My Tweens Are Over The Big Birthday Bash, Thank God

My sister and I were born four years and four days apart, so we had joint birthday celebrations with just family for many, many years. And because I’m the oldest of four (four kids’ parties per year is expensive!), friend birthday parties didn’t happen until our tweens and teens — basically, a year or so before we grew out of the birthday party phase altogether.

So I decided that when I had kids, I wanted them to have many more years of all the fun I thought I’d missed out on. Little did I know that as an adult, this meant a lot more chaos and stress than fun (no wonder mom waited a little longer).

Around the time my kids were in first grade, we started hosting extravaganzas. What can I say? It was the era of Pinterest-perfect parties, complete with adorable themes and food signs with clever names that most of the kiddos couldn’t have cared less about. We invited the whole class (we didn’t want to leave anyone out!) and family, too. There weren’t birthday balloons — there were balloon arches. A solitary cake was never enough; it had to be an entire dessert table. Don’t even get me started on the goodie bags. The more I tried to give my girls what I thought they wanted, the more crabby and stressed out I got, which made it all… not as fun. And wasn’t that the whole point?

It was fine for a while, but eventually, I got overwhelmed, and honestly, my kids did too. And then, a couple of years ago, my oldest daughter admitted that the overwhelming nature of these shindigs was giving her more anxiety than joy. She wanted to do something different, instead: a birthday trip. And ever since, it’s become our tradition with both girls.

Don’t get me wrong: These aren’t elaborate, week-long vacations. We aren’t taking a spur-of-the-moment trip out of state or jetting off to a surprise meet-and-greet with a favorite musician. We’re going on day-long shopping trips with my mom and sister so the girls can pick out their gifts (within reason). An outing that’s just enough different from daily life that it feels special.

It might include a manicure and lunch with just one or two close friends instead of feeling forced to mingle with a bunch of kids they barely know, and I’m okay with that. Last year, we spent the day getting Starbucks, our nails done, and walking downtown for an impromptu photo shoot. Other years, we’ve spent a day on the beach and gotten a little dressy to go out to the dinner of their choice.

It’s less about making a big show of everything with 30 other kids and family members they aren’t particularly close with and more about spending quality time doing fun things, things that are special with people who bring them joy. Really, my older daughter has aged out of the classic, chaotic birthday party, and I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Actually, I’m kind of proud that she’s choosing to prioritize the people and activities she enjoys instead of competing for the best birthday party ever.

As relieved as I am, part of me does mourn this milestone, leaving a stage of childhood behind. Having birthday bashes felt like a right of passage when I was younger. But the truth is, too much of anything (even beautiful birthday bliss) isn’t always good.

So as our kids age, it’s important to take a moment to listen and ask what they want. Sometimes assuming we know what they want, as well intended as it is, can actually backfire. Maybe their idea of a good time is hanging out with mom for a shopping trip, or spending a day at the beach and packing a picnic lunch. Regardless of how you spend it, enjoy celebrating your tween, and treasure the quality time you have with them. Besides, picking up Starbucks and getting pedicures is way more fun than clean-up from a party you didn’t really want to host anyway.

Holly Garcia writes about parenting, mental health, and all the lifestyle things. She hails from the Midwest, where she’s raising her daughters and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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