In early November, our family hit a milestone: the last of our household’s 2020 birthdays. Like the previous four understated COVID-era celebrations, this one (my son’s 8th birthday) was spent eating all the birthday person’s favorite foods, FaceTiming with grandparents, opening a few presents and actually playing with and enjoying those presents.
This was the first year none of my kids had an official birthday party. There was no over-the-top theme to plan around (Unicorn Ninja Party!), no goody bags filled with items no one needs, and no debate about an overpriced venue versus having your home destroyed by small, sugar-crazed humans. And you know what? It was wonderful.
I’m not saying previous years’ celebrations were all bad. My kids definitely had fun, and we have a lot of happy memories from those parties. But things had spiraled out of control. First, there was the pressure to invite the whole class. Then there was the expectation that not only would you provide cake or cupcakes, but also enough food for an entire meal. On top of that, whether or not the invitation said “no gifts,” most people felt compelled to bring one. All in all, the parties we were hosting and attending more than proved the maxim, “Too much of a good thing is overwhelming.”
As my kids get older, and time with their peers starts to take precedence over time with their parents, I recognize how special it can be to celebrate birthdays with friends. But the social restrictions during the pandemic have given us a chance to reexamine and reevaluate the way we do certain things, and lavish kid birthday parties are one of them. A party doesn’t have to be over-the-top to be meaningful; in fact, the best parties are often the simplest. Put a kid in a room with her four best friends, add in a sugary treat and a few balloons, and a great time will be had by all.
Another bonus: keeping birthday parties smaller and easier helps families regain control of their weekends. I absolutely do not miss the frantic juggling act of multiple-birthday-party Saturdays. For us, they almost always ended in tears – from my kids, and occasionally from me.
We have attended some epic kid birthday parties that likely cost a fortune, and don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the spectacle and gold-leaf-adorned cake pops. So if you want to keep going big post-pandemic, absolutely go big.
But we’ve had just as much fun at parties that kept things intimate, casual and short. Just remember it takes very little to create joyful memories for our kids. And at the end of the day, that’s the only goal worth aiming for.