Ditching kid’s parties

Be honest, go on – you can tell me. How many hours have you agonized over a theme, paper products, goodie bags and all of the things that accompany the planning of a child’s birthday party? Now times that by three and welcome to my world!  And yessss, kids totally expect a goodie bag at a party and the setback of both cost and not being cool enough is a real thing.
I recently had an epiphany, I am SO done with throwing birthday parties.  We spend so much time, and money prepping for them, buying trinkets that get thrown away, making things that last for two hours, for WHAT?!  We have decided that we are going to give experiences, not parties.
I only remember one birthday party from my childhood, but I can certainly tell you every vacation that we took, every cousin sleepover, and the special fun. Why did I remember that birthday?  Because McDonald’s had FINALLY opened in our area, and I was the first kid I knew to have a party there!  We are really hoping to make lasting memories that stick with our kids (and us) forever. We let the kids help with planning (unless it is a BIG surprise), so it can be an ongoing conversation.  We ask them: Do you want a short party with lots of friends?  Or do you want to pick a fun experience with a few friends?  So far, they have picked experiences.
This year, we let my son pick.  Do you know what he chose?  He chose going to Hershey Park for the weekend.  Off we went, we invited a couple of friends and had a blast!  Do you know what else?  It cost us about the same as one of those franchise parties because we discovered you could get two nights at the Hershey Lodge, and park tickets starting at $360.  (That included water park admission and a host of other amenities).  We ended up spending one night at the Hershey Lodge (and the indoor pool), went to the park (it was Halloween so they had lots of fun special activities), and ate all of the things.  At our local jump place, it costs $400 for an hour of jumping with 15 kids. An HOUR, one hour of f.u.n.One benefit of planning birthday experiences rather than parties is that the world of points becomes available! Have some extra points on Southwest? Maybe go visit Grandma and Grandpa for the weekend! A free hotel stay from your Marriott Credit Card? Stay at a local hotel and visit all those attractions you plan on visiting … but NEVER do!

Belle had a birthday recently, and as she is pretty little, we stayed local.  The family, including her two cousins, stayed at a hotel in Baltimore.  It was right by the aquarium, and we had a blast!  The kids swam in the pool, ate dessert at every meal, and had a grand old time!

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For my oldest daughter, Clara’s, birthday this year, we took the train to NYC.  She had been dying to see the Statue of Liberty, and we are certain it will be a birthday to remember.  I was so excited to surprise her with a letter (wrapped in a box) on her birthday!  We also saw Aladdin on Broadway (which was a disappointment). I know, I know, this one was expensive.  Way more expensive than a party.  We have lived near NYC for a few years, and I have never taken the kids.  I figured let’s go crazy and have fun!
The sky is the limit when it comes to planning away stuff, stuff that you actually want to do and can be huge memories for your family, and make the birthday kid feel pretty special.
Yes, we are hooked. Happy Birthday to … well, to me.
Christy Emanuel
Christy Emanuel

Glam/crunchy mom of three kiddos - lover of travel, writing about kid gear, and attempting to stay fabulous (& unstained).