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How Should Kids Celebrate Their Birthdays?

March 5th, 2014 by Wendy Kennar

birthday party (photo by Wendy Kennar)

My son is rapidly approaching his sixth birthday party.  And I fear the jig is up.  For his first five years, I have been able to avoid throwing a big birthday party for my son.  Those times may have come to an end.

For my son’s first birthday, we decorated the house with balloons.  We invited his grandparents, his cousins, his aunt, his uncle, his nanny, and some of my close friends.  It was a party where the grown-ups celebrated the first birthday of my precious boy.  Even his nephews were a bit limited — at the time, they were seven and four.  There’s only so much they could do with their one-year-old cousin.

Since then we’ve always celebrated my son’s birthday at home.  A cake, presents, a dinner at a local restaurant, but overall a relatively quiet celebration at home.  When my son turned five, I thought we’d have our first “official” party, since my son was then in preschool.  But last year, Ryan didn’t even want people to sing “Happy Birthday” to him.  It took almost a week until he opened his presents.  He just wasn’t as interested in all the hoopla surrounding his birthday.

This year is different.  Since Ryan’s fifth birthday, he has attended several birthday parties.  Several expensive parties.  Bouncy houses.  Pizza.  Cake.  Ice cream.  Goody bags.  (One party even had one menu for the kids – pizza, and another for the adults – steak and liquor).  He knows what’s out there, and now it’s up to my husband and I to decide how we want to proceed with the celebration for Ryan’s sixth birthday.

I don’t want to deprive my child of a celebration with his friends.  However, there’s so much involved with kids’ parties.  With these bouncy houses, there is the worry that a child will get hurt.  And I certainly don’t want a child getting hurt on my watch.  Plus, I worry about the whole “bounce-eat-bounce-some-more” scenario.  One of these days a child is going to throw-up, and I really don’t want it to be at our party.

As a “thank you” for the invitation, the party attendees will come bearing gifts.  Most likely, these will be unnecessary, even unwanted, gifts.  Items that will take up space in our home.  Items that I never would have bought for my son (like a toy sword or gun).  When we are guests at a party, we make it a point to select gifts that I would like Ryan to receive.  We’re big on giving the guest of honor puzzles, art supplies, and books.

Certainly, I will bring cupcakes and juice and celebrate Ryan’s birthday in his kindergarten class.  Beyond that, I’m not sure.  Honestly, I would rather take the money we’d spend on a party and use it for a special family celebration — an overnight trip or a visit to Legoland (a place we have never visited).

In the grand scheme of things, I know Ryan won’t remember much from these early birthday celebrations.  And, it’s my opinion that these parties are taking us further away from the real reason we celebrate a birthday.  A birthday is a recognition of the day of one’s birth, a celebration  of life, the day our lives were forever changed.  It is not reason to incur a large expense to rent out a child’s gym.

So, there’s only one diplomatic thing to do.  It’s time for a family discussion.  I need to ask the birthday boy for his opinion.  Give him his options and hear what he wants.  And we’ll go from there.

Wendy Kennar (79 Posts)

Wendy is the mother of a six-year-old son, a writer, and was a public school teacher for twelve years. She has had work published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, L.A. Parent, GreenPrints, DivineCaroline.com, United Teacher, Beyond the Diaper Bag, Lessons From My Parents, Write for Light, and The Barefoot Review. She blogs at Wendy's Weekly Words.


One comment

  1. Oh I remember these times! My son recently turned 13, and the party train stopped when he was 11. He was very vocal about having a birthday party every year beginning with his 6th birthday (and everyone in his class was invited!) If you can get away with a family trip to Legoland for your little guy that would be awesome! Check out my story in The Party Boy http://wp.me/p22xxF-4e. And Happy Birthday, Ryan!

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