It’s birthday season in our house, which means I have a Rubbermaid container downstairs full of craft supplies and Pinterest-inspired party décor. There are homemade banners, DIY party hats and hand-crafted thank-you cards. And that’s just the beginning.
My daughter turns five in a couple of weeks, and has her heart set on a unicorn and rainbow-themed celebration. She still gushes about last year’s Paw Patrol party, and the previous year’s carnival-themed shindig. She’s quickly learning that parties in our family are elaborate, and the planning begins months in advance. There are colour schemes and pun-ny snacks. The gift bags match the balloons, which co-ordinate with the cake.
I’m bracing for a whirlwind week of Pinning, glue gunning and baking.
I’m also bracing for the comments.
The comments are often praise (“You did all this yourself?”), tinged with an undertone of sarcastic scorn (“Um, we can’t be friends anymore”), and a pinch of self-deprecation (“All I serve at parties is chips”). After all, what parent has the time and energy to create homemade themed parties for preschoolers?
It’s the scorn that’s starting to get to me—which is why décor crafting and cake baking has become my secret shame. This year I even considered scaling back the unicorn party as a sort of white flag gesture. I’ve heard enough, “Ugh, I hate Pinterest moms” to know that my hobby has made me unpopular.
The thing is, Pinterest parties are in my blood. My mother is an event planner extraordinaire, and her love for meticulously organized celebrations has rubbed off on me. On family movie nights, our snacks are often themed to the film. For Moana, I chiseled apples to look like adorable crabs, and made a palm tree out of bananas and kiwis. For Hotel Transylvania, there were vampire teeth made from red apples and mini marshmallows. During the holidays, I send my kids to school with whimsical seasonal treats: Witches’ brooms made from cheese strings and pretzels at Halloween, and pancakes that look like Santa faces at Christmas. Parents have jokingly asked me to tone it down—the implication being, I suppose, that my kitchen capers are making them look bad. You see, it seems I’ve been breaking some sort of parent code.
The parent code is this: You should be burnt out, stressed out and tapped out. Your gym shoes should be dusty from lack of use, your stretchy leggings crusted with kid food, your messy bun disheveled. Having the time and energy to tussle beachy waves into your hair, or go for a run before dawn, or make low-fat zucchini muffins for school lunches, is not the behaviour of an over-tired zombie parent (which is the most socially acceptable category of parent).
The truth is, I am an over-tired zombie parent. But I eke out the time to make snack art and DIY party decor because, well, I love it. This may seem nuts to people, but I think it’s fun and therapeutic to bake and bedazzle, the same way others find it “fun” and “therapeutic” to crochet tiny baby toques, or work through a Sudoku puzzle, or do a spin class—all things I find more tortuous than sitting through dental surgery.
Finding joy in something that others find tedious shouldn’t be a source of guilt. And if we’ve collectively agreed that mom-shaming (or dad-shaming) is one of the cardinal sins of parenthood, then shouldn’t that apply across the board?
For what it’s worth, I don’t create elaborate and whimsical celebrations to one-up anyone. I do it because it’s a much-needed creative outlet on days otherwise spent folding laundry, cutting the “gross black dot” off grapes, and confirming with Netflix that yes, I am still watching Peppa Pig. And because, honestly, I just find joy in making things with my hands.
My choice to make a sculpted birthday cake doesn’t negate your choice to grab yours from Costco (plus, we all know that Costco cakes are the bomb). I may have tailored a lunch menu to our party’s theme and colour scheme, but I promise you my daughter came home from your party raving about the “best ever” jam sandwiches and begging me to buy the chips you served.
There’s so much pressure these days to be a perfect parent (whatever “perfect” means), and the response to this has been a movement to just stop judging how other people parent. “I’ll do me, you do you” is the idea. But there seems to be a caveat to this rule: Parents we perceive as being “perfect” are fair game.
I’m sure I’m guilty of it, too: Rolling my eyes at the mom who’s back into her size 2 jeans a week after giving birth. Or the dad at McDonald’s whose kids are eating salad rather than nuggets. We roll our eyes because we internalize their accomplishments—we make it about us.
Let’s just stop. And instead, agree here and now that parenting isn’t a competition. Instead of rolling our eyes, let’s celebrate each other, stop comparing ourselves to each other, and enjoy our kid’s childhoods.
In the meantime, I’ll keep baking, bedazzling and crafting—because I love it, and my kids love it and because I’ve got a Pinterest party to plan.
This article was originally published online in April 2018.