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A Toddler’s Birthday Party: Keep it Simple or Go Big?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore I had children, I’d always politely decline friends’ invitations to attend their toddlers’ birthday parties. I could think of nothing more excruciating than standing around nursing a cold hot dog while a bunch of 3 year olds scream in the background after getting wacked in the head again with the birthday boy’s pinata stick. And now I’m about to do the same thing to a few friends who don’t  have kids. June’s third birthday is  July 11 and I already have a cupcake shaped pinata ready to go. Oh, the irony.  I’ll try not to have my feelings hurt when these friends politely beg off with, “Um, yeah, no.”

I want June’s day to be  special since this may be the first official birthday she remembers. But I’m not one of those moms who’s wired for extensive party planning, game shepherding, craft table monitoring and gift bag stuffing (the extent of my b-day party planning skills is summed up in the fruit pizza we made for her last year). I think it’s because that’s not the way I was raised. My mom  went out of her way to make birthdays special — presents, trips to the roller rink, birthday cake and a dinner of our own choosing — but I don’t remember any massive parties, hallucinatory highs at Chuck-E-Cheese (I’ve never stepped inside a Chuck-E-Cheese), hired clowns, magicians and definitely no gift bags.

I’m inclined to follow suit because that’s what I know. Other parents are on the opposite end of the celebratory spectrum. I recently talked to a friend of mine and mother of three who said  birthday  parties at her house are a big deal – like, of holiday proportions. She’s throws large shin-digs, invites tons of kids, rents a Bounce House, organizes games and activities and sends everyone home with a gift bag stuffed with goodies. She said  she was raised as an only child so her birthdays growing up were epic:  tons of presents, guests, games, food and I’m sure a visit from a least a couple of mimes. She now does the same thing  with her own kids because that’s what she knows.

I have another friend who is like me — she isn’t comfortable with the whole birthday party planning thing. This is because she has seven children — that’s like a birthday every other month! So once her kids got old enough, she gave them a choice: Birthday party or $100 cash. Her older kids pocket the cash and she’s spared from stuffing gift bags.

Then there’s my mother-in-law who only threw parties on the “milestone years” for each of her six children (otherwise the party planning would never end): when they turned 5, 10 and 13, they each got a party. On the “off years,” they’d celebrate as a family with cake and presents at home.

I like these ideas because it takes the anxiety out of party planning. One thing I plan to do to make June’s third birthday day  special is have a bunch of balloons waiting for her in her bedroom when she wakes up. Easy, pretty, cheap and will definitely blow her mind.

What about you? How do you/did you celebrate your toddlers’ or older kids’ birthdays? Did you keep it simple or go big? Do you have any tips or suggestions? Did you adhere to any “party guidelines?” Would love to hear!

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