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Challenge: Happy Birthday!

Birthday Party? No Thanks, Mom!

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Birthday Party? No Thanks, Mom!

“Thanks, Mommy, for a really fun birthday,” were the last words my son whispered in his half-sleep as his birthday came to a close. I could tell he was fighting it—for falling asleep meant his 7th birthday had to end.

“You’re welcome, buddy.” I kissed his forehead and crept downstairs. Another successful birthday in the books. Were were all tired? Yes. Was he happy? All day long. Did he have a birthday party? No, he did not.

Every year for the past few years, once my son was old enough to attend school and be invited to birthday parties, we have offered two choices as the big day approaches.

Choice 1: Host a party with as many friends as you would like to invite. We will have the party at home, where you and your friends will play some games, have cake, and open your presents. It will look at lot like parties Mom and Dad enjoyed when we were kids—and they were fun. Mom will even fill goodie bags with dollar store treasures to hand out to your guests.

Choice 2: Take one or two friends out for the day, doing whatever you choose, and having dinner at a restaurant, also of your choice.

As parents, we understand the excitement of hosting a party. Your child is the center of the world for that one special day. There is cake, endless energy, and a mound of presents with his name on it. Parents want their children to feel loved as they pass these milestones; we feel the same. And honestly, our kids enjoy attending birthday parties, so we want them to truly have that choice if they so desire.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that our hope in presenting these two options is that our child will choose option #2. Frankly, the idea of dropping hundreds of dollars to host a party for 20 kids that my kid barely knows is far less preferable to us—at home, or elsewhere. We are not opposed to spending money to ensure our child enjoys his birthday; in fact, our day out can easily become expensive. But option #2 allows for a far more unique and memorable way of using the money we otherwise would have spent on a party.

This is not a plan we as parents came to intentionally. We did host an excessively large event for our oldest son’s first birthday (as so many new parents do). We invited everyone we knew. Everyone. He was one, and cried and/or slept through most of it. After that, we took a couple of years off from big parties as the kids were toddlers and babies—because, well, why not? But we assumed we’d go down Birthday Party Road once they were in school. Circumstances dictated otherwise. Our first born was a bit introverted early on, and now, even though he’s much more outgoing, he is not one to choose a large group of friends. He tends to stick to his small circle and seems content. Our daughter would probably revel in the thrill of a large party, but her birthday is in December—a great time to see holiday lights and go ice skating, not a great time for a birthday party. Therefore, we came to realize there were choices other than a traditional birthday party to help our kids celebrate.

So a few years ago, birthday choices #1 and #2 were born.

We’ve offered these two options three years consecutively, and every year, without hesitation, our son has chosen option #2. The first two birthdays we took along one friend; this year we took two. We return home with tired kids who have full bellies and fond memories. This year’s agenda: Legoland, pizza, and ice cream—not a bad way to spend your birthday as you turn seven years old.

There are no goodie bags full of cheap plastic toys that will break after one use. There is no guessing game as I wait for RSVPs, as we only need to coordinate with one or two families. Absent is the stress of which children to invite. By inviting only his best friend(s), there are no hurt feelings; no one is excluded. There is no pile of new toys that my son truly does not need. And parents who do not know him did not feel compelled to purchase him a gift.

What about Grandma and Grandpa? When do they celebrate with our son? This decision is also easy. On his actual birthday, we hang balloons, sing Happy Birthday, and enjoy cake and presents with our extended family. Then, a Saturday before or after his birthday is our day out with his friend(s). This is also beneficial as our child has quality time with family one day, and quality time with a close friend another. And both times he is the birthday boy.

This year, as I tucked in my new 7-year old and pulled his blanket up to his shoulders, I knew that he felt loved and had the birthday he wanted. Next year is a new ball game though. We are not anti-birthday party, and can’t promise we won’t be hosting one in the future. So far, however, they are not for us.

Our daughter turns five this year. She was presented with the same two options—guess which one she chose?

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