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Are Kids' Birthday Parties Worth It?

I've just finished hosting our daughter's sixth birthday party. And I'm really not sure it is something I want to go through again.

As a former corporate event planner, I figured pulling together a child's birthday party would be a breeze. And I have reveled in it over the past several years. But the details I can't control end up driving me crazier each year.

Our home simply does not work for hosting a kids' party. There isn't enough open space or seating, and with a December birthday we can't count on sending the guests outside for activities.

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So we decided early on that our daughter's birthday parties would be held at venues. And we've hosted some fun ones: pottery painting; bowling; safari theme; a Big Hero 6 karate party.

Yet each year I find the planning to be more and more stressful. Getting people to RSVP is by far the biggest challenge. Many people just don't do it. And it matters, especially when one is paying by the person and has to commit to a number in advance to the venue.

Other people indicate they will attend and then don't show up—without getting in touch. If your child is sick I appreciate you keeping her home and I understand things can come up. But a heads up is always welcome. As is a note after the fact sayings something like, "Sorry we missed the party! Hope the birthday girl had a great day."

(Yes, as I write this I am annoyed by my dining room table being covered in goodie bags I personally assembled for kids who didn't show up this year. And they aren't filled with cheap, plastic crap.)

Could she enjoy her special day as much without a party? I am confident the answer is yes.

Then there are the politics of birthday parties. It turns out planning a small child's birthday party is like walking through a minefield. In pre-Kindergarten, the rule at my child's school was you invited the whole class or no one from the class. That all-or-nothing approach proved to be expensive, especially since my child has many close friends outside of school she wanted to include in addition to her classmates.

With her entrance into the elementary school system, there was no such edict in place. And so it became a process of, "Whose feelings are going to be hurt?" To a certain extent, that is part of childhood. But my 6-year-old is certainly not mature enough to grasp the complexities.

It's gotten to the point where I seriously wonder if it is all worth it.

Has my daughter loved her birthday parties? You bet. She's had a blast, and so have her guests. Could she enjoy her special day as much without a party? I am confident the answer is yes.

Case in point: For her fourth birthday we planned our first family trip to Disney World. There was no party with her peers. And she never asked about one.

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I am leaning in that direction moving forward. Not necessarily something as big as Disney (or a trip) each year. But a special activity she is sure to enjoy is more appealing than planning a birthday party. Or perhaps an outing with one or two close friends—something that will be less hectic and more meaningful, focusing on relationships and shared interests instead of activities, presents and party favors.

Maybe I am over-thinking this whole thing. I don't know. I have a year to recover. I might feel differently as birthday number seven comes around.

But then again, I might not.

Photograph by Elizabeth Flora Ross

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