I am so excited to say that we are officially done with birthday parties at our house! It’s not that we won’t celebrate birthdays, but that I am no longer going to sacrifice my sanity and most of our food budget for the month putting together some kind of elaborate theme experience for my children, who are now 4 and 5 years old.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that many of my mom friends LOVE putting together a good party. I have friends who have described excitedly creating Pin boards on Pinterest for a birthday party that is still a year away. These are my friends who are creative, love to craft, and are good at it. I am in awe of their special skills. I am not that mom.
For the first 4 years of my son’s life, I looked with dread toward October, when I would be forced to do something cool. Both my kids’ first birthdays were not bad, because they are basically unable to express many opinions and discovering cake for the first time was just the BEST THING EVER. But I felt like the Creative Mom expectations were already closing in by that 2nd birthday for each of them. By then we had attended some fantastically coordinated parties — activities, decorations, snacks, and favors all along a common theme and color scheme. Live, costumed characters that traveled to the house. Face painting. Handmade, personalized favors. The birthday parties my friends created were beautiful and amazing, and they made me want to crawl under the covers in my bed and hide until my children turned 18. The mere thought of all that planning is so far out of my comfort and enjoyment zone that I find it difficult to describe.
Another problem we began to encounter with a party was space. At this point in our lives, most of our friends have 3-4 children. Our siblings with children have two kids each (cousins). We love hanging out with our community group of three families, but inviting only our community group, my kids’ cousins, and the grandparents the total comes to 18 children and 16 adults. Even if we invite no friends from school at all, 34 people is more than my house, or even my yard, can handle. My daughter’s birthday is in February, when it is still notoriously cold in Dallas, necessitating an indoor venue. I was looking at renting a venue for hundreds of dollars PLUS decorating, baking, and carting everything over to the venue. Again with the hiding under the covers.
I can’t remember where I read it, but I heard about the idea of gifting experiences for birthdays and loved it! An experience can be anything that the child enjoys. I made a compromise between birthday party and experience with our kids and told them that they could invite 2-3 friends on their experience. At the preschool age, we did have to spend a little more money than we will when they’re older, because the children have to be entertained more actively. For example, my son chose to take 3 friends to LEGOLAND in Grapevine, and my daughter took 3 friends to the American Girl Bistro. It wasn’t too unaffordable in either case, because we had coupons for LEGOLAND and we just did a regular tea time visit with my daughter’s friends, not a birthday party package. At LEGOLAND, we played all morning until the kids got tired, and then we walked over to the mall and I brought out the cupcakes I’d made, which we all ate together.
The great thing about experiences, to me, is that I don’t have to worry about favors. I have always been torn about favors, as they are typically either a) very time consuming or expensive, or b) if they are cheap, they are not eco-friendly because of the thin plastic and disposable nature. Hopefully, inviting my childrens’ friends along on these experiences is a gift of fun. At the very least, I am offering their parents a fun, free morning or afternoon of entertainment for their children!
As the kids grow older, the experiences can differ. I could take a few little girls to a ballet at the Eisemann Center in Richardson. I could take the boys to a movie. I am sure that at some point when they are older, we will be asked to go to Six Flags. Maybe my son will want to take his friends to see one of the local sports teams. Every time I read a post about a new local experience by one of my fellow Dallas Moms Blog contributors, I think: potential birthday event!
Far from depriving my children, I hope that this shift away from parties and toward experiences will give them a freedom to explore the metroplex and share one-on-one time with a few good friends. And it frees me up from having to do crafty things. It’s a win-win!