Last weekend, as I was stressing about cupcakes and generally freaking out, Tom joked that I should be a birthday party planner because I know all the things that people will be stressing out about.
I laughed at him. Ha!
It takes a great deal of energy for me to plan, prepare for and throw a birthday party and I assumed that other people just breeze through theirs as though it’s nothing more than a regular playdate. But maybe, maybe some of you stress over birthday parties too? If so, here’s what I’ve learned after throwing a grand total of 4 birthday parties for kids and attending many, many more.
1. Ask guests to confirm that they will attend.
I learned this one after only one couple showed up to Bea’s first birthday party, several hours late. I was about to put the food away, disappointed that nobody came, and then there they were! So ask your guests to RSVP. Evite is a great tool for managing invitations and RSVPs.
2. Plan an activity, but skip the games.
Babies won’t be into crafts, but toddlers and preschoolers love to make and do. Kids love to stick stickers onto cardboard crowns, decorate t-shirts or cloth bags with fabric paint, or decorate hula hoops. Activity themed parties that are hosted at places like swimming pools, laser tag places or gymnastics clubs can work well too, although themed parties with lots of organized play can be overwhelming for little kids.
3. Avoid serving lots of sugary treats.
I know, I know, it’s a birthday party. There will be cake. But save the sweet cake for last, and serve healthy snacks through the main part of the party. People really do prefer real, whole foods and you’ll be less likely to have sugar-crashing kids on your hands.
4. Let everyone participate on their own terms.
Bea’s most recent birthday party was held at a quiet neighbourhood park, and it was great because the kids could choose to play on the playground, run in the field, talk with the adults or decorate and play with the hula hoops. Nobody had to do anything they didn’t want to do, the kids flowed freely between different kinds of play and there was no competition or compulsion to participate in games. It was a vast improvement over the year I tried to convince a bunch of 3 year olds to play duck-duck-goose in my cramped backyard.
5. If housework’s not your forte, don’t have the birthday party at your house.
I know it seems like a no-brainer, but every year I’d plan a party at our house and then STRESS like mad about the cleaning while simultaneously trying to cook food, organize games, plan activities and look after my kids as usual. Having the party outside was awesome, although all you folks with winter babies may not have the luxury of outdoor, free of charge venues like parks, beaches or forests. Still, community centres often rent gyms and meeting rooms for fairly reasonable rates that are cheaper than several hours with a cleaning lady or an hour with a psychologist.
The lesson I took away from this year’s birthday party related freakout is that the most important thing is for the party to be a chance for our family and friends to relax and have fun. It is not a competition for the best housewife award, and a group of kids will make their own fun if given enough time, space and resources to do so. Preschooler birthday parties can be simple and fun. I promise.