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Children's Parties Come of Age

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Category: Sunday Times

Mothers are under pressure to turn their children’s birthdays into elaborate and expensive affairs, says Deany Judd

“But what’s your theme? You’ve got to have a theme. Everyone has a theme. ” insisted my friend when I mentioned my daughter’s imminent birthday party. “ But she’s only four, she won’t know any better.” “You’ve missed the point.” Thus was my introduction to the cut and thrust world of children’s parties.

In my ignorance I had pictured inviting eight or so of her friends to the house, a party like the ones I had both gone to and hosted when I was young ; where a quick game of farmer wants a wife, in and out those dusty bluebells and pass the parcel would while away the first hour. Then it was through to the dining room where a veritable feast of mini sausage rolls, cheese on a stick, ham sandwiches and a much admired birthday cake with the birthday girl’s name and age on it and a pink ballerina on top awaited. On the way out a piece of birthday cake and perhaps a pencil with a rubber at the end were thrust into your hand. I should have known just how much things had changed when another mother at the nursery handed me a book entitled, How To Make Your Toddler’s Birthday party A Success.

This is an unrecognisable and in many ways, ugly world. A world in which grown women have been reduced to tears in public when the booked entertainer didn’t show. When grown women have almost come to blows at the school gates over the date of their offspring’s party. Children are ignorant of all this of course; the blame lies squarely with mothers.

And it doesn’t matter what the woman’s circumstances, she’s as guilty as the next. The first category is the woman who, when she worked, was considered to be a force to be reckoned with. Having given up her career to stay at home to look after the children, what better opportunity is there than her child’s birthday party to show her friends what a good mother she is, how she’s embraced this mothering lark with great gusto. The career mother n the other hand hasn’t the time to organise the party and so throws money at it, with no expense spared. Whilst the mother - earth type, who never had a career as such, is intent on putting the other mothers to shame by making everything, from the cake to the bloody napkins and sees this as her annual opportunity to show everyone that, well, she might not have cut it in the business world, but by God this is her true calling. Obviously the more money spent on the party the better the mother you are, so it’s important to get it right. Either way the winners are the children and those in the party business. And children’s parties are big business.

Firstly that theme. It would appear this is a must, and everything from invitations, to tablecloths, napkins, cups, party bags and even thank you notes must adhere to this. Themes such as pirates, outer space, the wild west, the circus, seaworld .Or better still Barbie, Barney, Toy Story, Action Man or whatever film has just come out. The theme must extend to the food too; no ordinary chicken nuggets or sandwiches can be served, no they must be shaped to tie in with the theme. Hence if your theme is seaworld, well, your chicken nuggets can be fish shaped and so on. Don’t forget to go completely over the top with the birthday cake too. If possible don’t go for the supermarket ones, they’re only about £7 . No, much better to order one from a speciality cake shop and much more original too. These are only about £30, not much when you consider what’s at stake.

Once you’ve settled on a theme then you must settle on a venue and this is where your mothering skills can really come to the fore. Don’t even think about your front room, that won’t do at all. No-one but no-one has a party at home any longer. It must be held at a venue of some sort and the more upmarket the better. Don’t dismiss top city hotels or the option of a limousine as a mode of transport to and from the party.

Local hotels and halls will do but try to make up for it with the food, the party bag and the entertainer. These are the areas in which mothers can really shine. It is not unusual these days for party bags to include gifts that cost more than the present you brought to the party. We’re talking at least a tenner in most cases. You shouldn’t stint in this area because this is what is important to the children and, although in the scheme of things that hardly matters, it will make your child popular at school on Monday. Keep food for the children simple: pizza , chicken nuggets or burgers served with chips. What does matter is what nibbles you lay on for the mothers you are hoping stay. No expense should be spared here; smoked salmon is always acceptable served with a medium-dry Chardonnay, if in doubt, call in the caterers.

When it comes to booking the entertainer, leave no stone unturned. The choice ranges from the traditional magician, clown or puppet show, to a company that comes to your party armed with dressing up outfits. Most entertainers charge around £50 for an hour or so, again the key is to have an act that’s a wee bit specialised. So how about an Egyptian belly dancer? Hilary Thacker of Edinburgh will come to your party and belly dance, dance the dance of veils and then teach the guests to do the same. However, she’s not so keen to do boy’s parties, finding that they tend to lark about more.

This will do for pre-schoolers but once they are older you must up the ante and really push the boat out. We’ve dropped the theme and are now talking outings. But not the cinema and then McDonalds, that’s very old hat. Something a bit more imaginative is required here. Now is the time to be a bit more select with the invitations too, make this party a little sought after and it’s very helpful when fitting into the hired mini-bus. So what are we talking about here? The choices? Local health clubs run football parties, trampolining parties and fit kids’ parties. Football stadiums hold football parties, potterers hold pottery parties, equestrian centres hold pony parties, swimming pools hold swimming parties, bowling alleys hold bowling parties and the very latest for girls , beauty salons hold beauty parties. It’s never too early to teach young girls the importance of manicures and facials. One Company, Absolutely Fabulous, in the south side of Glasgow has recognised this and now holds Little Princess parties. This involves mini manicures, nail polish, a make-over all whilst drinking a glass of Appletize ‘champagne.’ - apparently very popular with 8 year olds.

The trick of course is to be the first to have the pony party or the Little Princess party. Once they’ve been to one, well it doesn’t quite have the same kudous. It would look like you were simply copying. Instead try to think of new and as yet unchartered territory in the world of children’s parties. A good source for this is America where all new things originate. Popular at the moment there are ranch parties, with rodeos; spa parties where girls go to health farms for the day and have several treatments; and a mini zoo party, where a company bring the animals to your venue.

It seems only a matter of time before we witness the Caribbean party, when a group of friends are taken abroad for a fortnight’s holiday, or the ski holiday where 5 intimate friends learn the difficult art of skiing in the Alps or the jeweller’s party when you are taken into Mappin and Webb and allowed to select a large diamond of your choice. That’s my kind of theme.

Hilary Thacker Egyptian Belly Dancer 0131 229 9400

Absolutely fabulous 0141 616 4000

Children’s Parties Do’s and Don’ts


Enlist the support and presence of as many family members as possible. Great Aunts, Uncles, Second Cousins, wheel the whole lot out. It gives the impression that you’re part of a big happy family as well as being someone everyone wants to befriend.

Label the presents your child receives as they arrive. It would be awful if you thanked the wrong person for the wrong gift and left them feeling inadequate at the true gift they gave.

Fall at the last hurdle. Fill the party bags to the brim. No matter how good a party you’ve had, in the world of the children’s party it’s the last impression that count.


Dance at all, in any shape or form. Don’t even so much as sway. Your children will never forgive you.

Complain if the party organiser puts your child out of a game. Instead cheer and support those left in the game. It all adds to the impression of you as a well-adjusted mother.

Bring a video camera. It smacks too much of this being a big event in your social life. By all means hire a company to video the proceedings, but don’t do it yourself. Much better to mingle

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