Children’s parties: The Rules

How many children’s parties in a weekend is enough? On Saturday DD had very kindly been invited to two parties by pre-school friends, one a joint one. In the morning, me and DH took DD and DS to the party at a local soft play centre. It was lovely, tho noisy, and for some reason DH thought it would be a good idea to push his 14 month old son down a 10ft slide. The sliding bit was fine, landing on small face and cutting lip at bottom not so brilliant.

There were lots of kids there, plus the mums and dads I see on the nursery run, some of who have become friends. Lunch consisted of a bowl of Wotsits for DS to match his hair, and DD munched her way happily through cakes, sausages, chocolate spread sarnies, and misc. potato starch snacks.

I put our pressie on the present table. And then started to panic. There were loads of huge boxes, like the other mums had bought the contents of ELC

Small but perfect
Small but perfect

. And none of them looked like a token present. I had thought about what to buy all three birthday girls, bearing in mind that only one of them is an actual playdate friend. I like buying books and creative stuff for children, and I know what DD likes doing, so I settled on those really nice Usborne dolly dressing sticker books, with an extra one for the friend we see outside nursery. With a card and wrapping, this came to between £6 and £10 each. I heard one of the alpha mums commenting that at her son’s party (to which we were not invited) she was really surprised by how generous everyone had been. Our gift seemed rather meagre, suddenly.

For DD’s 3rd birthday in August, we had a joint party in the village hall with her best friend. It was bloody hard work with 24 kids, but all of the parents were good friends or relatives and we all chipped in to help. But now she’s in pre-school, and the trend seems to be to invite everyone in the class to parties. So what are the Rules here?

Is there some kind of protocol about who to invite, whether you have to accept, and how much you spend on a gift? I know these organised parties at catered venues cost money and sometimes the party bags alone seem to have cost more than the birthday present I’ve bought, even if the plastic stuff does end up in bits in the bin within minutes of getting home. If you accept an invitation to the party of a child you don’t know very well, are you are entering into a contract to purchase a large gift? Or is a small, thoughtful present OK? 

On Saturday, DH took DD to the afternoon party by himself while I looked after DS. They had a ball, with the exact same set of kids and parents as in the morning, although DD came home with someone’s footprint on her face from the bouncy castle. I don’t know who was more knackered, DD or her dad, after two parties and rather too much sugar…



  1. Obviously I can’t speak for UK etiquette, but that seems ridiculous. I have a 10 euro limit on presents, and won’t often go over that. Also, my son gets to invite 10 children, not the whole class. And I don’t do goody-bags. (I may be Scrooge.)

  2. Personally, I think a thoughtful gift is better than over-the-top – just think about the storage issues!
    Who wants to get into a competition with alpha mums, anyway? Life as a mother is full of enough guilt without getting into a present-buying frenzy. Up to £10 for a virtual stranger is absolutely fine, in my book, and if I get accused of being Scrooge, well, frankly I don’t really care!
    The bar was set at one of my daughter’s parties where a harrassed mum with screaming baby thrust a crumpled fiver into my hand with a ‘Sorry, didn’t have time to buy a present and a card,’ and after that all gifts look pretty good to me! (And daughter was delighted, having just discovered that: ‘Money buys toys, Mummy’).

  3. When my 3 were in their first years at school I set a £5 limit on the pressie. That didn’t include the card and wrap, so if I didn’t have any in the house that was suitable, then it would be a bit more. However, as the years went on, if they were still very good friends with some of their classmates (playing round each others houses regularly etc) then it would go up to the tenner mark. The reason I did this was during ED’s first few years she was invited to so many parties it was getting very expensive.
    As for inviting kids, if its a disco, then usually the whole class get invited. We never did a disco (poor poor kids!) but their ones at home or the leisure centre were for about 10 kids max.
    I used to do party bags, but that too starts to cost a lot of money. I remember once the party bag we were given probably cost more than the pressie itself! I haven’t done them for a while now. For DS, we took him and some friends karting, and I have bought pic frames to put in his friends photos to say thank you and for them to have a reminder of the day. I just have to remember to give them to his friends! YD will be 10 this year and ‘the party bag’ will be the cake to take home, and any sweets they have at the party. We are doing a pj party, with dvds, face masks, painting nails etc etc with a few sleeping over.
    It does start to become a competition as to who throws the best parties ie who spends the most money on them.

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