You Don’t Have to Have a Smash Cake (And Other First Birthday Expectations)

Spoiler alert: Babies grow quickly.

Also? It seems everyone else wants to expedite the growth process. Your baby was just born? Hooray! Wait until she’s teething! Your baby is crawling? Walking is right around the corner! Your baby is ten weeks old? Better start planning that first party! Enjoy these moments—before you know it they’ll be a teenager!

I asked my mom about my first birthday party. She grimaced. “I was throwing up and pregnant with your sister.”

“Yes. But did I have a cake? Games? Are there any pictures?”

Eventually, my mother was able to procure a single picture of the event. I was sitting, happily, covered in frosting. My grandparents were in the background.

And. That. Was. It.

My mom made the cake (from a box), so apparently she skipped themes. Zero decorations. I was naked, so my sparkly onesie with the giant “1” on it was nowhere to be found (AKA it didn’t exist). My mom WAS nauseated, but not from stress due to the elaborate soiree she had thrown to commemorate the occasion of my single year of age. She was simply early in her second pregnancy.

My firstborn was a few months old when I started getting queried on what I had planned for his birthday. A theme? Huh? I made the mistake of typing “first birthday party” into Pinterest and was bombarded with ALL OF THE THINGS. Circus themed-parties with elephants atop each cupcake and animal crackers for each guest to drool to pieces. Construction-themed parties for the one-year-old with proclivities for all-things diggers and dirt. Gift bags! Smash cakes! Professional photographers!

I shut my laptop and decided I to consult my friends in real life.

One woman lamented spending $1,000 on her daughter’s party. Another had done a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” party complete with book reading and catering. Both women spoke of the immense amount of stress they felt; as if they were victims of the first birthday rather than active participants or, dare I say, curators of the festivities.

I spoke to my husband and we considered the options. Have a smash cake? Family members insisted, resoundingly, YES. The pictures will be so cute! All of my co-workers’ grandchildren had one!

What about a theme? I LOVE hosting and having people over, but crafts and decorating? So not a strength of mine.

Finally we decided: no party. For us, the first birthday party seemed like more of an event for (Sorry, mom!) grandparents. Our child wouldn’t remember and we didn’t feel like it was worth it. We gave him a treat and took a picture. He opened gifts from grandparents at a later date. It worked beautifully for our family with our particular preferences. We, unfortunately, disappointed some family members. But, this past year when my son turned four, we threw a party. I made the cake and put a toy bulldozer on top. We let 20 preschoolers color coloring sheets with diggers on them and play in our sandbox. And he LOVED it.

So, if Pinterest parties are your thing and you’re itching for an opportunity to make that 8-foot paper-mache caterpillar, DO IT. But, you aren’t REQUIRED to do this. Your kid is not less loved if you choose not to throw a first birthday party. Keep your sanity and love your baby.

Kara Garis is a cloth diapering, baby wearing, semi-crunchy mama to two active boys and a baby girl. She lives with her husband in Oklahoma and loves running, cooking, traveling, reading and teaching herself how to braid. She blogs very infrequently at karagaris.blogspot.com.

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