The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: ‘Perfect’ is an impracticality at a child’s first birthday party


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’m prepping for my son’s first birthday party (next weekend) and battling anxiety about wanting everything to be “PERFECT.” It’s going to be at our house with mostly family — they are all crazy and stress me out. My husband keeps telling me to chill and enjoy myself . . . easier said than done. Any advice?


Oh dearie dear. How about: Cancel.

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Nothing is ever perfect. This party won’t be perfect, and perfection wouldn’t beat back the crazy your family brings (in its DNA. Discuss).

Your son also won’t be perfect, your marriage won’t be perfect, your outfit won’t be perfect — as you’ll see in the pictures afterward, not in the mirror beforehand. Your home won’t be perfect, not for guests and not ever, except perhaps (if you own your home) for the day of your first open house when you sell it. Your satisfaction with anything will never be perfect because you want perfection from imperfect things.

Shall I go on?

Your husband is right, of course, but wrong in thinking that will help you. If you could merely decide to chill, then you would chill.

So, how can the “easier said” be done? By recognizing your limits. See, for example, before the planning starts, that your temperament and your family are a combustible mix that doesn’t go well with parties. Parties for a child who won’t understand or remember them yet.

It’s much bigger than parties, though: You can also chill in general by working with your strengths and weaknesses instead of against them. Set realistic goals based on the reality of what you have, not impossible goals based on what you wish you did or didn’t have.

Think of the situations and setups that don’t stress you out, that you can control without being controlling, and that bring out your confidence. Those are where you put your time and energy. Those, too, are the terms on which you reckon with your family.

Back to parties: My “cancel” was facetious, but only in part. Not having birthday parties is a viable option — not just now that your son is oblivious, but also for any age. Knowing you’re susceptible to stress and your family to crazy, choose to have one to three of his friends at his favorite place. That’s a fine way to celebrate at 3 years old as well as 14, and doesn’t stress your kids with 30 guests and sugar and noise.

As for next week? See Paragraphs 2 and 3. Aim to have your family present and fed. Anything else is dyed-blue icing on the cake.

Re: 1st birthday:

The first birthday is for you. Yay! You made it through the first year of parenthood. Relax and enjoy. No stress.


There you go. I always wanted a party when my youngest turned 5 — a “We made it through the little years!” party.

Didn’t actually have it, by the way — when the time came, the last thing I wanted to do to celebrate all those years of feeding and caring for little people was to feed and care for more people.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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