My daughter turned five this year. As birthday milestones go, this was certainly a big one – for her and us. Any parent can attest to the bittersweet moment when a child starts kindergarten. Besides that, parents love to see their children smile broadly on their birthdays as they review the memories of the past year.
But let’s face it. Planning birthday parties can be super stressful. I also have a young son. In the past eight years, we have celebrated both children in every way possible. There is a lot to consider: the pressure of a child’s favorite theme, the number of friends he or she wants to invite, the kind of cake, decor, set-up, clean-up, food, the goody bags, the expectation that comes from keeping up with other parties, not to mention the cost.
And speaking of cost, there might be a struggle in finding the balance between the kind of party you want to have for your child and the kind your family can afford. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. With so many options available, it is a matter of looking inward and making a choice that is one hundred percent right for your family. In other words, when it’s party time for your children, try not to worry about what other families are doing.
At our home, every other year, birthdays are low-key with just our family or a few close friends at home for cake and a trip to the Children’s Museum or Chuck E. Cheese. That also means, that every other year, I’m busy online investigating the best ways to incorporate my children’s wishes into a low-cost celebration, honoring all the joy they have brought to my life while welcoming our favorite people to help us celebrate.
With that in mind, here are a few ways you can simplify birthday celebrations while keeping the meaningfulness of the occasion intact.
Classic Outdoor Party
This is perhaps my all-time favorite party style. Visit one of Richmond’s local parks and let the kids enjoy pizza or cupcakes – and just play. No decor. No theme. No stress. Just children having fun playing tag or enjoying playground equipment and taking a break for the celebratory snacks. Trust me, kids love being outdoors. Of course, this is only possible when the weather is cooperating, but it’s a great idea for a fun, affordable party on short notice.
This is a relatively new trend. Every child who comes to the party brings a $5 bill in a card as a gift, and the birthday child decides how to use the total contribution. The invitations would read something like, “So-and-so is having a Fiver Party! He wants to save up for a [insert gift here], so if you wish to send a gift, please include $5 in a card instead.” Make sure it’s worded respectfully with no pressure to include any gift at all.
This fiver party shifts the focus from gifts to merry-making for the kids. It also takes the pressure off the parents and the guests – no need to shop and no comparing of birthday presents at the party. It’s convenient, helps reduce clutter, and teaches a positive financial strategy.
Giving Back Birthday
This is a theme for raising awareness within kids to be mindful of their communities. First, talk to your older elementary school or middle school child and see if there is a charity or cause he wants to support. Adult family members can support the cause online, and you and your child can ask friends to donate in lieu of giving gifts or attending a party.
If the nonprofit of choice is having a fall walk or run, you might sign up with your child and seek donations to support the fundraiser.
If your child wants to have a more traditional gathering, he might have friends over for pizza and cake and ask for donations for a local food bank, toy drive, or coat collection project in lieu of gifts.
Book Swap Party
This is a fun way to encourage out-of-the-box thinking and sharing. Each child who comes to the party brings a gift-wrapped favorite book to exchange. You might draw names to exchange books or orchestrate a musical game of hot potato using a gift-wrapped book for the potato.
I see a lot of potential in this idea, as children would surely want to talk about why the book is their favorite. Who knows? You might even see the birth of a book club from this party idea.
New Adventure Party
Instead of a party, have an adventure! Think about taking your child and a few close friends to enjoy an activity like rock-climbing, ice skating, zip lining, or paintball shooting. This also helps a child overcome any jitters he might have about trying something new.
All birthday parties are about creating memories for your children. These simple solutions are wonderful steps that might help you get the most out of a birthday get-together.
Connection. Growth. Awareness. Thoughtfulness. Joy. These are the core values on which the celebration of a child’s life and his or her birthday should be built. The rest is just icing on the cupcake!
Photo: Scott Schwartzkopf