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How Not to Plan a Birthday Party

How Not To Plan a Birthday Party

5 mistakes I’ve made when planning my kids’ birthday parties

My youngest daughter turned 9 last weekend. We went to the zoo, we had cake, we ate at a local pizza place. And that, my friends, should have been it. But, trying to be “good parents,” we decided also to throw a birthday party so she could celebrate with her friends. Why do I do this? Why? Do I like to punish myself? Do I like misery? Do I like being broke? Next time I invite you to one of my kids’ birthday parties, please punch me in the face and steal $200 from my account. The end feeling will be the same. So read on for my 5 biggest birthday party mistakes or how NOT to plan a birthday party! 

I think the kids enjoy birthday parties just fine. For parents, birthday parties are some horrible form of torture, thought up by parents, implemented by parents, suffered by parents… okay, so now I’m just being dramatic. But seriously, I feel like every party starts with good intentions and ends with the sentiment, “I’m NEVER throwing another birthday party again.”

So hopefully, this weekend, I will have learned from past mistakes! I will have organized beforehand so I am not rushed, stressed, and crazy! I will make all the Pinterest-worthy decorations myself, wear lipstick, and do my hair! BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Nope. It’s Thursday. The party is Saturday.  I have given myself precisely one day to buy everything, organize it, and pull it off. No Pinterest, no hairdos, and definitely no lipstick! I’m still the same awkward mom trying to make a nice day for my kid. But, I’m hoping that after the first 15 years of birthday parties, I have learned a few things!

Mistake #1: Have the party at your house

Mistake #1: Have the Party at Your House
Mistake #1: Have the Party at Your House, How NOT to Plan a Birthday Party

This always seems like a great idea. You think, “Oh, I’ll have it at my house, so it’s free. I can plan, decorate, and clean the day before, and I will be good and ready for all of the guests.” Don’t do this. I repeat. Don’t do this. You will drive yourself nuts. There are too many things to do, and trying to clean your house will make you a screaming, frantic, crazy lady.

Kids run through the halls with red icing, and it gets smeared all over your walls. The dogs eat too many snacks and will thank you later by throwing up on the carpet. One of the precious little siblings of a party guest will go and DUMP every single toy onto the floor and proceed to demolish any beloved lego creations. Your other kids will not be happy. Your dogs will not be happy. You will not be happy. Have your party at a different location (preferably one that will clean up for you!)

Mistake #2: Spend hours making your decorations.

Mistake #2: Spend Hours on Decorations
Mistake #2: Spend Hours on Decorations; How NOT to Plan a Birthday Party

I have never been too worked up about decorations, but one year I spent HOURS on my daughter’s Tangled birthday invites. They were cute, I will admit. But, they were expensive, time-consuming, and a pain to mail. I hopped on Canva this year, chose a template, and Voila! I was done in about 20 minutes, and it was all free. I just texted the invitation to the other parents, and no paper was needed! In this case, technology was my friend. Here’s a link to the Canva Template that I used: Canva free birthday invitation template. (Note: I am not affiliated with Canva, but I love it!)

If decorating and design are your thing, go for it. But, if you feel pressured to do these things and don’t enjoy it, don’t. Your kid won’t care. Other kids don’t care. Other parents don’t care. Make it simple and easy to set up and clean up. I’ve found balloons can fill a space instantly and can even be party favors at the end of the party. There are a lot of ideas on Pinterest, but make sure you are looking for ones that are simple, quick, and easy to clean up!

Mistake #3: Run the party alone. 

Mistake #3: Run the Party Alone
Mistake #3: Run the Party Alone; How NOT to Plan a Birthday Party

Whether it be for deployment, training, or military school,  my husband has missed A LOT of birthdays. And while I think it is completely natural to feel that you should throw a birthday party to make up for it, you will only make yourself crazy. I know it only made me feel the absence more acutely. I would feel resentful that I had to do yet another thing all by myself. If you still want to throw a party while your spouse is gone, make sure you have family and good friends that you can count on to help.

And if your spouse is home, MAKE THEM WORK. They do not get to sit around and chat while you run around doing everything! Delegate! Enlist! Don’t feel bad about asking other parents, either. I always ask one parent to be the photographer because I will forget. I’ve also asked other parents to cut the cake or help serve the food. You cannot do all things. Don’t try. You will become sweaty, exhausted, and stressed (or maybe that was just me?). Read more about organizing challenges military spouses face here.

Mistake #4: Choose an activity your child has never done.

Mistake #4: Choose an Activity Your Child Has Never Done
Mistake #4: Choose an Activity Your Child Has Never Done; How NOT to Plan a Birthday Party

For my oldest daughter’s 9th birthday, we brought it back to old school with a roller skating party. It was at this really cool roller skating rink with an arcade and a movie theater. My daughter was pumped. However, it escaped my attention (and my husband’s attention and my daughter’s attention) that my daughter didn’t actually know how to roller skate. There were tears. Lots of tears. Luckily, she had great friends who decided to make it their mission in life to teach her how to skate. Thankfully, she was athletic enough to fake it until she made it. Thank goodness most of the other party guests knew how to skate. BUT SERIOUSLY?! How did we plan an entire party around an activity my daughter had never even tried?

Looking back, this is hysterical, but I was so embarrassed and upset at the time. Don’t do this… in fact, try to plan inclusive activities and events for all and not tied to an activity where not everyone can participate. (Other activities that flopped: amusement parks when not all the guests enjoyed roller coasters, pool parties when not everyone can swim, camping when not all the guests are used to sleeping away from home. Yes, these are all true stories.) 🫣

Mistake #5: Not have a plan.

Mistake #5: Not Have a Plan
Mistake #5: Not Have a Plan; How NOT to plan a Birthday Party

Every time we decide to do a party, I think to myself, “I’ve done birthday parties before, I can wing it.” Don’t do this! Like a good lesson plan for teachers, you need to have a few things in your plan. And then you need a plan for when your plan goes off wheels. And then you need another plan for when that plan also goes south. You get the point. So, this year, I created my birthday plan template, and I’m using it to help plan for this year’s birthday party. Purchase yours here:

Birthday Party Plan

So far, I think it is helping. I still need to plan activities in case it rains (it’s Tampa, it will most likely rain), and I still need to do all the shopping, but I feel like I can do it this year. I’m going to try to remember to slow down, and enjoy the moments, and I’ll definitely eat the cake! The good news is it’s not at my house, I’m not spending hours doing anything Pinterest-worthy decorations or food, my spouse is here to help this year, my daughter and all guests can swim, and I’ve at least thought about contingency plans this year. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up liking birthday parties after all.  

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3 Responses

  1. LOL, you have been through it all! I’m not a parent, but I watched my mom take charge. She did it all herself, flawlessly and without stress, but she was the mom who got down at each kid’s level and put the fear of Mrs. B. into them. No running, no screaming. She also had a rule: the number of invitees matched my age. 7? 7 kids.

    Best if all, she zigzagged. Everyone else was having a skating party? I had bowling. (Nobody cries at bowling!) Everyone else had a clown? I had a magician. There are no comparisons when it’s completely different.

    Your tips sound like the key to birthday party survival for the rest of us mortals!

  2. Oh, I feel your pain. My kids are grown now, but I made all these mistakes when they were young. It’s just trying to keep up or outdo the Joneses. I was lucky with one of the sons. He was a huge Harry Potter fan and for a few years, his birthday fell the week of the HP movie openings. We’d (me and husband) would take him and his friends to the movie on opening night. A lot of hustle and bustle but they loved it.

  3. These are 5 mistakes that happen very easily when you think about planning a party. My kid were born in the summer so we could have parties in the backyard and it helped to keep the house clean. The best tip a friend gave me was to invite as many friends as the birthday child is old. 5 kids for a 5th birthday, 3 kids for a 3rd birthday. Too often parties are too big for the birthday child to enjoy. Small and simple and fun are the best parties.

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Jana Arevalo

Hello! I'm Jana

Hi! I’m Jana! I have been a military spouse for 18 years, and I am experienced when it comes to PCS moves, organizing new spaces, and creating more efficient systems for my family. I understand the feeling of anxiety and overwhelm that can come with clutter, and that’s why I love helping military spouses, busy moms and small business owners declutter and organize their homes, digital lives and paperwork!

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