Years ago, the night before my oldest son’s third birthday party, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning sewing reversible superhero capes for every pint-sized attendee. I made my own pattern for the capes and crafted felt appliqués. It took hours. The kids looked cute running around the basement playing superhero games, but they probably would’ve been just as thrilled if I’d fashioned them capes using garbage bags and duct tape.
Then last year, a week before another birthday party, I fell down the Pinterest rabbit hole looking for “quick and easy” Pokemon birthday party ideas. I spent the next few days making a Meowth piñata out of recycled cereal boxes and duct tape and copious amounts of craft glue and tissue paper. It turned out so great. My son loved it — and then seconds later he and his friends bashed it with a baseball bat until only bits of tissue paper remained. Because, duh, it was a piñata.
When will I ever learn that kids don’t really care how much time you put into their party? Sure, they may be marginally more impressed when I go all out, but their appreciation doesn’t come close to compensation for the time and money I put into the party. Not because they’re ungrateful wretches but because they’re kids who just wanna have fun.
If party planning is your love language, please go ahead and knock yourself out putting together the most Pin-worthy party on the block. But if you, like me, would rather knock yourself out than spend ten hours planning a child’s birthday party, follow these six tips to take things down a notch:
- Keep it small. Don’t invite your child’s entire school class unless you are already experiencing severe hearing loss. We had way too many rowdy, stinky boys at our last party. Even my son admitted there were too many people. Have your child pick a handful of guests — ideally kids who know each other — and stick to your guns.
- Buy invitations from the store. Have your child fill them out. Then discreetly pass out or mail the invitations so the classmates won’t know they’re not invited.
- Get creative with your theme. It’s totally acceptable if your theme is “My Daughter’s Fifth Birthday!” But if you must get fancy, pick a theme that’s easy to execute, meaning a theme that has been thoroughly commercialized. Buy the store invitations, maybe a matching disposable tablecloth or banner and some balloons in matching colors. You’re good to go.
- Resist the urge to reinvent the wheel. Kids are totally fine with the same party games you played as a kid — red light, green light or pin the tail on the donkey or musical chairs. If you want, simply change the name to match your theme. So pin the tail on the donkey becomes pin the nose on Olaf for a Frozen party or freeze tag becomes Guardians of the Galaxy Stop and Go.
- If you’re serving food, serve pizza. It’s cheap and filling and kids love it. Enough said.
- Outsource the party if you can. To save on cash, rent a room at a nearby recreation center or library (just make sure food is allowed if you’re bringing it). Or if you’ve got more wriggle room in your budget, host the party at a bowling alley, children’s museum, indoor playground or the like. No mess at your place, no hours of decorating and cleaning up. It’s the right thing to do.
- Alternate years for friend parties. Kids don’t need to have friend birthday parties every year. On the alternate years, celebrate with extended family or do something special as a family.
Remember there are plenty of ways to make your child feel special that don’t involve letterpress invitations and swag bags for the guests. You could decorate their seat at the kitchen table, check them out of school for a special lunch or take them shopping one-on-one. Or put together a swag bag if that’s your thing — just save one for me.