My son will be turning one next month, and in between chasing after his wild explorations of our house and wondering where the time went (wasn’t he just a newborn yesterday?) I am gearing up to plan his first birthday party. Now, I know birthdays are a big deal. There are gazillions of articles about having the best party on the block for your wee one. Catalogs, specialty shops, and online stores abound. There are so many choices for themes and activities. So many games, goody bag options, moonwalk rentals, clowns for hire, and decisions about the menu. Cakes range from homemade to customized by high priced bakeries. If your child is old enough to throw in his or her requests, and if you are inclined to give in to those requests, you could be looking at taking out a second mortgage just to throw a party. And this does not even begin to describe the stress of wanting to get everything just right: impressive, fun, and fully coordinated. Heaven forbid it rains on an outdoor party. Or your child wakes up with a stomach flu the day of. Or everyone ignores the RSVP and you have no clue how many you are going to end up feeding.
First of all, take a deep breath. Now, realize it’s just a birthday party. The president is probably not going to be there. Not even the pope. This day is about your dear child, not about how well you can host. It’s okay if it doesn’t turn out exactly the way you want it. What matters is that your child knows that he is loved and that you did the best you could with the finances and wits you could afford.
Here are some practical considerations to take into account:
- If this is your child’s first or second birthday, the best thing you can do is keep it simple! Children this young are not going to remember what kind of party they had, and the more people that are present, the more apt they are to get overstimulated and grumpy before the party is over. It is for these reasons that I have decided to have a small gathering for our son’s special day. We are going to have a simple menu and a Spiderman themed cake (because he loves the colors). Decorations are going to be kept to a minimum, and we’re basically just going to eat, open presents, and be done with it. That’s what our wallet, my nerves, and my son’s attention span will allow.
- If your child is a little older, he may expect to have a cool party just like the twenty other ones he was invited to for his friends this year. If you can easily afford it (both in money and in patience), then go for it. The sky’s the limit. But don’t max out your credit card, and don’t cause yourself a panic attack. Your child will enjoy having happy, unstressed parents much more than being on edge because you are tense and yelling at him if he even looks like he is about to touch something before it is ready.
- As the birthday of all birthdays-the Sweet Sixteen-approaches, your teen may have a vision of something spectacular in mind. The great thing about this age is, you can hand over a lot of the work to her. Give her a budget and some ground rules about what is allowed and what is not, and let her run with it. You can take care of certain surprise features if you like, but doesn’t it feel great to sit back and relax a little? Plus, it teaches your teen how to budget, strategize, and manage an event partially on her own, so it becomes a valuable learning experience.
- Make sure you get plenty of rest leading up to the big day. Mood swings and anxiety are often triggered by stress and lack of sleep. Take care of yourself so you can enjoy the festivities alongside your child.
Life is full of special occasions, and your offspring’s birthday is one of the most momentous of them all. Don’t forget what the celebration is really about, and resist the urge to subconsciously compete with other moms for the most elaborate party. Just because your Facebook photos from the big day don’t include close-up shots of circus animals and a cotton-candy machine, doesn’t mean you didn’t throw a party that was out of this world in your child’s eyes.