Do You Have Big Bday Parties Every Year? Why or Why Not?
August 03, 2010
How many parents out there plan a bday party for every child, every year? And by plan I mean inviting child's friends, family (either to your house, park or other kid’s party place) and providing food and/or activities and favors? I'm not trying to make a judgment here, I'm just curious if this is the norm and am I weird for not wanting to do this? My SIL thinks of her child's bday as annual event to be celebrated every year the same way one would celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. She considers it the normal thing to do, if not a necessary one.
I had a party at age 5 and a sleepover at age 9. My family acknowledged my bday every year with gifts, a special dinner and some kind of treat. I never felt deprived or even wanted more than this. My oldest has attended cousin's and neighbor's parties enough to start talking about what she wants at her parties, I am so not interested or willing to do all of that every year, not to mention the cost....How have other parents negotiated with their kids about bday parties?
This year for her 4th (in a couple of months) I plan to give her the choice of a visit to the kid’s museum or zoo, a choice of pizza or burgers for lunch and choice of dessert. We will do all of this as family (me, dad, and baby brother). We will give her a bike. Other family members can send cards or gifts, or give them when they see her (we live close to most family and visit many on a regular basis).
What do I say IF she looks at me and says, "But I want a party with all my friends at McDonald's/Monkey Joes/the park?"
We try to do more family things, get together with the grandparents, let them pick a movie, etc. Also, my husband travels quite a bit and has lots of hotel points. We let the kids pick each year -- big party with friends, or go spend the night in a hotel! With an indoor pool! (my kids have winter birthdays). They ALWAYS choose the hotel over a party, and we win because it doesn't cost us anything.
And can I just say how much I HATE goodie bags at birthday parties! Can we please stop this "tradition"!
I did b-day parties, small & big until they were about 7 - mostly including friends and family. That includes at Chuck E Cheese (easiest party I ever did!) to parties at the house. I never did the invite the whole class over party - that always seemed ridiculous to me. Now that they are 9 & 12, they invite about 2-4 friends over and have pizza, homemade ice cream and movies w/ flashlight tag in the backyard at night. They are pretty easy to please now....
Growing up I had a party every year, almost always at home, once or twice at a pizza place or a park. I think kids should be able to celebrate their birthday with their friends.
Right now we invite playgroup friends and family. It's rather big because of family, but just in numbers, I don't spend a bunch of money or anything. We do it at home and make food.
Once my children are in school, I plan to let them invite a friend for each year of age and we'll probably still do most of them at home.
We always have. Every year is not a blowout party but we always have a party of some sort.
When daughter (15) was younger, we did the house party with magician, Planet Pizza, and things like that. As she got older, we did limos with sleepovers, sleepover at a nice hotel, dance party at home. At 13 we had a blowout at the country club and I am planning another blowout for the country club now for Sweet 16. By "blowout" I am not talking about the parties you see on MTV that are 100K, I'm talkiing less than $3K.
We don't do gifts for parties. We encourage donations to the food pantry or animal shelter. We have no family within a 2 hr plane ride to us and her bday is 12/27. The Sweet 16 will be the first time the party is held in January, ONLY because her bday is on a Monday and the club is closed on Mondays.. She wants a Sat night so that is what we chose for this one.
Don't worry about what others do. Just do what is right for your family. I know I'll be judged because of what we do but.......to each his own!
We always had big birthday parties when we grew up, with our daughter we held a pretty big party till she was 6, then she was in charge of what she wanted and usually it was a few friends..
The problem is that her birthday is right in the middle of summer so nobody is here, so we do a small gathering with family and in the Fall we would do a party (not birthday) with her friends kind of like a Back to school event.. Sometimes out at the lake or a sleep over..
I love meeting her friends and their parents. This is a great way to do it..
You are in charge of the budget.. Teach her how to make do with what you have.. Space money energy.. It is amazing what they can come up with..
We spend about $300/ birthday. It can be toward a party, a day at Disneyland, or a present. We don't do a party AND a present from us. They have say in what they want, but we ultimately decide.
Our 2 year old wanted to go to an inflatable jump house place and so after renting it and paying for everyone's food, no present from us. the adults can bounce and go down the inflatable slides. The parents love being kids again....even the stuffy ones relax. ;)
Our 4 year old got a birthday party at our home with about 12 kids and we had a lady bring reptiles, snakes, etc and the parents loved it more than the kids! My 85 year old grandmother said it was the best birthday party she'd ever been to.
Our almost 8 year old wants a robot for his upcoming birthday, so if we get him that, then we'll just make a cake together, have dinner at home and call it good.
We always ask for homemade cards and tell people that presents are not necessary.
I have a big party for my son every year because his birthday is in August. We have a pool so we do a cookout and invite friends and family. I don't get to see my relatives alot during the year and i have a large family so its nice to get everyone together. I don't plan activities(the pool is enough) and i don't do favors and pinatas. I also let people know they don't have to bring a gift. I know alot of people who don't do parties for their kids and don't think anythings wrong with that. If my sons birthday were in the winter i would have a smaller party.
With my two sons (16 & 13) we typically did parties with classmates in the early years (i.e., fairly big at Chuck E Cheese or Boomers).
Once they hit about 11 they preferred a smaller circle of close friends.
It may be opposite with girls - I wouldn't know!
I agree with you - I didn't grow up having big parties. We just had my parents and sisters and it always seemed wonderful! The reason I had parties for my kids was because it seemed to be the social norm (not the best reason I know).
Whatever you decide, it will be fine. Have a great time.
I'd have to say that in our family and in every family of our friends, etc. it is most certainly the norm to have a child's birthday celebrated with a party every year... and I have 4 kids- so it IS a lot. But you only live once, and you are a kid for a short time... and since it is the norm with us, it would be insulting for a kid to not have a party every year. But I don't think its completely awful if you choose not to have a party every year- just as long as it's ok with everyone- it's just not the way we roll:)
Oh- the cost can be crazy, BUT I'm always finding very low-cost options (EVERYTHING is always under $200), myself... it doesn't need to be snazzy- just fun. AND when you have a bunch of kids running around together aren't they gonna have fun no matter what is planned?
I plan a birthday every year for my daughter. To me, it's a good opportunity to meet the parents of her school friends and meet her classmates too. Last year, we threw a huge joint 'princess party' with 2 other girls from her class (all had birthdays at the sane time); that's one way to split the cost. This year, we threw a smaller party for 10 of her friends (went to a local theatrical performance after a tea party at our house). Of course, she later told me that she prefered the big, 'invite the entire class' party... Next year, we'll do that, then something smaller the next year, etc.
We don't do big birthday parties for our kids(we have 5 and that is part of the reason!) not even for their 1st birthdays- we take them to the zoo when they turn one. The get to choose what we have for breakfast and what we have for dinner. And then we just try to make it a special day for birthday boy/girl and everyone else. We go to the park, or zoo, or we go camping. We did an outer space theme one year with glow in the dark star stickers and glow sticks. All the other kids made planets out of paper plates and we hung them from the ceiling and we made a giant rocket painted on butcher paper and hung it on the door. I think it was the favorite!
Anyway, with 5- big birthday parties would be going on all year long, and lots of presents just crowd up everything, so we try to do something to make memories instead- yes, they still get presents, but it is ususlly just one.
If my children wanted a party, they knew that was their gift from us (mom and dad). More often than not, they would have rather had a bigger gift from us than the party. Parties bring in a range of smaller gifts and when they get older, they are wanting bigger (more pricey than $20) items. One of my daughters chose to have a party one year because she wanted to hang out with her gymnastics friends (we were new to the area so they were all new friends) rather than to get a gift. Other than that, most of the time we just have a birthday dinner and a simple celebration just as a family. Of course, I have 6 children so it isn't a quiet celebration by any means.
Your ideas sound wonderful and fit your family. It sounds like yours is immediate family oriented with a larger gift. My budget went toward the party rather than the gift. I did give my children a birthday party each year. Although each were very special with different themes, I did limit the number of guests. When they were under age 5- 9, I did hire entertainment in the form of some of their favorite characters - Power Ranger, Spider Man, for my son. For my daughter, Ariel, Princess party etc. One year we even had a company come out and bring those electric jeeps and plotted a course with cones and had races. So fun. The budget was about $150 for the entertainment. I did wonder about doing this each year, but am glad I did. I was told by the owner who did the character parties that they outgrow them by age 9/10 and she was right on target. As they grew up - it was more about sleepovers and small bowling parties, movies etc. So I guess my perspective is enjoy it as they do seem to outgrow the birthday parties. I did insist on a Sweet 16 party for my daughter. Since then, she just goes to tea now with a couple of friends. My son would have nothing to do with 'birthday' parties by age 14. Only now at 17 did he say he'd like dinner with just a few friends. BTW - only once did I invite the entire Kindergarten class - I'm not going to say it was a big mistake, just way too many kids and overwhelming. After that, the birthday parties had limits on guests. Usually 8 -10. As they got older, even less for the sleepovers and movie parties about 4 - 6. In the end, each family has to do what works for them. Note, for my family, birthdays were the big occasion to celebrate more so than holidays.
You've had a lot of responses. I am a middle of the road party person. My kids are 5, 3 and 1. We've always had a family party (maybe one set of grandparents and an aunt or uncle) and then a playdate with cake for 2 friends for my son (he's now 5). For his 5th birthday we did actually have a bowling party for him, but it was too expensive to do the package and I refuse to pay that again. Next time if he wants to go bowling, we can invite two friends again, and then just bowl without the "party" package.
Growing up a I had a party on my 5th birthday the year I started Kindergarten, my Mom invited the whole class (I turned 5 in Sept about 3 weeks after school started). I think she wanted to do it to meet the kids in my class and some of the parents actually. I can see the value in that part of the party. Then I got to have 1 friend over on my birthday each year for a playdate or sleep over (when I was older).
I plan to do VERY simple parties for my kids with a playdate as they go into school. The petting zoo, jump house rental, hotel pool party is WAY out of my price range or patience level :)
we have family only birthdays ever year. and family means brothers and sisters aunts and uncles and grandparents. when they get to first grade they can invite friends over for a kids party. we usually do those till they hit about 10 then no more friends parties till they hit 18. then its a grad party. we still have cake and ice cream and family but not the big gift stuff of younger years. the parties at places we have done but most of the time they have a lot more fun in the backyard
I have two kids with summer birthdays. We have birthday parties every each for each child that are pretty much all day events as a way to get family together. I think, too, it gives those who buy presents for my kids an opportunity to deliver the present. (My brother has yet to announce if he is having a bday party for my nephew whose birthday was almost a month ago, so I've been sitting on the gift, ideally wanting to give it to him in person. They are a busy family so finding another time to drop it off is tough. I may have to pop it in the mail.) We have a swimming pool, play equipment and toys galore so the kids play and the adults sit around and socialize. We have close to 30 relatives at the parties. For that reason and because my kids are only being introduced to the world of birthday parties for friends we haven't had many issues with that (my son just turned 6 and my daughter will turn 5 in a few weeks). I'm not sure how I will approach things when they ask for friend parties. I am thinking something smaller scale with a few close friends. We have a lot of discussions about money at our house and I'm sure those concepts will be worked into future conversations. Don't be afraid to put limitations on parties. Most of us can't give our kids everything they want, nor should we, IMO. Life just doesn't work that way.
As a child I never had a birthday party, never, not even family or neighbors. My brothers birthday was 2 days before mine and he was 15 years older so we had a joint cake on the day in between.
I always wanted to have one and would pretend plan one, who I would invite, what we would do, where it would be, then throw the stuff away.
We are raising several of my grandchildren and I usually have a birthday party that is an event. I make my grandkids Pediatric Dental appointments on my granddaughters birthday or around there because it falls on a yearly school break each time. Last Fall we went to the big city and stayed in a hotel for 2 nights and had a big family party for her. I am originally from this city and my whole family is still there, plus my ex and his wife who are also raising several of the other grandchildren. We had a blast! It was like a family reunion. The kids don't get to see each other every day likie regular siblings would and it is nice they can have something rather structured to spend time together that appeals to all ages.
For the other grandchild I have we usually do something like rent the gym and they provide the tables, plates and cups, plastic flatware, etc...a couple of teachers and they have a class for the kids for an hour then we have cake and ice cream and presents back in the break-room. The kids love this and it gives the owners the opportunity to get prospective kids to attend dance, gymnastics, and/or tumbling. We invite a select group to this one because we have to pay extra for each child over 10 kids.
We have had the open, invite your whole class and everyone you know, things at the park and had tons of cake and ice cream since we didn't know for sure who would come and fun was had and all the leftover food was eventually eaten. I like the more intimate party where I can actually sit down and visit with the other parents and get to know them. There is no reason the kids can't get together outside school, church, other activities and just have play dates.
For us (kids are almost 3 and almost 1), we've had my daughter's first two parties at our house and each had 25-35 people, food and cake. That was the cheapest way for us to invite family (since both sets of grandparents live close by and almost all aunts/uncles and all godparents live close). This year we'll do the same thing with a meal, cake and I'm adding in an activity for my daughter's (painting since we're having a painting themed party). I figure as the kids get older, we will probably have one larger party together since their birthdays are 10 days apart. As they get even older and if they want their own party, I will allow them to choose 1. A larger party with family / friends / maybe a bounce house, games / no presents OR 2. A smaller party with a few friends that is more intimate and we do more (more games, more food, maybe at a certain place, presents). This year we're not even buying our children presents as we're spending over $100 for each birthday ($40 on the cake, $50 on food, $50 on decorations, games, activities, etc).
I do believe each birthday should be a great celebration and growing up, I always was able to have a party. However being a military brat we didn't have any family around so my parties were always just my friends. I'm hoping the kids want to have parties together for a few years so we can save on food costs! LOL I also kind of see it as a way to have a party at our house with all the people we love - friends, family, etc. We don't do that throughout the year (invite all our friends, their kids, my family, his family, etc) so doing it on the birthdays naturally seems like a great idea!
we used to. this year i scaled down completely. mine turned 6 and i explained that b-day parties cost money and that i will do it for them if that is what they want but otherwise i was planning a girl spa day with their best friend (which still cost but less hectic and crazy). and a trip to disney. we didn't get them b-day gifts because they don't need anything. they were in agreement. i found that by giving them options and explaining the pros and cons of both made it easier for us all to decide.
i plan on NOT having b-day parties anymore. why? it's not just how much they cost, it's the headache for planning them. i dislike germy places and hate even taking my kids there when they are invited to someone else's b-day (like bounce places etc). doing it at my house worked for a while but the list of friends has grown, and i hate to exclude someone due to number of people attending. i guess those are my reasons.
have to add: my kids lack nothing, in terms of toys, attention, love, care, travel etc.
Because of our home situation, I rarely had a birthday party with friends. I can think of 2 off the top of my head. My family did acknowledge our birthdays every year, though, and even if we couldn't invite friends over for some big party, we still had a family party. I thought it was horrible not to get one every year, and was envious of my friends that had one every year.
Then I grew up and became a parent. My oldest two kids have had a party with friends a couple of times, but usually we do a party with family and a couple of neighbors that our kids are friends with. It gets too expensive and stressful trying to plan big parties for each child every year, especially since three of my kids have birthdays within 6 weeks of each other. Sometimes I wish I could be one of those moms that had the time, energy, and especially money to do that every year, but we have to be realistic to our situation. For us, it just isn't possible.
I know she is still young, but maybe explain to her in a way she'd understand that it's hard to find a day and time when all of her friends can get together like that. Kids her age really don't easily grasp the concept of what things cost and when we don't have enough money for that, or when we just don't have the energy.
In my family, birthday's are low key, family only events. The birthday person gets to pick what restaurant we have dinner at. We might gather at my in-law's house for a breakfast and cake (weird, but it works for us). Lots of hugs, sharing of funny stories and laughter. Occasionally, as finances allow, we'll do a small pizza party at the local pizzeria or have a special friend join us in a family outing. But, for us, the focus is family, not themed extravaganzas.
If your daughter is not happy with the choices you present, I would smile at her and say, "Well, ok. Then your next option is no party at all. McDonald's/Monkey Joes/the park is not one of your choices. You can choose between the zoo, museum or pizza "just us" or nothing. Which do you want?" If she persists on the "friends" event, repeat the above. Stick to your guns. There's NOTHING wrong with a "just family" event.
Yes...I am one of those moms that does the huge parties every year lol! I have two boys and I really like their bdays to be special. We have had everything from clowns, spiderman, Kung Fu panda, etc....I love to make all kind of foods and deserts! We always have a lot of friends and family come over and have even done chuck e cheese a few times!! I love doing the goody bags and all that stuff. My boys always have a great time and we have a lot of wonderful memories :) I don't think there is anything wrong with being low key though. Maybe you could try a bigger party once and see how it goes :)
no you are not weird, because these things cost money and they also create expectations for the child that you may not be able/want to fulfill. Who says that they have to have a huge party every year. my four year didn't have one this year. i took him to chuck-e-cheese by himself and took him to toy r us and bought him the big ironman helmet that talks and has all the bells and whistles on it and took him to 7-11 and let him get the ironman shaped cup and called it a day/ i didn't feel like dealing with a whole lot of people and didn't feel like paying for everyone else to eat this year so i kept it simple.
I have a small family-only(including extended family)party until about age 4 and then do a reasonable sized b'day party for my child and some of their friends from that age on. My son turned 6 in March and we went out for a special dinner on his birthday and then that weekend we had a bowling party with 4 of his good friends. For my 3 year olds birthday last week, we took him to a science museum for his birthday and then had a family party on the following Saturday afternoon with about 6 guests. We don't spend a ton of money, but it is important for me to make their birthday special and to treat them to something they will enjoy.
We do parties every year. Always have... as in my brothers and sisters always had parties, my parents always had parties, THEIR parents always had parties.
And everyone still living still has parties, regardless of age. The only difference is as you get older (and start having kids), you only get presents on "round" years... like 30, 40, 50 from people outside your immediate family.
For my son... if we have BIG parties (aka invite a lot of children) we make them "no present" parties. So if we have 20-30 kids we nix the present thing. And kiddo knows about it... so he can choose a small party (5 or 6 kids) and I don't say anything about presents, or a big party (20-30 kids) and on the invite we say no presents. If he wants to go somewhere (waterpark,etc.) then he can pick 1 friend to come with.
In our family, we let the bday child pick the dinner menu and type of dessert. We give gifts and celebrate them as a family. I always tell their birth story, and we tell other fun stories about their life so far. During the week at some point, my husband will take the bday child out to a restaurant of their choice for dinner. 6 months later, I take them out for their "anti-birthday" dinner. The night before their birthday, while they are sleeping, I put the number of balloons that they are turning hanging from their door frame, so that they have that welcome in the morning when they wake up. We do make it special, but we don't indulge them too much. We got tired of the whole birthday scene when the oldest of our children were little. We didn't like the spoiled attitude that many children have at their birthday parties, especially when this wasn't how they were the rest of their lives. It just seems to bring out the worst in a child's character: all me centered. Yuck.
I make a big deal out of my daughter's birthday. I can remember only having one or two parties as a kid, but going to alot of parties. My daughter is an only child, and she goes to work with us most of the time. My husband is self employed, and I work in a small (it's only me) very casual office so she spends her days (before she went to school, and now after school) going back and forth between our offices. I work for the people who owne the property where his shop is. Anyway - we also spend a bunch of time traveling for my husband's businss so she misses out on alot of things throughout the year. Because of our finances, and because I don't think that I should just be buying stuff willy nilly all year, and quite frankly she rarely asks - I don't indulge her with material things all year. My daughter's birthday is in the Springs, so after Christmas, I start saving a little here and there, and planning right away - so that I can throw a fabulous party for her. I figure since she is an only child, and she misses out on alot of weekend fun opportunities through the year because she is at work with us - I will blow it out and give her the experience. We've had Chuck E Cheese, Bowling, Ponies at the park, Build a Bear want to be (from the internet), Fairy themed, and Magic parties. She gets to pick the theme and I just make it happen. Usually - her party falls during the week, and we will make something at home, or go some place that has kid's night and celebrate with a tiny cake and some small gifts from mommy and daddy, and then on the weekend it's the big party. For the Fairy party - I bought wings @ the dollar store, and then each week made a few fairy skirts to match until I had enough. We hired a face painter (college art student), and made little garland halos for their heads. I had a scavenger hunt, and the favors were - besides the fairy outfits, a little fabric bag w/ good luck token, chocolate w/ label - thanking them for coming, and a tiny bottle of "fairy dust". This year - we had a magician, and had it at a pizza parlor. The kids all had a blast, and she loves the memories! It's not about getting alot of gifts, it's about having a really good time with her friends, cousins, and grandparents. Our friends look forward to her party each year - as the "go to event of the year". I'll do it as long as she keeps coming up with ideas or says that she would rather do something else. Our little neighbor girl turned 10 last year - and now (for 10th & 11th) she picks 1 friend to accompany her w/ mom to Disney, Sea World, Nick hotel or such... and have a sleep over. Prior to her turning 10 - there was always a pool party and barbeque at her house - now she opts for one on one time with a friend and the experience of one of the big parks.
Hey! I know that these kinds of things have gotten way out of control. We do have parties for the kids but have been trying to keep things under control in terms of size. We sort of see birthdays as the one day that the kids get us to do goofy things that we would not necessarily normally do. We just had my daughter's 5th birthday party this weekend. She wanted a Mermaid Tale party. I made the cake (at her request), the kids decorated sea-animal sugar cookies (I premade them so they just had to decorate), the kids did little sea creature sand art crafts, sticker pages, and a toss the sea creature bean bag game (we already owned the game). We then turned part of the play room into Oceana (they had to complete the crafts to get there - this mostly involved a lot of tulle and a bubble machine), where they ate pizza, watermelon, and chips, and watched the movie. We had 8 kids all together (including my two), and that was plenty. My son wanted a water slide, so we did that for him in June. It was a little bigger, but he's also a couple of years older and when he hits 10, no more parties (maybe a couple of friends to sleepover). We have never rented a place to do a party and the kids seem to really like having them at home.
I think there is generally a middle ground to be had. Neither of my kids are big crowd people, so they kind of like smaller groups, but they also see other kids having parties and I think a little something is appropriate. Interestingly, my son almost didn't want a party this year (turned 7), so it might all work its way out by itself.
I don't have an exact plan for parties, but try to keep them small. My SIL has big parties for her kids every 3 years and it makes sense: when they turn 4, 7, 10, 13 and 16. Those are all sort of milestone years and it makes sense to the kids to do it that way. Other years, she has cake and ice cream for the immediate family, including grandparents. I think parents have gotten themselves into a bind with each year having to be bigger and better. What do you do by the time they turn 16? Rent a hall? Fly to Europe? It makes proms and weddings that much more expensive too. Hope that helps.
I didn't read your prior responses. I'm one of those moms who is not a big party planner. My kids are 14, 10 and 7. Every year they take cupcakes to school for their class. That is the only party they have with their "friends". On the actual day of their bday if its during the week, they get to pick what they want for dinner. On the weekend, they have a party with just family and maybe neighbor friends, but so far they haven't even asked for that! So it's just us and we have food, cake and presents. And each year the kids get to pick what fun activity they want to do: movie, bounce-u, fair, etc. and that's all we do. They also have a party at their dads house since he has them every other weekend. When my kids were little, the first time they said they wanted a party with their friends I said, didn't you have a party at school with cupcakes? and they say yeah, so there is your party! the kids have never suffered, trust me. do what you want and don't feel obligated to keep up with what everyone else is supposedly doing. trust me, they probably don't want big parties either!
i say, "maybe another year, but this year, this is what we can do." sometimes i give reasons. my boys are 6 and 4 and because we have done different things for their birthday celebrations each year, they accept this answer. i do the kind of celebration i feel up to doing that year. sometimes it's a party with friends and/or extended family. sometimes it's just immediate family with a special dinner. i haven't ever done a party at a public place but maybe someday to celebrate a significant year, like when they are baptized or when they are entering Jr high or high school, depending on our income at the time. i know a family that allows each child one big birthday party with friends in their whole childhood. each child chooses an age they want their big party to be and all the other years are just cake with immediate family. sounds to me like you're doing good.
My twin boys are turning four this year. Until this year, I've done a big party for them. Kind of odd now that I think about since they were unaware really. I freely admit the party was more for me than it was really about them. Crazy how much planning I did for their first birthday! :-)
This year I'm stopping that trend. I'm planning to take them for the Day Out with Thomas. And then a family dinner/party with cake. I love the idea of birthday adventures! That's what we'll be doing from now on! If they ever do request a party, I'll simply make it a choice between the adventure or the party and spend according to whatever I have budgeted. That means limiting the guest list if the activity is expensive. If I've budgeted $100 for the celebration, I feel happy to let them decide if it's an adventure or a party.
It's not a matter of saying "I can't afford a big party" (which creates a negative belief about money). It's more a matter of saying "As the parent, I'm choosing to budget XYZ amount, I feel open deciding how that money gets spent."
You sound just like me! My daughter is almost 4 and since we have never lived near family we decided from the beginning that our children will have "birthday adventures.". I think parties ate over rated, expensive for all who plan and attend, and really don't leave a lasting impression. My daughter still talks about her birthday last year 3 yr old birthday) where we went camping at Jelly Stone park. This year we are taking her on a weekend trip to Atlanta to do the aquarium, something we have't done. Yes, she talks about parties and has made mention like "when I have my party..." but we always remind her that she will have a special birthday adventure and NOT a party. She is just as excited at the prospect of the special adventure as she woild be for a party. We also plan to take her as the only child and leave her brothers home with the grandparents. I had maybe two parties as a kid (5 and 13) and remember them very well. Probably because it was so special and not a yearly expectation. Don't feel like you have to throw a party because all the friends do it...make a choice that is right for your family and don't feel like you have to reciprocate or explain it.
Mine is 4 and so far we've done, #1 and 2 - just us and grandma, #3 was a backyard party where I bought a waterslide instead of renting one, and #4 we negiotiated a weekend at the beach instead of a party.
My SIL likes to do big home parties and is getting tired of them. She's now going to do outside parties for like 5 kids for regular birthdays and big home parties for ages 5,10 and 15. Though it's cheaper, she says it's too much work.
I feel like, if I'm gong to spend $200 or more, I'd rather spend it on something more lasting than sending 10 kids to the bounce house.
If she really wants to do one of those other things, maybe you can plan a play date with one or two friends after her birthday.
It's funny that you are asking this when I am now thinking about both of my children's birthdays coming up. Up until now I think I sound like your SIL. My son is going to be 5 and my daughter will be 2 and for each one of their birthdays I have done HUGE parties - I mean huge - inviting everyone of our family and friends feeding them a full meal and all. My sons birthday is at the end of September and the weather is always so beautiful we usually would do a huge cookout and it's been great - BUT a LOT of work. Last year my daughter's birthday at the end of October turned out to be freezing so we had to rent out a banquet room at a local hotel! I hated to cancel at the last minute so I just moved it. WELL! After that I vowed to husband, parents and brother and SIL that I would NEVER do that again. As my kids are getting older I am just too tired to do it all. I did look at it as a huge event - I used to entertain more before I had children so I saw their parties as a way to get together with everyone and the birthday was just a good excuse to get everyone together. From this point on I will do smaller parties. My husband was like you - never really had too many parties and didn't understand my desire to do it. But he let me do whatever I wanted and had to help me pull it together at the last minute. That's not fair to him. I think your idea for your daughters 4th birthday with giving her a choice is a great idea. Maybe she could invite a friend or two also. And if she does ask for "McDonalds/Monkey Joes/the park" just keep it as low key as possible by having her limit it to a couple of friends. Maybe you could have family over if they live nearby for simply cake and ice cream one Sunday afternoon or something. Just making it simple but special I believe will be enough. That's what I intend to do from now on!! Good luck :)
My daughter always has big family / friends parties. I think it's fun. Although I agree that kids sometimes want less. Last year TOO many kids came (neighborhood kids) this year my daughter specifically said she wants to invite LESS kids because it was too much last year. So it will be family (about 12 of us) and friends. She's inviting maybe 10 kids but I'm sure not all of them will come. We'll have a huge blowup water slide and a cookout. I don't really have to plan any activities when we have the one big slide. The kids play, the adults chat and hang out. We eat, have cake & ice cream, open presents - then after that people start trickling out .. but some stay for a while to hang out more.
We did friend birthday parties from age 4 or 5 til 9 or 10. At that point, the birthday celebration would be an outing with a few close friends, like the water park or amusement park. My daughter is 15 now, and her birthday celebration is a Broadway show with one friend
Don't go overboard if it's too expensive or stressful, but I do believe the kid should get some input. I always preferred to do the party out somewhere than at home, not deal with the mess, planning activities, etc.
I have a party each year at the house! It is the one time I clean the entire house top to bottom and invite people over. We don't typically entertain so this is the one time we go all out. It isn't about how many gifts he gets it is about having all of his friends over at once to play together. I make appetizers, serve soda and beer for those that want and we have cake. He has a great time and at the end of the night we clean up put the toys together and play.