For the record, there are some truly awful parents in this world who have, I’m sure, done some truly awful things at children’s birthday parties. This isn’t about them. Heinous criminal activity aside, what we’re talking about here is more along the lines of bad birthday party etiquette. And have I heard some crazy stories from friends over the last year.
We’re reaching the point in our children’s lives where birthday parties are no longer attended by only close family and friends. Our kids want to invite daycare buddies or their entire preschool class. And just like that, adults are left with the job of entertaining total strangers, all for the benefit of their children. As a full-on introvert, I feel the pain of that, but even I wouldn’t do some of the things I’ve either witnessed parents doing recently or have heard about from friends.
So, consider this your list of things to avoid the next time you either throw or attend a child’s birthday party. A set of birthday party commandments we should ALL follow. (That is, unless you want everyone talking about you after the fact.)
1. Thou Shall Not Simply Drop-Off and Run
I’ve had a lot of friends with kindergartners tell me that parents are already treating birthday parties like free babysitting. Kids are walking through the door without a parent in sight. Their folks have already driven off, eager to enjoy two hours of freedom. We all get the appeal. A chance to go to Target by yourself is pretty alluring. But at 5 and 6 years old, it might be worth at least introducing yourself to the hosts before jetting off.
Keep in mind, everyone taking off could leave a lot of young children for just one set of parents to watch. I personally wouldn’t want to abandon my little girl to chaos without at least first laying eyes on the scene. I have heard of some parents specifying on invitations that they prefer parents just drop-off—simply because they don’t have the room to entertain both parents and children—but even then, check in.
2. Thou Shall Feed Everyone in Attendance
A birthday party horror story I recently heard involved an entire class being invited to a party on a weekend at lunchtime. The party-throwers provided just enough food for the kids—which left approximately 20 sets of parents standing around, hungry and staring at each other, after the announcement was made that the provided food was not for them.
Let’s be honest: Buying food for that many people could get real expensive, real fast. But if you’re going to invite that many young children (we’re talking 3- and 4-year-olds), you should probably be expecting their parents to stick around. And if you can’t feed everyone, it might be smart to reduce your party invite list. Or plan your party for between mealtimes and have enough cupcakes to go around.
Don’t be that parent with no regard for anyone else.
3. Thou Shall Not Assume Siblings Are Invited
I’m a single mom. If I had more kids, attending birthday parties would necessitate bringing them along. I totally get that this is a thing that happens, and any time an invitee has asked about bringing siblings to any of my daughter’s birthday parties, I’ve always been cool with it. But I recently heard a story about a family with seven kids showing up to a birthday party only one of their children had been invited to, with both parents and all the kids in tow. And no, they hadn’t warned the hosts ahead of time. This is stressful enough at parties where there are simply more mouths to figure out how to feed, but at parties where the hosts are paying by the head, it could wind up being insanely expensive. Don’t be that parent with no regard for anyone else.
4. Thou Shall Regulate
A friend recently attended a 4-year-old’s birthday party where the mom and dad were drinking so heavily, it fell on other partygoers to keep things moving. When to open presents, when to play games, even cutting the cake and lighting the candles: the child’s parents simply weren’t there for it. They were technically there, of course, convinced they were the life of the party and offering up cocktails to anyone else who might be interested, but they seemed far more invested in throwing their own party than in facilitating their child’s party.
Booze at a child’s birthday party = totally legit and fun (in moderation, of course). But over-imbibing to the point that you can’t even break up the fight your little one started in the middle of the living room? Probably not a good idea. (Also, heads up: This is another reason you probably shouldn’t just drop your kid off and run.)
5. Thou Shall Not Bring a Sick Child
Look, I get it—when my kid has a birthday party coming up, it’s all she can talk about. Telling a child she can’t go because she has a fever would not go over well. But, come on, that’s called parenting. A friend was recently at a party where one parent started complaining to everyone else that her child had been up half the night puking—the same child she had then brought along to the party.
If your kid has thrown up recently, do not bring them to a birthday party. If your child’s sibling has been running a 102-degree temp for three days, maybe consider the fact that your partygoer could be contagious too. Stay home! Coughing and runny noses are up to a parent’s discretion, because this time of year they're kind of inevitable, but don’t play Russian roulette with fevers, vomiting or contagious rashes. Those are gifts no one wants to receive.