For me the moment came when I was still in my pajamas, not long before the birthday party began, frantically decorating a character birthday cake for my son's fourth birthday. The decoration instructions required me to make little florets of about eight different colors of frosting all over the cake surface. Tedious, frustrating and not fully appreciated by my son. I decided right then and there: I am not cut out to be an over-the-top birthday mom.
We've all heard stories of those types of birthday parties: ponies, hired entertainment, inflatables, live music, exotic and exciting locations. But with all the coordination and potential stress of organizing such a large celebration, does the birthday child really enjoy the party itself? And why do we as parents create such stress for ourselves in the first place?
Meg Akabas, a certified parenting educator and author of "52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom," insists, "When we stop trying to prove ourselves to others or to be like others, we automatically reduce the stress." Instead Akabas says, "Resolve to keep one's focus on planning an enjoyable, celebratory experience for the kids."
Children's birthday parties don’t need to equal stress for the parents and family. Here are some tips for simplifying your child’s special day.
Pick a Simple Theme. Take a deep breath and forgo your involved or complicated party plans. Cristin Frank, mom and author of "Living Simple, Free and Happy," encourages you to “think about what your child really likes to do...and grasp all the [simple] possibilities available to celebrate a birthday. Parents can tap into their resources and experiences to make the day special and tailored to their child's favorite things without taking on more than they can handle." Themes can be as simple as the child’s favorite color, a favorite sport or activity or a character they love.
Consider a Smaller Invite List. Tangela Walker-Craft, mom to a young daughter, submits, "Having an intimate party allows for making each guest feel just as special as the guest of honor," and insists that "children learn what they live. If they see their parents putting more emphasis on quality versus quantity when entertaining, they're more likely to have the same mindset."
Plan, Don’t Purchase. Once you have your birthday party theme and invite list decided, Akabas advises, "Don't think about purchasing things having to do with the theme; plan activities around the theme. Pick varied activities: an art project, some kind of treasure hunt, a cooperative game, reading a picture book story related to the theme, a memory game. The possibilities are endless."
If you are looking for an easy and fun activity, you can find printables, game ideas and other activities for your child’s favorite PBS KIDS character by clicking on the character at the top of the page.
Give Up (Some) Control. If appropriate, consider partnering with or even handing off some of the planning responsibilities to your child, or partnering with them for the planning. Frank insists, "They can pick their favorite theme, games, friends and food. The child also gets to experience the decision-making process...the day of the party then has an element of giving and sharing on the part of the child."
By sharing in the party planning, you can reduce stress by ensuring that your child's plans are "doable" and that you'll have another set of hands to help carry the load of the planning! Also, your child can help you remember, "the trappings that adults get caught up in—invitations, decorations, expensive bakery-made cakes—are just not important to kids. They love the wonder and excitement of a party," contends Akabas.
Enjoy the Day! Whether you have a party at home or at a local park or other location, choose the spot that will help you enjoy the day. For some parents, holding a party at a park, where they don’t have to worry about crumbs in the carpet, helps reduce stress. For others, a party at home is more relaxing. "When I had my son's parties at my house, parents stayed and enjoyed cake and conversation long after the party ended. It was very relaxed and personal. We were on our schedule," explains Frank.
Whether you use all or even one of these easy tips, you can rest easier knowing that each one will take you a little further away from stress and closer to enjoying your child’s birthday.