Rethinking Kids’ Birthday Parties :: An Opportunity for Hospitality

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I have five kids and have hosted a lot of birthday parties, though not as many as you might think. You see, I have four girls and all four have May birthdays (!!), so I’m a big fan of the combined birthday party strategy. I’ve also been pretty lazy over the last few years and hosted zero birthday parties, opting instead for a shared experience or activity as a family to celebrate their special day(s).

Pinterest Pressure

I’ve been to even more kid birthday parties than I’ve hosted (because of all those kids), and wow, other moms (and maybe some dads) have some fun ideas and far more creativity than I could ever muster. Some mamas are party people and love Pinterest-worthy themes, attention-to-detail décor, and food that would put a modern day Martha Stewart to shame.

I’m not one of those people. For my first baby’s first birthday cake, I tried to make a cupcake display thing that looked like this cute caterpillar I saw on Pinterest, and I have photo evidence that it was not a success. In fact, I may be getting an invitation to bake on “Nailed It!” on the Food Network if they ever see my pictures.

I feel intimidated by other kids’ birthday parties, which either cost a lot of money for the venue to take care of everything or cost a lot of time and emotional energy (and probably money, too) for the family to pull off. In response to this feeling, I just stopped throwing my kids’ parties.

A New Philosophy

But lately, my birthday party philosophy has changed. Birthday parties are, obviously, a celebration of the child. They are not about showing off our talents or creativity, though of course those things can be productive ways to celebrate a child. But what if, instead of a chance to show off our party planning skills, kid birthday parties are instead an opportunity to be hospitable to our friends, neighbors, and peers?

This changed mindset is the result of attending a few parties recently on both ends of the party spectrum. One was in a tiny venue where the parents lined up on the wall and tried not to breathe too much so as to not take up any additional space in the miniscule party room made for 10 people with at least 40 people packed in. It was sweet, but the parents obviously spent tons of money and the kids barely talked to each other because there was so much sugar and so little space.

A Better Way

Another party stands out in a different way. It was extremely simple, held at the park. Siblings and parents were welcome. There were cupcakes and maybe one other treat (I can’t remember because the focus was not on the food), but I got to meet and have a decently in-depth conversations with five or six parents of children in my daughter’s kindergarten class, most of whom I was meeting for the first time. And lest you think the party was for the adults, my daughter declared it the best birthday party she ever went to.

Yet another recent party was at a neighborhood pool for one of our new neighbor girls who the kids play with quite regularly. We’re new to the neighborhood, and the kids had a blast swimming, eating pizza and cookie cake, and simply playing. As a parent, I got to meet new neighbors, was introduced to several other adults (who were kind and fun to talk to) by the birthday girl’s mother, and was offered a Dr. Pepper with the good crunchy ice. It was the simplest and yet most lovely celebration because it was about the people instead of the party.

Entertainment versus Hospitality

What it really boils down to, I believe, is the true purpose of the party. Is it to entertain or is it to host? One of my favorite writers, Jen Wilkin, describes this difference perfectly: entertainment is about self, while hospitality is about others. Zing. I’m so guilty of setting out to entertain, to impress, to have cute pictures to show off my talents and blessings. But that actually blesses no one, and it stresses me out in the process.

So moms, if planning a birthday party for your child with all the bells and whistles makes you feel like you’ll break out into hives, there is hope. Simplicity and focus on others will give your child a beautiful celebration, and with the pressure off to impress, it will free you to enjoy your child and guests. It will let you see them as the people they really are.

So next year, instead of doing no party because it’s just so overwhelming, you’ll see me at the playground with some store-bought cupcakes and dollar store hoola hoops. And maybe some of that yummy Sonic ice, because that’s always hospitable.

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