Mommy Wars: The Birthday Party

I have nothing of thrilling value to contribute today. No photos (bad mommy) and nothing of particular interest. I could tell you about how I dug up 10 primroses and moved them from one side of my sidewalk to the other. Wow! Isn’t that fast breaking news. I’m boring even myself.Ok, how about… the boy’s birthday is Sunday and we are having his party on Saturday. In true Elle fashion I haven’t even begun to prepare. I sent out invitations (that I made, I know you are jealous) and then ordered the birthday cake from a local bakery. I’m smooth like that.

The trusty husband and I agreed that we would only invite a select number of people. Not because we are snobby like that, but because our house is so incredibly small a million children and their accompanying adults wouldn’t fit. We tried last year for the boy’s second birthday and it was a little tight. Not to mention the entire time the boy napped (which was a miracle) I spent cleaning up the 3 inch thick layer of scum off of every floor in my house.

So this birthday un-planning brings me to a point. Children’s birthday parties. As a kid I remember having parties with my bffs and playing pin the tail on the donkey. Mom made my cake and served neopolitain ice cream. We wore stupid pointy party hats and friends brought knock off barbies or coloring books as gifts. These days kids parties are all about extravagance. To a point of being ridiculous.

A few years ago my dad was in the hospital and my aunt was there visiting. She was talking about how she was hosting her grandson’s birthday party and how much she spent on goodie bags for all the kids. I sat there stunned. Goodie bags for all the kids? What the hell? We got a few pieces of candy from a craptastic pinata if we were lucky. After that encounter I went home and told the trusty husband about it. We both agreed that things would be different when we had kids.

We were lucky enough to get away with not giving out anything last year because we were celebrating the boy coming home, his birthday and baptism all at the same time. It wasn’t your typical birthday party, but rather an open house.

This year we are sticking to our plan. A limited number of friends, no goodie bags and we told Oleg’s friends that if they would like to bring a gift please consider a new or gently used book that we can donate to the library. That’s only because we couldn’t tell grandparents not to bring gifts and I am slowly being taken over by the plastic overlords. It comes down to kids (theirs or mine) not needing more crap.

So let’s hear it. Do you go overboard on birthdays and do you feel a sense of obligation to give out overpriced goodie bags at your kids parties? Or what do you do different to not make your child’s party a lord of the flies-esqe free for all?

25 Comment

  1. Harlequin "King" Jetta says: Reply

    Aaaah, the curse of birthday parties.

    I keep them small, try to invite the closest friends (mine and the kids), but usually it’s just family, and a fraction of the family at that, and that’s plenty for me.

    As far as goodiebags, every once in a while I put some together but only if there are other kids attending. I always have a supply of little cars (bribes, emergency presents) and then the goodiebag gets a car, perhaps a ballon or a silly straw, but that’s it (and that’s a lot in my book.)

    Happy Birthday to you little guy and I totally understand and support your selective guest list.

  2. Carla says: Reply

    Honestly, I do both. 🙂 It depends on the year and which birthday it is. 1st bday is a big deal, but only invite family. 5th birthday is a HUGE party with best friends. After the 5th birthday it’s a party every other year. The “even” years are celebrations with just family and MAYBE one friend. In return, they get to pick a special outing – like a week long camp at the science museum (extra one). Or they can choose a family membership to the zoo. Or a trip to the Circus. Or….something equal to the cost of a party. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th bdays are small affairs at the park, or our home with the number of guests invited other than family equals the age they are turning.

    What’s even better, I’m so great at planning that with the addition of Katie, all 3 kids will be on even years and odd years together. ah yes…3 parties one year, then a year off…

    I’ve toyed with the idea of “In lieu of gifts to the birthday child, we are collecting X for Y charity” and I have seen where they collect dog toys for the humane society, or pet food for the humane society.

  3. Bev says: Reply

    OK, it’s time for one of the grandmas to weigh in on the issue of THE ‘birthday party” etiquette that goes on today . . .

    First, NO goodie bags! Why do we teach children today that in order for them to “feel good” about themselves, they must always be rewarded for doing something for others???

    Secondly, a birthday should be a BIG deal in its intent which is to have a special celebration for the person with the birthday, a time to focus on what joy this child/adult has brought to each of us – a time to say intentionally “YOU are special to me because of
    who you are in my life.”

    Let the guests (kids) bring a gift picked out especially for their friend – by definition a gift is something meant just for honoree . . . let the giver decide! It’s just plain annoying to be told what to [or not to] bring!! :-)) It’s OK to suspend most of the “Mommy/Daddy rules” for the day – why not just enjoy the day as it unfolds for this wonderful child who brings unmeasurable richness to your lives? (And ours!)

    Extravagance?? OR abundance . . . of love, friendship, appreciation . . . birthdays ARE specific to each person! So only invite the people who provide the latter in your child’s life!

    (BTW, I like the idea of giving a book (or books) to the library – but I just think that a child should also participate in selecting/purchasing the book as well as delivering it to the recipient instead of receiving it as a gift and then being asked to give it away. Is this where the “re-gifting” gene kicks in??)

    OMG, I think I’ve just done my first rant online!!! Tomorrow Papa and I will just have to go out to find a really bodacious gift for our little guy in order to retain our reputation! (Just kidding – we already have our gift and we’re not telling what IT is!) CSP’s Mom

  4. Carla says: Reply

    Exceptions will be 16th birthday and possibly 18th. 🙂 but I’m secretly hoping they will have outgrown the need for a typical party.

  5. Jan Bartel says: Reply

    I agree with Bev. Birthdays are a celebration to let the BD person know how special they are. I’m not a mom but I think that the goodie bags are unnecessary. The kids are there to help celebrate O’s BD.

    BTW, our gift for the little guy will be late. Sorry! Please give him a big hug from us. 🙂

    CSP’s Aunt Jan

  6. Well due to where the friends/family are, we have had more than one party for the last two years. We had cupcakes at her school and this year she wanted certain colors(icing) given to different friends. Then she wanted to give balloons to her friends. So we did that at school with the cheapo plastic rings in the icing. Then we had a zoo party (cupcakes, coolaid and chips) with her FCC friends (all of the families waited together) and an old neighbor. Then we had a small party with a friend of my parents who wanted to come to a party?!?! So I had a small cake and she got her family gifts then. The first bday she was 2 and we had 2 parties. This year she turned 3 and we had 3 parties. I have started a trend without meaning too and now in April she will be four. I don’t know what the helk I will do.

    Happy Birthday Oleg!!


  7. DebiP says: Reply

    I am all over the big party and love love love planning it from the invite to the last scrapbook page about it. I love to see kids having fun with each other and celebrating life…I enjoy letting the parents have time to sit and have adult conversation while their children are entertained. I just find them fun.

    sorry…but I love a good party!!

  8. Jenny2 says: Reply

    Oh, I can’t tell you what I did for my Nephew’s 5th birthday party… but it included a rented tent, a fog machine,one of those rented bouncy things and gift bags that resembled the Swag dumb celebs get at award shows.

    We tell the oldest Nephew NOT to telll the second Nephew … but recently he found pictures and said “heyyyyyyyyyyy”.

    We learned. The hard way.

  9. Rhonda says: Reply

    Last year, we said we wouldn’t go overboard. Then, we did. Actually, what happened was that we went overboard on Clyde’s birthday and Bonnie expected the same thing – rightfully so. It was fun, but it would have been just as special with half the stuff, I think. Goodie bags are unnecessary, but we did them for Bonnie’s entire class. Next time, I won’t because I think they end up being more of a pain for the parents than anything.

  10. Ann says: Reply

    umm, heck no on goodie bags, I have never done that. I think the day is about the person having the birthday. I think its good for my boys to understand, this day is for XYZ . We have always just have family, the boys don’t really have friends yet (considering that my oldest would rather be with us then off playing at church etc. I don’t see that changing anytime soon) we tell everone to not bring TOYS, sometimes the Aunts & my parents listen more often they don’t. My in-laws give money so we stick that in their bank accounts. We say if you don’t want to bring anything that thats awesome but if you do please get them books. They have so many toys, its so not nessary that they have more crap that they don’t play with. Our partys are really simple. 🙂

  11. Mom says: Reply

    On YOUR B day… you thought it was a national holiday. Decorations were put up and your closet friends and family were invited. It’s a very special day for kids and isn’t it nice when people gather in honor of you! I don’t agree with having to supply gifts for the guests (plain stupid) but allowing presents once a year is not going to damage your kids. Allow them this time honored tradition. It’s not monetary or extravagance that counts but a thought was given in your honor. Be it a pair of socks or a new hat. Let him feel that wonderful feeling of specialness and love for a day! By the way…I almost always bought a cake of your specifications!!!! My how you remember things!

  12. HAPPY BIRTHDAY OLEG! Wow! it’s hard to believe you’re three!!

    Reading your comments about your birthday party brought back one, Elle – I think it was 5th grade. We were running like maniacs through the house (it had a “race track” – living room, parents room, bath room, your room – around and around) and your mom was yelling at us to stop running! Ah, yes, those were the days! Collecting frog eggs and tadpoles! Ok, enough reminiscing!

    I think a happy medium – invite the close friends and family for a public party, maybe a small goodie bag (like a piece of sidewalk chalk, stickers, or a straw) if you’re not doing games – but the key word is small. Or just have a basket of stickers by the door for the kids to pick one out. I’ve heard “horror” stories of parents bringing other siblings, and the hosting parents being inundated with unexpected kids, or even worse, the parent drops the invitee and the sibling(s) off and leaves for the entire party! We also had a special dinner (we chose the meal and birthday cake for dessert) on our birthday as long as the party wasn’t on the same day (i.e. if our birthday was during the week) for just immediate family.

    So far we’ve just invited Quin’s friends, our friends, and my in-laws, and had a chaotic mess. I don’t want to do that this year, mostly because Quin finally has more than 2 friends! I agree with putting up decorations while the kids are still sleeping – it makes for an extra special day! My parents just hung a “happy birthday” banner up in the dining room. It was enough to make us feel special when we first came into the dining room.

  13. Lauri says: Reply

    Yep… going just a tad overboard.. I never had a b-day party as a child.. I was so deprived. So yep.. I am doing a Princess theme, decorations, tiaras, goodie bags, pinata, the whole shebang… i am enjoying it and totally living vicariously through my child. But I have seen people who go way crazy -renting pony’s, clowns, having it catered… etc…

    It’s just a few friends & family…. not going to crazy with the guest list and I like the idea of donating some presents to goodwill

  14. elle says: Reply

    Ok, I will admit that I think my birthday is a national holiday. What? You don’t celebrate it. You should. Put it on your calendar. June 22. Have a drink and tell me all about it. And my mother is correct. She did purchase a cake every year. It helps that she works in a grocery store and one that makes the best cakes evah! For my 28th birthday she was tasked with providing the cake. And boy did my mom deliver. It was from her store and Sesame Street. Best cake in the world. (I am reluctant to admit it, but I think it might have been better than the one Derek bought me for my 30th)

    And yes, birthdays are all about making the celebrant feel special. I am just so tired of all the shit in my house.

  15. Liv says: Reply

    I live vicariously through Dani. I was raised Jehovah’s Witness and never celebrated a birthday until I got older and more assertive. When we had Dani, celebrating the anniversary of her birth, because she is so special to us, is a big deal. I ask her a few months in advance what kind of cake she wants. I’ll have to send you a picture of the 2 layer sunflower cake I made this year. I make invitations, goodie bags, thank you cards (which are generic in text and stuffed in the goody bags so that they don’t go months without receipt), homemade cake with buttercream icing, friends, theme….. It’s special for me as well as her. Maybe I go overboard, but until she tells me otherwise, I’m going to keep on doing it.

    I also hold the tradition that I make her Halloween costume. Again, until she asks otherwise. This year, she is Little Red Riding Hood.

  16. My daughter is in daycare and received an invite to a party at McDonalds for a someone in her class who was turning 3. I thought it was a bit crazy and didn’t go. I’d recommend a craft that can be both an activity at the party and a take home treat. It seems what comes in goody bags is usually junk – food or toys – and I have enough of that in my house already without anyone helping me.

  17. Nancy says: Reply

    Another Mom who goes overboard! I am not a fan of treat bags, they offend me. But, I don’t want my kids to be know as the ones who don’t give them out at their parties. So as a compromise I give a gift certificate to Baskin Robbins, cheap and easy and then if we have a piniata, the kids get the candy they’ve picked up.

    I thought my birthday was a HUGE deal as a kid, so I’m treating my kids the same, it’s our day to tell them how special they are. We go all out with themes, home made invites, cakes, bouncers what have you (I also did this because with all boys at the time I knew the parties would end up being those boring pizza video game things soon enough) and just make a big deal about them. We go easy on the gifts from Mom and Dad as the party is party of the gift.

    I know as a parent it is so hard, I want my kids to be happy with a simple life, so I work on that all year and Christmas and Birthdays are big deals, the rest of the year I make them go without, lol.

  18. Catherine says: Reply

    I said no big party — and then did one for Alex’s 3rd this year. I did a family-godparents only 2.25 party when we got home last year (since I missed his 2d b’day by one month in Russia). This year I did a late afternoon BBQ buffet party in the backyard for family, friends and neighbors….it got bigger and bigger….I did invitations with a “no gifts” mention — some people went along with it but lots of people didn’t. I invited neighbors because they have been so welcoming and great with Alex — we live on a cul de sac and everyone knows everyone else. Alex is the youngest on the street and has been given lots of cool pre-used toys, vehicles, etc by the older kids who will give him their stuff that they don’t play with anymore but otherwise wouldn’t give up. We had very large crowd and it was really more a party that happened to have a train cake and balloons than a 3 year old BD party (all the other kids were 2 or more years older). No gift bags — just extra cake sent home with some. Alex loved it and we all had fun.

  19. DebiP says: Reply

    OMG why am I just now realizing that O and Griffin are only days apart…man now I have got to meet you in person so that our kids can raise some craziness together…ever get to Chicago??

  20. Ingelaurie says: Reply

    What you mean you aren’t celebrating Oleg’s birthday month. That’s what we are doing in the office for JP.

    Take this time and just enjoy. They only turn 3 once.

  21. Do those goody bags have boos in ’em? We haven’t had a birthday party yet but I plan on just having family. My son doesn’t have friends yet so that saves me aggravation. When he gets to kindergarten I’ll reconsider the friends thing…we just can’t fit them all in this place. And goody bags? Is this the trend? I am clueless…

  22. Lee says: Reply

    NO GOODIE BAGS!!!!!!!!!!!! I agree with the Grandma’s.
    Auntie Lee

  23. Ani says: Reply

    He’s going to be 3? Where does time go?

    Sorry, but I’m very BIG on birthdays. For my kid’s 1st birthday I said family only – well, I have a HUGE family, so there were a lot of people around. Then for his 2nd, I rented out a gym type place that has a LIMIT on the # of people you can have. Wouldn’t you know it, we exceeded the limit. Luckily, they accomodated us… I plan it all – theme, invites, balloons, goodie bags, and thank you notes – SUCH fun. Yeah, the gifts are a bit much – I ask family and friends to make a donation in his name to baby home, but for the rest of his little friends – let them bring whatever they want.

    Happy birthday to your boy!

  24. Hmm … the most extravagant birthday we’ve done was a combo for the older two one year when I couldn’t get it together in September, so in October we combined November’s bday, too. We rented the gym at the local YMCA for two hours … (less than $75), which let the kids play their heart out on slides and Little Tykes style play toys and trikes and the trampoline and so much other kiddie gym stuff, then we did cake and play. It was great.

    Perhaps the BEST part was Junior’s 5th this year when we got a couple foam swords from Big Lots, invited the kiddo’s bestest buds, and then let them run wild at Puget Park playing knights and superheros. I hear it went “play, play, play, play, eat, play play play play, gifts, play play play play” you get the picture. Hours of entertainment, great birthday, dirt cheap.

    Though the eldest really loved her princess themed party where we told everyone to dress up in their Halloween costumes (at this age: mostly princesses) and they just played, ate, and opened presents.

    I admit: I do goodie bags. But it’s more creativity than expense. I hit the dollar store. We do crafts (yes, I wrote “crafts”). Stickers. I try to be thematic, and cheap. 😉

  25. I’m really surprised reading your comments – I didn’t expect to be in the minority here.

    Sabrina’s first birthday – we had a little cake with family a couple of days before and cupcakes at home on the day of. Yes, there will be a little more fanfare when she is old enough to understand but my husband and I have agreed no over the top parties. The whole carnival in the backyard is ridiculous in our minds. We will have small, age appropriate parties or family outings. Sugar will be consumed, children will run amok then crash after the sugar wears off. I don’t get the whole goodie bag thing but won’t swear I will never do it because they might be cute and the mood could strike.

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