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DIY Cake Catastrophes…and the Teachable Moments They Provide

DIY Cake Catastrophes…and the Teachable Moments They Provide

Picture this. My five-year-old son asked for a King Kong-themed birthday party, to which I quickly agreed and began planning my DIY King Kong birthday cake masterpiece. It is worth noting here that I am neither a professional baker nor a professional cake decorator. But I sometimes have creative ideas and assume I can bring them to fruition on my own. I have always enjoyed making my kids’ birthday cakes, I thought, and with enough flour, sugar, and frosting, an Empire State Building replica shouldn’t be too hard to produce.

The result: five layers of cake stood 18 inches tall; blocks of Hershey bars served as windows on all sides; a dowel rod ran down the center of the “building,” giving the toy King Kong figure something to hold onto with one hand, while his other hand held a tiny female figure on top of the building; and two toy airplanes were suspended above it all.

Like I said, I sometimes have creative ideas. But like I also said, I am neither a professional baker nor a professional cake decorator. Therefore, my masterpiece slid, caved, and crumpled before the first party guest even arrived. It was just a gloppy heap of chocolate cake, white frosting, and Hershey blocks.

But you know what? It was okay. My son got to see the cake in its former glory, and his response when it collapsed was a mild “Oh dear.” And I didn’t get upset either. Instead, we were able to laugh about it, and it became a great source of conversation–and more laughter–when the party guests did arrive. 

I could’ve gotten upset about the cake catastrophe, wanting everything to be perfect for my son’s special day. But my son was watching me. He was paying attention to my reaction (as our children always do), and at five years old, he was taking cues from me. When I was able to laugh and “Oh well” my way through disappointment, so was he. He had seen me work hard to make a fun cake, and he knew that my motivation was love for him. He was able to appreciate my efforts without feeling devastated by the “tragic” results. It was a great teachable moment for us and also a strong reminder to me that our children are constantly learning from us, whether we are intentionally teaching them or not.

Parents, getting caught up in the planning and pulling off of the “perfect” birthday party can often distract us from the entire reason for having a party in the first place, which is to celebrate the life of the child! We can invite a lot of guests, spend a lot of money, and invest a lot of time in the festivities but can potentially end up with a lot of unmet expectations as a result. Or maybe we pull everything off beautifully, without a hitch, but we can hardly remember our child’s face in the midst of it all, because we were so distracted by the event planning. I’m sure our kids enjoy the parties, but they are also observing their parents in the process of it all. What are we teaching them in these moments? Where do they see our focus, our joy, our motivation? What will they remember about US from those parties?

Don’t hear me wrong. I LOVE a fun birthday party! But I want to love the birthday boy even more. I want us to make memories together and not let imperfections and disappointments stand in the way. Because although elaborate decorations, fabulous party favors, and bountiful gifts are fun, sometimes a failed DIY cake makes a more lasting memory–one that we still talk about thirteen years later.

P.S. A gloppy heap of chocolate cake, white frosting, and Hershey blocks still tastes amazing!

Carrie Bevell Partridge and her husband Kevin are on the lookout for teachable moments with their five kids in Ridgeland, MS. Read more from Carrie at, where she writes words of encouragement and support for marriage and family. Carrie is also in the process of writing a book on practical ways to seize teachable moments with your kids.

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