March 15, 2013 at 10:06 PM ET
If kids' birthday party prep, planning and management leave you feeling slightly crazed (kind of like, oh, a 5-year-old at a birthday party), it's time to change the formula. Here are easy ways to simplify birthday celebrations.
Plan a party that works for you and your kid. Before you buy a single birthday candle, give some thought to what would be fun for both you and your kid. Granted, your kid is the guest of honor so his preferences are an important part of making the occasion special and memorable, but you—clearly—are the one doing the heavy lifting.
Be honest about your motivations. Getting to the heart of your motivations around celebrations will help you identify your party priorities. You may be surprised to find that your expectations have more to do with your needs than your child's. Ask yourself: Am I doing this because I love throwing parties and (perhaps a little) showing off my entertaining skills? Am I compensating for something missing from my own childhood? Am I doing this because everyone else is throwing large parties and inviting the entire class? Once you're clear about your own motivations, you'll be able to see clearly what's most important: what your kid would enjoy.
Consider throwing parties every few years. Everyone should feel special on her birthday, but there's no rule that says your kid has to have an elaborate party every year. Family gatherings, simple traditions, sleepovers, or a day out with one or two good friends can be just as special as a big party, especially if big parties are overwhelming.
Decide on a reasonable number of guests. A common rule of thumb is one person per year of the child's age. But once kids start school, that's not always possible as class-wide parties become the norm. If you don't have the energy to host a class-wide party, that's perfectly fine. Simply distribute invitations outside of school and to talk to your child about the importance of discretion.
Simplify invitations. Printed or hand-lettered invitations are lovely—but only if you and your child enjoy making them. For everyone else, electronic invites via e-mail, Evite, or Paperless Post are quick, easy, and get the job done.
Ask for RSVPs, but don't worry about stragglers. It's always handy to know how many people are going to show up at your party, especially when guests arrive with siblings. But a few RSVPs are bound to get lost in the parenting chaos. Plan on a few extra portions of food and don't worry about it.
Set an end time. Always err on the side of a shorter party, and note a specific end time on the invitation. As kids get older, most parents will expect to drop off their kids and pick them up at the end of the party. If you'd like some grown up assistants, be sure to arrange for them ahead of time.
Reduce the expectations about meals. A party doesn't necessarily have to involve a meal. A selection of selfserve snacks and drinks, plus birthday cake, make for a perfectly festive food setup. If you set your party time between lunch and dinner, the expectations will be clear.
Simplify the decor. It's amazing how far a few balloons, streamers, or tissue paper balls go toward creating a festive atmosphere. In fact, to create a cohesive and festive party atmosphere in mere minutes, pick up plates, napkins, a disposable tablecloth, and balloons in the same color palette and you're good to go.
Prioritize tasks in order of fun factor—then let the rest go. Even when your plans are simple, sometimes the tasks can still stack up. Prioritize the things that bring you the most joy and let go of the rest. Bake a cake if you love to bake, but skip the decor or home-cooked lunch (pizza works!) if it just isn't your thing.
Team up with a friend. Does your child have a good buddy with a birthday in close proximity? Team up to reduce effort (and scheduling) for all!
Skip the goodie bags! There! We said it! We love the generous spirit behind goodie bags and party favors, but we could all do without random tchotchkes that get played with for five seconds (if that) and then stuffed in a drawer. How about hosting a simple craft activity and letting the result serve as the parting gift? Or sending kids home with something edible/usable? Or taking a group photo and printing out copies (at the party or after) for each child to keep?
One year, we used Frisbees as trays to serve the paper plates full of birthday cake. At the end of the party, each guest had a Frisbee to take home and play with for the rest of the summer. Another year we gave out binder-pouches stuffed with school supplies picked up on super-clearance. The parents and the kids loved them.
Excerpted with permission from MINIMALIST PARENTING: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest (Bibliomotion, March 2013).
Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned writer, editor, designer, consultant, and impassioned conversationalist. She is the founder and editor of the stylish parenting resource portal Boston Mamas. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and daughters Laurel and Violet.Asha Dornfest is the founder of Parent Hacks, a blog devoted to sharing parents' "forehead-smackingly smart" tips and practical wisdom. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, 12 year-old son, and 9 year-old daughter.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.