I have a soon-to-be eight-year-old, which means I have been to approximately 4 million children’s birthday parties over the past several years. All kinds, too: swank "salons for children" parties, house parties, pool parties, bouncy-castle parties, overly complicated theme parties, craft parties, parties at places like Chuck E. Cheese's, etc. The possibilities for celebrating keeping your kid alive for another year are boundless in Houston.
Over the course of that time, I’ve realized there are some things that some people just don’t understand about the mechanics of a birthday party, which is weird considering how much we as parents get practice at them. So, here are five things I suggest you let people know when you invite them to share in your child’s special day.
1. Gift Ideas
I don’t mean you need to make an Amazon wish list for them or anything, because that is kind of pretentious. However, a basic list of suggestions would make life a lot easier. There’s nothing more frustrating than when you ask a parent what his or her child likes and the answer is “anything will be fine.” Some basic things to include: shirt/dress size, favorite colors, whatever licensed property the child is into at the moment, and gift genres like “science kits” or “jewelry kits.” It might also relieve parental anxiety if you set an upward spending limit. Give parents some guidance.
2. Will There Be Food?
It is perfectly okay to have a birthday party that doesn’t include a meal, even pizza. Yes, it is. Don’t feel guilt-tripped into feeding a horde of kids and their parents too if your budget doesn’t allow it. The party is the thing. However, if you’re not going to provide food, or the venue doesn’t allow it, let people know. It gives us a chance to feed the kid before and possibly mitigate any drama that results from a low blood sugar. It’s really no trouble for me to make her a sandwich before she comes over and runs around.
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3. Are Parents Expected to Stay?
I have friends who prefer parents to get out of their house to make room for more kids and let them focus on their guests rather than entertaining adults, and I have friends who expect you to stay and help manage the tribe. Again, either approach is perfectly valid, but it’s an awkward question to have to ask in the beginning of the event. For me, it doesn’t often matter since mine is an only child and therefore I have a lot more flexibility. For people with more kids, especially ones who might have special needs, it’s better to know what you want from the parents at this event.
4. Is It Overstimulating?
I have a good friend with an autistic son, and her family and ours do a lot of birthdays together. Last year, I made it a point to let her know we were having the party at a place that puts on fashion shows and dance parties. I wanted to warn her, not because fashion shows and dance parties aren’t for boys, but because they're loud and bright and he sometimes has trouble with that. When at all possible, you should try to inform parents of the exact nature of what their kid will be exposed to.
5. Will They Get to Watch Your Child Open Presents?
I’m not sure when this became a thing, but fully half of the birthday parties I’ve been to have not let kids open presents at the table. This is mostly a professional venue thing, as they try to round up the group and get them out before the next one. Also, and I speak from personal experience, it cuts down on lost or stolen presents. Most people, kids included, like to see the reaction of their friends when they open a gift, and they may be disappointed if they don’t get that. Let us know ahead of time to prepare them, and we can always exchange smartphone videos or pics later.
I know planning a kid’s birthday party is terribly stressful, but try to spare a few extra thoughts to these basic courtesies for the attendees. Now, who wants cake?