Our daughter is about to turn one, and we're trying to figure out how to celebrate. At what age are birthday celebrations actually important to kids? How can I convince my mother that there's no need to throw a party for her yet?
Too Young to Party?
One-year-old birthday parties are most certainly not for the birthday boy or girl. They are for parents, parents' friends, older siblings who know that birthdays mean cake, possibly neighbors and definitely grandparents. In my list, though, parents come first. So if a big affair that will inevitably end with a bigger mess and tears doesn't sound like how you want to celebrate, then don't. (The tears, by the way, may be yours if you get suckered into hosting something against your will. They'll also probably belong to your daughter and any kids you invite because no matter how you schedule it, parties always bump up against nap or bedtime.)
If important family members want a celebration, I think it's advisable to do something, but it can be on your terms. Your mom probably wants the opportunity to kvell over her granddaughter and give her presents and watch her cover herself with cake, and you should not deny her that pleasure. If she insists on renting out a fancy restaurant or resurrecting your wedding guest list, just say no. On the other hand, if she's envisioning an affair outside of your home, and especially if she's willing to pay, there's something to be said for letting someone else clean up.
My best childhood friend's mother had a rule that seemed awfully limiting when we were young, but as a parent I now recognize as sheer brilliance: Only invite as many kids to the party as the age the child is turning. You could institute this rule now and have a party restricted to close family and one "friend" your child has made. Next year, you'll be glad to have only two 2-year-olds (besides yours) running around, and so on. And by the time she's 18, she probably won't be having parties that you need to plan.
My son will also be turning one in March, so we'll have to answer this question soon enough ourselves. For what it's worth, here's what we've done for my older daughter so far: For her first birthday, we sponsored kiddush at Minyan Tikvah  Shabbat services and then hosted friends for an 8 a.m. breakfast on a Tuesday morning. (Not for the faint of heart!) For her second birthday this past May, we got her an indoor bounce house that my husband inflated after bedtime so that it was the first thing she saw in the morning, and it similarly disappeared after bedtime that night. She spent all day inside the bounce house jumping, reading, eating birthday brownies and playing, blissfully unaware that other kids her age were having parties and getting presents. She's been to many parties since then, however, so I expect we will not get off so easily with her third birthday. So I think that's a good measure of when to consider birthday celebrations to be important: when a child can articulate interests and desires and can express how he or she would like to celebrate.
That takes us back to you: In a world without outside influences or opinionated family members, what would you do to mark the 1-year anniversary of welcoming your daughter to the world? I happen to think that first birthdays really ought to be about celebrating the parents' survival through one of the most challenging/life-changing years that most people have ever known. Maybe the best-case scenario is this: Let your mother plan a party that meets her needs. Then, afterwards, enlist her to babysit so that you and your husband can go out to dinner.
Happy birthday to all of you, and be well,