For Arlo’s first birthday, we had a big party / naming day at my mum’s house. But that was more for us. Our first baby was turning one – for the parents, that is a huge milestone.

By the time he turned two, we had long decided that a low-key, low-effort celebration was the way to go. He didn’t know what a birthday was, a big party would have gone right over his head, and to be honest, I think he would have been overwhelmed. So we celebrated at home, just family.

The third birthday was a bit more complicated. He knows all about birthdays. He has become accustomed to going to friends’ parties. But at the same time, he is too young to have many expectations about birthday celebrations, and probably wouldn’t notice if he didn’t have his own party.

I voiced my internal dilemma to Sam, knowing his response would be “No, definitely not. He DOES NOT NEED a big party”. But the predicted response soon morphed into a similar voice of uncertainty to my own. “….But what if he asks us when his party is or where his friends are? I’d feel awful”.

In the end, we asked Arlo what he’d like to do on his birthday, and his answer was, “I want a slide, and my friends will be there”.

And so it happened. We fell straight into the typical parental trap of spending money where it wasn’t strictly necessary.

Our house is too small to accommodate a gaggle of toddlers (let alone their parents too), so we booked the most reasonable party venue that we could find (which is a mean feat what with London venue rental prices, but that’s another story), and Arlo had a full-on, chaotic, toddler (preschooler now?) birthday party.

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Arlo was really very ill in the lead up to his birthday. He was just recovering on his actual birthday, but weak and tired, so we had tears during the cake and singing of happy birthday. At this point it occurred to me that we were actually being really rather risky booking a birthday party for a preschooler during the autumn term when bugs are rife, and the possibility that we may have to cancel crossed my mind more than a few times. In the end, he was OK on the day, but still low on energy and strung out from a long week of being completely out of any normal routine.

He is still talking about his party. He knew it was a special event for him. He loved having his friends there. And really, it was all worth it just for this genuine moment of pure delight during ‘cake / happy birthday’ round 2.

So, does a three year old need a big birthday party?

The answer is of course not. But it’s quite a nice thing to do anyway.


  1. I feel exactly the same, in fact we just ha Cherry’s party this morning. We weren’t going to this year but my friends little boy was born around the same time so we hired our local soft play centre. With food etc it cost a lot even splitting it and I like you was sure she would come down with some kind of bug on the day but she didn’t and she loved it. It is a special day so I think it’s nice for them to have a party, plus she’s had enough presents to keep her entertained for a while! x

  2. I have three children who are now 8 and 6 (twins). Between them they’ve only ever had one party which was for my son when he was 7. My daughters will get the same when they turn 7 too. It’s mostly been due to a lack of money, but we’ve always treated them to a day out on their birthdays and made a big fuss of them. I think very young children get a bit overwhelmed with big parties. My children don’t seem to have suffered for not having a party every year. To be honest, I can’t remember much before I was about 6 or 7 anyway and I’m guessing my children won’t either!

    1. I think I have vague memories of parties from about 4 years old, but I definitely wouldn’t have minded not having a party at that age.

  3. We didn’t do a party for Charles for his 3rd birthday, mainly because he didn’t really have many friends. Instead we took two of his friends, and their mums, out to a dinosaur park for the day. It was really special.
    This year for his 4th we didn’t do anything. I took him bowling with his best friend and her mum, and they came over for pizza and birthday cake another day, but we didn’t do anything with his preschool friends as I didn’t really know who he was friends with. We did take him away to York for the day which also included an overnight stay and thankfully he didn’t ask about a party.
    Next year will be a completely different story though!
    Arlo’s party looks great, he looks so happy too xx

    1. Yes, we had similar difficulties with knowing who to invite from preschool. Maybe next year we will have another chilled day instead – I am a big fan of the ‘day out’ celebration, makes for some special memories and good times together.

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