I might hold the record for having given the most single birthday parties. Each of my kids (triplets) had his/her own party from age two years old on up. It's not that I am a glutton for punishment; it's that there's not much that is all yours besides your name and your birthday. In the case of triplets, the need is magnified. So I bought into the whole birthday party phenomenon.
The majority of my kids' parties happened in our yard because we had the space. They ran the gamut: Olympics party, break dancing party, western party, tea party... to name a few. The cakes were homemade; the favors were trinkets; the guest lists were small. I write, however, not to pat myself on the back, but rather to marvel at how birthday parties have changed. Welcome to the world of competitive birthday partying.
Birthday parties used to be about a child and his friends. Today's parties include the child guests, their siblings, their parents... and, by the way, the caregiver, the visiting relatives and a friend for the sibling.
Birthday party themes used to be age appropriate. Activities were simple and loads of fun. Today's parties aim to outdo all the others; the fancier, more grown-up and wildly different, the better. The ante keeps getting upped, and the emphasis is no longer on the child and his birthday. It's "Look what I did for my child".
Birthday fare used to be cake and apple juice. Throw in a cheese pizza if a meal is on the agenda. Today's parties boast a broad buffet of options for the pickiest palates with a vegan, glutton free, organic, whole grain, naturally sweetened cake and a fully catered feast for the parents, and oh yes, don't forget the open bar. I'm exhausted just thinking about it feeding all those people.
The birthday party favor used to be a small something handed to the guest to assuage any sadness at his not receiving a truckload of gifts as does the birthday boy. Today's favors put some birthday gifts to shame. And what's with the candy in the bag? No one allows her young child to roam free in candyville, and yet goodie bags are padded with forbidden sweet junk.
Most children are thrilled by just the prospect of the upcoming birthday party. Young children, in particular, are content with far less than parents realize. It is the parents who go overboard, and they ruin it for all the rest.
(There are some children who prefer to steer clear of the event and the inherent attention, avoiding the spotlight and even the singing of the birthday song. They are the exception. For these children, skip the party. You'll both be happier.)
The time has come to get back to birthday party basics and to remember, it's the child's birthday.
The Guest List
How much better it would be for your child if you adhered to the birthday party rule? Invite as many kids as years your child is old, plus one. If your child is turning 4, invite 5 friends. I know, I know -- there are school rules about inviting all the girls/boys. At least keep in mind the reality that most kids do better among fewer friends. Remember, it is your child's party, not yours. Your friends, neighbors, distant relatives, work associates will understand. This should not be your pay-back time.
The theme and activities should be based on your child's interests and age. Less really is more. Just being together with peers generates plenty of excitement for children. Make it easy on yourself, too. All kids love cookie decorating, especially licking the frosting off the plastic knife! Remember Pin the Tail on the Donkey? Relay races including running with eggs in spoons? Kids still love simple games and activities. Many people don't have yards and homes that accommodate a party. Gyms and other venues can be great. But we're not talking about renting out the baseball stadium for practice with the Dodgers.
Remember this: The kids don't care! Keep it simple and give yourself a break. And since you're not inviting the guests' families, let the one accompanying parent eat the kids' food. By the way, parents love pizza, too.
Kids don't need goodie bags. If one parent stops giving them, the rest will follow suit, and everyone will be relieved, I promise. The favor is the fun time at the party. If you're worried that the guest will feel deprived, then remind yourself that every child has a birthday every year. It's time he learns to delay gratification. His turn to be the birthday boy will come.
The Birthday Gift
Does your child need anything? I doubt it. Most families house their own, personal Toys R Us. I am not Ebenezer Scrooge; I do think kids should get a few gifts. But ten gifts are not necessary. The more they get, the less they appreciate. If you start young, your child will not grow to expect to receive a gift from each guest. Even better, why not ask your guests to donate to your charity of choice in honor of your child.
Putting the child back in his own birthday party has to start somewhere. Let it start with you, this year.