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Friday, January 30, 2009

Birthday Party Etiquette

By Katie M

I have a love-hate relationship with my children's birthday parties. I absolutely love the idea of organizing a magical, awe-inspiring event that brings together family, friends and classmates for fun and fairytale endings. But I absolutely dread the costs of doing everything, the pressures to top the preceding year's party, and keeping on top of the etiquette that goes along with it all. I had no idea there would be so much confusion to consider after my daughter's first birthday. So, today I am calling on all you Smarty Moms for advice and tips for - not just me - but anyone out there trying to sort through the nuances of birthday party planning and etiquette.

As far as the actual party goes, we've set the bar pretty low in our family. That's worked out great for our budgets (maybe not so much for our kids - ha, ha - actually I have to boast they've all been great) but we realize the bar can only go up from here. For the most part, all of our birthday parties have been at home or at a park, except for one year at Chuck E Cheese. I know - gasp! But for a two-year-old birthday party, it was fantastic! The cost is extremely reasonable to rent a table and purchase pizza, drinks and birthday cake for a party of adults and children. There is live entertainment, your child gets recognized, and there are non-stop ride-on toys available for all ages. The best part is the low maintenance and the low stress - you just can't beat that. So, yes, I recommend Chuck E. Cheese!

However, now my daughter is an "official" preschooler and has lots of friends and gets invited to lots of parties. So this year we are ready to raise our bar (wahoo!). But then the question becomes how high? Who do you invite? Do you invite everyone in your child's class, or in my daughter's case, just the girls? Can you mix neighborhood pals in with classmates, or will someone feel left out? Do you extend invitation to siblings? Should you consider the time of the party so as to not interfere with younger siblings' nap times? Do you invite one or both parents? And what's the official "drop off" age for birthday parties?

I may be in my fifth year of party planning, but as you can see, the questions never seem to end.

Then there are the gifts. As a party attendee, what is the appropriate amount you should spend? I usually target between $10 and $15. Is that too high or too low? And what if you can't attend, should you still send a gift?

As the host, I am always torn on whether or not to say on the invitation "Please No Gifts." But then I think how birthday parties, in all honesty, are all about the gifts for children of these ages. Truth be told, I love shopping for children’s' toys way more than children’s' clothes - so I have never had a problem with bringing a gift. My children love receiving gifts (of course); however, I would never expect anyone to bring a gift to my child's birthday party. So do you make that statement on your invitation, or do you just leave it be?

I've also been invited to parties where gifts are donated to charities. I love that idea, but then I also question at what age does it work best? I think it's essential to teach our children the importance of charity and giving, but I can promise you that the concept of donating birthday presents would not go over well with my children. Not at this age anyway. I am still working on how to persuade them to help me collect toys - toys that haven't been touched in months - for Goodwill donations.

So there you go. I have lots of questions. Perhaps it's because I just want the day to be perfect for the birthday kid - whether it's mine or someone else's. What have been your experiences? Do you have any Smarty advice, etiquette rules, or opinions to share?


Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh - you have asked all the same questions I ask! It is only once a year, but for some reason I stress myself out over my son's party all the time. He is now in 3rd grade, and the parties have gotten easier because he just wants a small group of boys. On the other hand, they are more difficult because I always feel like we are hurting someone's feelings who was not invited.

Kim said...

I used to spend quite a bit on gifts for children's birthday parties. Over the years I have gone down in price and I now spend $10 on gifts for children we don't know well, and $15 or so on gifts for close friends. The kids are happy with anything they get, and of course it is the thought that counts!

Anonymous said...

As far as nap times, I would say to plan it around your own child's schedule. There is no way to please everyone who is invited to the party, and you want the birthday girl or boy to be happy most of all!

Anonymous said...

How do you all feel about goody bags?? Of course my daughter loves to get them at parties, but does she really need a "thank you" gift for coming to a fun party? And it is stressful, and often more pricey than you think, for me to put together goody bags for my daughter's birthday. I say all of us moms make a pact to just not do goody bags anymore!

Rebecca said...

I second the goddy bag veto!!!! I like to have the kids make a craft of some sort at the party, and that takes the place of a goody bag.

Sandy said...

I am not a fan of the goody bags either. It has gotten to the point where kids expect them though so I feel like I need to have them. Peer pressure!

Kelly G. said...

I have a friend who throws mind-boggling birthday parties, complete with giant themed cakes (homemade) and mazes mowed into tall grass in the back yard. Seriously. The things I have learned from her are:
1. Let kids put things they make and do at the party into their goodie bags, and don't send home anything you wouldn't want your child to bring home.
2. If you don't invite everyone, invite a small group and mail invitations, or invite everyone in just one group, such as classmates, neighborhood friends, or dance class friends.
3. If you have a big party, let parents stay, then put them to work! It is more fun for them.
4. Don't overschedule. Remember our birthday parties as kids? We ran around in the yard and played a lot. That's still the most fun.
5. I think simple presents are best, but consider saving them to open after the party. You save time and eliminate jealousy.
6. If something about a kid party stresses you out, don't do it. You should have fun, too.

Beth W said...

I also like the idea of opening the birthday presents after the party. It helps you keep track easier of what they recieved. Even if places write it down for you, it always seems to get mixed up somehow!

MightyJen said...

Hello! What a great site! I wish I had you guys when mine were this age.
Great ideas I have done for parties in the past have included the following and have been the most fun for the kids and myself!:
1. Invite siblings - I have two kids and the one not invited was always sad when the other was. Now they are older and do not wish to be seen together in public let alone acknowledge they are related. Anywhooo... Siblings can play with other siblings and it makes for a great party.
2. Invite parents to stay if they wish and DEFINATLY put them to work. Most will offer to help. Ask dads to carry things, moms to pick up trash, etc.
3. Play OUTSIDE if possible! The kids LOVED Red Rover Red Rover, Dunking for Apples, Jump Rope Contest, HopScotch and Tug of War. We gave out $1 store gizmos as prizes and all had a blast.
4. Keep the food simple. If it pizza - cheese only. Hot Dogs OR burgers. Less choices = less fuss. Costco and Sam's are excellent places for bulk items at a better price and it's one-stop-shopping.
5. Paper EVEYTHING!!! paper plates, paper napkins, newspaper table cloths... Going green is good, but at a kid's party, staying sane is more important.
6. 2 hours. That long enough.
7. Cake cool. Cupcakes easier.
8. YOU Play too! I dunked for the apples, got soaking wet and chased the kids. WOW, now that was fun!
8. In leiu of gifts ask for toys for the needy, items to go in the Samaritan Shoe boxes, $5 each and donate the total to the church. Have a baby item drive and deliver the basket to the newest mom in the neighborhood, church or Birthright. It teaches your child that they are blessed already and how wonderful it feels to share with others.

I have a million more ideas, two teens and 16 years of mom-experience. Just email if you want more!

The 15 year needs a job! Anyone looking for a church-going, Altar Serving babysitter?

Meredith said...

At least I'm not the only one with these thoughts swirling around. As far as donations... we've always asked for items for charity. It's easier on the kids (4 & 2) to ask for something other than toys to donate and to be specific. This year we asked everyone to bring a box of their favorite cereal to donate to Second Harvest, last year it was pajamas for the pajama program. I like doing goody bags but try to keep them simple and usable - we did a box of sidewalk chalk one year ($2.49/each) that went over well. I just put a sticker that said "Thanks for coming!" on it with some ribbon and we were done.

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