Children’s birthday parties: Should parents stay or drop off and leave?

No matter your preference, there are some ground rules we need to talk about

Whether you choose to stay at a child's birthday party or drop your kids off and leave, there are things to do to help out the host parent. Photo: Lidya Nada / Unsplash
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When parents get together to share stories, thousand-yard stares and all, children’s birthday parties will probably be high on the list of tales. While nappy changes and sleepless nights dominate the first few years of a child’s life, birthday parties continue long after the last nappy has been tossed in the (recycle) bin.

By the time a child is 16, the average parent will have spent a million hours sat in giant windowless units on industrial estates filled with trampolines; a million dirhams on birthday gifts; and a million minutes explaining why they won’t have any cake, but thank you. These are statistics I may have made up, but they will feel real to those in the know.

Like any parent, I too have a few solid birthday party anecdotes. A recent party I hosted for my son saw the birthday boy only make the last 30 minutes of the bash following an unexpected trip to A&E for stitches following a head-meets-pavement incident before the party started.

Then there was a party I hosted at a Jumeirah splash park, where a child was dropped off with no swimming trunks or towel, and so had to sit watching all the other children play in the water for two hours because no one had any spare swimmers and his mum didn’t answer her phone.

From a purely selfish perspective, this put rather a dampener (no pun intended) on my plans to spend the party in the water with my birthday boy, because I felt so guilty leaving the child sitting alone. His mother was also 30 minutes late picking him up, but party pickup tardiness is a gripe for a whole other column.

Discussions about children’s parties mainly focus on the little ones, but we don’t talk enough about mums and dads at these parties, of which there are two identifiable types: the stayers and the dropper-offers.

The stayer pulls up a chair, accepts the host’s offer of tea or coffee and gets involved in the subjects being discussed, which 99.9 per cent of the time will be the children and school fees.

The dropper-offer hands over the gift, exhorts their little one to behave and then is off to the shops / spa / cafe – or simply to lie down in their car and listen to a podcast without a tiny but insistent voice asking them what air is made of, or if they would rather be a banana or a giraffe.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being on either side of the birthday party divide, I feel it’s time we laid down some ground rules for both sets.

Dropper-offers, don't escape too far

Do check with the host before, not at the party, whether it’s OK to drop your child and leave. Asking on the day puts the host on the spot and they will have a dozen other things on their mind. Also, come back in good time.

Don't assume your child’s natural temperament will change because they’re at a party. Yes, little ones can act differently at home than they do with their friends, but if they’re naturally anxious or clingy, don’t leave that to the host to deal with.

Do keep your phone close at hand and stay local. If your child gets upset or needs help, you should be a walk, not a drive, away.

Don't think that the host can keep an eye on your child at all times. Of course they will try their best, but with a dozen other children, plus their own birthday boy or girl to watch over, the focus will be divided.

Stayers, do offer to help

Do bring other parents into your conversation. Groups of parents who all seem to know one another can be an intimidating sight for other parents turning up to the party. The children get to dash off excitedly into the embrace of their friends, so create an inclusive atmosphere for unfamiliar mums and dads.

Don't get involved in your child’s play. This applies to older children rather than little ones who may need help. Sit back and let the children run a little wild and sort out any issues that may arise between them. If Hamed wanted to be on Sophie’s team, but Aiza said that Eyan was going to be, Hamed and Aiza can sort it out, rather than their parents.

Do offer to help out, so the host parents know they have backup. Most of the time, the answer will be “no”, but there may be something small you can take on in exchange for your child being entertained for a couple of hours at someone else’s expense.

Updated: May 17, 2024, 6:02 PM