The standards for kids’ birthday parties seem to move further in the direction of More More More every year — in terms of size, in terms of cost, in terms of labor to pull off.

Any parent who has priced out a “simple” party at a community center or indoor trampoline park knows that the financial standard is strenuous for many budgets. A Babycenter poll found that a majority of respondents spent more than $500 on their baby’s first birthday party. The base-level birthday package at my local zoo is nearly $300. A single inflatable is $275, before food, cake and decorations – and I live in the cheap part of the country.

Social pressure for nicer, costlier gifts for the birthday child from both guests and parents, as well as directives from schools to invite everyone in the class (however well-intentioned such policies may be), only confuse the matter on both sides of the invite.

The drama, mamas!

Part of me believes we have made birthday parties into this thing because we want to prove how much we love our kids. Or, let’s be honest, it’s because Pinterest is now the language of women.

If over-the-top parties are your jam, by all means have at it. But I challenge all of us to consider subverting these new modern standards of birthday parties for one very important reason: the effort to raise our children to be humble, appreciative adults.

Celebrations are supposed to be just that – celebrations. Of life and the love shared within that limited, vapor-like life.

Love so massive it cannot be represented by a price tag or made more beautiful by handcut gingham strung on twine.

It’s a love for others that can only be expressed in the sweet, pure quality of time together. Without frills or dressed-up distractions.

Some may read this as me being a cheap skate, grumpy hostess or craft-impaired. So be it. I’m all of these things, actually, and my Pinterest boards prove it.

But my motivation is right. I have lost loved ones I’d give anything to spend another day with, and I guaran-darn-tee you I would NOT spend that day at a pizza-arcade combo.

This year, I am taking the challenge to plan my kids’ parties on the following principles.

  1.       Plan a party that emphasizes togetherness rather than entertainment. Games are great. Trampolines are fun. But if my daughter does not have a chance to actually talk to and bond with her guests, the love is muddled, and the value it could have is diminished. I want to ensure the party includes ample time for connection amid the fun.
  1.       Remember a day will come when their parties will have an open invitation, but it doesn’t have to be today. Throwing open the front door to every person who knows my child’s name for every party she has is not necessary. For certain milestone celebrations, this will be the case. But a small celebration now is also perfectly acceptable.
  1.       Go easy on the extras, heavy on the guest attention. A savvy hostess knows the details make for a good guest experience. But she also knows if her guests leave feeling like they’ve stood on the perimeter hoping for their turn at attention, then it’s all for naught. No amount of party favors or Instagram-ready photo booth pics can make up for someone feeling like they were there but not there.
  1.       Remind the birthday child the gift of presence means more than the gift of another toy. Some of the attendees are going to greater lengths than my child may realize to simply be at the party. This is a great teachable moment for her to learn how to be a gracious recipient of others’ time. I will teach her not to expect any gift other than someone’s presence. And if that person does indeed bring a material gift, then that’s a bonus.
  1.       Teach the birthday child the necessary skill of a thank-you note. When the guests leave, one key part of celebration yet remains. My children can (basically) write on their own — or at least tell me what they want to write — so without exception or condition, I will have them pen a personalized note to every attendee to express their gratitude, regardless of whether the guest brought a material gift. This is time well-spent. It is love reciprocated, invested.

Following these principles does not necessarily mean I won’t opt to host a kid’s party at the zoo (though probably not) or spend a few bones at the party store (already did).

What it does mean is my mind will be more focused on the things that actually matter for an event celebrating life over all else.

The things I cannot find included in a birthday package deal.

Sara Brunsvold

Sara Brunsvold is a Kansas City-based blogger and writer. Her heart's cry is to be a stronger, wiser woman who leans into the loveliness God every moment of every day. She is a family woman who struggles to be a good one, but who never loses faith God is with her every step. Visit Sara at her blog home,, learn more about her journey in faith and womanhood.