Confession: my kids have never had a birthday party.
I don’t mean we don’t celebrate their birthdays; we do. It’s just that our celebrations don’t look like most of the parties they attend for their classmates. They’re never held at indoor trampoline parks or skating rinks or arcades, there are no goody bags to be had, no dozen-plus kids running around all hopped up on sugar and childhood. Our celebrations are no less joyful, no less meaningful, than the other kind – they just happen to fall on the simpler end of the spectrum.
It seems like modern moms are under the impression that we’ve got to throw these extravagant, over-the-top shindigs in order to properly celebrate. But is that more for the kids, or for our own personal sense of parental accomplishment? Think about the holidays, where our children are often more interested in a big cardboard box than the fancy gift inside it. The same principal applies with birthday parties, in my experience: the fancy stuff is great, but kids can enjoy themselves just as much without it. So not throwing them an all-out birthday bash featuring costumed characters and professionally-decorated cupcakes and thirty of their closest friends doesn’t mean we’ve failed as parents; it means we’ve chosen to celebrate differently, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I prefer to take the money I would have spent on a “big” birthday party, buy my child one gift I know will knock his socks off, and then let him choose a fun experience: a movie at the theater, a campout, a trip to the zoo or the mall or the laser tag place, either with just the family or one or two close friends. I make whatever he requests for dinner, even if it’s something ridiculous like fajitas with pancakes instead of tortillas (true story), and let him pick dessert. It doesn’t even have to be cake, but we still stick some candles in it and sing an off-key rendition of the birthday song.
We’re all relaxed, hanging out with the people we love most, intimately celebrating the life of someone none of us could live without. I’m not stressing over budget constraints or making sure we’re all wrapped up by a certain time or chaperoning someone’s unruly kid. I’m not worried about making sure invitations are extended to everybody (because as a kid, I was new in school and the only one passed up for the most popular boy’s birthday party, and I’m still salty about it). I’m not collecting RSVPs. I’m not making cringe-worthy small talk with other parents that I don’t even know.
If elaborate birthday parties are your jam, then do it up with pride! Some people – not me, but some people – actually have fun coordinating lots of kids and activities, and are damn good at it. And that enthusiasm will translate into a kick-ass celebration. And, if invited, we will gladly attend.
But if you don’t enjoy doing something, the end result is not going to be as spectacular. Things like that are hard for parents like me. They send my anxiety into overdrive. And I’d rather focus my energies on my kid’s good time than on everybody else’s. It’s his birthday, after all.
Despite the lack of Chuck E. Cheese in their lives, my children have never lodged any complaints. They don’t feel deprived, or like their celebrations are lesser, because we still make them feel special. There’s no doubt that they’re the star of the day, even if it’s just around our kitchen table.
And hey, parents of my kids’ friends, guess what? Our low-key celebrations mean that you don’t have to buy yet another gift for yet another classmate and schlep them to yet another birthday party.