Growing up in the 80's and 90's, birthday parties were a pretty predictable thing. A handful of friends, 2 hours, a meal that consisted of some combination of pizza, hot dogs, chips, and pop, a birthday cake, a couple of games (musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey), opening some gifts, maybe making a craft of some kind, and then sending your guests on their way with a loot bag full of candy and tiny trinkets from the discount store (the now closed So Low Sales was the go to in our family). It was generally an affair that was hosted at home, although rarely you may have found yourself at a bowling alley, rec centre, or, if you were really lucky, McDonalds! It was simple, straight forward and kept the parental stress levels pretty low. And the best part? We all LOVED these parties!
Nowadays parents are putting so much pressure on themselves to pull off the perfect themed birthday party at the perfect location they're driving themselves crazy with stress and spending ridiculous amounts of money. I have definitely been guilty of this. For our son's first birthday we kept the guest list fairly small but still spent countless hours planning a Cookie Monster party with hand painted decor and an elaborate cookies and milk bar. Then for his second we hosted an art party in a church hall with 17 toddlers and their parents. And for his third we went on a family trip to Great Wolf Lodge, complete with day passes so we could have a sizeable family party in our room.
With a single income these celebrations were starting to get expensive so for our daughters first birthday this year we scaled things back a bit and hosted a simple garden tea party with close family and friends. But even that ended up being a tad more costly than needed for a child whose only goal was to cover her head and torso in cake.
So as our son's fourth approached we took the plunge and decided to go completely old school and host a birthday party like the ones I remembered from childhood. We invited 4 of his friends to come, parent free, for 2 hours of food and fun over the lunch hour. The decorations were limited to some balloons (not even helium, gasp!) and a couple of paper signs and a banner that I found in a bin in the basement. I sent my husband and daughter out of the house for a lunch date and had a dear friend stick around with her daughter to help me out. Together we managed juice box opening, bathroom trips, and clean up duties, while the kids ran around playing, squealing, and giggling. There was a homemade pull piñata (Pinterest it, you can make it quickly from a cardboard box and tissue paper), a game of Hot Potato, gift opening (and subsequently gift playing with) and some sprinkle cupcakes. When the kids were ready to go they were sent on their way with a loot bag consisting of a colouring book, crayons, and a glow bracelet. There was minimal conflict, very few tears, and the house was put back together in less than 30 minutes.
And, most importantly, not only did the kids all have fun but my son felt that he'd been thoroughly celebrated. He loved his party this year just as much as he has loved his previous parties, if not a little bit more. Maybe it's because he was more aware this year, maybe it's because he got to help plan and prepare with me, or maybe it was simply because he has, as all kids do, pretty low standards. No child comes into this world expecting the biggest and best birthday parties with themed food, special guests, private indoor playgrounds, high end party favours, and elaborate fondant cakes that practically require a second mortgage be taken out. And not only do they not expect it, most of the detailed planning is totally lost on them anyways. We set these standards early and suddenly find ourselves needing to top the previous year or the party our kids attended last month, in spite of the fact that our kids won’t care either way.
So when your next birthday party planning opportunity approaches remember this advice: Keep it simple, keep it old school, keep your sanity (and your money!).