Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Happy Birthday

If you've just stopped on by, I'm tackling questions that people wonder about "big" families. I personally still think of us as "just us" and forget that our family size is a bit of a cultural abnormality. We aren't perfect, please don't look at my baseboards or in my cupboards, and most certainly not in my bedroom, when you come over, but we are happy and love what's going on in our "large" family. Take a look at this post if you want to see how this on going series got started and please feel free to leave any other questions that I can give you my view on.

Rissa asked :

1. How do you handle birthdays? Do you give a party for each child every year? Do you switch off? Do you feel that each child "deserves" a party?

This is a great question. I think it's great for three reasons. 1) I struggled with it for so long. 2) It's very interesting to me that parents feel either so very validated or invalidated by what they do for a child's birthday 3) I feel like our culture has blown birthdays out of proportion.

How do you handle birthdays? Well, we decided we would throw a party for our children when they turn 1. That first year is pretty momentous and it is fun to have a picture of a baby with frosting all over their face. You can call me weird, but you know you like it too ;-)

Our personal family choice after that was to wait until around age 5ish or whenever the child asked. Why go to great lengths for something that they would rather be napping through?

Isaac wasn't really interested in having a party until his last birthday, and we kept it low key since I had just had our fifth baby. We ordered pizza, we only invited 2 other families, and I made sure there was a goody bag for each child. The kids just played with our regular toys until pizza and cake time and were allowed to each take home some of the pirate cake decorations. And you know what? It was proclaimed not only by my son but by two other kids attending to be "the coolest party ever." Chalk one up for me, the coolest mom ever.

Naturally, now that Isaac had a birthday party our daughter Giovanna is planning her birthday party for her fifth birthday this winter. That's OK with me. I think we'll follow the keeping it simple method.

Do you give a party for each child every year? Do you switch off? I kind of jumped ahead in answering the last one, but in case it wasn't clear we haven't done that yet. We've had lots of discussions on birthdays and what we will or will not do. I've recently been toying with the idea of letting a child have a party every other year. And on the year they don't get to have a party with friends perhaps letting them invite 1 friend to enjoy the family dinner celebration. With 5 kids, that's still a lot of parties! I'm sure I'll keep you posted on the progression of this decision.

Do you feel that each child "deserves" a party? I think that on a child's birthday they deserve the same thing they deserve every other day of the year: To be a part of the family and to be loved by the family.

Now before you take that to be a "downer" sort of a reply, this is what I mean by it.

I think that a child's birthday is a special time for them to be celebrated and shown love by the family. But if the entire family is stressed out emotionally, physically, and/or financially by a birthday celebration? Well then, I don't think that's a really wise thing to do. Nor do I think it's an accurate display of love for the child.

It not only isn't good for the family as a whole, but it's unhealthy for a child to think they "deserve" something no matter what the cost or for them to feel guilty because of the stress the rest of the family is bearing that day. No child deserves an unhealthy environment and no child deserves to feel like the cause of stress.

So those are my thoughts thus far on birthdays. They should be a blessing for the child and family, considering it's a celebration of how the family was blessed by that child! In closing, I want to share an excerpt from a book with you. It's a little long but worthwhile on this topic. I especially like point #2, as I feel many times the celebrations thrown for children are more about the parents and I love the concept in point #7.

From All The Way Home by Mary Pride, Chapter 8 "Is There Life After T.V.?", pages 125-126 :

The Lazy Mother's Guide to Birthday Parties

1) Make sure everyone gets a present, if presents are given. We always buy one little gift a piece for the other children when one is celebrating this birthday. This prevents jealousy.

2) Keep it simple. The more excess effort you exert when designing the celebration, the bigger the success it has to be to keep you from feeling like a failure. Children are just as happy with a Betty Crocker cake with supermarket frosting as with a three-story wonder covered with chocolate clowns and licorice lions.

3) That is, unless you like and are good at doing decorations. Just don't let Gertie Goodwife's bravura performances bamboozle you into feeling you have to match her artistry. (Hint: M&M's and other candies stuck on a cake look fancy and take almost no time. The kids can even do it!)

4) Balloons are always a hit with little kids.

5) If you buy presents, choose items that allow children to be creative. Art supplies are great!

6) Out of a dozen miserable childhood memories I beg you not to organize competitive games, and especially not to award prizes to the winners. Someone always has to be the loser, and to be the only lose with no prize in the midst of a crowd of excited, romping children is almost unbearable.

7) A birthday party is an opportunity for the birthday child and his brothers and sisters to practice hospitality. Remind them that their job is to make sure the guests have a good time. This turns the birthday child away from a selfish concern about "What am I gonna get?"

8) Presents are twice as much fun if you put together a Treasure Hunt with clues leading to the presents. This need not be elaborate. I myself write the clues on Post-Its and let the other children put them in their hiding places ahead of time.

9) I personally feel it is worth it to buy special birthday paper plates and tablecloths, etc. Set-up and clean-up are much easier, and they add a lot to the party atmosphere.

10) Our family's rule is to not give a party to a one-year-old. He or she is too little to enjoy it. Two-year-olds get their first party with just brothers and sisters. Three-year-olds can invite one or two guests. Four-year-olds and up can invite more. This way each child is able to enjoy the event without becoming overwhelmed.

We purchase presents up to a month in advance and party gear the week of the party. I always make the cake the day before, and usually frost and decorate the it the night before. Then all I have to do for the party is set the party plates, make a Treasure Hunt and watch the children have fun!

Other mothers give much more elaborate parties. I have avoided this, not just out of laziness, but because I don't want our children to become jaded connoisseurs. Too much fanciness distracts from the food and the guests.

Since a birthday is our chance to thank God for giving us this child and preserving him for us, we make a point of thanking God for this during our evening prayers, and also at the party itself. We also slow down the present-opening time enough to make sure the birthday child thanks the giver and the Lord for every present.


Mrs. Querido said...

Right on! A couple of weeks before Mr. Independent turned four, we were invited to a friend's party. Wow! There was a clown who did face painting and balloon animals. There were snacks and goodies for the kids and hotwings and tortilla wraps for the adults. The cake was a work of art! I left that party realizing that my little boy's birthday was going to look so sad in comparison. So I prayed. I asked God for help in making my little boy's birthday FUN and MEMORABLE and please make it inexpensive too Lord! I figured that was a pretty tall order. He never fails and He cares about the smallest details! I came up with this idea: http://fiveinthepottershand.blogspot.com/2008/06/smash-hit.html
I even had fun! And even one of the party-goers told me it was the best birthday he had ever been to! One of the best parts for me was realizing I had spent less than $80 for the whole thing. We had like ten little kids too! Even invited some neighborhood friends on a whim the day of! There was plenty of food and fun.

Our society gets so intent on one-upping the other parents' parties that we often forget to have fun! After it was over, I realized that I didn't care if it wasn't as extravagant as the other party we had been to. My little boy was so ecstatic and had such a good time...you cannot put a price on that!

Mrs. Querido said...
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Mrs. Querido said...


Kristin said...

With 3 (almost 4) kids, we are starting to be considered a big family and this is one issue I struggle with...especially as we have a busy summer of birthdays coming up now. Our biggest issue is we have so much family that we feel we have to invite. Even a family party turns into a big deal. Thankfully, with Owen being so shy and fearful around lots of people, everyone understands when we make the party super small and simple. BUT with the older kids, it is a something I am still working through. Thanks for your thoughts!

ryleeandnoahsmom said...

This is what we did this year: we asked our kids whether they wanted a friend party (our family always gets together to celebrate birthdays with cake and ice cream) in addition to the family party, or whether they wanted just the family party and an overnight stay at our favorite place, "Great Wolf Lodge" in Niagara Falls, Canada. Of course, our kids chose Great Wolf, and since their birthdays were in February and April, we went in March (a good month before my due date)and it was a combined gift that they loved and have fond memories of. They are already talking about next year. I'm sure we will change things as needed as they grow older, but this worked for us this year. I don't like when kids feel that its their right to have a huge party every year, and I never want guests to feel like its a burden or a chore to attend.

I do like theme parties. One year, for Rylee's birthday we chose to have a ladybug party. It was surprisingly easy. All they tablecloths and napkins, plates, etc were just red or black. Same with balloons and streamers. I took smooth river rocks, painted them red, then the kids took markers and colored the black dots, faces, etc onto the ladybug and they took that home. We played "pin the spot on the ladybug" and my cousin, who is a cake maker, made us an unbelieveable ladybug cake. The kids (and even adults) were asked to come in either a ladybug costume, if they had one, or in red or black...even the majority of adults dressed in black or red! It was soooo much fun and I have some great memories from that party. Hopefully, Rylee does as well!

Another year we had a tea party. At garage sales I had purchased old china tea sets. I borrowed some little tables from friends and just bought a yard or two of lace to cover the tables. I put juice in the teapots, and the kids were allowed to use the real china (if it broke I had only invested a couple of bucks). They all got to make their own pizzas for lunch, then they were asked to bring their favorite dress up clothes. They all dressed up, and I commented while they "walked the runway". They each posed with Rylee and we took a picture. Matt printed it off in our printer, and I found picture frames in the shape of teapots at the dollar store. Each child took home a picture of them and Rylee dressed up. It was awesome and NOT expensive. I also found a second thing for them to take home (instead of a goody bag with lots of treats, they got a picture in a frame and this other thing)...a miniature porcelain doll about 6 inches tall, also from the dollar store. It totally fit the theme.

Wow...didn't mean to ramble on so much!

Rissa said...

Thanks for answering that question! We are definitely looking for good ideas and I feel pretty set now. Ryan feels like they shouldn't have many huge parties, and I agree, but I like the idea of waiting until they ask and then starting small. I always have thought we should do something for the 1st, 10th (double-digits!), 13th (teenager!), 16th (maybe) and 18th. As far as the years in between...I dunno. Of course, I have many years to think it through :) but I am glad that I can settle myself, for now, and just wait until Jack asks. We can go from there!
Love hearing your thoughts. Keep 'em comin'!

Amy said...

You already know I totally agree with you! Great post :)

brietta said...

Growing up, we always had a family party that we could invite either 2 friends or 1 family to, and that was it. The only years we had "big" parties were 5, 13, and 16.

For the 5yo birthday, my mom would help us pick a theme (trains, dolls, cats, teddy bears, etc.) and we would make invitations, invite 10 friends (some of the friends needed to be the siblings closest to us in age!), Mom would arrange games, etc. and we would do the party thing-- a table full of 11 cute kids (and a couple adults, since most of us had some "friends" who were grown-ups!), games and prizes, etc.

13 was the age we got to have the sleep-over with 6-8 friends or so. Typical teenage thing-- rent a fun movie, have candy, etc.

And so on.

At any rate, I grew up thinking that was a very manageable plan. Birthdays never got out of hand and we were never super-busy going from one huge party to the next, which could easily happen in such a big family! I plan on doing something similar for my kids, though the first big party for my kids will be when they turn 6 instead of 5 since by their 6th birthday they will be party of Friday Program and have more friends at church than Gabriel had going into his 5th birthday.

At any rate, that's a long rambling comment to say that I grew up not having big parties (there weren't usually special napkins or streamers, games or party favors, etc., but there was a lot of love and prayer and a nice meal with people who really cared about me, and that's what's really important!) and I never minded a bit. :)

Amy Giove said...

I am glad you answered this as well. We have thought a little about this, but not extensively yet. I've made a 3D cake for the 1st birthday, and we had a couple families over for Noah's 2nd birthday as we didn't have extended family in town. However I've already started wondering if we were doing some party for his 3rd in September. It is something Dave and I will have to talk through, but at least for now he won't be asking for anything. *shrug* I'd like to have a plan for how we want to handle it as a family instead of a "Hey, a birthday is coming up. What will we do?" kind of thing. And then worrying about 'fairness'.