I love birthdays. I love that my kids each have a special day that is just theirs, when they are showered with love and cupcakes. And if they want to have a party to celebrate, well that’s OK, too.
But here’s the thing, by either some fluke of nature or bad timing, my three children all celebrate their birthdays in a five-week timespan. And I’ll tell you what, I am not going to have three Pinterest-worthy parties in five weeks. It’s not because I don’t love my kids — it’s because I do. I don’t want them to have to find me curled up in the fetal position mumbling about party hats and streamers. That would just ruin all subsequent birthdays for them, and really, who can bear that weight?
There’s one problem, though — do a quick search for “stress-free kids birthday party” and you come up with the most stress-inducing parties imaginable. So here is a collection of “stress-free” party tips, followed by a few of my own (actually stress-free) modifications.
Step 1: Plan a themed birthday party. Once you have your theme, everything will fall into place.
Try going with the theme “play with toys and then eat cake.” Sort of a Rugrats meets Marie Antoinette. This year, I riffed on that theme a little bit by adding in a dash of Spider Man (since I have some random Spider Man balloons from who knows where) and some Cars (because I have some cups left over from two birthdays ago). But feel free to play with it using whatever random party detritus you have lying around your house.
Step 2: Plan early! Don’t be afraid to buy decorations that fit your theme months in advance.
The beauty of the Rugrats-Marie Antoinette-Spider Man–Cars theme is that you really can’t be pigeonholed into buying decorations, well, ever since no decorations exist that fit this exact theme. Guess you’d better just stick with buying the food and mimosa ingredients (because, hello, a house full of 4-year-olds) the night before the party.
Step 3: Send out invitations well in advance.
If “well in advance” means “a few days before” and “invitation” means “panicked text because you forgot child No. 2’s birthday was just around the corner,” then I have no modifications to make to this stress-free party planning tip.
Step 4: Carefully plan your menu, taking into account Johnny’s gluten sensitivity and Ella’s refusal to eat anything with a face.
Throw clementines in one bowl and goldfish in another. Momentarily pause to consider whether goldfish count as having faces. Then cruelly contemplate drawing faces on the clementines before realizing you don’t have time for that.
Step 5: Don’t forget to make the food presentation fun!
You know what is so fun? Putting food in bowls. Also, those disposable plates that say “Happy Birthday” on them that you can get at the dollar store. Go ahead and pretend the decision to use those festive plates has nothing to do with an easier cleanup afterwards.
Step 6: Be sure your house is spic and span before the guests arrive.
Because … why? Remember the bit about having 10 4-year-olds over for a party? I’m pretty sure the house is going to be covered in a thin veneer of goldfish faces and clementine juice within three minutes. Not to mention every toy will be dumped out on the floor. Go for a quick sweep and wipe down of the tables and then call it a day.
Step 7: Plan a variety of activities for your guests.
Here are a few suggestions for variety: In keeping with the theme, there should be Playing with Toys and also Eating. For a little extra spice, there may also be some Fighting and some Not Sharing. Then follow up with Music when it’s time to sing Happy Birthday. Done, done, and done.
Step 8: Why not make your own cake?
Well, because you can buy it at the supermarket! That’s why not!
Step 9: Don’t forget the candles!
No modifications to this one. There is something very magical about the “Happy Birthday” song and seeing your child’s face lit up by the glow of a candle and the promise of cake. This is one step I will not skimp on. Light that candle. Sing loud. Make a wish. And blow. And then pat yourself on the back for making your child feel special and loved without causing yourself too much unnecessary stress.
Oh, and then eat some cake.