Birthday Party Dilemma

PICT0124-139Hesperus is turning 11 this summer. She wears the same shoe size as my mother-in-law and she’s getting so tall and grown up.

Last year, when she turned ten, we had a gymnastics-themed birthday party for her. We played pin-the-ponytail-on-the-upside-down-gymnast, had a prize walk (where you dance walk in a circle to loud music and get a prize when you land on the number that’s pulled out of the hat), had a beautiful homemade red and blue (strawberry and blueberry decorated) American flag birthday cake, and even had red and blue streamers with matching gymnastics party plates, a homemade star pinata, and gymnastics batons and bracelets in the hand-painted goodie bags.

It was a fun party but the preparations took more than a week, and we were all exhausted afterwards.

“Mom, it’s special,” my daughter reminded me. “After all, I’ll only turn double digits once in my life.”

Since we did it up so much last year, I was hoping for something a lot more low key this year, like a family party with homemade presents and a trip with one or two friends to the movies…

But that’s not what Hesperus wants.

“No one just has a party anymore,” she told me the other day when we talked about it. “You HAVE to have a sleepover, Mom.”

She wants to invite nine friends, go to the water slides in the afternoon, watch a movie, have a sleepover, get lots of presents, and have the party last until at least eleven o’clock the next day.

I’m so torn. On the one hand I want my daughter’s birthday to be special. I love throwing parties, I like to cook, and the whole concept sounds fun.

On the other hand, our house is full of junk, the kids’ room has no space for more things, we don’t have a car big enough to transport nine children to the water slides, and this year has been really hard for us financially. So hard that I’m not sure we can afford such a lavish party. Plus, with a new baby in the house, I’m not getting a lot of sleep. Hesperus and her friends, who will have to sleep in the living room, will stay up late. I’ll be up with the baby by five a.m. or six a.m. at the latest (if I’m lucky and Baby Leone sleeps that long).

But I suspect the inconvenience and the logistics are not what is really bothering me. Hesperus often acts entitled in a way that I don’t like, that makes me feel taken for granted, and that makes me worry I am raising a child who will become a selfish and inconsiderate adult. When I remind her to do her chores, she invariably says, “I will Mom but right now I’m brushing my hair,” putting herself and her needs before the family’s. I guess it’s the age she’s at but lately she says she wants to do things the way her friends do things, the “normal” way, instead of the way our family does things. This means she wishes she could drive everywhere, eat out at restaurants as often as possible, have a cell phone, and get her ears pierced, among other things. Of course I want my daughter to have a special birthday. But I’m also tired of feeling like what I do is not good enough for her.

Readers, have any of you struggled with this kind of dilemma? Do any of you have advice about how can I make my daughter feel loved and special on her birthday without overextending myself and feeling resentful?

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32 thoughts on “Birthday Party Dilemma”

  1. Jennifer you sound tired. And who wouldn’t be? I think a sleepover at that age is de rigeur – you almost can’t avoid it. But the good news is a sleepover can be a cheap party. Rent a movie for them, let them make their own pizzas for dinner and set up something for them to do – like each other’s nails, or tie dying and have some board games they can do. They’re mostly going to monkey around and giggle anyhow. Don’t have them come until 6 or 6:30 and send them home at 9 the next morning. I always found that if you set a later time in the morning, half the girls had leave earlier anyhow for some activity or church or whatever. My daughter is 18 now so we’re thankfully past all of this and on to other shenanigans here:)

  2. Brette offers some good ideas. How about renting Dirt, The Movie? You would want to watch it first, of course. There is some animation in it, which is what made me think it might work. There might be some activities you could organize based around the theme. I remember you had a really cool green party last year.

    If Hesperus has her heart set on a sleep over, sounds like that’s what is needed. You need to find a way to make it less exhaustive to you though. Perhaps one of the other mothers could help out with the activities?
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Got Strawberries? =-.

  3. When I was Hesperes’ age, I remember feeling vaguely resentful of my family because we weren’t “normal”. I was the girl who had roasted veggies on wheat bread for lunch. Who wasn’t allowed to drink soda pop. Who lived in a house without *gasp* a television. Who celebrated the Winter Solstice but not Christmas. And, to be completely honest, I HATED it! I didn’t like being different. To me, different was a bad thing. I wanted to be like the other bologne eating, soda drinking, Mork and Mindy watching, churchgoing girls in my class.

    But, guess what? My bologne eating, soda drinking, Mork and Mindy watching, churchgoing peers felt the same way I did about THEIR lives. I think that young tween girls are eager to establish themselves as their own people as opposed to a part of an established group (i.e. family). Therefore, things that are known and comfortable are, for awhile, unappealing.

    I grew out of this stage by the time I was about 14. Thank goodness, because I think my mother was on the verge of selling me to a pack of roving gypsies by then! But, as I grew more comfortable with myself, I grew to appreciate the things that made me “different”. Plus, I learned to look past what people had and didn’t have and was able to see that material possessions don’t a good person make.

    This sounds so hackneyed, Jennifer, but she truly is going through a stage and it WILL end. I promise! In the meantime, try to cut her some slack if you find you’re getting annoyed at some of the things she does and says. Just keep on keepin’ on and this too shall pass :)

  4. I’m on Brette’s team! Though I would have a ‘sit down’ with your daughter first and explain to her your feelings. Her birthday is 100% her day, but you want some guidelines established first. Six friends, not 11; pizza and movie, no water slides. Maybe it would help her feel more a part of the planning and more appreciative of what you provide.
    .-= Colleen´s last blog ..Breastfeeding 101 =-.

  5. I think you’ve gotten some really good advice. It’s hard not to give them a special bday party. A sleepover with some rules put in place in advance would be a good idea, in my opinion. and it doesn’t have to be expensive or exhaustive. I know you’re probably dreading it (as I always did), but hopefully if you make it clear what you expect in advance, the girls will be cooperative.

    As for the “I’ll do it later, mom” part of this post, I always found when my kids were younger that they needed to exert their independence by doing this, too. So, I gave them choices to make them feel more powerful. I’d say something like, “You can take out the garbage now, or you can take it out in ten minutes.” This way, I got my way…but so did they.

    Good luck!
    .-= Sheryl´s last blog ..How to Season Your Food – Without Salt =-.

  6. Thanks Brette. I like the idea of make-your-own pizzas and also of starting it later and ending it earlier than Hesperus was suggesting (she wanted to start at 2:00 p.m. and the idea of more than eight hours of party followed by a sleep over was really overwhelming me). Also board games are a good idea. Maybe we can have it be a game theme. I really appreciate the suggestions.

  7. She does have her heart set on a sleepover. And you’re right, Alexandra, I need to find a way for her to have the sleepover and for me to not be completely and totally overwhelmed by the amount of work and clean up. Brette’s idea–to lay out clearly the expectations in advance–is a good one.

  8. Thanks for weighing in Colleen! It looks like the consensus is in favor of a sleepover. I am hearing all y’all. And will definitely sit down and talk it out with Hesperus before we finalize the plans. I really appreciate the advice. Now if any of you would like to come over and help chaperone this party…

  9. I am fascinated reading your story of your upbringing and how your feelings towards being different changed, Tracy. Thank you for reminding me that it’s a stage. It doesn’t sound hackneyed at all. Just wise. I remember with babies that the only constant is change but since I have NO experience with pre-teens I think I forgot that that saying can apply to them as well. Hesperus just needs to find her own feet on her own ground. She’s so nice around other people–with her friends’ moms for instance–that I hope one day she’ll be nice around her family as well. I know she loves us all a lot and feels close to us. But often her way of expressing that is by rolling her eyes and saying, “Wow, Mom.” Sigh.

  10. I am taking your advice to heart, Sheryl. I just gave my son a choice: clean up the books that you took out of the bookcase now or after you eat your burrito. He said after. And he actually remembered and went to clean them up.

    It’s like how you give a toddler the choice between the red shirt and the blue shirt to empower him in decision making (while still wearing something that passes as “clothes.”) I need to apply this parenting technique to chores more often. I think it will help us all.

  11. Chiming in to say I agree with everyone here. I can well imagine this sort of scenario happening with my second child – I can see glimpses of this already at age 7 (not at all in the first child, who seems to have been born with an oversized generosity/empathy gene; thank goodness for my second child who reminds me that children come in different forms and keeps me on my toes). It’s interesting to see how many different ways a similar scene can unfold over all the years of growing up. Please let us know how it all goes, Jennifer!
    .-= Christine ´s last blog ..Back home =-.

  12. I’m not a mother yet, and you’ve already gotten so much good advice from everyone else, but I thought I’d chime in anyway. My first instinct upon reading your dilemma was to think:

    1. You should have a talk with your daughter about compromise; after all, she’s not the boss! And

    2. Doing all of that — slumber party, water slides, and all — would put so much stress on you! A slumber party with pizza, movies, game, etc. should be sufficient.

    Perhaps she’s testing her boundaries?
    .-= Steph Auteri´s last blog ..Writing, and Other Ways of Coping =-.

  13. This all sounds so familiar and typical, Jennifer. I think it’s simply a phase kids go through of wanting, wanting, wanting. It’s so hard to be consistent, to be a good parent. But even the best kids — like, say, my own — go through times of rampant selfishness.
    .-= Ruth Pennebaker´s last blog ..The Opposite of Unencumbered Should Be Obvious =-.

  14. I think she’s just at that age. I understand your hesitance, since you went all out last year. I agree with Steph that there needs to be a compromise. Maybe she can reduce her guest list (NINE kids sounds like a real handful on on top of all your other kids!) and choose a couple of activities instead of doing it all. And remember that kids that age won’t be judging your housekeeping skills. They’ll be too busy doing each other’s hair or watching a movie.

  15. What wise mamas you all are. It is great to read all this advice, and I have picked up a few tips too.

    It can be hard to remember that the children in our families are not the only people in our families. Sometimes things like finances and logistics just won’t let our kids have what their heart desires. But this is OK! Hesperus will still have a grand time if she wants too, if she doesn’t enjoy the party you throw her it isn’t your fault.

    Recently we were at a party and had strawberry shortcake. I nearly died of embarrassment when my daughter, upon receiving her generous piece, threw a fit about it not being on a “pretty plate”. What to do??

  16. Hand up over here with a child doing very similar things — wanting stuff for the first time, focused on his own concerns most of the time, sick of me being sick (it’s been four months now. trust me, I’m sick of it too.)

    Did I mention he’s 11? Maybe it’s because I’m tired post surgeries but her whole game plan sounds exhausting to me, and, I suspect, to sleep-deprived you too.

    Here’s my advice, since you asked: If it’s easier for you, take the party outside. Only bring as many kids to the water slide as you can 1. afford and 2. fit in your family car/s. If you’d rather do it at home, any of the activities sound grand (henna tattoos are cool too, maybe a neighborhood teen gal would come do it for fun.) And (don’t hate me daughter): I don’t think they HAVE to stay the night. They could stay late, for sure. Do the whole pizza & movie thing and then trundle on home at 9:30-10. Trust me, everyone will have had enough.

    Maybe the compromise is something like: You can have 9 friends, but they all have to go home at 9pm. Or you can have 3-4 (or whatever you think you can handle) and they can stay until 9 am. So, there’s a compromise, but she feels she has the final call.

    Only you know what will work best for you, your family, and the birthday girl. The fact that there’s a new baby in the house, does make things different, and kids have to accept that sometimes you just have to do what’s best for the whole family. She’ll survive.

    Without writing a book on the subject, I think many of us adults often try to make up for things we believe were lacking in our own childhoods when trying to keep our own kids happy. I mean, did you get a full-on fabulous birthday party every single year? Call me old-fashioned, sometimes less is more and not getting everything you desire is a good thing.

    .-= sarah henry´s last blog ..Berkeley Farmers

  17. I might veer a bit from what others have said–as a child I begged, pleaded with my mother for a sleepover and had such a lousy experience on my 12th birthday (one girl wet the sleeping bag, another was convinced everyone was talking behind her back) that I swore I would never let my kids have sleepover parties. Now with three girls there’s been multiple requests and we just don’t do ’em. I’m starting to let the kids have one friend over for the night, but not multiple. Kids get cranky, parents get cranky, just not my idea of a party. That’s our family’s thing, but perhaps you still have a little negotiating room. What about a pajama party where the kids go home at 11pm? Breakfast for dinner? Movie. I find that my daughter just likes to hang out with friends anyway so that party activities are easy–they talk and listen to music.

    Just one other point–we’ve moved to doing a friend party every other year–on off years we just gather with the family and do something special. I love those parties where we just get to enjoy each other and not stress about the party part–after all, they get plenty of invites to other friends get-togethers. I’m with you though that the extravagant, over-the-top parties just aren’t my thing.
    .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Supertasters Need for Salt =-.

  18. Oh, wow. Growing up, we didn’t get birthday parties. At all. My parents were too poor and worked their fingers to the bone, meaning that party time just wasn’t in the cards. Maybe a compromise is in order? A sleepover with four friends? OR four friends going to the waterslides? Or a movie?

    It does seem like she’s expecting the world. I would have killed to have one of those “rich girl parties” when I was her age! Now that I’m an adult, I realize that even those rich girls didn’t need to have such elaborate parties. I think that my parents pulling the reigns on extravagance really helped form my perspective.

    She’s a “tween” now… the gateway to her teens. Woo hoo! 😉
    .-= Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last blog ..Simple Birthday Joys =-.

  19. Mine is 12. Mine is Male. And yet, mine sounds JUST like yours. Want, want, want, expect, expect, expect. He does get a fair amount but we do say no a lot too so I don’t know I managed to raise such a self-centered little boy. It makes me panic when I ask (5 times) to do something fairly simple for me and yet it’s more important for him to do something HE wants. That’s when I worry I’ve done a horrible parenting job and spoiled him rotten and it’s too late.. too late I tell you.. RUN! RUN FOR THE HILLS! I sometimes text my husband when he’s coming home from work, “Save yourself.. don’t come home.. It’s too late for me but save yourself.” :)

    Of my three he has his hand out the most and costs me the most. He has recently become the most work ever (and he was the easiest baby ever.. I think we all “pay” in the end.)

    This is not about me–it’s about you. My boys don’t ask for sleepovers.. perhaps it’s my steely growl. I have not slept in years.. I don’t want a bunch of giggling boys in my house potentially waking my daughter who is the grenade in my sleep. BUT, my boys have been invited to sleep over bday parties. They don’t usually start until later on.. 6 or 7. It involves pizza (in my son’s case, they went bowling for one family and for another they watched a movie–preapproved by me). We were told to pick them up by 9am.

    I’ve told my kids no sleep overs until I’m getting consistent sleep night after night. I have parties in the house but the sleepover thing has mostly been avoided for me (thank god).

    I also point out the cruel truth of money. I can give you a party which will cost me X amount of money for all your friends to give you 10 presents.. OR, I can spend that money all on you for a cool new “big” thing and we can do a SMALL party. There’s a budget.. and they help me decide how to spend it.
    .-= Claudine´s last blog ..Quick Summer Dessert for Your Next BBQ! =-.

  20. I only read the first four or five posts but thought they gave a lot of good advice. I’m so happy to hear that a slumber party is still what pre-teen girls want to do. I remember my slumber parties and those of my friends very fondly and this is 25 years later. :’)

  21. Is it possible to go to the water slides with just your nuclear family? It may be a nice compromise if your daughter’s birthDAY is spent with her family while her birthNIGHT s spent with friends sleeping over. Expense, travel arrangements and the head ache of supervising 10 girls at a park has vanished, and yet she still wins. AND you get to spend a fun day with your daughter on her special day. It might be a good bonding moment before the chaos of the night ensues. A good time for everyone to relax. Maybe a good time to exchange those “embarrassing” homemade gifts. Just a thought. Hope it helps.

  22. Brette’s suggestions are terrific. There’s nothing wrong with pairing down the party to homemade pizza and spending the night. And, welcome to the pre-teen years. Hesperus is acting like a normal one.
    .-= Donna Hull´s last blog ..Saturday

  23. Tell your daughter that the only way she can do the sleepover is if she helps you clean and organize your home. It’s summer. She’s has time! Break the task down to small bits you do each day (organize clean the bathroom, get rid of unwanted toys in her room, clean our the kitchen cupborads, go all out it!) Also, get her involved in planning and executing the party so you won’t have to be the event coordinator. She’ll greet the friends at the door, show them where to put their things, help with the snacks, put the movie on. Make a little party schedule and let her get excited about being the “host”. It will teach her a lot (maybe she’ll learn how much work it is to be the host!” and then when it’s all done, the house will be more organized and clean for summer! Win-Win. As for time frame, I think 5pm in the evening until 10am in the morning is fine.

    :) Sarah Jane

  24. It’s not that she can’t get her ears pierced ever. It’s just that I wanted her to wait until she was thirteen to get them pierced. For so many reasons that maybe I need to do a separate blog about it but here are just a few: 1) my best friend did not pierce her ears as a kid and doesn’t have pierced ears to this day. She’s very happy not to have pierced her ears and feels like she would have regretted it if she had. 2) Hesperus has very sticky-outy ears that her peers tease her about. I’m honestly worried that if she pierces them it will make her already maverick ears even more noticeable in a way that she will ultimately not like. 3) I don’t think she has the maturity to clean and care for pierced ears at her age. With the risk of sounding like a not very good mother, I have to come clean and admit that we have enough trouble getting the kids to do the basics like brush their teeth twice a day, floss, and take regular baths that adding another hygiene issue to the mix feels like too much to me right now. 4) Hesperus wants to pierce her ears because … she has no idea why. I was hoping she could articulate a better reason than “I want to” before actually doing it. 5) I’ve told her that she needs to figure out where and when to get her ears pierced: at the doctor’s office? at the mall? and also research how much it will cost. Until she takes on that responsibility and actually does the work involved (instead of expecting me to do it), she will not have pierced ears.

    That was probably way more than you wanted to know Joanna. Hope I have answered your question!

  25. NINE friends?? Jeez, no way around here. Kids here get parties (with a bunch of friends) on big birthdays- 5,7,10,13,16,18. Otherwise they get to invite a friend or two to bowl, roller skate, or spend the night. Our family is all here too, we have cake and ice cream. It’s plenty. That’s how we’ve managed birthdays with a number of kids.

    My daughter’s friends, turning 9 or 10, are going to the Redding water slides hours from here, spending the night at hotels, going out to dinner, having spa nights, and sometimes all of the above. It’s crazy and I tell her she can look forward to that kind of party when she’s 13 or 16. I’m not afraid of bumming her out- she’s very privledged, has great friends and is loved.

  26. I’ve gone through quite a few parties and we are already talking about the next B-day due in August.

    One time we invited about 10 girls, but only 4-5 got to stay for a sleep over. We did not leave the house and I don’t think they ever stopped to watch a movie, but I did. they were all 10.

    Another time, we held the activity else where and they had to be dropped off and picked up. We asked that the kids bring money for admission in lieu of presents. that kept the cost down and presents minimal. although do expect to pay for some of the invites and receive some gifts as well.

    Another time, we had a minimal party and one friend sleepover. The next day she went to her friend’s house for a sleepover. This allowed for some downtime the next day for yours truly.

    Just thought I’d share. And yes, most of our parties did take at least a week’s worth of planning, but it ended up being kind of fun – most of the time.

    Good luck!


  27. I haven’t read all the comments but… just wanted to know… why don’t you talk it over with her! about all the reasons why you don’t want it exactly her way. and then you can both come up with different options and see wich option fits for BOTH OF you…

    instead of saying. i thought about it and i agree with this part but not with that part and it will be from this time to that time etc…

    maybe she can have great ideas like help you with the clean up or do it all herself and the cooking? she knows you don t have a car that can take 9 people… what does SHE suggest?
    .-= Joanna´s last blog ..NON

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