The Overwhelmed Mom's Etiquette Guide to Kids' Birthday Parties

Many hardships of parenting are predictable (sleep deprivation, potty training, and temper tantrums), but no one tells you about the minefield that is the current kids' birthday party landscape. Fraught with drama, stress, and financial suffering, kids' birthday parties can be a real b*tch, whether you're throwing one for your little one or attending one of the dozens your kid will probably be invited to this year.

I thought birthday parties were stressful enough when I was just throwing small family fêtes for my first child and spending a small fortune on Etsy to make them look like my Pinterest inspiration photos, but once she hit preschool, I realized my party problems had just begun. In the last two months alone, my 5-year-old daughter has been invited to six birthday parties, and judging from my friends with slightly older kids, the invitation influx is only going to get crazier. But, with time and experience, I've realized that there's a way to get through all these parties without the stress.

Here's a totally-overwhelmed mom's guide to surviving the birthday madness, whether you're throwing the party or just attending one.


Sure, there are hundreds of adorable birthday party ideas, and if you enjoy creating themed dessert tables and crafting photo backdrops, more power to you. If you're like me, however, I advise you to make your theme "as easy as possible." I don't mean pick dinosaurs or princesses or whatever else is stocked at Party City; I literally mean your theme should be "as easy as possible." If you're throwing a party at home, a cake, balloons, and a few gifts are all your kid really cares about. Or, even better, pick a place where you write a reasonable check, invite a few kids, and let the location do all the work. After all, the party should impress your child most, not your Instagram followers.


Distribute your invites (in person or online is fine) at least a few weeks before the party, if not earlier. It's possible that your kid's buddies will be getting multiple party invites for the same weekend, and the earlier yours is on their radar, the more likely they'll be able to come. Or, if your child insists on inviting every kid they've ever met, use the opposite strategy and wait until the last minute to cut down on actual attendees.


Try to RSVP as soon as you know whether your child can attend or not, but if it slips through the cracks, don't stress. Most locations don't need a final headcount until the day of or the day before the party, so it's not totally awful to text a mom a few days before to see if your kid can still come. If you're the one throwing the party and haven't heard back from guests, assume they aren't coming and move on, unless it's your kid's best friend. Then feel free to follow up.

Guest list

My mom's advice: let your kids invite an equal number of kids to the age they're turning, give or take a couple. I think it stands, unless your child wants to invite someone from pre- or elementary school whose mom you haven't met, meaning taking the invite to school is the only option. In that case, you can't be that jerk who only invites one girl from the class and leaves everyone else out. However, in my experience, if you have a relationship with the moms and can text or email an invite, it's totally fine to only invite one or two classmates who your child really likes.


The only hard-and-fast rules for gift giving are these: spend what you feel comfortable with and, if at all possible, do not take your child with you to shop for birthday gifts for their friends. To do so is to know that you will either leave the store with a crying kid or with two of whatever gift you're giving, one for the birthday kid and one for your own.

Drop off or stay?

Once your little one hits age 4 or 5, please, please make your party drop off. If your guests have to bring your kid a gift, the least you can do is provide a couple of hours of free childcare and spare them the agony of having to make small talk with a bunch of parents they hardly know. Every mom will act like she's not so sure about leaving her kid if it's the first time, but once she does, she will pray that every single party her kid is ever invited to is drop off. Sure, it may seem like more work for the hosting parents, but in reality, they'll get to focus on all the kids and not whether the adults have a fresh mimosa. Way easier.

Thank you notes

Write them. You know you should. Your mom taught you to do it. So do it. Now. And make your kid help, whether they can write or not.