Sometimes after parties, parents will ask how I pulled it all together, and as their own child's special day comes closer, I've gotten phone calls and emails asking for suggestions or asked to lend I hand. I'm always flattered, and since putting together celebrations is something I enjoy, I am happy to help.
I don't want to say my parties are the pinnacle of perfection; the people from Martha Stewart haven't tried to hire me to their staff, but here are my top 10 secrets to party success.
10. Start early. If you wait until a day or two before the party, suddenly the amount of work is overwhelming, and getting ready is not any fun because it is stressful. But if you start a week, or even 10 days early, you can spread it out, and just do one or two small tasks each day. Then the morning of the party, you can breathe and enjoy yourself, instead of turning into a frantic, cranky mother as you rush to string up the crepe paper.
9. Choose a theme. When I settle on a single thought I can direct my energies in one direction, and it is easier to think of games, decorations, party favors, cake designs, etc. It can also make remembering their day easier for them several months, or even years later. My seven year old can tell you what he did at his fourth birthday because he knows that they all tied into Disney characters. With no theme, parties may tend to run together in their minds. (Plus, it is cuter in the pictures! Everything matches!)
8. Let it be guided by your child's desires. It can be tempting to have the party you want (after all, you are the one doing the work) instead of the party your child wants. For example, I really wanted to do a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory birthday for one of my sons at his upcoming birthday. He thought it was a fun idea, but then told me that it would be better for his next birthday, because this time he wants a Sesame Street party. Okay. It is, after all, his birthday.
7. Set a budget, and stick to it. Children's birthday parties should not break the bank. Treat bags should not cost an arm and a leg to fill. Decide a reasonable amount for you to spend, and work within it. If you get creative, make rather than purchase the decorations, borrow some things from your friends, (remember to happily lend your items in return when they come looking for help) and get to know your local dollar store, you really can put together a beautiful, fun, and memorable day for your kids.
6. Watch your numbers. A basic rule of thumb is to invite as many guests as they child's age. If they are turning seven, then a guest list of seven should be enough. There obviously has to be a little wiggle room here, to account for siblings etc, but a party of 15 three-year-olds is going to turn into a hectic zoo.
5. If at all possible, try to hold at least some of the party outdoors. Loud, noisy children are easier to love where they aren't filling a room with their own voice. There is more room to play a physical activity in the yard then say, in your living room. Games are easier to clean up, the pictures turn out nicer, and you don't even have to mop up the icing from off your kitchen floor. Good reasons, all, to take it out back. (That being said, you should have a back-up plan in your head just in case you get an unseasonably rainy, windy, or cold day)
4. Write it down. Entertaining a group of kids for two or three hours takes a lot of planning and even a bit of strategy. You need mix up the quiet games with the loud games, with the crafts, with the snacks... The list of activities gets long fast, and if you write down all the things you want to do, and the order you want to do them, you won't miss something during the hustle and bustle of the party. I write it on a 3"x5" card and stick it in my back pocket. Whenever I need to know what is coming up, I just whip it out, and we stay on track.
3. Make and keep traditions. It is fun to have something that is always going to be at the parties you have. For our family, it is a pinata. We have pinatas at every birthday party we host. They aren't terribly difficult to make, you can fill them with whatever you want, and they are fun to smash. Granted, pinatas need a few days to make, but if you are starting early in your preparations, this isn't a problem. And if all else fails, you can grab one at a store for a little extra cash. If pinatas aren't your thing, fine, but find something that your kids love, and that you can see growing with them each year, and try to create a consistent element across all your parties.
2. Have enough help. On the day of the event, even if you have done all your prep and planning well, it is so much easier to pull it all off if you have an extra adult or two to help you out. While you are manning the craft, your husband, sister, mother-in-law, etc can be getting the materials for the next game ready. While you are taking pictures of the birthday boy with his cake, they can be getting the garbage bag ready for the napkins, paper plates, and plastic forks that will soon need to be disposed of. Things run so much more smoothly, and it lets you live in the moment a little more.
1. Relax. Remember that parties are supposed to be fun, happy things. If you are getting too wound up trying to make the perfect cake, design cute little decorations, or worrying that your daughter's hair stays in perfect ringlets, you are missing the whole point. Take a deep breath, and remember that those little details in the end, aren't what the kids will take away from this. They are going to remember the way their party made them feel like the most important person in the world, and that is what we are aiming for.