Fighting the urge to have large birthday parties for kids

My son wants a small birthday party this year. I should be thrilled. I should be rolling around on the bed in a pile of the money I’m going to save. So why am I having to fight an urge to make his birthday party bigger?

My son has often had fairly big birthday parties. Last year we went all out and invited his entire preschool class plus some other friends. 23 kids were invited, and we ended up with 14 at the party. It was noisy and chaotic. Even on the cheap the costs added up, particularly since that was more kids that I wanted to run wild in my house so we rented a party room and gym space.

Iron Man birthday cupcakes
A large birthday party is an excuse to make a lot of cupcakes. There was a cake too.

Still, it’s not the costs that bother me most about large birthday parties for kids. What I don’t like about large parties is that the birthday boy or girl usually doesn’t interact with most of the kids there. This is something I’ve observed at my children’s birthday parties and other birthday parties we’ve attended.

At large birthday parties, the birthday kid often hangs out with a small subgroup and everyone else breaks into their own small groups. Everyone has fun, but we’ve been to some huge parties where I wondered if the birthday kid would even remember that my kid was there.

This year my son told me he wanted to have six kids at his birthday party. He’s turning six, so maybe he was remembering that growing up I was allowed to invite as many kids to my party as my age that year. Although I had told him that, it wasn’t something I was pushing, and we hadn’t even discussed it for a while.

Six kids is a nice size for a party. Six kids can play games together in my living room. Six kids can sit around my dining room table for crafts and food. Six kids (I hope) are manageable as a drop off party. Six kids is awesome.

So why would I want to make my kid’s birthday party bigger when his preference is for such a right-sized party?

Well, first, my son’s guest list is all boys.

6 boys birthday party

This seemed a bit odd at first because prior to this year his best friends were always girls.

He is still friends with girls and plays with them on playdates or when when see them at the park. However, he now tends to prefer to play with other boys.

Although it’s a change for him, an all boys birthday party seems perfectly appropriate for his age. I’m fine with that.

There is a bigger reason I wanted to add more kids to my son’s birthday party: He isn’t inviting some kids whose parents are my friends.

Basically my reason for wanting to change the guest list is all about me, which it shouldn’t be. This would be the kindergarten equivalent of telling him who he has to invite to his wedding. I do not want to be that mother.

A six-year-old gets to make so few choices in his life. Letting him pick his birthday party theme (Transformers) and his guest list (6 boys, apparently) is part of my birthday gift to him.

I can invite my friends and their kids over whenever I want. And I will. And they won’t even feel like they have to bring a gift.

However, my son’s birthday isn’t until March. Before that I have my daughter’s birthday party to plan. She’s only turning four and is a bit less decisive than her brother.

The first time I asked her who she wanted to come to her birthday party she said “kitty.” That was very sweet, but throwing a party for a single stuffed animal seemed like an exceedingly minimalist approach she would likely regret.

Stuffed cat at birthday party
Aren’t I enough?

I encouraged her to think of some friends to invite. She named two kids. Fine. She’s always been less social than her brother. It would basically be a playdate with decorations and cake. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

Then we were talking about birthday parties again, and my daughter suddenly said she was inviting her whole preschool class. Whoa. That’s quite and escalation from just a stuffed cat.

I briefly considered it. Then, lest my husband kill me, I decided to use the rule that her brother self-imposed: She is turning four, so I told her she could invite four friends.

She named five.

She argued that it is really four because two of the kids have the same name. She was quite adamant about that. Since five kids still isn’t very many I caved.

Five butterfly invitations went out last week. Much like with my son’s party, some of my friends’s kids did not make the cut. Actually, the two kids that she had previously mentioned didn’t even make the list. She decided she only wanted “school friends.”

I hope that my friends aren’t offended that I didn’t overrule my children’s autonomy to add their kids to the guest lists, and I hope their kids aren’t too hurt not to be invited. (I’m really hoping they are so young they may not realize they missed anything.)

Of course, mine is far from the only approach to birthday parties. Mary Tyler Mom recently threw a “socialist kid’s birthday party” that you can read about here.


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