From preschoolers to teenagers, birthday parties can be daunting. When my daughter Mary celebrated her second birthday, baby sister Emma was just 7 months old. What’s more, these girls were numbers five and six of my nine children. Out of sheer exhaustion, I dumped a bag of powdered doughnuts onto a plate, stuck two candles in them and we all sang the birthday song to Mary. I felt guilty at first, but she talked about her doughnut cake for weeks.
Every parent has a different perspective on birthday parties. Some go all out, others pull a crowd together for last-minute fun. No matter your approach, if you follow this play-by-play guide, you’ll keep stress to a minimum.
Choose a Theme
It can dictate the type of games you play, the food you serve, even party clothes. Better, make sure bigger kids are in on the fun, says Kathleen Behnke. When she and her daughter Harper brainstorm, she always finds a way to make ideas work. “When she asked for a princess party, I tweaked it into a princess ballet party,” another passion of hers, she says. Anna, Memphis mom of Ben, 5, and Alex, 3, has found success with sports-themed University of Memphis Tiger parties. “I made a football goal post out of PVC pipes and a bucket of concrete so the boys could throw touchdowns,” she says. To further enhance the theme, inexpensive jerseys were purchased along with foam alphabet stamps for kids to put their names on jerseys.
Crunch the Numbers
Drafting a guest list always presents a dilemma for me. Do I have my child invite the whole class or include just a few kids? One solution is to invite all girls or boys. This keeps the list manageable and avoids hurt feelings. Or try inviting the same number of friends as the birthday, meaning a child turning seven invites 7 friends. When it comes to invitations, let your kids be creative. “I always include my kids in making the invitations,” says Anna, whose son Alex recently turned 4 with a robot-themed party. For the invitations, Anna says, “I let Alex color in a simple robot picture, then I put a photo of him and wrote the details by hand.”
Plan for Activities
Memphis mom Ava Shumake finds it easy to plan games once she settles on a theme, like the Neverland party she threw for her daughter Stafford. “It started as a mermaid party, but we didn’t have a pool and we wanted to invite boys so we expanded the theme to Neverland,” which included pirates, fairies, Indians, and Lost Boys. What’s more, rented costumes from local theaters added to the festivities. “We had a friend come as Captain Hook, my niece as Peter Pan, and my child’s godmother as a mermaid,” she adds, “and we even dressed the dog like Nana, complete with bonnet!” Party games included doing makeup for girls, face-painting for boys, creating headbands, and playing in a homemade teepee. “Planning games, crafts, and activities is a must!” says Behnke. Even the simplest activities like coloring or crafts can keep the party moving. “For our princess ballerina party, I had a real live ballerina teaching a class, followed by a performance by the New Ballet Ensemble, resulting in lots of happy faces,” she says.
Let Them Eat Cake
If you plan to get a little help for your child’s party, consider it here. Whether you buy the cake or ask a few friends to bring snacks, assistance with party food goes a long way. One year my son requested tacos at his party. At first I resisted, but the more I thought about it, the more I concluded I could tackle it. I assembled the tacos ahead of time and let the kids put on their toppings. It was a hit. With a little thought, the food and theme can be the same. “We attended a pancake/doughnut birthday party on a Saturday morning,” says Behnke, adding the guests came dressed in their PJs. “It was very cute and it the party went from 9 to 11 a.m. When it was over, the whole day was still ahead.”
End with a Smile
“The Neverland theme allowed for a variety of party take-homes,” says Shumake. Canvas bags for boys and draw-string bags for girls brimmed with feathers, headbands, Pixie Stixs, and shells necklaces. Behnke, who recommends the dollar aisle at Target, sent princess ballerinas home with crowns and a bag filled with lip balm, lollipops, and a bracelet. For summertime birthdays, beach parties are a fun option. “We went to a really cute party in a friend’s backyard where they hauled in a bunch of sand and asked kids to come ready to get to messy,” says Behnke. Add a wading pool or slip-n-slide, and your “seaside” backyard will rock. Easy take-homes are buckets, shovels, or beach balls. Whatever the time or place, your main goal should be to make the birthday child feel special. After all, our children are the biggest celebration of all. Margie Sims is a freelance writer and mom of nine in upstate New York. Visit her daily Mom Blog at margiesims.com/blog.