Health & Families

Children’s birthday parties are making my life a living hell

My phone pings. A new WhatsApp group flashes up on my phone: “Willow is turning four – princess party.” I put my head in my hands and groan. “Oh no, not another one,” I sigh. I’m a mum with two kids under the age of six, so my life these days is a non-stop children’s party. It doesn’t matter how much the parties cost, either – I don’t want to be trapped inside a church hall with a bouncy castle any more than at a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed birthday bash at a posh Mayfair hotel with valet buggy parking. These things are always a living hell.

I’ve had some bad experiences. If you hear the dreaded words “Peppa Pig World” (£558.75 for a group of 15 at the weekend), you definitely shouldn’t drive to Hampshire for 70 exciting rides and attractions unless you want to be traumatised. When my youngest went to a party at the Holland Park Ecology Centre (£525 for a 2-hour party at the weekend), she came up in hives all over her body. At the trampolining chain Oxygen Freejumping (£239.50 for an hour-long party followed by pizza or hotdogs), I casually looked up at a tall tower and realised in horror that the child defying death in a bungee-jumping harness was my own six-year-old. In my opinion, children’s parties have gotten out of hand. That is why I’m putting my foot down and saying: “Enough is enough.”

Don’t even get me started on how elaborate they’re becoming. “We sometimes have mobile massages and manicures going on at the same time as the kid’s party,” says George Whitefield, co-founder of Sharky and George, a luxury party planning service in Chelsea. Their party bags are far more likely to include iPods, personalised designer handbags and PJs, game consoles and watches. No more “bagfuls of tat”, as Whitefield calls them. Or, in other words, what my kids are used to.

Whitefield tells me he recently arranged a 14-year-old’s birthday party themed after the franchise of Kingsman spy movies, which saw the birthday boy and his friends picked up in a helicopter from Battersea in London and dropped off at a country house in Berkshire. There they underwent “special agent training”, using hi-tech espionage equipment and submarine drones. It cost an eye-watering £70,000.

For me, the kids’ party circuit is monotonous; a continuous loop of soft play, entertainers, mobile petting zoos, trampoline parks, paintballing, and mini discos. There is no end to it – and I’m throwing in the towel. Practically every weekend I am forced to endure yet another Frozen-themed gathering, where I’m left to chat to other parents you might prefer to run away from, all against a backdrop of high-pitched screaming. Why don’t more parents complain? Are we just programmed to accept it with a smile, like a Stepford wife? It’s not that I don’t like children to celebrate their birthdays, it’s the sheer number of them – and the cost of putting these parties on.

While I’m grateful that my children aren’t asking to take over the whole of Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema for an afternoon, or have a fairy-themed party at Purple Dragon – a swanky family members’ club in Chelsea that resembles a Soho House for kids – the issue is that even “normal” kids parties are expensive. My youngest daughter’s birthday party at Kensington Leisure Centre will set me back £255 for an hour of soft play followed by pizza and hot dogs in a no-frills room.

For the super-rich, though, it’s another world, where children’s parties are about as opulent as the infamous Brooklyn Beckham-Nicola Peltz nuptials. “It’s as much work as a wedding,” says Charlotte Melia, co-founder and CEO of high-end bespoke party planner Dazzle & Fizz. Their clientele includes royals, A-listers, and billionaires – as well as celebrities including Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon. For top-tier party planning, a kid’s party budget ranges from £20,000 to £100,000, though it can rise to £500,000 in some cases – Melia tells me her team were once recruited to build an ice palace in the middle of the desert outside Dubai, complete with falling snow. “Some parents micromanage a kid’s party while others are laidback,” she explains. “It’s just another thing for them to arrange and they leave it to us, including sending out the invitations.”

Dazzle & Fizz’s speciality is immersive parties – a theme is selected, and the team builds an entire world around it, usually at a five-star hotel and with hired actors, like a Punch Drunk Theatre production for kids. The truth is that anything is possible when you have tons of money. “We’ve sent pop bands and pop singers onto superyachts for the kid’s party,” she recalls. “We flew a theatre show out to Lagos in Nigeria.” While she might still do a bouncy castle if asked, she says it would need to look “aesthetically pleasing [and] in pastel colours”. Think a more Instagram-friendly version of the chocolate-all-over-your-face parties I’m currently enduring.

In fairness, I’ve been lucky with my own kids’ parties. There was the year I erected a Paw Patrol bouncy castle in my back garden (£120 for afternoon hire). It was a gloriously sunny day and the children loved it. My six-year-old Lola’s roller disco at Flipper’s Boogie Palace in West London (£25 per head for a two-hour session) was also a hit. But positive experiences like these are rare – usually the experience is worse than going to the dentist.

The only positive about Covid was that the pressure was off when it came to these kinds of parties. It was a relief to sit in the local park with a cupcake. So, with that in mind, I’ve decided that’s the way forward – a return to the old-fashioned birthday party. When I was a child, we would blow out the candles on a cake and have a quick game of pass the parcel for about five friends. And at home! There was nothing fancy or expensive about it.

The problem today is that children’s parties aren’t exclusively for your child’s best friends, either, but for the whole class. God forbid if you leave out a child – nothing is more terrifying than the wrath of a helicopter parent who feels sidelined. I recently calculated that if there are 30 children in each of my kid’s state school classes, that’s potentially 58 presents I have to buy annually. It’s another reason why I’m putting my foot down. I’m also reducing the RSVPs to one a month – and I’ll break this rule only if it’s a party for one of their special friends.

Of course, an argument can be made that a children’s birthday party might be more fun for the grown-ups if we’re given free-flowing champagne, fancy canopies, and a chill room to hang out in. But frankly, even if all the money in the world is thrown at one of these things, I can’t wait for the day I can just drop my kids off and get the hell out of there.

A backdrop of high-pitched screaming at a children’s birthday party

Related Articles

Bir cavab yazın

Sizin e-poçt ünvanınız dərc edilməyəcəkdir. Gərəkli sahələr * ilə işarələnmişdir

Back to top button