Why I’m Embracing Half-Arsed Birthday Parties – And So Should You!

When we were young, birthday parties involved mum pulling out her dog-eared copy of the Women’s Weekly cake book and asking her kids to pick which one they wanted. Back then, parties were in backyards with games run by mums and dads and the food was fairy bread, party pies and watermelon wedges.

That was in the days before musical chairs had to have the same number of chairs to children so no one got out. In the past decade, every party my kids have been to – or thrown themselves – has involved either going somewhere (trampolining, movies, zoo) or bringing in entertainment (clowns, superheroes, fairies, jumping castles).

In one generation, we’ve managed to turn something that should be fun and easy into yet another chore we end up outsourcing at great expense.

Let’s bring back easy birthday parties! Please??!! 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Oh no. We CAN take back our easy birthday parties. We just need to be half-arsed about it.

You see, half-arsed parents know every over-the-top party our kids go to further entrenches their sense of entitlement and expectation.

Half-arsed parents are all for outsourcing, but such show-stopping events often end up being much more work and much more expensive than they need to be.

I’ve watched kids at the rare, casual backyard parties they occasionally get invited to. You can see them looking around somewhat nervously: is this all? Where’s the jumping castle? Where’s Batman? Where is the lady dressed as a woodland fairy handing out ladybird cupcakes?

Half an hour later, most are on a red-cordial high and blissfully enjoying something they don’t often get these days: unstructured free time to play. A backyard. A sprinkler. A BBQ. A bunch of balloons. What else do kids need, really??

80s parties ruled and don’t even try to tell me otherwise

Half-arsed parents like me draw inspiration from the parties of their youth. They do the passable minimum, picking one thing to do well and skimping or slacking on the rest.

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Ah, the 80s… when a kid would blow out their birthday candles over top of an ashtray, a foot away from an open beer, while someone held a lit cigar next to their face. Source: Imgur

For me, that’s usually meant paying for an entertainer to come to our house for a couple of hundred dollars but doing the food myself and skipping decorations entirely.

My birthday cake stand-by is an ice cream cake made from two litres of cheapie vanilla melted into a cake tin and topped with a tower of pre-frozen ice cream balls in different colours. I ripped off the idea from a well-known ice cream shop because I once refused to pay $85 for a kid’s birthday cake. It’s different and that’s what makes it a hit.

You can even do it drunk. Don’t ask me how I know that.

After 16 years of raising kids, I’ve learnt a few things about birthday parties

1. You can’t use cheap snakes in red jelly cups.  Their colour seeps and they look like dead man’s fingers suspended in blood.

2. Do not make a chocolate cake covered in desiccated coconut.  It looked like a guy with dandruff had left his wig on the table.

3. Rainbow marble cakes feel like a good idea but they are NOT. They look as if a kid ate fairy bread then threw up in a baking tin.

Peppa Pig Baking Fails
A platter of Penis Peppas: The mark half-arse parenting success. Followed by a quick trip to Woolies to grab one of their mud cakes.

Half-arsed parents opt out of the competitive party scene because they know they don’t care enough (or spend enough) to throw the best parties ever. Over time, they’ve managed to lower expectations by keeping their own kids happy, but not doing enough to impress anyone else.

No one wins in the game of hyper-parenting and half-arsed parents are smart enough not to bother trying.

Are the kids happy and high on sugar? Then you’ve done your job. 

The Family Values report shows more than two in five parents say they have judged others for having overly extravagant celebrations.

But only 13 percent say they could be accused of being too extravagant themselves with their own children’s birthday celebrations.

Psychologists call this ‘illusory superiority’: people think the criticisms they have of others don’t apply to them personally. Funnily enough, only seven percent of parents say they have judged other parents on their child’s birthday party or other celebrations for being too modest and simple.

Pity. Modesty and simplicity are half-arsed hallmarks.

When it comes to birthday cakes, half-arsed parents ignore all the humblebragging on social media. Chances are they not serving up a nine-turret three-tier Tangled birthday cake with fondant icing and candied figurines they’ve spent 76 hours baking from scratch.

They’re more likely to doll up a supermarket vanilla cake with two kilos of lollies and watch Nailed It! instead of baking into the wee hours. Nailed It! shows home bakers trying to recreate fancy cakes made by professionals. Most of the time, they do very badly.

Their cakes collapse, only get half made and look nothing like they’re meant to, with uneven icing, lurid over-coloured fondant and wonky drunken writing and decorations.

Half-arsed parents raise a glass to these half-arsed heroes. We salute you because your new low standards make the rest of us look good.

Join the half-arse parenting party

It’s the place to be! We’ve recently discovered the joy that is half-arse parenting and love it. It’s outlined in detail in The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting, out now. You can get it at Booktopia, Dymocks, Good Reads or Big W.

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Source: Herald Sun/Nicole Cleary

Check it out on Insta and stay tuned because we’ve got more half-arse parenting pearls of wisdom to share every week!

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Avatar of Susie O'Brien

Dr Susie O'Brien is a journalist at the Herald Sun, author of The Secret of Half-arsed Parenting and mother of three. She is a regular media commentator and appears weekly on Sunrise where her biggest audience is women on treadmills watching with the sound turned down.

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