Birthday Party Drama: Parties for the School-Aged Crowd

I fully confess that I love birthday parties. The cake, the themes, the decorations: they’re all a blast to me. After several years of parenting and much trial and error, I felt like I really had this birthday party thing down.

Sadie’s first birthday (with Molly, then three years old). A simpler time.

Until my daughter started school.

Along with her entrance into Kindergarten came a myriad of party-related issues. Now I feel like I’m starting all over again, trying to figure out how to throw/attend birthday parties. Here are just a few of the issues I’m having:

The Guest List Quandary
It seems like such a basic thought, right? Invite whomever your kid wants to his/her birthday party. Except, do you want to invite someone from school? Oh, you do? Well, now you get to invite the entire class. That’s right: Now 22 Kindergartners will make your home their home for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Hope you don’t have any friends outside of class, because if you want them to come too you’re looking at upwards of 30 kids. In. Your. House. You don’t want 30 kids destroying your home, you say? Don’t worry! For the low bargain price of $200 per dozen, you can have your party at one of San Antonio’s indoor play places or trampoline parks. If you want to avoid having to invite the entire class but still allow your kiddo to invite a few friends from school, you can do what I did and stalk the parents of those friends, slip them an invite like it’s a joint at a college party, and whisper, “Mollywantstoinviteyourkidbutwe’renotinvitingthewholeclassSHHHHH!”

The Sibling Predicament
I will say that it was tough for Sadie (4) when Molly (6) came home with a birthday party invitation that was addressed only to her. I get that it’s hard to explain to younger siblings that they can’t attend birthday parties to which their older sibling is exclusively invited. This year, I’ve been surprised to see that some parents bring an uninvited sibling to birthday parties. I have attended parties where parents have even driven up, deposited the invited guest and the uninvited sibling, and driven off into the sunset, leaving the bewildered hosts wondering what to do. Realize that hosts are paying for food and activities per child, and if the entire class attends and brings siblings, that’s…way too many kids to keep track of.

Molly celebrating a birthday.

Molly celebrating a birthday.

The Gift Dilemma
To gift or not to gift: that is the question. My husband and I have been in the no-gift camp since my eldest daughter’s first birthday. We buy gifts for our kids, and members of our extended family do too, but we tell our party guests not to bring gifts. I wish our reason was in an effort to comment on the materialism of our society or something great and noble, but our main reason is that we don’t have the space for 15 extra toys per kid. I have seen some children ask for donations to local schools or animal shelters in lieu of gifts, and I think that’s lovely. My advice? Don’t feel like you have to do things at a party just because they’re traditional, and be sure to make your wishes clear to guests. If you don’t want gifts, say so. If you just want clothes or books, say so. Otherwise it’s confusing for your guests and kids. I’ve brought gifts to parties only to be told, “oh, we didn’t want anything!” and then I’ve felt awkward (as I usually do).

The Goody Bag Issue
We’ve all been there, right? You leave a birthday party and are handed a bag of Dollar Store crap mixed with a few Pixy Stix. You let your kid play with them for a bit and then sneakily throw them away. In this year of 22 birthday parties, I’ve been handed 22 bags of junk, most of which end up in the trash or hidden between my kids’ beds and the wall. And yet, when it’s time for my girls’ parties, I still stress out thinking about what to get for the goody bags. So why don’t we all just stop already? If none of us like buying OR receiving goody bags, why are we doing this to ourselves?

The Chuck E. Cheese Addendum

Katie's daughter feels my pain about Chuck E. Cheese.

Katie’s daughter feels my pain about Chuck E. Cheese.

OK, show of hands: who actually likes Chuck E. Cheese? Before you say your kids do, think back to the last time you were there. They were excited, sure, but did they actually have fun during the party? Which part was best for them: being terrified of the giant animatronic mouse, or throwing a tantrum because they couldn’t get into the ticket blaster? How about the excruciating 10 minutes it took them to decide whether they wanted to get a sticker or a lollipop with the 25 tickets they won while you were yelling, “Hurry up, there are 15 kids behind you!”? Or during the stomach bugs they inevitably came down with 48 hours later? I personally cringe when I get an invitation to a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party, and I know a lot of my friends do, too. So can we please just all decide to stop throwing parties there?

Throwing a birthday party? Need ideas or help? Check out Taylor’s post on girl birthday party places around SA, take a look at Megan’s post on local boy birthday party venues, or click here for Amanda’s adorable Pinteresty ideas for creating a fabulous birthday party for your little one.

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