Once a year, we humans find a reason to celebrate the simple fact that we showed up. And we don’t just celebrate—we do it with a capital C, sprinkle it with a pound of hand-cut confetti and Instagram/Facebook it all up in yo’ face.
When our oldest (hereafter called “Test Kid”) was little, I admit that I was a bit over the top: I started three months prior to her party making jungle vines out of paper bags (paper bags! three months!) and spending hours choosing just the right paper safari hats. I loved it. I had the time, the initiative, the drive and the innocence to think it really mattered.
I have told Test Kid that she really did have a good gig there for a while until we kept adding other children and realized that reality back then was not reality now and we finagled and found our way to a new normal.
Over the past fifteen-ish years, I’ve learned a bit about Birthday-palooza and I’d invite you to do a bit of soul-searching regarding this yearly event.
- Be honest about your intentions. Remember the point is to help the child feel loved and special—not to impress friends on social media, reciprocate birthday invites or receive a boat load of presents. Parenting is hard enough without all this peacockin’ around. If you want to give your child a particularly time-consuming or monetarily big party—that’s great! But don’t expect a Facebook parade to give you a big ol’ pat on the back. It’s not about you. It never is.
- Find your sanity balance. Many families start traditions of having friend parties on odd or even years, allow their children to invite one friend for each year old they are turning, only plan family parties, or arrange a one on one parent date. Figure out what works with your family and let the rest of the world do what they want.
- Let the birthday child learn how to be a proper host/hostess. Teach them how to plan without being demanding or ungrateful. Test Kid enjoys getting a budget and deciding what she can do and with whom without going over the allotted amount. We do all sorts of wild and crazy things with forty pesos.
- A friend told me once to let the child, not Pinterest, plan the party. Another Mom agreed that kids don’t care about the matchy details. Remember you’re creating memories, not perfection. I always like to include the children in making and decorating their own cakes so when it looks like a two year old frosted it with their eyes closed, I can say “The kids like to help” with a good- natured grimace even though I couldn’t do any better if I did it myself.
- Realize that traditions morph over time. Give yourself permission to adjust expectations, budgets and outcomes based on current conditions. My younger kids are just as happy with crepe paper and balloons as Test Kid was with handmade faux jungle vines.
- Think you’re lame if you are less than thrilled with the ‘big deal’ birthday hype. Do you need to celebrate their birthday? Yes. Do you need to register a star in their name and rent a barn full of ponies? Only if that’s your child’s thing and you can afford it. Follow their lead and make sure it jives with your family.
- Be lazy if your child has a birthday near a holiday. Test Kid was born 10 days before Christmas and even though it takes extra effort and planning (and pauses all Christmas preparations), it’s only right that she gets a legit birthday.
- Worry if there aren’t a million kids at the party. For the years we do invite friends, I prefer the low-keyness that having a small group brings. Having 2-3 children can open up activities that would be too expensive with a gaggle of friends.
- Stress about planning tons of mini-activities for school-age parties. I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes they just want to play together! For the gagillionth time, let your child be a part of the planning.
- Forget your own manners when your child is invited to a friend’s party. Remember to RSVP and do not ask to bring siblings if they were not invited.
The older I get the more comfortable I am in my own personal beliefs and parental practices. I also bestow more grace to others and am slower to judge than I was in the “could still do a handstand” days. I have learned that there is no one right way to do things and if other families have traditions that cost more or less, are a bigger or smaller production or seem perfect or Pinterest-failworthy —I’m fine with it.
Please realize that there’s a lot of latitude between over and under-parenting and I’m smack dab in the middle, holding an object that resembles a cake that leans at a forty-five degree angle. And the world still turns.
How do you find balance and joy while shunning stress in celebrating birthdays? We’d love to know!
(photo cred: pexels.com)