Saturday, January 15, 2011

Birthday Parties

Today, we have a birthday party to attend. And it's got me thinking about the drama of birthday parties. 

Prior to going to school, birthday parties for friends wasn't ever a thing we worried about. The pre-4 or 5 year old set didn't so much do birthday parties. We kept our gatherings relatively small- immediately family and close friends, dinner out, cake, presents. We did decide to do Teagan's first friend party when she turned 5 last year. And she's been invited to countless parties for school friends ever since.

The first struggle when accepting an invite... what kind of gift do you buy? How much do you spend? I like the plan we've come up with. It takes a lot of the stress off of me and it's great for Teagan because she feels like she's a really important part of the process. Plus, she's learning to tune in to other people. For the week leading up to the party, I ask her to pay attention to what that child really likes at school. What play center do they like best? What characters do they talk about most? What movies or TV shows do you know they like? Then we take that info and decide on a gift from there. Teagan really likes art so we tend to favor buying coloring books and new crayons or markers or a cool craft kit. Gift issue settled.

Next struggle... what about Zach? He's only 3 and the kids in his class aren't doing the friend party thing yet (thank goodness). So he has to sit and watch as Big Sis gets to go off and have fun without him. For the most part, we have this one solved. One parent takes Big Sis to the party and the other has a special date with Zach- we've taken him to Conner Prairie, out for ice cream, or to the library. This last party was a little harder for him because it was a party for the big sister of one of his classmates that he's good friends with. Teagan is good friends with A and Zach is good friends with A's little sister. So it was a little harder for him this time because he understood who the people involved were.

We are very excited for today because BOTH kids were invited to a little girl's party! This part I love best of all. And it's made me realize that when we have a friend party for one kid or the other, letting the sibling invite a friend of their own is important.

Next struggle... Teagan has that independent side to her that we love (even when it frustrates us). A few parties ago, she started asking me to leave the party. She didn't want to have a parent hovering over her. The first time, it was perfect because it was at this amazing fitness center so I stayed with the group while they were in the pool (Teagan's not a swimmer) but when they went to open gym time, I headed to the little cafe and had a sandwich and read the paper with my feet up! Another time, it worked out perfectly because Jeff was out of town or had to work or soemthing so I had both kids. Dropping her off and coming back to get her worked out well because I needed to be with Zach while she partied down. I have to say, though, that I always check with the parents and make sure they have my cell number. I also make sure I'm aware of what other parents I know are there so I have someone I can be in touch with if needed. I've been at parties where a kid gets sick and no one has a way of reaching a parent who has left and it's a hard situation.

Next struggle... and this is the one I wrestle with the most... Teagan had that friend party last year. I had kind of set it in my head that we wouldn't be doing friend parties every year. That we would save the friend parties for "big" birthdays like 5 and 8 and 10 and 13 and 16 or something. But... Teagan has been going to lots of friend parties for her classmates this year and I know she's kind of expecting to have something similar for her birthday in a couple of months. Now is the time to start planning. I do not want to set some sort of precedent that we will be inviting 10 or 20 kids to a birthday party every year. So I'm trying to think of a smaller party we can do with just a couple of her closest friends and making sure she understand that we only get to do something special like this if she doesn't talk about it at school so that kids who aren't invited get their feelings hurt.

But I'm kind of stumped for ideas on what a smaller party would be- so please feel free to share ideas! And now that Zach is in school, when is he going to start getting invited to parties? Can we hold out for a friend party until he turns 5? What kind of message am I sending him if he gets to invite 1 friend to Teagan's birthday? Share with me, please, your favorite parties you've had for your kids or heard about. Share your own birthday party memories. And help me navigate through all the politics of invites and gifts and siblings!

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8 comments:

Joanie said...

Bowling alley parties are fun! Where we live, there's usually someone (a teen or college student) in charge of the party and they direct everyone and keep them focused on the event. With small kids, it's good if a parent or two hang about (there's always a few who won't ever leave their kids anywhere)

Gina has a summer birthday and when she was small, we were swim club members. We had a pool party. I paid for everyone to get in, I brought a cake and drinks. All the Moms were there. There were a few siblings of the kids and, of course, they came too.

You could take a few kids to a favorite movie, then back to the house for cake an dice cream.

I always kept my gift budget to $20 max, less if I was lucky!

As my kids got older, school age, we might have a sleep-over party, no more than 5 or 6 kids (learned that the hard way!) Take note: when having sleep-overs, remember, boys yell and run amok. Girls SCREAM!!!

Garret of Jim and Garret said...

I like cheese.

Shell said...

We've done a lot of friend birthdays for our kids. Even when they were young b/c of playgroups. We just try to figure out a way that it doesn't break the bank. Also, the party is really their present. They will only get something small from us if they have a party.

Since I have 3 kids close in age, I'm very aware of the sibling thing. I have always made sure to let the parents know that siblings are allowed to come, but to please let me know(need to make sure I have enough cupcakes, etc)

Angie @ Just Like The Number said...

Would Teagan be willing to hold off on having an actual party until the weather warmed up? I ask, because hands down the best party we had was when Elena celebrated her 6th birthday at Ritchey Woods. It was very affordable and I felt like I could invite more children than I normally would because it wasn't at my home. The naturalists did a fabulous job and we all had so much fun. All I had to provide was the cake and drinks.

Now that Elena is a bit older, we've asked her to choose a few special friends to invite over. This year she chose 4 friends to come over for pizza and then Mike took them to a matinee. She always says she wants a big party, but then looks back and realizes how much she enjoyed doing something special with the friends she enjoys the most.

~ Lori ~ said...

Drake's birthday is always hard...it's August 16th, and we're usually in Indy around that time. But, other than that, I know what you mean...the whole "birthday party" thing can get out of hand. One year we gave Drake a choice....big party or take 2 friends to Chuck E Cheese for an afternoon of fun. This was done with the understanding that he could have a bigger party the next year if he so chose. But, we aren't doing BIG parties every year, so he got to pick how we started it off. It worked well...he enjoyed it, and it took a lot of the pressure of planning and hosting off of us at a time that I couldn't really handle that extra pressure. So, I think alternating is fun, not only for the parents, but for the kids. I think it's important to explain to a kid how much these parties cost so they understand that it's also how we CHOOSE to spend money that is important. Drake really seemed to understand that it was a hectic time, we had taken a family vacation so choosing to spend money for the BIG party was frivolous, and that he could still have a lot of fun doing something smaller.

kbiermom said...

A couple of things we've learned over the years...

It can be good to invite the whole class in 1st or 2nd grade. That's when you start getting to know your child's peer group and their families -- once they start getting older, it gets harder to hang out in the classroom or get to know the other parents. And it's good for the child to be more open-minded on who their friends are at this age -- not narrow it down to a few just yet.

Inviting everyone can be tricky -- you can get many, or few who even bother to respond.

Inviting everyone can be stressful on the birthday child -- when my dd was about 10 yo, she became concerned about being a good host to so many kids.

Inviting a few is easy -- just pick one of their favorite places to go, and take the kids there. It's more of a birthday outing, really. When my oldest got to about 11-12 yo, my dh would take him and a couple of buddies bowling and then for pizza. Or to a game place like Rascal's. Usually the date for the outing was close to his birthday, and then we would celebrate with cake and grandparents at home on his actual birthday.

We have let our siblings invite friends -- usually they are the siblings of those invited by the birthday kid. Especially if the party is at our house. If it's more like an outing with a few kids, one parent just stays home with the younger ones, and it's not a big deal.

I generally find myself saying at some point during the birthday season, "Why didn't anyone warn me that I'd be giving birth three times a year, every year...?!" *sigh*

Missy said...

Hi, Liz. M's birthday is coming up and we're doing a cookie decorating party. I detest goodie bags of junk, so each little girl gets to decorate a plate of plain sugar cookies to her liking and take them home. In the Target dollar bins are cute little plates, 2 for $1 that each girl will get to keep with her cookies. We'll use the break & bake sugar cookies (will already be baked ahead of party time), have bowls of colored icing and various sprinkles. Another option would be to get plain child apron's and let them decorate those. Have fun with Teagan's party!

Julie said...

Late responding but here is what we have always done.
Gifts - we spend as much as the child is old. So for a 5 yo, we spend about $5.00. Usually a book or art supplies

Parties - Friend parties - you invite as many friends as you are old so for your 5th birthday, 5 friends. After about 10, they don't really want parties anymore so we go with a family party and a friend (or 2) overnight. We never did the outside the home parties - sticking instead with simple nights at home, cake and ice cream and homemade pizzas. I never could stand Chuckie Cheese type places and don't want to spend that kind of money.

Leaving the kids - yup, always left them! :)