Why I Won't Throw Modern Birthday Parties for My Kids

Why I Won't Throw Modern Birthday Parties for My Kids

Am I wrong to model their birthdays after the ones I enjoyed during my own childhood?


By Leah Maxwell

These days, kids’ birthday parties look almost nothing like they did when I was growing up. Instead of inviting a small group of playmates over for games, cake, and presents, everyone seems to be either inviting the whole class for two frenetic hours inside a warehouse full of bouncy castles or inviting the whole community to a catered wonderland of social media-inspired, DIY miracles that leave everyone feeling less-than.

Now, I’m all for every family doing what’s right for them -- whether that’s based on budget, space, time, patience, or the child’s or parent’s personality -- but I still can’t help feeling like many modern trends leave out a lot of the things that made the birthday parties of my childhood feel so special. I don’t know if I’m hopelessly nostalgic and sentimental or just curmudgeonly (most likely a combination), but as long as I’m in charge of event planning for my kids, we’re going to keep it classic and celebrate birthdays the old-fashioned way. Here are five ways I keep our birthday parties traditional.

1. Host at home. Because my kids go across town for school and day care, they don’t have many neighborhood friends, and that means inviting people to our house is kind of a big deal. My sons love showing their pals where they live, and welcoming guests into our home for the afternoon helps my husband and me make the personal connections we want to have with those kids and their parents. True, we have a pretty small house, and our parties can feel a little crowded at times, but it’s cozy and fun and festive to have so many friends in one place, and it also leads us to the next point …

More from P&G everyday: 7 Super-Cheap Ideas for Your Toddler’s Birthday Party

2. Keep it small. I understand the urge to protect children (both ours and others) from feeling left out, but I also know we’re missing a teachable moment when we create a world in which every single kid is invited to every single party, and everyone pretends everyone is best friends with everyone else when we all know that’s not reality. I was so relieved when the first few parties of my son’s classmates included only a handful kids ( not including my son), because it meant I wasn’t the only parent OK with being selective. I believe guest lists can be small and thoughtful, and although it takes extra effort to be extra tactful, in my experience, the result is worth it.

3. Play games. Starting at about age 4 or 5, your partygoers can be wrangled into playing games. Pin the Thing on the Whatever is a perennial favorite and easily customized to any theme (we’ve recently pinned eyeballs on an alien and beards on a gnome), and classics like Musical Chairs and Pass the Parcel have also stood the test of time. Older kids dig scavenger hunts, puzzle games, and silly games of skill using household objects (weave through a line of cones with an egg balanced on a spoon). And hear this now: Get your games in before your kids reach the age of wanting to shut the door in your face and play on the computer all afternoon instead.

4. Open presents! Are we the only family who opens presents during parties anymore? It sure feels like it. I get why it can be hard for some kids to sit back and watch someone else get showered with gifts, but again, here’s another chance to teach our kids it’s not always about them, and that’s OK. But hoity-toity, teachable-moment message aside, let me be completely selfish here and say I like kids to open presents at parties so I can steal the awesome ideas for my own future gift-giving purposes. Other people always have the best ideas. Now, I’ve heard some parents say that opening gifts in front of a crowd feels greedy and tacky, but for me, it seems worse to amass a pile of presents and then open them all alone, depriving the givers of the excitement that comes with watching a friend open a gift they picked out. If I could change one thing about modern birthday parties, this would be it. Open your gifts!

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5. Wear party hats. I have no deep, moralizing thoughts about this one. I just think there’s nothing as sweet as a bunch of kids running around with pointy paper cones on their heads. Whether you lovingly handcraft them out of vintage cardstock or you grab a few stacks from the dollar store (*raises hand*), traditional party hats are an easy way to bring back your own happy memories of gorging on chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream, your jaw working against the elastic string tucked behind your ears and under your chin. Memories! (I told you I was sentimental.)

Of course, the important thing is to have the kinds of parties you want, not the kind of parties you think you need to have because of whatever everyone else is doing in your school or community (or on the Internet). I bend my own rules sometimes, and who knows how my standards will change as my kids grow older? But for now at least, I’m boldly keeping it old-school and hoping my kids will look back on their parties with as much fondness as I remember mine.

How would you describe the birthday parties you throw for your kids?


Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/petrograd99


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Brenda

Brenda

Reported

What I hear from a lot of moms is the *social pressure* to invite everyone. This comes from the child's school -- either the teachers or the school itself seem to be forcing these large parties. That said, the "theme" parties seem to be the ones with the huge upfront expenses. Older kids seem to love tie-dye parties (cheap shirt, squeeze-out dyes, and the shirt is their take-home goodie).

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MamaCam

Reported

Yes, keep it small, keep it real. Focus on the importance of cultivating true friends, not just being the biggest party in town.

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Excelente muy bueno

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ElicBxn

ElicBxn

Reported

A niece did something like that. Small party with good friends, some from school, some that he had made with his parent's friends kids. They were themed, the girl had a "Frozen" party with artificial snow and the boy had a "Dinosaur Dig" party. They had bones and a pig's skull in a big pile of dirt. Previous years they had bounce houses. They were fun for the kids and fun to watch for us older folks.

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micki78

micki78

Reported

I couldn't agree more. My daughter invited a whole class for my oldest grandson to have only 1 boy show up. All that money is now spent on the birthdaychild and we have homemade cake of the honoree's choice flavor. We consider it an honor and priviledge to be invited to someone's home. How can you properly thank someone for a gift if they are not there when you open it. I much prefer a heart felt thank you in the moment. Please stick to old school, new does not mean improved.

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