Hedra's new-ish mom friend asked her for tips on birthday parties to help her stay sane. Here's what she told her:
Birthday parties under age 3 (certainly the first birthday) are for the grownups more than the kids. At 3 years old, our rule is one child per year of age. We keep the invite list to that number, knowing 25-50% won't be able to come. I'm perfectly happy with the smaller number, provided at least one guest can make it. It keeps the focus on the guests rather than the gift extravaganza, too. We have the same rules for in school. We don't invite the entire class, they have to choose a subset to invite. It is possible to make the 'big year' party (see next tip) a whole-class invite, but the timing is limited for that – it seems K through about 3rd grade is about it in our area. After that, it is close friends only.
Pick a year cycle that you can live with, or specific birthdays to celebrate 'big'. We do 5 years, my little sister does 3 years (both ways of making sure there isn't more than one 'big' birthday per year, and also ways of toning down the BIG PARTY emphasis without eliminating it entirely). This is the basis of the sweet 16, really – that was 'the' birthday to celebrate, as the last year of 'childhood' for girls. Pick whatever, but don't do it 'big' every year.
Instead of inviting lots of extended family to the 'kid party', try having family (just parents or parents and select doting relatives) take the birthday child out for dinner. Or take her out for lunch and then to a bookstore for shopping. Or to lunch followed by musuem or zoo trip (experience over 'stuff!').
Party 'goodie bags'. For some reason, it has become improper to have anyone leave the party without 'getting something' to take home. Instead of the (currently ubiquitous) cello bag of cheap stuff from the dollar store and candy my kids can't eat anyway, we've opted to have the birthday child share something they enjoy.
For Bren's 'Pony Rides' party (the last 'big' one for him), the kids took home books about horses or cowboys, wrapped in bandanas and pinned with a sherrif's badge.
For Gabe's 10th birthday, it wasn't by theme, but by his interest in general. He loves reading, gem collecting, and his favorite treat is chocolate. So, each child got a book he'd picked out for them (we go to the used bookstore for these – anyone who minds a used book isn't usually on his list of pals, but the Scholastic Book Club could be used if you plan in advance), a handmade paper bookmark that explained why he'd picked that book for them, and a small collection of crystal chips with a guide to the ones they got. For the 'treat' aspect, we put in some of the chocolates. It cost me about $50 total for the entire set. Maybe more than the dollar store would have been, but not insane, especially as only 10 kids were invited in the first place. And it reflected who he was, rather than being just 'more stuff'.
* * *
What are your birthday party "rules"?
Related: Lots of great birthday ideas in the Holidays/Special Occasions archive