Birthday Party Etiquette for the 21st Century
Birthday Party Etiquette
As parents, our child’s birthday is more special to us than the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve. After all, it’s the anniversary of the day our precious baby came into the world and changed everything forever. It’s only natural to want to throw an elaborate bash befitting such a monumental occasion. However, as any parent knows who has had to accompany their own child, gift in hand, to the birthday parties of countless school friends, making the scene on the birthday party circuit can get expensive and exhausting. Here are some tips on being a gracious party guest and for throwing birthday parties that work for everyone.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
It’s Saturday afternoon. Your tiny tot has a birthday party to attend from 11:30 to 1:30. You have to pick up dry cleaning, go to the bank, and take your older child to soccer practice. Is it OK to drop your child off at the party and leave to run your errands? A lot depends on your child’s age, of course. If your child is still in diapers, you definitely need to stick around. You also need to consider your child’s temperament. If he or she is used to being dropped off at daycare or school and just wants to rush off and play, it’s probably fine for you to leave; however, if your child tends to get upset and requires comforting when you’re gone, you need to stay or be nearby instead of leaving the birthday parents with a screaming, crying mess.
Whether you should stay or go also depends upon the party’s venue and your relationship with the birthday child’s parents. If the party is at someone’s home, the parents can probably use all the adult supervision possible. But if the party is at a restaurant-with-play area or other spot designed specifically for kids’ parties, there’s not too much damage the children can do under the management’s watchful eye.
Sophia, mother of 5-year-old Olivia and 18-month-old Grace, said that the birthday parties she takes her daughters to are usually more of a social event for the parents. “It gives all the moms a chance to get together, chat, and compare notes. If I know the other moms well, I usually stay and socialize. If I’m not as friendly with the mothers, I’m more likely to drop the kids off and come back later.”
To Open or Not to Open?
Sometimes, parents just want to gather family and friends to celebrate baby’s birthday, and don’t want guests to feel obligated to bring gifts. It’s OK to specify on the invitation, “no gifts,” especially for first birthday parties, where the guest of honor is bound to have a face full of cake and then fall sound asleep during the party. But for older kids, presents are surely the best part of birthdays. The dilemma for the parents is whether to open the gifts at the party or later on at home, and a debate rages on this topic.
Deborah, mother of 16-month-old Liana, says gift-opening is much better left for home. She says parties can be over-stimulating for the birthday kid. It’s better to open presents calmly at home later, when the child can process each gift and the parents can track gifts received for sending appropriate thank-you cards.
On the other hand, some moms feel it’s downright rude not to open gifts at the party. One mom tells how her daughter was hurt and disappointed after not getting to see a friend open her carefully-chosen birthday gift during the party. Watching a friend open a present you chose especially for him also emphasizes the joy of giving, making kids feel good about pleasing someone without having to get anything in return.
So how to know what to do if you’re the birthday mom? Chances are you know your child’s friends and whether they have the attention span to watch a gift opening. If your party has ten kids or fewer, and they’re school-aged, opening gifts is probably fine. They’ll be used to sitting still longer, and will have taken an active role in selecting the present.
For larger parties or for children too young to comprehend the process, you can leave gifts for later; or, as each guest departs the party, you can open their gift. That way they get to see the birthday child enjoy receiving the present without you having to corral the whole group for the project. If your child attends a party where gifts are not opened, and you know your child will be disappointed, speak up. Before you leave, say “We were so excited about the birthday present we chose for you. Can we watch you open it before we go home?”
Of course, sending out thank you cards is essential. If your child is old enough, he or she should be involved in the process, if only to reinforce gratitude for the thought his or her friends put into gift-giving. Some parents take pictures of the child with each gift and send the photo along with the thank you card, allowing the birthday child’s friends to see their present “in action.”
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