The First Birthday Party Debate

In these weird times, something as frivolous as a birthday party seems like an unnecessary source of worry. And yet, those of us raising babies, toddlers, and beyond also feel the weight of wanting to make life—and childhood—as normal as possible.

Two months ago, my pandemic baby turned one. It was a bittersweet day. My husband and I found it difficult to believe that a whole year had passed since he entered our lives (there was ever a time without him?!); but at the same time, the days, weeks, and months have seemed so very, very long. I felt sad, too, that he was turning one and still hadn’t met over half of his family (my family), who have loved him and watched him grow on a small screen.

We agonized over whether to have a party for him. He wouldn’t remember the party, yes, but it felt like an important milestone to mark in our lives as parents. Some of our friends and family are still wary of spending time with others, and our son had spent very little time around groups of people because we haven’t really had a reason to congregate together, and he stays at home with me every day. Would we regret inviting people over to celebrate a one-year-old with COVID-19-induced stranger danger?

Ultimately, we did have a party, and it went better than we could’ve hoped! But I wanted to take the opportunity to share my experience with my fellow momkind, because there is definitely no right or wrong way to celebrate your baby’s first birthday. I’ve pulled together the pros and cons (and a few helpful suggestions!) of first birthday parties to help you decide what is best for you. Remember, it’s their party, but you can absolutely cry if you want to.

Pros: Let’s Party!

  • While yes, no one remembers their first birthday party, COVID has taught us that life shouldn’t be taken for granted, and that finding things to celebrate—whether they are big or small—is worthwhile. A party doesn’t have to be a huge production. It can be a simple get-together with just close family, or just friends, to mark the occasion.
  • Everyone loves a party! Balloons, food, party favors, unwrapping gifts… everyone invited gets to share in the joy of your sweet one’s first birthday. It’s an opportunity for you to say thanks to all those who have supported and loved you in these first months of motherhood.
  • It’s a great opportunity for socialization. Chances are, your one-year-old has spent very little time with a group of people. Grandparents may pop in and out, play dates may happen, but the opportunity to gather everyone together is pretty rare. Make the most of the chance to get all of your little one’s favorite people together. Your older children (if you have any) will also enjoy being involved!
  • By the same token, balloons, streamers, milestone photos, and other decor are all wonderful visual stimulation for your little one to enjoy!
  • It’s one of few limitless opportunities to choose the theme you like. Hear me out here! We went for a cute golf theme for our son’s first birthday. Sure, he wouldn’t have chosen it, but I’m his mom, and boy do I love a theme. It was fun for me to carry out the theme from balloons and decor to food, drinks, and favors. Everyone appreciated these little touches, which made me feel happy too. In the future, when only Paw Patrol or TNMT will do, I’ll remember the golden days of his cute but sophisticated first party decor.

Cons: It’s OK to be a Party Pooper.

  • Going back to the point that no one remembers their first birthday, if hosting/catering/arranging a party is beyond your financial capability or mental capacity, that’s totally OK. You don’t have to be accountable to your baby book asking, “How did we celebrate your first birthday (and with whom)?!” Your little one will enjoy a normal day playing at home, a day at daycare, a new outing, or a special meal just as much as a party… actually, probably much more.
  • Gathering people together can be stressful. Grandparents and families don’t always see eye to eye, and there can be jealousies over who gets to spend more time with/holding/loving on your baby. Your baby might also be totally overwhelmed by the attention and number of people—only you can make the call on whether their temperament can handle that. The additional layer of COVID precaution can add an extra layer of stress, which you just don’t need. Don’t forget, staying physically healthy and mentally strong is also a great reason/excuse for not having a party right now, if you are in need of one.
  • The clean up! Whether your one-year-old is crawling around on all fours or up and running around, your days will already seem long and tiring enough without adding in the extra preparation and clean-up of a party. I went the extra mile to make sure we had disposable everything on hand—from glasses and cups, to cutlery and plates—but it was still a huge clean-up operation that took several days. My husband also had to burst a 12-foot balloon garland once we’d enjoyed it for a week, so he’s the true post-party MVP.
  • It’s easy to get caught up and feel like you have to do and be more. Remember, it’s not a competition. What you do for your child’s first birthday doesn’t mean that you love them any more or less than your cousin’s sister loves hers, or that other mom who drops off at daycare just before you do. We’re all doing our best, and all our little ones look at us like we are their whole world—because to them, we are.
  • There will be plenty more opportunities to celebrate your child’s birthday as they grow. In just a few years, you’ll be trying to work out how many pizzas, cinema tickets, or ice creams you need for your kid and their (many) classmates. The days seem long, but the years really are short, and they roll around fast.

Hints and Help:

I hope this post has helped solidify your thinking if you’ve been swaying between wanting to throw a first birthday party or not. The most important thing we realized in the planning was that this was a huge milestone for us as first-time parents. Our son’s first year was full of incredible highs, but also lots of really hard and relentless struggles. It was incredibly lonely at times. And so, celebrating his first birthday became as much about getting everyone together to love on him as it was acknowledging our success at staying the course and supporting one another through it all.

If you decide to throw a party or you don’t, if that party is lavish or simple, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you remember to recognize and celebrate how far you’ve come as a parent. Whether this is your first child or your fourth, you’ve come so far since those first moments together. That’s worth celebrating!

I’ll close with a few helpful tips for first birthday party planning:

  • Do as much as you can in advance! If you have an eye for details, that’s great—but if you’re putting things together at the last moment you’re just going to feel stressed rather than ready to enjoy the celebration.
  • Outsource what you can. Whether that means enlisting the help of family members to help make or plate food, I’ve generally found that people really want to help. By the same token, if you can afford to get it catered (whether from H-E-B, Central Market, Chick-fil-A, or elsewhere)—do it. It made life so much easier for us on the day, and it took the guesswork out of what I would serve as I ordered far in advance and added extras when we confirmed numbers.
  • Be flexible. People may want to attend but have to pull out at the last minute right now—it’s no one’s fault. You can celebrate again together at another time.
  • As first birthday parties have a larger number of adult attendees, cater to those adults first, and fill in with options for tiny attendees. We had adult food and beverages and a smattering of things suitable for tiny hands (and mouths).
  • When it comes to gifts, you can either go with the flow or create a registry (which you should have ready to share when you send out invites or information about the party). We didn’t do a registry and it worked out great, but if you want to make sure you don’t get 20 more noisy toys or clothes that you have to return or donate, be specific in your requests. I promise, no one minds.


Natalie is the editor and content manager of Alamo City Moms. A proud Brit, she moved to Texas in late 2017 to be with her husband, a native San Antonian; she became a US Citizen in 2022. Their son was born in October 2020, and they are one and won! She spent the frivolous years of her early 20s pursuing a PhD in Renaissance history, living in Venice, Italy, and teaching. She pivoted into editing when she moved to the US, and joined the ACM team as a contributing writer in summer 2021. The rest, as they say, is history! Natalie lives on the north side of San Antonio with her husband, son, and their English cocker spaniel Oban. She loves searching out and sharing the best places to eat, drink coffee, and shop in San Antonio, and she’s never shy about sharing the highs - and lows - of motherhood. Favorite Restaurant: Tardifs Brasserie Favorite Landmark:World’s Largest Cowboy Boots Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Riverwalk Christmas Lights