Birthday Party Rescue: Creating a Special Day When You’re Drained

Have you ever felt like you didn’t have the time or energy to give your child the party she deserved?
Maybe the birthday fell when you were sick, moving, or working double overtime. It happened to me when my oldest turned three. I was pregnant, as big as a house, and roughly as mobile. I felt like I was neglecting my daughter, and was eager to compensate with an exciting day that was all about her.

The baby was due two months before Big One’s birthday. I told myself that as soon as I delivered this lead-filled watermelon, I would bounce right back to my old self and knock this party out of the park. To my dismay, Sweet Daughter the Second was born almost two weeks late, and she was a colicky handful. I stumbled through those recovery weeks on shattered sleep, and was just beginning to achieve a daily shower, when I realized that this much-hyped fiesta needed assembly. “How on earth do parents do this?” I wondered, as I nursed, rocked, nursed, changed, nursed, served cold leftovers, and nursed some more.

Luckily, my wonderful family was there. When they asked, “What does she want for her birthday?” I said, “A party!” and we divvied up the jobs. We ended up with a fun day at the park. There was a crown, some cupcakes, and lots of balloons in her favorite colors. My sweetheart felt like a princess, and I decided we could keep both kids after all.
There are lots of tricks that can help you conjure up low-stress birthday fun. Here are some that helped me and other run-down parents give our children a happy day to celebrate their fantastic self:

1. Ask for Help
Grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends might be game to help. Someone might even offer to plan the whole event, or maybe a crew would be happy to each bring a snack, a game, or an item of décor.

2. Go Off-Location
Rather than cleaning and decorating your house, why not take the party to a restaurant or pool? For no cost, have a picnic at the park, or ask a generous friend or relative to host for you.

3. Keep it Intimate
Instead of inviting the whole class or daycare roster, you could plan a special activity with just one or two close friends. Many kids socialize this way naturally, playing one-on-one or in a small group. A family-only party is another way to keep it low-key and focus on a favorite activity.

4. Plan an Independence Day
If you feel your child is old enough, maybe this birthday is a great time for that first unchaperoned trip to the mall or the movies. An older tween might really enjoy helping plan and execute this operation with one or two friends whom you trust to behave responsibly.

5. Gather Up a Potluck
In the summertime, a laid-back multi-family potluck picnic can be a relaxing way to celebrate. The park or the beach will provide lots of fun with worry-free décor, menu, and activities.

6. Simplify Your Usual
“I love planning parties,” says Angela, mom of two, “especially making cakes. I like to top them with figurines built out of modeling chocolate and work up a theme. When my oldest turned four, though, I didn’t have time for the usual prep. We went on holidays just before her birthday, right when I would normally be working on the party. I changed my plan and made a simple cake with colorful batter and icing rosettes. I got it all done in a day, and it was still very pretty and special.”

7. Go Old School
Julie, a mother of two and grandmother of five, knows her parties. She says, “We have thrown a lot of parties, and the kids still love the simple games, like three-legged races and wheelbarrow races.” More zero-prep games include freeze tag, hide and seek, Simon says, and follow the leader. Older kids might get a kick out of having a dance-off or lip synch battle to music played on your smart phone.

8. Go Back to School
Marlene, mom of three, shares this idea about an easy, athletic party; “My neighbor organized a ball hockey party in the school parking lot one weekend. Since it wasn’t a school day, the lot was empty. The boys brought their own sticks, and she just brought a couple of nets, snacks, and cupcakes.

9. Work the Clock
Plan your party for mid-morning or mid-afternoon, so you can serve some easy snacks instead of a whole meal.

10. Work the Calendar
Have a small party now, and plan a lavish un-birthday when the timing is better.

11. Call for Costumes
Create an effortless theme by having everyone come in their favorite Halloween or dress-up outfit. The kids can grab pots and pans and have a costume parade down the street, or a quieter costume-fashion show to show off their best catwalk moves and poses.

12. Camp Out
If you have a backyard firepit, try a camp-out party. Let the kids roast their own hot dogs and marshmallows, and if they’re old enough, sleep over in tents.
“We used to have backyard sleepovers in our tent trailer,” tells Abbey, a veteran party-goer. “It was just like camping, except we could come inside and use the nice bathroom.”

If you have a child’s birthday coming up at a stressful time, take heart. There are plenty of ways you can create happy memories for your special kid with exactly the time and energy that you have.
Laurie loves sharing simple pleasures with her two girls, and is looking forward to a fun birthday season with these laid-back ideas.

Guest Contributor