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A New Spin on the Birthday Party System

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Surely I’m not the only one. Please tell me there are more out there like me.

True confession time: I hate doing birthday parties.

Really and truly. I have never enjoyed giving birthday parties for my kids. Choosing a theme, planning games, buying favors (SO MUCH money for a little ‘ol party!), making or buying a cake, corraling a bunch of terrors (trying to keep them from destroying my house!!) – all of it makes me cringe.

How to Put a New Spin on the Birthday Party System

And the thought of doing that five times a year, EVERY year – a birthday party for each of my children for each and every birthday?  You would have to pay me BIG BUCKS.  BIG BIG bucks. And I would turn right around with that money and pay someone else to do it for me. 🙂

Phew! I’m glad I got that off my chest.

I’m guessing there really are more moms out there that are just like me. We just don’t want to identify ourselves, because hating to do birthday parties makes us unfit mothers. It means we don’t love our children enough. At least according to the “let’s compare ourselves to others” mothering code. And now that Pinterest is around, it’s like we’re less than women if we’re not voraciously pinning and implementing birthday party ideas.

Well, I for one am not buying it. In fact, I decided early on in my mothering career NOT to have a birthday party for each kid every year. I mean, 5 kids times 16 parties (if you stop at age 16) – that’s EIGHTY parties!! Who has time or money (or sanity) for that?? Not I, said the little red hen…

If you follow me at Annie and Everything or have liked my FB page or Pinterest profile, you know I prefer things to be easy. My slogan is that I’m “too lazy for complicated,” lol.  My goal in life is to make everything as simple as possible – and cheap, while we’re at it.  So choosing to swim against the tide of yearly birthday parties suits me to a T – it’s much simpler and saves a TON of money.  And I think there are other benefits, too.

I personally wonder if it is even in our kids’ best interests to have a birthday party for them every year.  I mean, truly, what kid really needs more toys than they can get from family and for Christmas? Of course we want to celebrate their birth, but does that mean I have to rope all of their friends’ mothers into buying them a gift EVERY year? Are we really celebrating their presence or are we just angling for presents?  (Ok, I may be just a little bit proud of that last sentence…)

How does the kid see it? Does he recognize it as a party of thanksgiving or does he just regard it as his due? Isn’t it just one more vehicle for our kids to abandon humility, as they are being encouraged to do in every other area of their lives these days? Such as granting certificates of participation for just showing up, passing kids who have not earned passing grades, and oh yea — I saw an article the other day about finding other words than “no” to say to your child… sheesh. I am definitely not in favor of “a child should be seen and not heard,” but I do wonder what the kids who have never heard the word “no” or been told that they did not do something well will be like as adults. I wonder if yearly birthday parties aren’t promoting the same “me” mentality. (OK, now, don’t get mad at me over this. Every parent has to decide these things for themselves. It’s just something I’ve thought about, that’s all… feel free to let me know what you think in the comments – but nicely, please. 🙂 )

So anyway, I decided that we would have birthday parties for our kids only on significant years. We celebrate with a party for only these particular birthdays:

First Birthday: Yea, even I see a party for the first birthday as basically obligatory. I baked a small cake for the child to devour all by herself. We invited friends of the family over to watch the spectacle. Gifts were usually optional.

Age 5: For this party we invited friends of the birthday child. I would let parents stay or go as they preferred. I usually planned a theme, did games, made goodie bags, bought a cake and ice cream – the whole nine yards. Little kids do like all that stuff. I just kept telling myself I could do it this once!

Age 10: Again, the child invited their friends, and parents were welcome to stay or drop off their children. (I figured if the mom had to buy a present for my child, the least I could do was give her some free babysitting for a while.) At this age I found it fun to have a party outside the home, with a particular activity to do. For my son it was the go-cart track. After riding for an hour or so, all the boys came over to the timeshare apartment we were renting that week (free because I worked at a resort at that time) for cake and ice cream. A good time was had by all!

For my youngest daughter, we moved the whole thing to the bowling alley. This was one of the most fun birthday parties ever. The bowling alley provided pizza and drinks and decorations and a room to eat and open presents. They even donated an old bowling pin, to be signed by all the attendees, for my daughter to bring home. I provided cake. That’s it, just cake. The fee wasn’t too steep, included 10 girls, and I didn’t have to clean my house before or after. I thought it was worth it, lol. And watching those tween girls bowl was a hoot! So fun!

Age 13: This party has usually been a sleepover. And wow, do they wear me out!  But I think every kid should have one sleepover party in their life. For my eldest daughter we had a Star Wars marathon – all 6 movies in 24 hours. Yea, baby! For my second daughter I made the eldest plan games. (Delegation is everything, y’all.) For my son we had an Airsoft war in our back woods. All I had to do for these was provide simple food – pizza rolls, chips, cereal, etc. And after they all left we collapsed for a nap!

After age 13, there are no more parties in our family. Any kid older than this probably doesn’t need gifts from friends, imho. I do know that trying to find reasonably-priced gifts suitable for teens is VERY difficult, and I don’t want to put any other mom through that!

One of the traditions we have had at all birthday parties, however, no matter what the age, is to have the birthday child personally thank their guests as they leave. This is simply a matter of going to the door with someone – which means leaving the toys and other guests for a moment – and saying something like, “Thank you for coming to my party.” It’s surprising to me how little this is done these days, even though it should be a matter of common courtesy. I want my kids to remember that their friends are there as a favor, that they don’t HAVE to be there, that it’s not my kid’s RIGHT to have a party. I want my child to truly be grateful and be a good host or hostess.

After age 13, we have non-party traditions for other significant years:

Age 16: So far only my oldest three daughters have turned 16. We’ve done a “shopping day with mom.” This day includes lunch out, a makeover at the Clinique counter with me purchasing product for them to take home, and ear piercing. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my son – I’ve got about a month to figure it out.

Age 18: With college being just around the corner, this is the birthday at which they are given a laptop computer of their own. You may think we’re behind on this, and that kids nowadays need to receive computers earlier than 18; but we don’t think that way. Our kids have survived just fine using the family computer until their eighteenth birthday. But then we buy them a Mac, muahahaha… (All of my fellow Mac-lovers will know exactly why that’s worth waiting for! 🙂 )

It’s not that we ignore all of the other birthdays, but for them we celebrate in smaller ways. Perhaps just a dinner out with family. Or a favorite movie at home with the living room strung with streamers and balloons. And of course a present from mom and dad. We totally make sure our kids know that we are very happy they were born into our family. At the end of the day I ask them if it’s been a good birthday, and they always say “yes,” whether it was a party year or not.

There are lots of things I have LOVED doing with and for my kids – like teaching them to read or watching movies together. But giving birthday parties is not one of them. Hopefully the thought of abandoning the yearly party will strike a chord with other moms out there who are birthday party challenged like me. 🙂

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