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  • I Feel Like One Big #MommyFail When I Go to My Kids' Friends Birthday Parties

    A mom reflects on seven birthday trends that make no sense — to her at least.
    by Dedet Reyes Panabi .
To read this story in Tagalog, click here.
  • PHOTO BY iStock

    Mom Unfiltered talks about the realities that moms don't post on social media, or, as we like to say here, these are the thoughts we all have in the bathroom.

    Disclaimer: I am and have never been a party person. My wedding planning consisted of getting a gown and finding a reasonably priced restaurant with a free-flowing open bar. I figured that if everyone were full and slightly tipsy, they wouldn’t need a string quartet or a pretty cake. Wine makes everything pretty!

    I applied that same philosophy to my kids’ birthday parties, but substituting wine with cupcakes and a lootbag full of stickers and school supplies that I bought in bulk at Baclaran and Divisoria. I also told everyone to bring extra clothes and gave the kids huge cheap water guns and permission to make a mess in my garage. We served sweet spaghetti, hotdogs with marshmallows on sticks, chicken lollipops. I thought I was super cool for hiring the neighborhood taho vendor for the afternoon. Everyone went home full, but slightly damp. It was all good.

    Then I started getting invites to my kids’ friends parties, and OMG I felt like one big #MommyFail.

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    Debutante-level costume changes

    I’ve always dressed my kids in comfortable clothes, because they’re fussy about the material — if it itches, they turn into bit…uhm, brats. So for their birthday party, they wore jean shorts and a cute shirt. I figured the least I could do for them on their birthday was to limit the amount of misery they had to endure because kissing titas they’ve never met before was bad enough. 


    But the birthday parties I’ve been to feel like the 2019 Spring/Summer collection. I’m pretty sure their designer dresses cost more than my own wedding gown, which is probably why their parents hired a videographer to make a Same Day Edit of them getting ready.

    Is this really a toddler’s birthday party? Because in my world, getting ready for guests meant threatening my kid that if she didn’t take a bath and/or threw a tantrum in front of guests, I would take away her iPad forever. (This is why we never do behind-the-scenes photos.)

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    Wow on elaborate themes

    Welcome to the Generation of the Concept Party, where it’s not enough to feed your guests, you need to create an “Experience.”

    I have been to: a Science Lab party where food and drinks were served in beakers and the magician did Chemistry-inspired tricks; a Barn Dance party that included games like “Dunk for Apples” and egg hunts but just generally made me feel like I’d walked into Farmville; and a Princess Party that actually said in the invitation that everyone should come in pink. It was the same party where I was handed a tiara the minute I walked into the hotel (HOTEL!) function area and told, “Here, everyone is a princess.” Sure.

    What's up with the hashtags

    Stop it already. Your child does not need a hashtag. He needs parents who see how ridiculous it is to use a hashtag. Do you honestly think any person aside from you will Google your child’s name to find out what he’s doing today aside from refusing to eat his vegetables? #StopUsingHashtags

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    Games that require parents

    This is a party trend that just needs to die, right now. My level of parent participation is “I gave up my weekend to drive my kid to this party. Please leave me alone and give me good food.” Do not make me sing, join a relay race, or make a public speech about my wishes for your child. I already bought a really nice and expensive toy; just entertain my kid for the rest of the afternoon and make him so tired that he falls asleep the minute he gets home, and we can call it even.

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    Programs (or if you spent a lot of money on it, "Programmes")

    I was once asked to emcee for a kid’s birthday party. Let’s take a minute to absorb that. If you have a program (or programme) that actually requires a professional script to introduce each segment, you’re overdoing it. How old is your kid again? One? Three? Five? They can’t even sit still in their stroller for 20 minutes, and you’re putting them through production numbers and tributes? 

    Also: how can you pay tribute to a 3-year-old whose most significant life accomplishment is to pee without needing diapers? See, this is why kids grow up thinking that they’re precious snowflakes who need to be praised just for breathing. Even before they learned how to read, parents are hiring professionals to document how amazing they are (in HD video format no less).


    Wow — food stalls and specialty services

    Cotton Candy. Hot dogs. Sorbetero Ice Cream. Make Your Own Pizzas. Face Paint Artists. Balloon Makers. Wait a minute. Is this a birthday party, or a carnival?

    There’s a fine line between wanting to feed and entertain guests, and (quite frankly) showing off how much money you’re willing to burn. One cart works, but when your reception area starts looking like a holiday Midnight Madness tiangge you have officially stepped into OverKill. You know, all we really need is lechon and cake. Everything else you do is really for you and is probably killing the environment too. You know what happens to plastic balloon animals after they deflate (usually a few hours after your birthday party)? They end up in the sea and kill real animals.   

    While we’re on the topic of the environment, stop with the poorly designed tarpaulins with tacky font and no real purpose except to tell guests that it’s your kid’s birthday (we know!). Those tarps are going to stay in landfills for hundreds of years after you, your kid, and your kid’s kid has left this Earth.

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    Useless souvenirs

    What you find in every Filipino birthday party giveaway bag: small puzzle, fidget spinner, cheap pencils with character print and/or notepad that’s too small for you to actually write anything, jackstones, weird plastic figurine, assorted candy. 

    What kids actually use: The candy. 

    What parents actually do: Hang on to the other cheap toys because they’re too guilty to throw it all away while secretly wondering, “WTF am I going to do with that?"


    Life lesson: give candy. Or candy. Or more candy.  

    Or offer something actually useful and meaningful. One of the best party souvenirs we ever got was a nice family pic. The birthday party host hired a photographer who took gorgeous pictures of all the guests, then gave out printouts as we left the venue. She emailed the digital copy to us later on with a sweet thank you note for attending the party. It’s still framed and hanging on my wall.

    Bring back the birthday to the party

    I sound like the Grinch of Birthday Parties, but there’s a reason behind my rant: we’re completely forgetting the celebrant here. Your definition of a happy birthday may not even be theirs. Young kids hate strangers, loud noise, itchy clothes and being told to smile for the camera. For you, it’s a huge milestone. For them, it’s a bad day. 

    You’re trying to create a memory that doesn’t really mean much to them. In fact, most kids will have zero memories of that big event — because they’re too young and because that’s not what matters to them. 

    And honestly, does it really really matter to you? Why? What are you trying to get from these huge, expensive parties that your guests don’t really want to go to and will probably forget the minute they leave your door?  

    Before you plan any party, ask your kid how they want to celebrate their birthday. Tell them that it’s important to you because they’re the best thing that ever happened to you. And 100% of the time, they’ll say they just want to be with you.


    Parties tell the world how much you love your kid. But you don’t need gowns or food stalls to tell your kid (and for your kid to say to you) that you’re so happy that you have each other. That’s the birthday milestone, and you don’t have to spend a single cent.

    Thoughts? Violent reactions? Share your comments and experiences below or send them on our Facebook Messenger and smartparenting2013@gmail.com.

    Dedet Reyes Panabi was editor-in-chief of a parenting magazine for seven years, then quit to work from home and spend quality time with family and Netflix. She now works from home as a digital communications and social media manager for a multinational. (Or has her son described it on Career Day, “My mom’s on Facebook the whole day.”)


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