In my early days of motherhood, my best friend told me, “You know what happens when you have your cake and eat it too? You throw up.” Her unscripted advice was intended to discourage me from pursuing too much in my life as a new mom. While it was true for my pursuit of balance, I find it really fitting in motherhood that when we push for perfection, we miss the good, joy-filled, imperfect moments of motherhood. Perfection doesn’t taste good.
A self-professed recovering perfectionist, my experience in knowing how to let go of party perfectionism is because I’ve learned from my mistakes. The truth is, we all find joy with our kids in different ways, but pursuing birthday party perfectionism didn’t leave me feeling joy-filled, instead I was exhausted, baking, decorating, cleaning until all hours of the night. During the parties, I rushed around filling plates of food and missed conversations and the opportunity to just sit down and take everything in.
In reality, a first birthday is an event that should be celebrated for both the child and the parents.
You made it through your child’s birth and the transition home.
You made it through a year of sleepless nights.
You made it through breast or bottle feeding, pumping or preparing bottles.
You made it through baby food purees.
You made it through thousands of diaper changes, blow-outs and baths.
You made it through crawling, maybe walking and learning how to baby proof your home.
You made it through countless illnesses.
You are learning how to be a family and be a parent.
The reality is that the day your children were born, you were reborn in a new, unexpected and amazing way. And that’s why birthdays matter.
So celebrate, in your own way, celebrate in a way that matters to you and your child, but let go of perfection. Give for today, treasure what is and what you can achieve in your best effort at this moment. While not perfect, it might just be magical and just right.
Here are five ways to let go of birthday party perfectionism:
1. Birthday Cakes
I used to believe that I should make a homemade cake for my children's birthday parties and that it was a reflection of my love. I couldn't tell you the amount of time I lost being with my family because instead I spent the time creating photo tags for my daughter's cupcakes and for my son's birthday, making frosting spaghetti noodles and chocolate meatballs. This last year, after much begging by my children, I caved and bought store-made pull-apart cupcakes. You know what? They were delicious. The kids loved them and I spent zero time buying ingredients, messing up my kitchen and baking.
2. Favors and Favor Bags
Please stop buying junky plastic toys for birthday parties. All of us moms, let’s do each other a solid and stop buying this stuff that we end up stepping on and throwing away anyway. It is one more added component to putting on a party and it is completely unecessary.
3. Inviting Everyone
I really hate excluding people, especially kids. I don't ever want people to feel left out but the reality with birthdays is that you have to set a limit. It's better for everyone, you and your guests. This last year, feeling like I couldn't exclude anyone from school, activities, family, friends, neighbors, etc. and I was left with a birthday party guest list of 70. It was way too much. It is okay to empower your child to pick who they would like to attend. It will make the party manageable.
4. Get Off Pinterest
Pinterest can be a great source of inspiration but it can also be a place to feed defeat and feeling like you can't compete. So my suggestion, unless you know specifically what you are looking for, like an easy Baked Ham Sandwich recipe, stay off of Pinterest. My experience has been that when I go on there for birthday party inspiration, my perfectionism gets excited and wants to be fed and that's when I start doing crazy things, like making a watermelon shark.
5. Cooking Food
You do not need to cook all the food for the party. I am a food blogger and this has been one of the hardest pills for me to swallow. It's actually taken me six years to figure this out. In the mix of baking homemade cupcakes, I was also preparing all the food and I was completely exhausted from prepping the food and then during the party refilling dishes and never getting a chance to soak up all that was happening with the party. If you are going to cook, keep things simple with kid-friendly foods or foods that can keep warm in a slow cooker that you don't need to replenish. This year we had a party at a park and instead of lugging all the food from home we had a local fried chicken place deliver all the food there. It was perfect, the food was awesome and I actually had time to visit with family and friends but most importantly, watch my kids enjoy their party. And that's my joy.
If one of these five areas bring you joy, then by all means, you do you. But if you are out there feeling overwhelmed about an upcoming birthday party, let it go. Reconnect with what matters for you with your child on their birthday. Maybe you let them pick a favorite restaurant, use a special birthday plate filled with syrupy pancakes or maybe they have a small party with three of their friends. Just find your joy with your child and let go of perfection. They won't remember the spaghetti cupcakes or a watermelon shark, they’ll remember how you cared and how you were there with your presence.
Alice Seuffert is the creator of Dining with Alice. Dining with Alice is a welcoming and non-judgmental web page for families to find creative comfort food recipes and conversations about motherhood. Alice is known for her easy, accessible and creative recipes and is the author of Freezer Meals for Moms. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or join her email newsletter.