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First Birthday Family Drama

First Birthday Family Drama

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

My baby girl will be turning 1 in a few months, I know it’s a little early to be stressing it but I am. I would love to do a first birthday for her but the biggest problem is I have a huge family. My parents are divorced and remarried and don’t get along and my in laws don’t get along with any of them either. Last time they where all in the same room together it was a nightmare.

My husband says to just invite everyone who normally goes to family events and they can get over the drama but that’s around 60 people before we invite friends (most of which I’m closer to then my crazy family). A fight would break out and someone would storm off angry and since I’m the peacekeeper in the family I’d be expected to go after them. It just seems like a lot of work to me and a headache. I’ve been in the middle of my parents’ fights my whole life and it just got worse when I got married because now my in laws join in. I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with it growing up so I think It be better to always keep them separate.

So the real question is would it be odd if I had 3 separate birthday parties for a 1 year old who won’t even remember them? If I do one special one with one family the other ones will find out and be upset they didn’t get one. Or should I just skip it all together?

Sincerely,
R.

Ay yi yi. Talk about near-toxic amounts of drama.

While I agree with and applaud your efforts to keep everybody separate to shield your daughter from the dysfunction, I also have to caution against three different birthday parties for one small child. I think it would be overwhelming for her (AND YOU!) at this young age, and would set up a bad precedent/tradition that you will likely come to regret as she gets older.

Your parents’ lifelong inability to keep their drama in check and shield small children from the fallout isn’t going to improve in time for your daughter’s second birthday, or third, you know? As she gets older, birthday parties will naturally get more important, expensive, and COMPLETELY out of control gift/spoilage-wise, so imagine committing to three of them, each and every year, in a never-ending bid to keep the peace and bend over backwards to keep all the other grown-ups in the room from acting like children.

(“We did separate parties LAST year and it was great! What do you mean you’re not doing that again? This isn’t fair! Did your father put you up to this? Those awful in-laws of yours?”)

Nope. I vote for a firm FOOT DOWN now. Some consequences for their established bad behavior and refusal to tolerate each other for the sake of the children. You have a friends-only, casual get-together at your home. No family. No in-laws. No one who has ever made a family gathering hell for you gets invited. If they get upset that they weren’t included…well, tough! Mom, you and Dad know you can’t be in the same room together! Why would you even want to go through that on your granddaughter’s birthday? How about you and Second Husband come over for dinner on a separate night? 

Sure, give each of the warring factions a separate dinner out or brunch invite, just don’t make it a “party” and try to keep the gift-giving limited and under control. (I usually selected a few gifts my babies received on early birthdays/Christmases for them to actually open and keep…the rest were kept in their packaging and donated to Toys For Tots or something similar.) Let them sing Happy Birthday at the next regularly-scheduled family event and call it a day, family-obligation-wise. And if you want to throw her a party, I vote VERY HARD for you to make it a low-key, peaceful, FUN party with people who KNOW HOW TO BEHAVE AT TODDLER BIRTHDAY PARTIES. Not 60+ people who are likely to end up the subjects of a viral YouTube brawl.

I’ve said this about a million times here on this column: We as parents do need to be prepared to make some concessions (and even extend some forgiveness) to our parents and in-laws for the sake of the grandparent relationship. We have to recognize that they are not perfect, but neither are we, and the benefits to growing up with a loving, mostly-functional extended family is worth us occasionally having to bite our tongues over somebody’s weird political ideas or insistence on feeding your kid something that you aren’t thrilled about. We need to be mindful about letting low-stakes problems poison the relationship.

But.

BUT!

There are dealbreakers, and there are extenuating circumstances that make it okay for you to limit or tightly supervise/control the relationship. The emotional chaos that you grew up with (and that continues to shape your adult life as a people-pleaser/peacekeeper/mom-who-is-stressing-over-a-birthday-party-months-in-advance) is exactly that kind of circumstance. You do not want your daughter witnessing fights and absorbing the same stress/anxiety that now plagues you as a result. That is entirely reasonable and a noble goal. I just think you need to focus on ways to achieve that goal that also create a more peaceful, stress-free life for YOU. Easier typed by me than done by you, of course. But I am pretty sure three separate birthday parties isn’t the best way to start. You don’t have to cut your parents and in-laws from your life, but I think it’s perfectly okay to cut them off the guest list, for now.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Allison

    Why do you even need to invite EVERY single family member? I know it’s sortof a trend now to do big one yr old parties, but they really don’t do anything for the kid except make them grumpy from so many people in their face.
    We usually only do small parties for our younger kids, grandparents only. But since that might end up in a fight for you maybe if you really feel the need to have a party you could do friends and grandparent only. The friends can be a buffer zone from you and their drama.
    If you are running around solving all of their problems, you will miss out on your baby’s birthday.

    • Christen

      Your suggestion makes perfect sense in the World Where Adults Behave but I’m betting that people who can’t be chill AT ALL and also expect their child to take sides and referee will not just make friendly conversation with friends and avoid each other. The types of people who play these games generally won’t go down without a fight and will manufacture drama for all involved.  Not that I have any experience with people like this!  Nope!  🙂

  • Deckled Edges

    I usually agree, but I’m not sure I’m 100% with this one.  A bunch of adults who aren’t mature enough to be civil in a public setting are sure going to have a hard time understanding why they are seemingly out of the blue not invited to their granddaughter’s first birthday party.  That’s going to be a hard message to sell.

    Why not invite them, but include a serious, honest conversation with each about the concern.  Let them know that if things don’t go well at this party, then you’ll take a different approach for future parties (that is, not invite them).  Enlist your partner to have that conversation with your in laws.

  • Christen

    As a child of divorced/remarried parents who do get along (yay) married to another child of divorce who has a remarried parent who gets along with no one (oh hell) I agree with Amy. If fully grown adults can’t behave EVEN FOR THE SAKE OF A SHARED GRANDCHILD then they are not invited to attend. The onus is now on them to straighten up their respective acts. If they balk, I’d repeat Amy’s statement about how they don’t get along and you’d rather save everyone-yourself included-the headache. You’re a mom now and need to relinquish the role of peacekeeping because your daughter deserves a mom who can model good boundary-setting behavior and you deserve the chance to enjoy the big and small moments of her life! I say this as someone who has had to engage in hostage negotiation like conversations with the in laws, so I get how hard it is to say no. And get your husband on board with this, too, if his parents are part of the problem. Good luck!

  • Caroline

    Boundaries. Start setting them. Organise a very casual, fun party for *friends only*, meaning friends who likely have kids themselves. If anyone kicks up you explain that it’s just a casual thing for buddies, after all, if the whole family were invited that would be 60 people!! Get Whoever is nagging to agree that that’s insane for a baby’s first party (even the most delusional person would), and agree to catch up very soon for some other, non-party one-on-one with the birthday girl and you guys. Do not under any circumstances be the peacekeeper any longer. It’s not your indaba, it’s not your problem. Your problem is your little girl and her happiness.

  • Amy

    Same situation here.  Parents divorced and remarried and two sets of them are redivorced and cohabitating with a new GF.  His parents divorced and remarried and redivorced and cohabitating with her second exhusband.  I think we’re up to 9 grandparents for my kids, now, with all the inlaws and outlaws and Grandpa’s girlfriends and Grandma’s ex-husband who she’s still sleeping with and bringing to Christmas what the actual fuck?

    I draw the line at four hyphens.  When we get to ex-step-father-in-law, the dude is just Steve.

    74 people.  Yesterday I sent out the invite to my oldest’s birthday party, and it included 74 people.  Because I wasn’t smart enough to set a precedent when she was one, because all my friends have a ton of kids, because in addition to inviting her aunts and uncles, I invite MY aunts and uncles.  Because I don’t want to exclude anyone and they live nearby.

    Did I mention that I have three kids?  So we get to do this three times a year.

    Don’t.  Do.  Not.  Do.  This.  To yourself or your kid or your husband.

    I have forced them to get along with each other if they want to be included.  I’m not going to host three weddings for my kids in 20 years, so I’m not going to do 3 birthday parties either.  I look at the birthday as practice for getting along later.  Bullshit is NOT allowed.  If they start, they are asked to leave.  No one has started.  A couple times people have tried to start political debates (half the family is flaming liberal, half is tea party, because OF COURSE they are), and I just choose that moment to say, “Cake time!” or “Time to open presents!” or to spectacularly wipe out while carrying a bowl of punch on the white carpet, or whatever it takes to shut them up.

    I do have people who opt out because they don’t want to be around their ex.  That’s on them.  Whatever.

    Anyway, if I had given it any thought YEARS ago I would have gone much lower key with the birthdays – we’d have a special dinner wherever the birthday girl chooses, and we would have graciously accepted mailed gifts and sent a thank you note.  As they got older, I would have encouraged birthday parties with their friends.  But honestly, shit is out of control here, and I have to keep doing it for 14 more years until my youngest turns 18.  If I’m lucky I’ll get hit by lightning before then and my hostess days will be over.

    Thankfully they won’t all show up.  I’ve already gotten no thank yous from 7 people, including two grandparents.  So, whatever.  We’ll probably have 40 people.  It’s still too many.  We had to buy a bigger house so we could keep doing this foolishness. 

    People say I’ll miss this someday, but those people have no idea.  

    Don’t do it.  Just don’t.  Save yourself.

    • Emily

      This is the best comment I’ve ever read. I mean really, I feel for you, but this was the best.

      • +1

        • Myriam

          +2! You really need a ”like” button! 

      • Suzy Q

        Actually, you DON’T have to keep doing this for another 14 years. Make new rules! Set new boundaries! New traditions! Because what you described? Sounds exhausting. Take your own advice and just Don’t.

    • Ashley

      This is fantastic. And awful. It does make me feel slightly better about refusing to get on the first birthday party merry-go-round, though. 

    • I’m so sorry. But honestly this was so entertaining to read. Thank you for THAT. 🙂

    • Christen

      “I draw the line at four hyphens.  When we get to ex-step-father-in-law, the dude is just Steve.”

      I am cry-laughing reading this!  I mean, I’m so sorry, but also thank you for sharing the end game of this scenario where 70 people who might decide to be cool expect an invitation and then proceed to start political debates. At a child’s birthday party.  WTF?  Godspeed, friend.  

    • vanessa

      this is amazing.

      also, maybe you could start a new tradition of having bday parties with just the kids friends? won’t work till they are 4/5, but after that maybe….

  • Think of it this way- The first birthday is really for the PARENTS, celebrating that you made it through a year of babyhood, and all the sleeplessness and projectile poops and feeding drama that goes with it. Do not throw a party that you yourself will not enjoy. Do not do it. 

    Invite a couple friends over who have kids. Get a cake and some ice cream. Take adorable cake smashing pictures. Then get a babysitter and take yourself and your husband out for a nice, relalxing grown-up drink.

  • Bethany

    I would also add that just the whole new-ness of BIRTHDAY!!! might throw your kid for a loop. On my son’s first birthday, it was business as usual, and after church we went to my parents’ house for lunch. The people who were there were the people he’d known (and had weekly lunch with) for his entire life. There were no decorations or anything. Then my mom brought out a cupcake with a candle on it, and we sang Happy Birthday to him.

    HE SCREAMED FOR TEN MINUTES.

    The next year, we did the same thing, and he was fine. (I would be thinking about an actual “party” for his third birthday, but he’ll be getting a baby brother on or around that date, so nevermind.) I would seriously reconsider having any sort of “party” for a one-year-old.

  • MR

    Definitely don’t throw a big party for a 1st birthday. No matter what you do, your kid is going to be tired and overwhelmed. We had several friends who all had kids the same age, with ours having the last birthday of the year. The first party was a full on party for family and friends. The birthday boy was MISERABLE and the mom spent most of the time in another room with him trying to calm him down. So, the next person toned it down a little. That bday boy was also miserable. And so it went, with each party getting a little less and less, until it was my daughter’s party with close family only, no decorations, and giving her a cupcake with lunch. We have one picture of her trying out the cupcake before she started screaming bloody murder because it was too much. Seriously, babies do not enjoy parties. It is too much stimulation. Keep it SIMPLE. Save the party for when they turn 4. By then they really get it and want a big to do.

  • Marisa

    Just wanted to chime in with solidarity for the really messy, dysfunctional parental relationship thing (my parents and his parents are either divorced, remarried, dating, or bitterly single and still pining for the ex spouse. Nobody gets along. Some do not get along in more socially awkward ways than others). Add on top of that a million siblings, ten million neices and nephews, and a trillion extended relatives (including some step-family relations who FREAK OUT IF NOT TREATED IDENTICAL TO THE BIOLOGICAL FAMILY OMG OMG WAR WAR DEATH ARRRGH!)

    My son is still a baby, but organizing visits from grandparents after he was born… Oh. My. God. Some ruthlessly tried to be the “first” to see him, others acted martyr-y (“I’ll just wait until everyone else visits so I’m not in the way” *tensecondslater* “well, I’ll be the last to meet him because everyone else is rushing out there so he won’t love me”), others have been bizarrely and painfully no-show and shown weirdly little interest. 

    I feel like your letter is written by future me. The thing about huge crazy families ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE THE PEACEMAKER, is that the boundary drawing and honest conversations and all that is so much easier said than done because you love these insane clowns and don’t want to hurt them. And they’ll be hurt. Because at the root of their dramatics and antics is insecurity. And exclusion and preferential treatment of others makes the insecurity worse and then the antics become  AAAAANNNTTTTIIICCSS. And honest conversations turn out awkward and the person gets defensive and then won’t let it go and repeats portions of that carefully planned conversation back to you, spitefully and painfully, for years. Exhausting. It is exhausting.

    I have no advice because I struggle with the same thing. Honest conversations work best with mature adults capable of hearing honesty and sometimes families are in short supply of those people. Take small comfort in knowing you’re one of those adults and your baby will really benefit from that in life.

    Oh I guess I do have some advice, but it just involves lots of secret wine drinking and swearing under your breath so maybe I won’t share that.

  • emy

    We just went through this and I stressed and panicked because my husband’s mother literally has 11 siblings, and they all have adult kids and they all have little kids. I am just now getting used to having such a huge extended family, and understanding that they are all very close, and parties are expected for every kid. The good news is that everyone was great and well behaved, and even volunteered to bring food and drinks. One auntie even made 50 cupcakes and a special cake for my kid and refused to accept payment! Despite the request for no gifts, they all brought them anyway, but you know what? They were mostly clothes and some new toys that he LOVED. I got a little push-back for not opening them at the party, but whatever, they all got thank you notes. We had it at the park, which is great because we had a 3 hour limit, didn’t have to plan games for the kids, and everyone helped clean up and then were gone. So not the nightmare I had envisioned, and a reminder that my kid has a lot of people who love him. Good luck, OP! I’m hoping that whatever you do, they will surprise you with good behavior. and if they don’t, just calmly ask them to leave, but don’t get sucked into peacekeeping. You don’t want streaky mascara in the photos 🙂

  • K

    Amy’s comment – literally the best ever. And I will now never, ever, ever complain about my somewhat wonky in-laws and their divorced/remarried dynamics. But to the OP – take the advice of commenters about keeping this party for you. My SIL threw a giant 1st birthday party for her daughter, like 40 people plus kids, and it was chaos. She was miserable and stressed out, spent a ton of money and…really for what? We did a smaller one with much less in the way of decorations and waaaay less people and ended up with the same cute cake smash picture and sigh of relief that we kept that kid alive for a whole year. Hooray!! We literally celebrated that he was alive and we were still married after a year of no sleep. We served beer, it was a BBQ type thing and mostly it was just friends and family, but only immediate family. The next year it got even smaller – at this age the kids just don’t care. You probably didn’t try to invite all those people over on the same day right after you had the baby in the first place, why is a birthday with 60 people required?

  • Anon

    Whatever you decide about a party, set boundaries now. Can’t get along with so and so? That’s their problem not yours. While no one in my family is divorced, there was a lot of manipulation pushed around by my mother, aunts, and grandmother (who no doubt was the original manipulator), and now my mom and her three siblings either don’t talk or are on thin ice with each other. I knew that if I didn’t put my foot down after I graduated college and started my life, that I would never be able to get out of the gauntlet of guilt-trips. I’ve had to do it a lot, and it’s definitely truncated relationships, but relationships are not at the total expense of one person. Before I graduated college my mom passive-aggressively forced me through guilt and bad what-if scenarios to not take the only pre-graduation job offer I had and I still regret letting her have that power over me. I have an aunt who guilted me about my own wedding plans and tried to force me to tell her the names of my kids before they were born even though we weren’t even telling grandparents. And on and on. Just put your foot down in the name of sanity. It is totally worth it.

  • Jessieo

    We agonized for months over whether or not to have a first birthday party for our daughter and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the stress and hassle. Our place wasn’t in party-hosting condition, we couldn’t afford a venue, we refused to ask anyone to let us use their home…plus layers and layers of dysfunction and drama. We ended up spending her actual birthday alone, just the three of us, and it was lovely. Then we had several very small celebrations (lunch at home and some gifts) with grandparents and other extended family. It was nice, and it worked for us. A giant party would not have been nice, and would have not worked for us.

  • Pingback: Baby’s First Birthday Without a Side of Drama()

  • leslie

    So, I think the #1 thing to keep in mind, which others have pointed out, is that this party is not for your baby. It’s for you. Your baby couldn’t care less if you celebrate her birthday. Because, surprise!, she doesn’t know it’s her birthday. So this is about celebrating the milestone of having made it through the first year of her life as parents. So, with that in mind, I feel like this is very a much one of those YMMV situations. Do you like to entertain? Do you have the budget to do it? Does your daughter do well around lots of people? My husband and LOVE to entertain, so we took this is the perfect excuse to have a party. We made no bones about the fact that it was mostly about us. We had a BBQ in our back yard. With drinks. And there were lots of other little kids running around, and it was great. Our daughter loved it and didn’t melt down at all (we were sure to do it AFTER nap time, that is key). The only reason I point that out is that I think it’s important thay you know not all kids melt down at their first bday parties. Neither of my kids did. So if you feel like your daughter can handle it, then go forth. Having said all that, that only answers the question of whether or not to have a party. I wish I could say more to the family drama situation, but it’s not an area I have a lot of experience in (to be clear, there is plenty of drama in my family, just not of the blended family variety). But I do agree that boundaries need to be set now. This is your time to do it. And if you feel like it’s just too much and you’d rather not do anything, then do that. She’ll still love you like crazy. Godspeed!

  • Susan:)

    I would keep it very small and quiet, especially for a first birthday. We didn’t even have a party for our kids until the oldest turned three. They don’t remember, and they don’t really understand birthdays and parties at that age anyway, so there really doesn’t need to be a big bash. It sounds like a good idea to just invite friends and not any drama- filled family members. none of our kids’ grandparents have ever been to their birthdays ( mainly because they live too far away), and they’ve been just fine. No need for drama or multiple parties. 

  • pbblythe

    Cheese and crackers. Seriously, have a friend party with the people you want there and then let each family group take you to dinner. You sell it as special time for Grandma/Grandpa/Whoever to have with little pumpkin without all those other people. When they ask about the party, you just say it’s not really for the kid, I mean, a one year old doesn’t care, it’s just a wine and cheese with your besties (or whatever it is you enjoy).
    Smaller is good. Remember she’s too little to know – it’s all about team you for years. Or… make sure that on the day of the birthday, it’s just kid, mom and dad, and set a precedent that you want it to be just that group on the actual day as a way of celebrating it as a family unit. You sell that as the new archetype and that way NO ONE gets to be with Team You on the day of ( so no one is more special than).