My oldest son just had his fourth birthday. That means that I have now planned and carried out (some more successfully than others) four children’s birthday parties. Although I would never claim to do this incredibly well, I have learned some lessons to be applied to all future parties.
1. Bigger never means better. Bigger attendance, bigger activities, bigger gifts never means more fun or memories. I think some of the hoopla surrounding birthday parties is more for the parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles than it is for the birthday boy or girl. Little ones are lucky to remember a handful of people who were at the party and have no idea who bought what. Lucky for us as parents, we have gotten away with one birthday gift each year because there are other family and friends that buy way too much stuff.
2. Parties should only grow in proportion to the child’s age and development. I’ve heard the rule is one more guest than the child’s age. So I should only invite five kids to my son’s fourth birthday party. This seems reasonable to me. They can only play with a few kids at a time anyway. This way no one gets left out.
3. DIY parties are just as good as the expensive ones at a children’s play center. You can throw a party that is just as fun, entertaining and memorable at home without spending a small fortune on activities kids may or may not like for kids who may or may not show up.
4. You are not obligated to invite anyone. This was difficult for me to learn. Just because my aunt, the neighbors, or a kid in the same music class expects to be invited doesn’t mean I have to actually invite them. This goes back to the “too many kids” rule.
5. It’s OK to plan a party for the middle of the afternoon so you don’t have to prepare a meal for all those people. If it was a small gathering, why not have pizza or barbeque. But it’s difficult enough to clean the house, plan the party, and have enough cake for 30 guests. Don’t get suckered into feeding them all dinner also.
6. Plan activities for the kids, but not too much. This year, at a dinosaur themed party, we had a dino egg hunt. The kids had a blast finding the eggs. The hunt took them about 15 minutes and they spent another 10 opening the eggs to look at their tiny prizes. It was enough to entertain them for awhile, but then they had time to just run and play. My son is lucky enough to have a summer birthday, so as long as the weather is good, we can play outside.
7. I personally think that if the gift-giver was at the party and your child gives out “thank you’s” and hugs before guests leave, you are not obligated to send a million thank-you cards. Mom, you know you are the one that will have to buy them, write them, go to the post office for stamps, and remember who bought what. Maybe when a child is older and understands the concept of sending the cards and can help with them it will be a different story, but I know the grandparents in my family would rather have a hug than a card any day.
There are no absolute rules for birthday parties. Some parents feel like that is a time when it’s OK to go overboard, but I know, particularly in times when we are all trying to cut back, that it’s nice to know that he who spends the most is not necessarily the best parent. I even made the cake myself. Sure, a cake decorator would have done a better design or a neater job with the icing, but my son got to pick the colors and, in the end, the whole cake was eaten.
Stacey Sacco, www.ovparent.com