Inside: Learn why we don’t throw big birthday parties for our kids and what we opt to do instead.
This past week one of my daughters had a birthday. She turned 9. But you won’t find us hosting any big parties this weekend.
As we’ve worked to simplify various aspects of our lives, how we choose to celebrate birthdays has become a part of that.
Here are 5 reasons we don’t throw big birthday parties for our kids and what we opt to do instead.
5 Reasons Why We Don’t Throw Big Birthday Parties
While not an exhaustive list, these are the five main reasons why we don’t throw big birthday parties for our kids.
1. I’m not good at it
I’m not a Pinterest mom. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Pinterest. I am just not a party planner at all.
I enjoy fancy, fun, and creative things, but I’m not great at actually making them. In part, because that isn’t my gift, and the other part is I don’t value that enough to spend the time on it.
If we are going to be honest, how many of us want to spend our weekends at kids birthday parties or hosting them? Of course, we sacrifice for our kids often but is eating cake every other weekend good for them either?
2. We’re very frugal
Kids’ birthday parties can be very expensive. If you are trying to rent out a local roller skating rink or play place, it costs a lot of money. Are there less frugal ways to do it? Yes. You can host it at a park, but providing food and things adds up.
I’m all about living within our means. We don’t have hundreds of extra dollars to spend on birthdays every year.
We’ve chosen to say no to the excess and instead opt for a simpler route for birthdays and Christmas.
3. We don’t want to overdo it
I think we can overdo birthday parties. Parents didn’t use to throw one-year-olds huge parties. This has become a lot more common in recent years. We’ve moved away from simple and instead opt for bigger, which isn’t always better.
If we get them whatever they want for every birthday including the party they desire, we set up an expectation that does not align with our values.
One may argue that that’s what birthdays are for. I disagree. I believe it’s possible to find a happy medium. This is why I focused on not throwing BIG parties instead of no parties.
When we take things to extremes, we set their expectations so high that they are likely to end up disappointed. Even if I want to spoil my kids at the holidays and their birthdays, I won’t. Because it sends an inconsistent message.
It’s important to me to raise children who don’t feel entitled. I’m trying to teach them to live simply despite our consumer culture. In doing so, I need to be careful with the example that I set for them and the choices I make.
We don’t need to encourage children to be self-focused. That comes naturally. It takes intentional effort to pay attention to the needs of others instead. That isn’t to say we don’t celebrate them. We do. Just not by throwing a big birthday party.
4. We like simple
So if we don’t throw big birthday parties, what do we do? On the day before their birthday they get to pick up the number of balloons as years old they are turning. This year we started giving them the option of cash instead of the balloons as ten balloons was getting to be a lot.
On their birthday day, the birthday girl gets to pick what she wants for dinner and requests whatever cake she would like. We ‘decorate’ the night before their birthday with a banner, balloons, and a few streamers. It’s very simple and would impress no one, but the girls really enjoy it.
Over the weekend we have a get-together with extended family where we enjoy a meal together and the kids play. We hang up the minimal decor at whichever relative’s house we are at that year (think 1 pack of streamers and a dollar tree sign). And that’s about it. It is simple and perfect for us.
Every five years the girls will get to have a party where they invite their friends. Even still I keep the numbers to a minimum. Both girls had five friends over on their fifth birthday.
It was basically a glorified play date. They ran around our house playing with each other and having lunch and cake. Refer to point #1.
This past year was supposed to be the second friend party for my oldest, but quarantines made that impossible. Instead, we went on a surprise weekend trip with just our little family and made many great memories.
As far as gifts go, we keep those simple too. Typically something she needs and something fun to do. This year she got sneakers and four gymnastics lessons.
My mom’s gift will be a date with her where they will have breakfast and shop for something my daughter needs. It often ends up being shoes too. Goodness, kids are hard on their feet.
A couple of years ago, I got my in-laws on board with my new idea called a Fun Fund. They contributed to it. The birthday girl will get to decide what experience she wants to spend that money on. The only rules are they must get parental approval and have to take pictures during the experience to send to anyone who has contributed to the fund.
My daughter was thrilled to learn that she gets to pick something exciting to do. As a bonus, it helps teach them budgeting as she learns how far her money can go.
There are many ideas for experience gifts that can be given instead of toys.
I recently read an article about how travel is the new birthday gift and I think that’s a great idea if you can afford it. You always have better memories from experiences rather than things.
The final reason we don’t throw big birthday parties is because we don’t want the clutter. I don’t want to create party favors to hand out to kids. I realize there are creative ways to do this where they aren’t total junk but refer back to #1…that’s not my thing.
We also don’t want the random gifts that come with hosting a birthday party. Well-intentioned guests bring toys or other items for the birthday girl. Sometimes they aren’t things we would choose to have in our home, but always it is just too much stuff.
I’ve seen people try to avoid this by requesting no gifts or donations to a cause, but usually, that’s been met with mixed results where gifts were still given despite their best efforts.
Birthday parties also tend to clutter up our schedules. If our kids went to every birthday party they are invited to, we’d be spending lots of weekends at kid’s birthday parties. And that just isn’t how I want us to spend our weekends.
I’m protective of our time and our schedule. Family time is important to me. Having downtime is important to me. I simply cannot keep up with all the birthday parties. If I am hosting them, I’m contributing to it. We vote no.
What We Do Instead of Throwing Big Birthday Parties
I realize that as I am doing this with my kids, I am pretty much recreating my own childhood. My parents did the same five-year party thing for us.
I knew my friends had bigger birthday parties and had them every year. And I am sure that I asked for more parties than I got. But I made it through just fine. I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of it.
So where will you find us this weekend? We’ll be having a gymnastics-themed bbq at my sister’s house. The kids will be doing lots of cartwheels and the birthday girl will enjoy food cooked by her favorite chef, her uncle. It will be simple and it will be lovely.
Update: I wrote this post about four years ago. In recent years we have continued to keep the girls’ birthday parties really small and have focused on experiences instead.
We’ve loved that their birthdays are a time that we celebrate them while spending quality time together as a family. Is there anything important they’re missing out on? I don’t think so.
How do you celebrate birthdays in your home? Share it in the comments section.
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