I must confess that the party site they visited looked awesome! There were bright colored tables, balloons, an incredible cake and custom made bakery goods galore. Complementing the treats was an incredible spread of specially catered gourmet "adult" foods. Everything looked so good that I wanted to race on over!
So what is the real story about creating the best birthday party for your child? I encourage you to ask yourself a few important questions if you are planning for your kid's next B-day shindig and well before you open up your house or your wallet!
Who is the party actually for? And be honest. If your child is a toddler of maybe one to four years, chances are the party is more for the adults. That's okay! If you want to host an event, gather some friends and family together, to celebrate your wonderful child – so be it! If your child is a bit older and enjoys the company of other kids, you may want to shift the focus to inviting and meeting the needs of your young guests. And if you are considering offering a celebration for older kids, planning and creating the right environment and menu becomes even more critical.
Consider who your guests will be. If you are inviting little ones, are you expecting their parents to come? To stay? To participate? Are you inviting any kids who will need added supervision? If parents are going to be invited to participate with their children, make sure that they understand that by rsvp'ing they are agreeing to stay and supervise their child.
Is your party site appropriate for hosting your guests? Do you have enough indoor/outdoor space, bathrooms and room to feed your company? Are you willing to have all of those kids and their parents wander through your home? Are you prepared for spills and other unexpected accidents? If you are having a pool party, do you have adequate "life-guard" support?
If family members are encouraged to join the fun, have you made ample arrangements for their involvement? You might want to consider how you will include grandparents, aunts and uncles and other adults during the festivities.
Are you going to choose a theme? How will you communicate this theme? Will you expect the gifts given to your child to be in line with this theme?
What time of day will the event occur? Don't forget that you'll need to take nap time into consideration when planning for your littlest guests. And shorter party times may be required to avoid melt downs when naps are overdue. Likewise, older children may require a later party start time as they may not be available until soccer, baseball or football games are over for the weekend.
What type of activities have you planned? Remember that little ones have shorter attention spans and may benefit most from only one or two actual activities; other than eating the cake and opening gifts. Many are just as happy chasing bubbles or running around your backyard and may actually be fearful of ponies and puppets. The older the kids, the more you will have to think about prescribed party activities. A trip to LaserTag, where they plan the activities, and all that you do is bring the pizza, may be much more fulfilling for the kids and far less hectic for your nerves and pocket book.
Do you have a budget? You do not have to spend a bucket of money to make your kids happy. You know your child better than anyone else. While some children relish having a pack of friends over for a swim party, others may be more joyful taking a friend or two to the movies and out to lunch. Listen to your child when they tell you what they would like to do and don't pay for things that you really don't need.
When my oldest son turned one I hired a puppet master to entertain at his party. Little did I know that the puppets would end up terrifying some of our little guests and boring others. We felt so bad for the puppet master that we ended up giving him a big tip, a piece of cake and sending him on his way home early. What a waste of money!
What kind of food will you serve? This is where it is most important to know and meet the needs of your guests. Finger foods may work for young guests but 10 years olds will demand much more. You really don't have to hire a gourmet chef as pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, chips and dip often satisfy the widest age ranges. And although birthday cakes can be marvelous, small cupcakes may better meet the sweet quotient for kids and keep your costs down. And don't forget that for some adults, a party is not a party if you don't serve alcohol!
Are you trying to stay up with the Jones' by giving in to the perceived expectations of others?
Don't do it! I know that it is hard to balance out our parental desires to spoil our kids, while remaining within some kind of a budget. Parties are for making memories but those memories do not have to be founded in $500.00 cakes, ponies, gourmet chefs, puppet masters or more. So go back to my initial question of "who is the party for?" and think for a moment about what would truly make your child happy. Grab a piece of paper and jot down a realistic budget, people with whom to share this happy day and food that your child will like. From there you can determine just how flamboyant your child's party will be.