5 Steps to Prevent a Birthday Party Blowout

“When’s Spider-man coming”? My almost five-year-old asked, matter-of-factly, just a few days shy of his birthday. I immediately bristled at his question. Are you kidding—I thought—what a brat? Until, I started doing a rundown in my head. Two superheroes last year, a costume party for his little sister’s birthday, bouncy houses, hayrides, balloon animals, face painting and—oh yeah—a live band. Hi, my name is Rachel and I’m a Birthday Party Addict.

How did this happen? When did birthday cake and a handful of friends turn into a catered, 75+ people, 1,000-dollar shindig? What kind of expectations am I setting for my three small children? Here are a couple revelations I had planning my son’s most recent birthday party.

Make it intimate, not intimidating. Some birthdays—like the first—warrant a bigger crowd, but think through the guest list. Does this person really mean something to my child? Have they met? Introducing kids to strangers on their birthday isn’t fun for anyone. We invited two of Ryker’s best friends, their families, his aunt, uncle and grandparents to his 5th birthday party. He didn’t miss the crowds, being pulled away to say “hi” to people he barely knows, or an insane amount of gifts. He played outside, ate a cheeseburger, blew out candles on a store-bought Darth Vader cake, and ran around with a new light saber until he literally collapsed.

Potluck versus presents. Do your kids really need more LEGOs? Most people feel obligated to bring something to a party, even if you put “no gifts please.” So, I asked people to bring a side dish in lieu of a gift. It’s not appropriate for every party, but it takes the pressure off scanning the shelves at Target in search of another Frozen toy the birthday kid likely already owns.

Stop being competitive. As a new stay-at-home mom I take my job seriously, but there are other ways to show my kids how special they are every day–not just on their birthday. I also can’t help thinking of other kids in Ryker and Willa’s class. What will they think of my child when the party is over? How will they feel if their own party isn’t quite as grand? We stress the importance of sharing, being humble and kind on a daily basis, so why should they act differently on their special day?

It’s not your party (but you can cry if you want to). At eight months pregnant we threw a 4th birthday party for 80 people at our home. When I woke up early that morning and started setting up, I kind of wanted to cry. I spent the day filming the professional superheroes I’d hired, refilling beverage fridges, and catching up with friends. I barely saw my child. Let me put this in plain English: I threw a party for one of the most important people in my life and didn’t spend time with him.

Treat your play dates like a party. Being a parent can be a little isolating. Soccer schedules, living in different locations, work at home and the office make it difficult to connect. Sometimes I just want to see my friends. Just as you would plan for a party, schedule fun play dates! My mommy friends have a designated monthly dinner the first Monday of every month. No rescheduling, and no kids. We pick a new, hip location and make it a several hour all-about-us event. We also have regularly scheduled play dates with the kids to experience new adventures together.

My third baby turns one in a few weeks. We cut the guest list to family and a few very close friends who are part of Vander’s life. I’m pricing out food trucks to cut back on cooking and clean up time. BUT—the struggle is real! How do you keep it under wraps when you’re planning parties for your littles?

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