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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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