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Simple Kid’s Birthday (Expert Mom Tips!)

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When we had our first child, it was a moment to celebrate for both our families! We were young parents (24 years old) and our first child was the first grandchild and great-grandchild for both sides of the family.

When she turned one, we invited everyone to the birthday party—over 30 people at the time. We did not realize that we were setting a precedent.

man and woman with baby in front of flowers
Brian and I with our first baby

Fast forward a few years later, we had four children with birthdays within six weeks of each other (May to July), plus Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and 4th of July. Birthdays began to be a major stressor for mama. That’s a lot of gifts to buy and wrap, special meals to plan, and celebrations to orchestrate!

We sat down to discuss what actually mattered to us about birthday/holiday celebrations, and pared it down to the basics.

Our simple birthday plan has made life so much less stressful. We know that our children feel special, loved, and celebrated for who they are. Here’s what we do.

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Keep a running list of favorites, gift ideas, wish lists, sizes

I use my notes app on my phone, and I have a note for each child and one for my husband. In that note, I keep their current clothing sizes, favorite color, and any ideas I have for things they might love to have.

I also add in anything that my kids randomly think of and tell me they want during the year. THIS SAVES SO MUCH TIME AND STRESS. Also, I have an immediate list when my mom or grandma asks, “What does Billy like now?” SCORE!

list on dark background
Birthday list for child

One month out from birthday

About a month out from the birthday, I have a conversation with the child about what she wants for her birthday. She gets to choose a favorite meal for breakfast and for dinner. Usually it’s homemade, but depending on current finances and Mom’s energy level, sometimes this will be a favorite fast food meal, pizza, or easy dinner from Costco.

She also gets to decide on a theme for her birthday decor. Sometimes these are hand made decorations, sometimes they are printed from Pinterest, and sometimes I order a party kit from Amazon.

I wish I had decided to do this a lot sooner, because making sure that the birthday is special takes a lot of creativity and attention from Mom. Also, saving myself cleanup by having paper goods is a huge help.

paper plate with scientific equipment graphics
Our son chose a science theme for his birthday last year

She chooses her birthday dessert (cake, pie, brownies, whatever the candles will go on!). We also update her list with any other things she wants or needs. Currently our budget per child is about $100 for gifts, but it may go higher if there’s a big-ticket item our birthday kid needs (e.g. a bike).

Two weeks before

I start ordering gifts online or pick them up at the store, and wrap as I go. Too many years of last minute wrapping at 11 pm has taught me that I prefer to do this along the way.

I order, pick up, or print any needed decor.

I remind siblings to decide what they want to give for the upcoming birthday. Our older kids are responsible to make or buy something with their own money; the younger ones I take shopping online or on another errand run. Younger kids generally have a $15-$20 budget, which keeps them from buying something junky for their older sibling. 

Day before birthday

I pickup or prepare any food that needs prep the day before. I used to bake all my kids’ cakes, but now my 11 year old does that for her siblings as their birthday gift to them, so that’s a win-win!

Once the birthday kid is in bed, Brian and I, and sometimes the older girls, will set up the dining room with birthday decor and presents.

purple wrapped birthday presents
Princess birthday theme and presents for our daughter

On the birthday

Once everyone is awake, we go to the table and the birthday kid opens her gifts. Then she gets to go enjoy her gifts while breakfast gets started.

On her birthday, the birthday kid does not have to do chores or school (major benefit of homeschooling!). Sometime in the afternoon, we have dessert and sing happy birthday together. Then we have the special dinner. That’s it!

girl in front of birthday cake
A Viking helmet cake for our daughter’s How To Train Your Dragon theme birthday

What about extended family or friends?

We used to invite all of the extended family who lived in the area (aunts, uncles, grandparents) to join us for dinner and dessert.

Since we now live an hour from any relations, that tends to make it impractical with six children. We focus on spending time with family on other occasions.

As for friends, we never had the budget to invite lots of friends over for birthdays. That also introduces a whole host of other social questions: who to invite, how many members of the family to invite, more food, do we need party favors? etc. We did not have the kind of energy to do that for every kid, every year.

Instead, for the 5th birthday we have a special party where our birthday kid can invite friends, and at 12 or 13 we have a big community party (another post will cover those).

girl blowing out birthday candles on cake
Our daughter blows out the candles on her birthday cheesecake

As our kids get older, we expect that most birthdays will transition to be more about just spending time together. That’s how we (Mom and Dad) celebrate our birthdays. If you’d like to hear more about how I celebrate my birthdays as a mom, you can click over to my friend Sarah’s birthday roundup post.

Leave a comment to share how your family keeps birthdays sane and fun!

© Copyright 2021 Jennifer D. Warren

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About the author

Jenn is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Jamaica who married her college sweetheart (Brian) and now adventures with him and their six kids. She loves living in Oregon and exploring new places with her family. Jenn writes about millennial marriage and parenting, homeschooling, ADHD parenting, and anything else that she thinks will be helpful to others who are hurting. Christ follower.

Comments

  1. This is such an important post. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and go overboard with birthdays. Having a plan is key. I look back at my sons elaborate parties which I am sure were party more for me than him. Keep it simple and special and celebrate life not stuff ❤️

  2. Love your ideas! Our kids are 8 and 2 and we do a small family party just with us and the nearby grandparents and a special experience. I find that the social questions around parties are just too much. Someone will get their feelings hurt, and half the time the birthday child is overwhelmed and doesn’t enjoy it. Plus our kids get way too many gifts, anyway. They do not need the onslaught of presents from friends, nor do I want to make families feel obligated to buy my child a gift.

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