Celebrating Birthdays on a Small Scale

Birthday parties when I was growing up were a family affair. My mom gave her first and only young children’s birthday party when my sisters, born on the same day only a year apart, received a joint birthday party with friends. I guess she figured that two celebrations for preschool-age children for the price of one would be easier. It probably wasn’t, I’m guessing.

Her philosophy of simplicity stayed with me as I approached how to celebrate my own children’s birthdays, mostly because I am sensitive to stress and these events are known to produce a fair amount of stress.

Birthdays Without Pressure is a website FIND I recommend. Started right here in Minnesota, it discusses the pressure we often feel in our culture to provide large and unique birthday celebrations for children. They “want to raise awareness of this problem and offer alternatives for parents and kids who want birthdays without pressure.”

11th Birthday for a Boy

While my children have hosted or attended a number of birthday parties in our area, most seem to be kept within a reasonable range. But I understand that this is not the case in other places, particularly major metropolitan areas in the United States.

Finding this website is timely—we celebrated my son’s 11th birthday this week. I felt a lot less pressure when I let him plan a simple but fun get together with some friends. He even made the invitations himself the way he wanted them. As I held back my opinions about the way I would have done it, I realized that children want far less than we think they do. Considering that, how much of the party pressure comes from our need to meet more than just the birthday child’s expectations?

Here’s some of what we do to simplify:

We have friend parties occasionally, not every year, more like every other year.

We try to keep the guest list to the number of the age that the birthday child is turning. For instance, a six year old may have six guests. Since we will only invite six friends, usually we have fewer who actually attend.

We host birthday parties in our home so that our children’s friends and family will get to know us and feel welcome to return to our home.

We are learning that we can provide a lot less food to little stomachs. Lunch or dinner and cake and ice cream is often way too much for them to eat.

In lieu of a friend party we will do something fun together as a family, like go to a movie or go bowling, and then have a special dessert at home.

How do you celebrate? It is interesting to see how traditions are often started and continued just by what we see others do. This website and the ensuing conversations can provide new traditions for the birthday culture.


  1. Rachel Corbett
    Mar 23, 2008

    A fitting post for this week in our family too! Caleb’s birthday being on Friday he has been talking about it all year (seriously since Christmas!) and he’s been to lots of big friend parties of his classmates. It really is stressful, but luckily he thought the idea of having his best friend sleep over was fantastic, so that’s how we’re keeping it low-key this year.

  2. Michelle
    Mar 24, 2008

    I appreciated this posting because we have just celebrated two birthdays in our family. I was a little apprehensive when a friend approached me about celebrating our sons birthdays together. They both have March birthdays and have mutual friends from preschool and church. But it sounded simple enough; a lunch pizza party at a local pizzeria that has an indoor playground. The party for two 5 year old boys and three friends turned out to be much more than I expected. We had to have party favors, crafts, and all the extras. I felt obligated to go along because I had already agreed to the party and didn’t want to be the party pooper! And when I arrived at the pizzeria I found out she invited her mom, sister and 2 nieces, each of her 3 daughters invited a friend and she invited a mutual friend of ours along with her 3 children. I, of course, paid half the bill. This will not be the case next year. Even though our sons are best friends, I don’t want to do this again and am glad to see I’m not the only one who feels this way. I miss friends who think in the same direction as I do.

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