I’ve seen a lot of my friends with younger kids celebrating “Baby’s First Birthday” parties lately, and it got me thinking about this milestone for parents. (Let’s face it: 1-year-olds don’t know what birthdays are, nor will they recall the elaborate party you throw for them or the expensive gifts they receive.)
Looking back on my own children’s first birthdays, I definitely followed the typical first child/second child pattern (first child gets a big, fancy party, second child gets the shaft with only a small, planned-at-the-last-minute gathering).
But both times, I recognized both how proud of myself I was that I kept our child alive and healthy FOR A WHOLE YEAR and how much had transpired in that first year. The first year of a child’s life is so fast, intense and full of change—for the baby and for you as a mom.
As you plan how you’ll mark this occasion, I encourage you to consider these words of wisdom, little tips and fun ideas from moms I know and trust. I hope this helps you make your baby’s first birthday a wonderful event you’ll always remember fondly.
Make it fun for grownups.
As big a deal as the first birthday is to Mom and Dad, the child being celebrated doesn’t give a fig and won’t remember it anyway. We made our oldest’s first couple of birthdays more of an adult affair with good food, beer, etc. After that it’s Chuck-E Cheese, preschoolers everywhere, and parents dropping kids off then running for the hills. I know the first birthday is a Big Deal, but it’s mostly a Big Deal to the parents. — Sara
Keep gifts to a minimum.
We all know babies like playing with boxes or wrapping paper more than any birthday gift. If you’re not interested in adding more toys or clothes to your stockpile, feel free to tell your guests “No gifts, please” on the invitation. Or perhaps you might ask for an alternative, such as a beloved children’s book, contribution to the baby’s college fund, or donation to a favorite charity. — Susan
Be mindful of baby’s limits.
Don’t overwhelm her with stimulation and then expect her to be adorable for photos. Remember she’s more likely to be interested in the wrapping paper than what’s inside, and let her take a nap if she wants. If you’ve provided good refreshments for the adults, you can continue to nosh and chat while she snoozes. I’ve been to too many first birthday parties where the parents spent a ton of time and money theming it out, renting petting zoos, etc. only to have the baby melt down or just want to chew on wrapping paper. — Sara
Focus on more fun, less work.
My tale of two 1st birthdays: With our first child, we had a big party. Pinterest-worthy, four months of planning, rented a venue, invited a million people—it was so much work! For our second child’s first birthday, we celebrated 10 days early, threw a low-key BBQ at our house on the Fourth of July, bought minor decorations the day of for 60% off, invited just family and a few friends. It was lots of fun! — Stephanie
Go with a cake that’s baby- and photo-friendly.
No black or blue icing, advises my friend and neighbor Cara. Sara adds: “I’ve got photos from last week of birthday party where blue icing was involved. The kids’ tongues and teeth were Cookie Monster-blue for days. So was their poop.” A cupcake might be a good option. “We went with a cupcake for H’s first birthday,” says Beth, a Montessori teacher who helps parents create Montessori environments at home. “He seemed to enjoy the textual experience—didn’t like the cupcake itself!”
There will be tears.
Whether it’s your own little birthday boy who’s up to here with sugar overload, lack of nap and noisy guests, or another young’n at the party, someone’s going to cry. It’s inevitable. Don’t feel like your child’s birthday is a failure if he sheds some tears. This, too, shall pass. — Susan
Give yourself time to get party-ready.
I looked like crap in every picture. I was so busy trying to make everything perfect. I was wearing jeans and running shoes! And no makeup!! So my tip would be to consider the pics and take 10 min to primp. — Terry
Keep it simple.
We kept our son’s first birthday a simple gathering of family and close friends so that he wasn’t overwhelmed. One of the reasons we kept it simple was because our son was born right after my dad was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer that is terminal. The fact that my dad was there with us to celebrate meant the world. My son and my dad have a special connection for sure. Dad is still with us, after countless surgeries. This September is a big year: My dad will be 70, I will be 40, my niece will be 16 and Henry will be 3. — Beth
Look at how far you’ve come.
Whether you create a photo collage, video compilation, or simply reflect aloud, it’s nice to showcase all that your little one has accomplished in the first year. Being born, smiling, laughing, eating solid food, babbling, crawling, maybe even walking, developing a unique personality, tripling in size — it’s amazing when you think about it. — Susan
Do what you want.
Whatever advice you receive (even from this blog), I’m a proponent for going your own way. If you truly enjoy going all out for your kiddo’s 1st birthday, do it! Come up with a theme, rent a pony, hire a DJ, whatever floats your boat. And if you’d rather stick with an intimate, quiet party at home, with just your closest family and friends, that’s fine, too. Your child will be happy as long as he’s surrounded with love and you keep his needs in mind. And you’ll be more likely to enjoy the celebration if you’re doing what you like. — Susan
Keep it light, keep it fun.
Try not to stress about having the “Pinterest perfect” decorations, fancy food, and elaborate goodie bags. Your child is turning one; she won’t remember, and you’ll only give yourself a headache. Enjoy marking the first year of your child’s life. — Kristi
The best part: Cake smash!
I don’t know about you, but for my money, it doesn’t get any better than watching a 1-year-old tentatively taste, then dig in, and make a complete mess of themselves with their first piece of birthday cake. I particularly enjoy the progression from neat and clean baby to total cake-covered birthday monster. It’s just too fun and camera-worthy. Enjoy it while it lasts. — Susan
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