Birthday parties: children daydream about them, while their parents often dread them. Before social media, parents had nothing to compare their kids' parties to, aside from a cursory glance at friends' events during drop-off and pick-up-time. Not to get all nostalgic, but some of my favourite birthdays were at the local McDonald's.
These days, every lifestyle blogger out there has put together a gorgeous pictorial essay of their baby's underwater-themed birthday bash, where all the baby guests got to bring home homemade finger-painted terra cotta pacifier stands. It can be daunting.
I went nuts when my first child turned one, spending a large amount of money at the craft store and then a large amount of time creating decorations for a party my daughter wouldn't remember. I learned my lesson, and now, five years later, I know that you can throw a successful kids' party while keeping your sanity. You just need to know what you don't need. Here's a list:
A Massive Guest List
To invite the whole class or not to invite the whole class — that is the question. It's a tough one, but I say the answer is not. There are many kids in your son or daughter's class they don't really know and never play with. Don't project your fear of offending someone onto their party. Instead, ask your child to help create a list of their five — or seven, or ten — closest friends to invite. Better yet, establish a rule that your kid can invite as many friends as the age they're turning, to keep the party manageable.
More Than 2 Hours
Michelle Scrimgeour-Brown, a mum of three, tells me this about her home parties: "We host all the time. The trick is three stages: a craft/activity/game when the kids arrive, then the meal (pizza and veggies), then cake and presents. Bam — two hours in and out." Believe me, two hours may seem short on the invitation, but it feels like forever when you are hosting 10 kids.
A Full Meal
Keeping it short and between meals can also reduce your stress. If your kid is school-aged, the 2 to 4 p.m. slot is perfect, but if you have a toddler or preschooler who still needs an afternoon nap, a mid-morning or late afternoon party would work as well. Think 10 a.m. or 3 p.m. — start times that are far enough away from a meal that parent won't be confused. That leaves you with providing a few snacks, like popcorn and veggie chips, and a cake. Also, while using paper plates and disposable cutlery may make you feel a bit guilty, after the party madness is over, the last thing you'll want to do is the dishes.
If you're trying to keep trash to a minimum, you can avoid loot bags altogether, which may save you from staying up until 4 a.m. the night before, being "creative." One idea that seems to be gaining steam is sending kids home with a gift card for a bookstore or a frozen yogurt shop. Writer and mother Mandi Castle agrees: "No goody bags. Ever. I'm paying for the kid to have fun, eat cake, and sometimes pizza, too. I am not obligated to send him home with a bag full of junk that his mum will end up throwing away during a rage-clean later."
Another thing that makes things easier is not opening presents while guests are still there. This may be annoying, in terms of needing to plan an extra activity during the time the present opening would have taken place, however it's a relief for those of us who hate awkward present unwrapping moments.
Your Own House
Hosting a party at home can feel cosy and special, but the aftermath might make you cry. If money isn't an issue and you're planning the party well in advance, many parents will tell you to go somewhere to celebrate. An indoor play place, a bowling alley, a farm, or even Chuck E. Cheese's can seem like heaven, all because you won't have to clean up at the end. An important point regarding your choice to book somewhere: do not wait until the last minute to contact your establishment of choice. If it's someplace good, you will likely need to book it a month in advance, or more. Learn from my mistake.
For me, the key to making my daughter's most recent birthday party manageable on my end was hiring someone to come and entertain the kids — in this case, a face painter and balloon animal artist. It was far less expensive than going somewhere, and it kept the kids occupied for most of the party. Similarly, you can rent an activity or entertainer to show up at your home, whether it's a scientist, a bouncy castle, or a reptile show.
In the end, you're either the type of parent who lives for these things, or endures them out of love and sheer necessity. As my friend Kim Bongiorno, a writer and mother of two, tells me, "Remember it is for your kid, and kids often are happiest with the simplest of things." She's absolutely right. Sugar and playtime with friends. Who could ask for anything more?