WHAT THE PARENTING BOOKS DON'T TELL YOU: You Don't Have To Throw Your Kid A Giant BIrthday Party

If you do not want to throw a giant party for your toddler, it’s okay if you don’t.
Publish date:
May 13, 2014
kids, what the parenting books don't tell you, birthdays, ponies

Oliver, my favorite person in the whole world, just turned 9 years old. It really does seem like yesterday that I was changing his diapers. Time does this annoying thing where it seems to speed up as you get older, and in my experience having a child has made this doubly true.

At the same time, sometimes I forget just how young Oliver is. He’s a pretty mature nine in a lot of ways. Just this morning I was lamenting how sore I was from this barre class I took last night. Oliver looked at me very seriously and said, “You know, Mommy, if you exercise more you won’t be so sore.”

True facts, kid. And how did he get so smart, anyway?

Anyway, every year there’s the question of what to do for Oliver’s birthday. We do something every year, to varying degrees of party-ness. His earliest birthdays involved cake and singing “Happy Birthday” at home with family. As he got into preschool, he began receiving birthday party invitations from fellow two-year-olds -- to Chuck-E-Cheese (a.k.a., Hell on Earth), to the train museum, to the park.

I decided when Oliver was pretty young that until he was old enough to not only ask for a birthday party but to give me his guest list, I would not do a birthday party for him outside of small family celebrations. His first actual party didn’t happen until he was in elementary school, and since then we’ve done a few different parties: a bouncy house in the yard, a party at the bowling alley, a party in the park.

Of those, the most fun Oliver had was the park party, which was by far the simplest and cost about one-third of what the other parties cost. We gave all the kids squirt guns and water balloons, let them run around like maniacs for an hour, then packed it up and went home.

After throwing a few different types of birthday parties for the kiddo, I’ve narrowed it down to a formula that I will continue to follow for future parties. If the thought of hosting a party for a dozen kindergartners makes you flop sweat, keep these things in mind and you will be juuust fine:

1. Simpler is better. Give a kid a bouncy ball and an open space to run, and they will be happy. Trust me. If you are not the kind of person who spends hours on Pinterest pinning fun little craft projects for future parties, rest assured that you do NOT need to make a bunch of table decorations or specialty food items. The kids seriously do not care.

2. Birthday parties for very young children are more for the parents than they are for the kids. If you do not want to throw a giant party for your toddler, or you just don’t have the time, money, or inclination to do so: it’s okay if you don’t. Your child will not even remember that you didn’t throw him a fourth birthday party.

3. Keep the time short and the guest list small. I’ve found that other parents appreciate parties of short duration so they can get it over with and go about their days. Two hours is more than enough time for a kid to enjoy his or her birthday party, have some cake, and play with friends. Speaking of friends, don’t feel like you need to invite your child’s entire class, or you may live to regret it -- just ask my mom about my sixth birthday party, which ended with me in tears while all 25 kids from my kindergarten class screamed and jumped on tables like hellions (my mom still has pictures of me sobbing while blowing out the candles on my cake). Instead, pick the maximum number of children you can handle at one time (for me it’s about 10), then ask your kid who he or she would like to invite.

4. Don’t worry too much about the food. The kids will be so busy having fun that they may barely eat. For example, the year we rented the bouncy house, I made the mistake of ordering the World’s Largest Pizza because, hey, that sounded fun for the kids. Number of children who ate pizza: 3. Average number of bites of pizza taken per child before flinging themselves back into the bouncy house: 2.

5. Schedule the party for a non-meal time. This way, you can completely avoid the possibility that you may pay for a meal that no one actually eats. After breakfast or after lunch are both good times for a party. This year I made the invitation time 10:00 am and I served donuts and milk -- which the kids grabbed in between refilling water balloons.

Any experienced children’s party planners care to give their own party tips? Are you the kind of parent who goes all out for your kid’s birthday, or are you kind of not into that? On a related note, Oliver recently attended a party where the parents hired a professional videographer to document the party, I kid you not.

Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood.