It can be terribly tempting to go overboard on our little ones' birthdays. After all, we want them to know and feel how very special they are. These days, so many parents are throwing such elaborate parties for their little ones, we don’t want to feel like Scrooge McDuck. We also don’t want to disappoint the exuberant grandparents, aunts, cousins, and friends who want to show their own affection for our little ones.
Nonetheless, it is my conviction that, especially in the early years, simple is best for children’s birthday celebrations. It’s easier on Mom and Dad and much more enjoyable for the child himself.
Here is what we do to keep things simple for our children’s birthdays:
1. Set a modest budget for presents and stick to it! Additionally, you can request that loved ones stick to one gift—or even make a request in invites for “no presents—just your presence!”
Here is a wooden xylophone James received from his Grandma. Gifts from Mama and Daddy, godmother, aunt, and grandparents were similarly simple. On the invitation for his party, we asked friends to bring potluck dishes rather than gifts, so they still felt that they were participating, but James was not bogged down with toys, which would likely have overwhelmed him completely.
2. Preferential Treatment. Let your child choose one special event for the day--or even a small one, like which playground to play at. Shotgun (if he or she is old enough) in the car. The main course for dinner. You get the idea. Nothing says, “You’re special” like having your preferences acquiesced to for one special day of the year.
James isn’t really able to make many decisions of his own yet (though he has plenty of opinions!), but I did make his favorite breakfast: orange-chocolate chip pancakes. I also made some fresh squeezed orange juice to go with it.
3. A few simple traditions. Don’t go overboard. Just one or two special things that you can easily do year in and year out with each and every child. The simpler, the sweeter. These are precious childhood memories in the making.
My children always get to lick the spoon/bowl when I make their birthday cake. Here is James licking the chocolate cream-cheese frosting off the spatula after I iced his cake.
Brian and I also write birthday letters to our children for their birthdays. We tell them what this past year of loving and guiding them has been like, the traits and virtues we love most about them, and what we are most looking forward to in the year to come. We also share with them our hopes and prayers for their lives. When they are eighteen, we will put all the letters into a special book to give to them when they leave home.
4. Limit the guest list. Remember that children can be easily overwhelmed—and so can moms and dads of little ones! On James’ birthday, we mainly celebrated as a family (just me, Brian, and the kids), though we did invite our dear downstairs neighbors up to sing “Happy Birthday” and share the cake.
We also had a small party this weekend. James is blessed to share his birthday with his Grandpa, my father-in-law, who lives just a few hours away. Since their birthday is always right around Memorial Day weekend, it also gives us a convenient long weekend to go visiting. So, we spent Memorial Day in picturesque North Idaho where we were able to celebrate with my in-laws, James' godfather, and a few other dear friends.
My in-laws got a delicious DQ ice cream cake with a special inscription for the Birthday Buddies. We provided grillables & fixins and beverages, and we asked each guest to bring a side dish to pass. $5 worth of decor from the dollar store brightened the room and completed the preparations.
We had planned on a barbecue in the park, but were rained out the last minute. James’ godfather generously offered his house as an alternate location, and since the party was so simple, it was no trouble at all to transport the event there. We grilled on the porch, and everyone had a great time chatting, eating, and play Rock Band!
5. End early. On James’ actual birthday and the day of the party, we worked around our normal schedule. This meant that the party ran from noon-3 and ended promptly so we could get the guest of honor home for his afternoon nap. It can be tempting to party as you would for a different event, but remember that between the attention, the extra faces, and the sugar, your birthday child is likely to need his naps more than ever, and a little downtime for the whole family is the best thing to ensure a Happy Birthday for all.
And, that is all the humble advice I have to offer thus far. Please feel free to chime in with more suggestions of how to make children’s birthdays special yet simple.