Kids’ Birthdays: Whatever Happened to Cake and Ice Cream?

If parents want to hire a party-planner, caterer, petting zoo, and bounce house for their one-year-old’s birthday party, that’s their business.

But spare me the braggadocio.

Just wait until he or she turns thirteen or fifteen, demands a hotel ballroom, Justin Bieber, or a trip to Disney World, for themselves and an entourage of eight mall-rat, text-messaging friends. Cake and ice cream will start sounding better and better.

A recent Good Morning America story contrasts the low-key celebration planned for Prince George’s first birthday with the high-ticket bashes becoming commonplace in the United States – where status-seeking parents are more likely to drop a few thousand bucks on a kids’ birthday party than provide a stay-at-home mom.–abc-news-parenting.html

It pays to get a grip – no, a firm handle – on kids’ birthday parties from the beginning. I’m not suggesting parents go down to the mill and grind their own cake flour.

I am suggesting celebrating your child’s life with a degree of restraint.

Why?  Because bigger and more expensive doesn’t make it better. Focusing on quality is where it’s at.

And just a personal note to all the mothers: I know it’s so much fun to plan the birthday party by yourself, Mom. But back off. It’s not your birthday. Ego attachment just isn’t that, que’est-ce que c’est, attractive.

For children over age four, remember that it’s  their birthday.

So help them plan their party.

Not so they can squeeze every last cent from your wallet, but so they actually gain

valuable skills.

Children learn a lot more, and get greater satisfaction, by making a plate of ants-on-a-log and helping stir the cake batter than if you buy everything ready-made.

Unless you happen to be the Wicked Witch of the West. Then you’ll want to bring in a surrogate.

By helping the child plan his party, you are valuing him a  human being, someone with ideas of his own. So let him express those ideas.

Do you have to do all of them?

Ah – no.

But you can list them, and help him select what is do-able for your family.

And don’t leave it there. Enlist the child’s cooperation in following a plan.

What you’re really doing, in case you wondered, is nurturing your relationship.

Here’s a basic outline you can work with and modify to your own needs.

  1. Pick the date and time
  2. Put together the guest list
  3. Make invitations
  4. Pass out (send) invitations
  5. Plan the party activities
  6. Shop for food, party favors, etc.
  7. Help Mom clean house for the party. (Dust, vacuum, pick up, etc.)
  8. Help mom make the cake
  9. Decorate for the party
  10. Set the table
  11. Make thank-you cards.

An outline gives your child a taste of what needs to happen, a look into the future.

Involve your child in it. Parties just don’t throw themselves. People need to plan them. Your child can even delegate some of the responsibilities to r family members.

Then tackle the outline point by point. Say to your child, “I need your help. Let’s do this together.” This is the official party plan.  It’s the same kind of thinking your child will need when he studies for a test, or applies to colleges.

When the list is finished, put it on the refrigerator door or on a bulletin board to show its importance.

First, select the date and times.That will depend on your schedule. Have your child mark the date on the calendar, draw a star, make a happy face. I happen to like Saturday or Sunday afternoon parties.

Then the guest list. My rule of thumb? Keep it simple. Even if only Grandma and Grandpa will be there, help your child make a list. When my kids were preschool age, I might invite a few friends. In elementary school, I limited the number to five. Maybe six. How many people can a kid play with inside of two hours, anyway? Any more and it looks like a gift-grab.

I am not a big fan of sleepovers. When the party’s over,  send everyone home happy.

Invitations. You can buy them, it’s a whole lot of fun to help your child make his own. Use one of their drawings for the front. On the inside, make lines for the date, time, place, etc., which they can fill in – using their best writing – before making copies.  You can even copy your child’s picture onto the invitation.

Then, help your birthday child plan the party activities. Sit down together at the kitchen table. Take your time with her. Give her your focused attention, because that is what she really wants.

Ask them what kind of games they want to play. Have your child make a list of the fun things she wants to do at the party. Or you write and have her copy. You can even look up some fun old-fashioned games to play, or get a book of party games and activities at the library. Have your child help you research. Write down the selected games on the party plan.

Ask them their preference of cake, ice cream and snacks. Write it down on the party plan.

Include opening the presents on your outline. Write that down, too.

Then comes passing out the party favors. What sort of party favors could you give the guests? Give your child some ideas. And make sure you know your budget. You can do a lot on a little. Write down all the ideas. (If you can’t find one thing, get another.)

It’s how much you spend on a birthday, but doing things together that counts; and it’s what they’ll remember twenty years from now.  FFG








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