November 16, 2018

Blow Out the Candles on Birthday Parties

For my daughter’s third birthday I threw her an “under the sea” themed party. I labored over a hand made tulle mermaid dress, with seashell belt and seashell crown, with a hidden tie that would release her “tail” into a dazzling ball gown. Each of her 10 party guests received their own handmade tulle mermaid tutu upon arrival.  There was a custom-made treasure chest piñata filled with fake jewels and sugar free, organic candy. We served an ocean blue, tiered cake, with handmade fondant seashells. Her pint-sized guests noshed on mermaid sandwiches, candy sushi, ocean Jello cups, “seawater” punch, and drank out of reusable sparkle sippy cups. The room was draped with blue, green, and sparkle tulle, and there were seashells everywhere.  Pinterest had literally puked all over my living room, and she doesn’t remember it.

Two years ago, my middle child turned 5. We had invited his entire preschool class to an indoor adventure playground type facility. They featured birthday parties, and I thought it would be less work.  We paid a small fortune for the kids to run around for two hours, a teenager in a bear suit to show up while we sang happy birthday, and for someone else to decorate the party room. For days before the event I anxiously awaited RSVPs, hoping that we’d have enough show up for the minimum party. We arrived early that day, only to watch each of his friends trickle in, each one slightly later than the last. Many of the parents I didn’t know, and it was obvious that they were as uncomfortable as I was. As we hugged our respective walls, I felt like I was at a Junior High dance. As for my son, all he cared about was the fact that his best friend was there, and he had a superhero cake.

My youngest child recently turned four, and my party perspective has changed. The weekend before we went to Chuck-E-Cheese with just his grandparents.  The day of we allowed him to pick out a custom cake (because this momma doesn’t bake), and we had our close friends over after dinner for cake and presents.  There were 3 adults, 3 guests, and his two siblings.  We only got him two presents, and he had a small handful from other family members and our friends. My son spent hours with his dad, his friends, and his siblings putting together his new Hot Wheels track. They laughed and laughed. I visited with my friend. Cleanup took 10 minutes. He proudly proclaimed that it was the best birthday ever, and I had to agree.

Which brings me to this. Maybe the traditional birthday party is an outdated ritual that no longer fits into our society. Instead of living in small communities where everyone knows one another, we are living in more spread out suburban areas. Instead of knowing all of our neighbors, we wave to the guy across the street as we struggle to remember his name. Instead of promptly replying to RSVPs sent home by our children’s classmates, we wait to see if there’s something better that comes along so we can politely beg out of it (that is if we don’t ignore it completely.) With families living farther and farther apart, and school districts being so spread out that we don’t even live in the same communities as our children’s classmates, it’s becoming more and more difficult to get people to commit to going to a birthday party. 

I’d like to propose a solution. Give up the birthday parties. Give up the goodie bags filled with sugar and crap that ends up in the garbage 24 hours later. Give up on the presents (let’s be honest, do our kids really need more toys?). Instead, lets celebrate these milestones with our children by making memories we can all enjoy. Take the money you would have spent on a party, and go to the beach. Have a stay-cation and let your daughter invite her two best friends to a local hotel and have a girl’s slumber party after swimming in the pool. Let your child create their own adventure for the day, and follow through on it.  Bake a cake together (or pick one out together!) Get them one thing that’s really special and spend the rest of the budget on making memories that will bring you closer together.

Your kids aren’t going to remember who came to the party and who didn’t. They are not going to remember their presents. They may not even remember where you went.  What they will remember, and what will stay with them, is how you made them feel. The idea is to do something out of the ordinary, to make their day extraordinary. So, save the big parties for the big birthdays (Sweet 16 anyone?) and turn the other birthdays into adventures you will never forget.

Birthday Alternatives:

                  Beach Trip

                  Aquarium Trip

                  Gem Mining

                  Fossil Hunting

                  Swim in a mountain stream


                  Pottery Painting



                  Take a class

                  Midnight Pancakes

                  See a Play (or a movie)

                  Dress up in costume together, and go someplace public

                  Surprise water balloon fight

                  Take them on a shopping spree at the pet store, and then donate it to the animal shelter

                  Redecorate their bedroom, together (great for tweens!)

                  Stay in a hotel with one or two friends


About the Author

Katie is a stay-at-home mom of three young children and a renaissance woman at heart. Always learning something new, from Arabic linguistics to early childhood education, Katie loves exploring the world around her and taking everyone she knows on incredible adventures. Sweet and smart, she is a talented writer, veteran, and military wife.

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