Halloween might be my favorite family holiday after Christmas. What brings a family together more than terror and sweets? Nothing! Halloween, in fact, brings our entire neighborhood together. The holiday teaches us which neighbors are the best (full candy bars) and which are the worst (pencils). Which neighbors to avoid (the ones who offer candy to only one of your three kids) and which neighbors to visit at the end of the night (the ones who go to bed early enough to dump the rest of their candy bowl into your kids’ bags so you can go home, too).
And most importantly, Halloween teaches us which neighbors are our soon-to-be best friends – the ones who dress up with their kids! Because my favorite part of Halloween is the Pinterest-i-est part: the ever-amazing, always creative, vaguely inspirational, slightly stressful, family Halloween costume!
When your kids are little, you get to dress them up any way you want, and every parent should take full advantage of this by creating an artistic representation of your family’s life motto – such as a fruit bowl or a fire station or a book series or your favorite pun! Once your kids have opinions on their costumes, you’re a terrible parent for telling them what to wear on Halloween so you can have a cool picture for Instagram. Perhaps you can take what they say, create a family costume around it, and be dubbed the most creative parent in the world because you figured out how to combine Super Mario and a wicked witch into a family motto.
Our first year as parents, we threw a baby party with every friend, acquaintance, and prenatal yoga participant we knew because babies don’t eat candy and every neighbor knows it. However, infants are adorable in chicken costumes, although they will probably nap through Halloween and be up all night (which may be the scariest experience of all).
But the upside was that we could put our son in a chicken costume at all. Also, we could leave on the new parent uniform of gray t-shirts and sweatpants and magically become Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? by adding some duct tape stripes of white and yellow, and printing out a large “Chicken Crossing” sign for my chest when the baby wasn’t hanging out there. The joke was on everyone who didn’t wear yoga pants for Halloween. Newbie moms and dads? Feel free to steal our idea. You’ll thank me on October 31 and November 1 when you’re still wearing the same clothing.
Our second year as a Halloween-obsessed family was met with a toddler who loved dogs and developed opinions earlier than he should have. We only had cats back then, so obviously he loved whatever wasn’t there – making him the perfect toddler in every way. However, the family costume was easy enough to create around his doggy love because I loved cats and my husband loved brown. The obvious choice became: The toddler dog, the mama cat, and animal control dad.
Because he was young, I could do a nice combination of handmade and store-bought, making the costumes safe and done (done is the best!) before Halloween. I still managed to work a hoodie into my cat outfit because toddler parents wear pretty much the same uniform as baby parents – except with less breast milk and more Cheerios, so I could finally wear black again. Black sweatshirts at least.
However, my son was already not cooperating with my Halloween dreams. Once we got to the neighborhood party, he hated his dog-ears and his dog-hood and his dog-tummy, so my only other picture of us includes me subtly making his dog-ears unremovable and photogenic. Also, looking back, our costume was probably a little paternalistic when we decided to make my husband, Scott, the animal control guy. If anyone was animal control, it was our toddler. So maybe don’t do this one, unless your toddler is into animal control and hoods with ears.
We decided to have a second child to make our Halloween costume photographs even more adorable – and also because we wanted more kids! Stay with me, as the pinnacle of my parenting Halloween happiness and ingenuity is nearly upon us. The oldest child sets the holiday tone, of course – and does so forever! – and because I’m the oldest, I know this as a fact of life. At this point, we lived a few blocks away from a fire station so our oldest chose to be a firefighter. Or he was just vying to be my favorite child because we already had a firefighter costume in our dress-up collection. However, my husband, having so little to do between a newborn, a three-ager, a new house, and a budding pediatric practice, built a fire truck out of cardboard boxes and construction paper to wear on his shoulders.
And we have a fire truck dad, a firefighter brother, his trusted fire station Dalmatian dog sister made out of a white onesie with black permanent marker dots and headband with felt ears, plus, a mama personality that could only inspire … the fire. The fire is just construction paper on a headband plus all the orange, yellow, and red clothing I
Looking back, we should’ve made our double stroller a fire truck, but we were young and strong and stupid.
The following year – for what I thought would be our last Halloween in a family costume – we went a little meta and a little hipster after our firstborn announced he wanted to be a banana. The banana wasn’t too hard because surprisingly we already had a homemade banana costume. Scott and I were once a gorilla and a banana for Halloween because without kids – we are still like this!
My husband and I made a few adjustments to the banana and sewed a coordinating apple costume for our youngest based on a sewing pattern, red felt, and stuffing. We then moved on to building a giant picture frame out of cheap molding as I blew up purple balloon grapes to match my grape earrings and purple and green clothing.
We came together to create A Still Life Painting. Ooh! Ah! Deep stuff!
And everything was perfect until we tried to make my husband into a bowl with a similar suspension system to the famed fire truck. However, he looked a lot more like Captain Underpants, which we only appreciated once my big kids started reading the books. At the time, we were surprisingly offended.
We shouldn’t have left the bowl until the end, but it didn’t seem like the hardest part. I thought measuring a toddler for an apple costume would be the most difficult to pull off, and I hate being wrong. Regardless, this wasn’t the only flaw of our still-life painting family costume. Who thought carrying a literal, life-size wooden picture frame was feasible while trick-or-treating? We did. And we were very wrong.
So while our costume might’ve sounded amazing and photographed well, it was mostly a disaster that no one should emulate unless you’re the type of person who drags your couch into a field for ethereal photographs on Snapchat.
As my kids got older, I moved more toward decorating the lawn with skeleton dogs and flying ghosts until toddlers were too scared to reach our candy bowl, and my kids learned that meant “More for us!” I was happy, and I still dressed up if requested or required (Mario needs his Luigi, and a witch needs her witchy mom after all), but I let go of any theme to unite us as that family.
But a few years ago, I got one unexpected Halloween treat – and a fabulous family costume – with thanks to J.K. Rowling. The Harry Potter book series, which my husband and I had devoured through most of medical school, was now nightly reading for the big kids, over months and months with voices and intrigue and begging for just one more chapter. And after we finished each book, we watched the corresponding movie.
The kids became more and more enthralled with Harry Potter’s world until a costume idea began to form in their minds, and one day, they asked if we could pull it off as a family. Yes, yes, and yes! Our nerdy joy became Harry Potter (big brother), Hermione after taking the polyjuice potion with an accidental cat hair in it becoming a humanoid cat (little sister), Hagrid (Dad), and his beloved dragon (Mom).
We either owned wizard wands and Gryffindor capes because of our kids’ long-running obsession with Harry Potter, or repurposed items we already had – like Hagrid’s lantern from our camping trips or the cat ears from our costume half a decade ago. I’m pretty sure the only thing we bought specifically for these costumes was Hagrid’s beard – and when does that not come in handy after Halloween? Honestly, I probably would have bought more if we needed it because a bonus Halloween family costume year was the best!
6 Tips for Creating Family Costumes
Ready to create your own Halloween family costume masterpiece? Here are some simple steps to have a fun, safe, and amazing experience for everyone, but especially for your kid(s).
1) If your child is less than two years old, you can dictate the costume. You can think of it as payment for all those sleepless nights and poopy diaper changes and go all out in cute. Ridiculous baby costumes are abundant in stores and Facebook buy-and-sell groups, and no baby complains about a chicken costume until they’re older and mortified by the framed photos. Bonus!
2) While I like to brag about making things by hand just as much as the next person, I’m not a big fan of making a baby costume. Infants and young toddlers are costume carnivores who can catch fire (at least according to their pajamas). The regulations are just too hard to meet – especially when your baby sleeps fully costumed through the Halloween party you throw.
3) If your child is between two and four years old and/or the oldest, let the kid choose the costume. There will be plenty of ways to be overbearing as they age – don’t ruin Halloween. Think of his suggestions as a great jumping-off place to get those creative juices flowing.
4) The older toddler to preschooler age is a great time to go the handmade route. They are small which means less fabric and sewing, and they are much less judgmental, so you don’t have to be very good with your lines, hems or buttons. The costume just has to last the evening. The key to a successful handmade costume for a 3-year-old is using soft material that fits the local weather and practicing how to work your fancy costume skills into conversations with your neighbors. You will be loved and hated – depending on the age of the neighbor– but your kids will be so cute waddling around in a giant apple costume that all the late-night needle-threading will be worth it.
5) If your child is 5-plus years old, your only hope is that they make superhero or Super Mario Brothers costumes in your size (they do because we own one), and that you already hang out with the cool neighbors who dress up with their kids. Otherwise, bask in your kids’ newfound creativity and joy as you flip through photographs of the last five Halloweens full of family costumes while munching on all the candy rejects left at your aching feet after miles of walking to all the good neighbors’ homes.
6) If you have more than one child, take advantage of the younger sibling’s need to emulate the older sibling, combined with the older sibling’s delight in another power trip, and you may get a few more years of family costumes. Or, read Harry Potter!