress to do such a detailed Harry Potter party (I made wands and spell books). But even then, it was a scavenger hunt to find the different HP creatures, which you had to cast a spell on. And we ate HP food. And then we made our Van into the Knight Bus and drove to a children’s museum for the rest. Again, probably $25 total spent. And well do something similar for my son’s 8th this summer.

    To make it cheap, do it yourself. To make it easy, hire out. to make it cheap and fun and fairly easy, just give yourself plenty of time to plan and prepare.

  15. 25

    Janet says

    Amen! I love to do nice things for my son and his company for his birthday–but at the end of the day it’s important to keep your child’s interest in mind–this year we took a few of his friends to see “the nut job” for his birthday–we had a cake (that I purchased) and the kids all had popcorn, fruit snacks and juice in the theater–the favor was a bag of caramel popcorn with a simple sticker on it that said “thanks for popping into my party” (Also purchased on etsy for 2.50 ) simple. Easy. And they had a blast!

    • 26

      autumn says

      Great idea for a favor! I always feel bad when my kids come home with a bag of junky toys from the dollar store and I promptly throw it away…caramel corn would go over way better at our house!

  16. 27

    Jamy Bailey says

    Thank you for this! I know we women are so hard on ourselves. I AM one of the crazies that LOVES to go all out and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for not judging ME because I do. I am a stay at home mom and I wish I was a party planner!!! I love it and it brings me so much joy. I do not let it take away from time with my kids or let myself get so stressed I am making their lives worse. Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the kind perspective on us that really DO enjoy going over the top. 😉 (Just to lay it out, over the top does not always equal expensive!!!!)

    • 28

      autumn says

      Thanks for your kind words, Jamy! I’m glad you didn’t feel like I was trying to say there’s something wrong with throwing a fantastic party for your kids – because there’s not, and if you love it, you should do it! I just hate to see people feel like they HAVE to do things because it seems like everyone else is. And you’re totally right, over the top doesn’t have to be expensive – thanks for pointing that out!

  17. 29


    I appreciated this post. I tend to get overwhelmed by planning awesome parties for my kids. This gets really hard when you have a child who’s birthday always fall right around Thanksgiving and one whose birthday is 5 days before Christmas. My daughter has had some really fun themed parties but they didn’t take that much. For one birthday she had a Diva Party which involved getting some feather boas, asking some friends to come help with makeup. Each girl got a makeover, a boa and then walked the runway to music. We decorated foam picture frames with sticky jewels and each girl went home with a picture of them with the birthday girl. This year she wanted a karaoke party. It basically involved Disney Sing It and Glee Revolution on the Wii. After they got tired of singing they put on the Just Dance games and danced around. It was so fun for them (I wish I had bought ear plugs for the adults though! lol) I always find it’s best to go with the child’s interest instead of forcing a theme on them. Pinterest can be great but I don’t go on to browse for ideas anymore. I can looking for a very specific idea and then get off quickly! lol- again great post!

  18. 30

    Lpelon says

    I spend my energy on the cake because that is what my son gets really excited about (I’m the mom who makes a pirate shaped cake for a pirate birthday). But the rest is low key and easy. We do it at home, have little ceasers pizza and mix lemonade with a veggie platter from the store. This year he wants a dinosaur party so I’m doing a t-rex bean bag toss (poster board with a t-res drawn on it and a hole in its mouth), and a dino egg hunt (an easter egg hunt with the eggs filled with cheap roller store Dino’s). We may do pin the tail on the long neck but I havnt decided. They come they play and they eat… Boom. My son gets to show off his cake (the highlight for him every year) and play with friends. There are usually few decorations (a few streamers and daddy inflated balloons) and I do regular paper plates. And the “goodie bag” is stuff they got in games (last year it was chocolate coins from our pirate treasure hunt this year it will be the little Dino’s they find in the egg hunt.

  19. 31

    Heidi says

    I know this is a couple years old, but I just found it. 🙂

    For my daughter’s 6th birthday this year we had a princess party. The girls we invited decided to dress up (we hadn’t specified that). Those who hadn’t we put in some of our costumes (bought for 75-90% off after Halloween). I bought foam crowns, jewel stickers, and star wands. The girls had fun decorating them and then we played freeze dance. For the cake I baked cupcakes and let the girls decorate them themselves. They had a lot of fun and I didn’t have to do much of anything.


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