Family life

The six birthday party commandments (and how I've broken them)

Tracy Chappell goes over the six big commandments when throwing a birthday party — and realizes she's broken all of them.

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Avery with her birthday guest, Belle. Photo: Tracy Chappell.

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

I’m no Martha Stewart. My house is evidence enough but, if you need further proof, it’s my approach to my kids’ birthday parties. I threw what I hope will be my very last princess party this weekend, for Avery’s fifth birthday (which isn’t until September, but she wanted a party with her preschool friends before heading to SK next week). I did something I’ve never done before: I hired entertainment. Belle, to be exact. It was so wonderful (I’m saying that in her prefect Disney princess voice) and while it seems elaborate, really, it was a matter of me coughing up some cash to take the pressure off. And, since it was the last of its kind, I decided it was worth it. And it totally was — Avery’s face was priceless and the girls were completely absorbed by this woman’s games, songs, dances and activities.

A party like this might be standard in other circles, but I’ve taken a less-is-more approach to my previous 11 birthday celebrations for my daughters. I’ve broken all the birthday rules — or everything Pinterest might have you believe must be done.

Here’s what I see as the six party commandments — and how I’ve broken them:

1) Thou shalt have a theme: I remember my bewilderment when I first discovered that “It’s my kid’s birthday, come and eat cake with us” wasn’t enough of a theme for a birthday party. I’ll never forget the party my friend threw a few years ago (and she’s amazing, so don’t misinterpret this as a dig). It was a Dr. Seuss-themed party and they covered their house with big, colourful polka-dots. Our jaws collectively dropped as we pulled up. And it only got more impressive from there. I’ve dabbled in themes over the years — Anna’s pyjama party was the best because it was incredibly easy (no one even had to get dressed!) — and while I continue to be wowed by my pals’ parties, we mostly still just do “It’s my kid’s birthday, come and eat cake with us.”

2) Thou shalt think big: This Pinterest-obsessed world can have you thinking that your party has to be beautiful and trendy and matchy-matchy, thought through to the tiniest detail. Don’t believe it! It’s a party for a child, who won’t care if your napkins were autographed and imported from Disney World. Before social media, no one but your nearest and dearest knew what went down on party day, and it was OK. It still is. Between getting gum out of your child’s hair and shoving everything under the bed because company’s coming, you’ve already got your hands full. Don’t feel you have to overthink it, or make every part of your party (down to bathroom décor) match your theme (if you have one). Kids don’t need all that jazz to feel celebrated.

Read more: Visit our Today’s Parent Pinterest page! >

3) Thou shalt have a plan: Here’s how it works for me: A few weeks ahead, I think of a plan. Then, two days before the party, I run myself ragged implementing said plan — shopping, cleaning, etc. I still can’t decide if it’s better to start early and do it bit by bit, or just be consumed by party prep for a day or two, but this seems to be working OK for me. I have a new friend, who was also planning a princess party for this past weekend, and she had everything ready (including her house decorated — again, LOVE this girl) a full week before the party. She was finished, and I hadn’t done one thing except order the princess (which she encouraged). But it all worked out. We have to do what makes us stay sane, right?

4) Thou shalt make cake pops: Ummm… no. Whose bright idea was cake pops? Props to those moms, but I just get grocery store cake and haven’t had any complaints yet. My friend found an awesome cake-pop shortcut, if you’re inclined: Start with Timbits. Brilliant! We did do marshmallow pops to tuck in Avery’s loot bags, which was fun to do with the girls (put a marshmallow on a stick, dip it in melted chocolate wafers, dip in sprinkles — voila!).

5) Thou shalt break the bank over loot bags: I heard there was a big “thing” on Twitter about a child who went to a party and didn’t get a loot bag and the mom was so happy. I admit I’m in her camp. I wish we could just unite in their abolishment, only because they’ve become such an expectation, and probably (though this hasn’t been my experience) a source of one-upmanship. Having said that, I find myself unintentionally overspending on loot bags (I think I suddenly try to overcompensate from my late start). The trend I see happening is the gift card, usually $5 for Dairy Queen or Walmart, which I think is awesome once kids reach a certain age. Once, I baked everyone huge cookies with their names on them, but I’m not sure if that would delight my older, more particular party-goers these days.

Read more: 11 goodie bags with a twist >

6) Thou shalt be the perfect hostess: If you show up early at my house, you’ll be asked to help string up balloons or cut up a cucumber. That’s how we roll. And by that time, you’ve likely heard me rant over people not RSVPing (because that makes me crazy) which has left me in a panicked “What if they all show up and I’m short on loot bags?” frenzy. I stay up very late the night before to do whatever can be done because I can be a bit of a stress-case the morning of the party. I have to give Sean, and usually my mom, who graciously comes early to help, a list of jobs and really, it’s best to just not talk to me until it’s all done. I eventually reach a stage of calm, and am ready to roll. But I’m not really that hostess that rolls with any potential “disastrophe” (this is Anna’s invented word, which I love more than any other), though I have six months to try to become her before Anna’s next birthday.

I may do it all wrong, but you know what? My kids love their birthday parties. And I try not to forget — at my most stressed-out moment — that that’s all that matters.

What are your birthday party commandments?