There are many different schools of thought on how to approach first birthdays. Some families recognize that a one-year-old really doesn’t know what’s going on and they keep things pretty low key. Others pull out all the stops and throw what might be the child’s biggest birthday party ever! For my oldest son, we thought we were keeping it low key but his first birthday party packed out our house and involved lots of prep. For Ivy, I didn’t want her to ever look back and feel underappreciated. But, as a second-time mom, I had a different idea of what we’d be looking for in her first birthday. I’m going to do a second post about the theme and décor elements of Ivy’s “Its a Small World” birthday but in this post I want to talk about how to make a memorable first birthday without going over the top and creating unnecessary stress.
Rethink your strategy
For Ian’s first birthday, we went big on everything with good reason. Ian had been born four months early with only a 20% chance of survival. There were so many people invested in his little life from day one – they prayed, sent gifts, shared encouraging words. Chris and I saw this party as a true celebration of what we had all overcome and we wanted to include everyone. Family, friends, coworkers, other preemie families, everyone got an invite and our house was packed!!! We moved furniture, spent hours in the kitchen prepping snacks and baking cupcakes. It was a fun time but it was overwhelming and Ian actually took a nap for a good chunk of it.
This time around I chose to split up the party. I had a “friend” party in the mid-morning which is the best time of day for most young children and a family dinner for grandparents and extended family. I chose to have these parties on the same day but I don’t know if you’d have to do it that way. You might consider having the friend party on the weekend and the family party on the actual birthday depending on how schedules work out.
Refine your guest list
If your family is like us, we’re still very much at the stage that inviting “Jimmy” to the party means that Jimmy, his parents and all his siblings are coming to the party. I kind of like that, more parents to help manage the chaos, but it also means a lot more people. Before you start inviting everyone who is usually in the nursery at church with your kiddo. Take some time to add up what that really means. The truth is 3-4 families are more than enough to feel festive! If you invite 5, 6 or 7 families, it can start to feel like a zoo. Now, there is a trick to this approach – get firm commitments from the families and invite additional people as needed. I didn’t do a great job of this and when couple of families fell through last minute I thought I might have to cancel all together. But the two families who made it to Ivy’s party were actually a perfect mix and we really enjoyed connecting with them in a less hectic situation. When it comes to inviting friends without kids, use your best judgement about if they’d really want to come. A one-year-old’s birthday isn’t for everyone but some people love it and would be hurt not to be included. If you’re uncertain, you can even approach the invite from that perspective, “Hey, we’re celebrating Ivy’s birthday on Saturday morning. You’re important to us and we’d love to have you there but I totally get it if you have other things you need to be doing.” Easy out for them but they know they are welcome if they’d like.
Tailor the menu
Now, here’s where Pinterest Perfection can really get you – the menu. Remember your audience – one is a bunch of preschoolers who mainly subsist off of chicken nuggets and fish crackers and the other is your family who loves you and really doesn’t want to be a burden or put a bunch of extra stress on you.
With that in mind, pick a couple areas to really focus and phone in the rest. I’ve recently really taken a shine to cake decorating so I knew I wanted fun cupcakes for our kid party and a really cool cake for the family party. I was willing to spend time and energy to make this happen. The rest of it I kept pretty low key. For the kid party, I did a pancake bar. Chris manned the griddle with a box of pancake mix from the grocery store and I set out some plates of fresh fruit and sweet toppings along with butter and syrup. To round things out, I microwaved a bunch of frozen sausage links and the party was off. The kids loved it – even the picky ones found something they liked – and moms and dads could manage their own calorie intake too which is always a goal of mine when hosting a party.
For the family party, I went even easier and hit up Costco. We bought a couple of take and bake pizzas that we dolled up with some extra things we had floating around the fridge and pantry. Then we tossed together the kale salad kit you can get in the produce area. Throw in a couple bottles of wine and that beautiful cake I baked and you’ve got a party! Everyone loved the food and it was so low key for me with easy clean up – thank you, paper plates!
Go with your gut when it comes to presents. Every household is different and every family has different expectations. Here’s how I approach gift giving for my very young kids. For the friend party, I still say that presents aren’t necessary. In this case, the two families who came still chose to bring a small gift – both happened to be clothing items – each were probably under $10. That was perfect! Ivy really doesn’t need a lot of stuff.
For family, I try to make an Amazon gift list leading up to birthdays and Christmas to help give suggestions of the holes we have in our toy needs as well as provide non-toy options. Some things to think about are new plates and cups, gear for recreational activities like camping and swimming, new sheets or towels and, of course, clothes. If you throw out some different suggestions, it gets people thinking in unique ways and you end up with a pretty well rounded haul of presents that will be well used and appreciated. Whatever you receive, remember you are modeling being a gracious receiver for your kids. Be thankful and appreciative even if you aren’t sure what you’re ever going to do with the item you’re now holding in your hand.
I hope these ideas will give you some new ways to look at first birthday parties or really any young kids party. As always, families are so unique. If you have a way to do birthdays that works for you, stick with it. Oh, and share it in the comments below. I’d love to know what you’re doing for first birthday’s in your family!