With three kids between the ages of 5 and 13 years, I’ve attended an endless array of kids’ birthday parties. The mom-pressure to host the most extravagant party for your child is overwhelming. What’s with all the bells and whistles?

Mammas, I’m here to tell you that we need to bring it back to basics – you don’t need a circus act flown in from Las Vegas to entertain your children. Let’s get retro and revive the simple at-home party. Your kid will feel special whatever the location, as long as they are the center of attention.

Here are my top tips for hosting a stress-free kids party at your home:

GIT Tip #1: Keep It Simple

As a family, we made the decision not to throw large birthday parties for our three boys until they were older. Between the ages of 1-4 years, we hosted birthday parties with our immediate family at home on a Sunday between 4-6pm. We’ve never felt like inadequate parents for not throwing a huge bash because we know that being a loving, involved parent is more important, and guess what?! Our little guys have always cherished the tradition of hosting their closest friends and family at home. They invite their closest buddies and we select one form of entertainment (like a magician), and then create additional games such as pillow fights, scavenger hunts, basketball shoot-outs, and balloon tosses. Keep it real, parents! No one is impressed with a family that shells out hundreds of dollars for a two-hour party. Remember Mammas, that’s the price of a nice handbag for you!

GIT Tip #2: Be Tough With Your Guest List

Keep your guest list under control. You may need to make some tough decisions on who NOT to invite and that’s okay – I truly believe that less is more, and it’s your party so invite exactly who your child wants. If only four people fit comfortably in your home, then guide your child in his decision-making and stand by it.

Also, never feel you need to reciprocate an invitation because so-and-so invited your child to their party. Remember this is your special occasion, and the simplest way to ease your guilt is to address it head on with the child’s mom – explain how you can’t include her child this year, but would love to get the kids together for a future play date. Do not make any decisions that make you feel too uncomfortable or stressed – remember without you, your family would not exist!

GIT Tip #3: Abandon Presents

Now, let’s talk about presents. Brace yourself for this wild and crazy idea – How about you tell your mom friends to skip the gifts this year?! Like, really skip the gifts? None of this “No gifts required BS.” This is what I usually do a couple of weeks leading up to my child’s birthday. Your child doesn’t need hundreds of presents on his birthday – it’s overwhelming for him and a huge waste of money. If you feel you need SOMETHING instead of presents, then you can always ask your mom-friends to donate to a certain charity, and get your kid involved in selecting which one.

GIT Tip #4: Keep It Short & Sweet

Keep the length of the party to a maximum of 2 hours. This ensures that the kids leave on a high, and parents who are staying will not be constantly clock watching. I recently shortened one of my son’s parties from 2 hours to 90 minutes because it was just enough fun for the birthday boy, and my nerves couldn’t take it any longer!

GIT Tip #5: Remember The Grown Ups!

Be a generous host and don’t forget the grown ups. If you’re keeping the parents hostage at your party then serve them food and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic please!). It doesn’t need to be fancy, but please include the parents in your head count when planning your party menu. It’s always better to have more, than run out and look cheap. You can score extra points with the grown ups if you have a fancier birthday cake and champagne just for them. It will make them feel extra special!

GIT Tip #6:  Avoid The Crappy Goody Bags

Who the hell created the concept of goody bags? Put your hands up! As if we haven’t got enough to think about with our party preparations! Don’t even get me started on the contents of the goody bag. When I open one of my boy’s goody bags and peer inside, I think, “What happened? Did the other mom walk into the store blindfolded and grab any piece of junk just to fill the bag?” It’s all so wasteful that I would rather just abandon the concept all together. However, if you just can’t help yourself, I suggest a visit to a store like Five Below where everything is $5 or less. You can buy one useful and substantial item (like a football or cheap speakers) which your child can chuck at his friend to motivate him to GO HOME.

GIT Tip #7: Get Yourself Ready First!

On party day, make sure you get yourself dressed and put together first! If you love what you’re wearing you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll be a more relaxed and confident hostess. Secondly, get your house cleaned up and presentable, then you can get your kids ready. Delegate other tasks to your husband or grandparents such as picking up the cake and drinks. Tensions run high on celebration days so everything tends to take a lot longer. Allow plenty of time to accomplish it all.

GIT Tip #8: Loosen Up

Don’t forget to loosen yourself up just before the party starts. About 15 minutes before guests arrive light candles, turn on lamps, and make your home look beautiful! Then pour some wine and enjoy the day!  Accept that you probably won’t get a chance to eat during the party so make up a plate of food for yourself and set it aside for later. This way you can focus on the kids’ activities and socializing with your guests. This will give you something to look forward to after all of the cleaning up.

GIT Tip #9: Manage The Disaster Zone

Set up an organized layout for your guests so they have easy access to water, wine, napkins, and food. The more they feel comfortable in your home, the better time they’ll have (and less serving you’ll have to do). Plus, this will give you time to mingle.

It’s very important to keep the children in a centrally located spot with room to spread out. However, set your boundaries, the kids shouldn’t be running through the entire house. Designated spaces means easier clean up later! If your house does turn into a disaster zone, then just CHILL OUT. I’m a huge neat freak, but even I know when to sit back and let it go….

GIT Tip #10: Plan The Big Tidy Up

After all your guests leave your home, strike a deal with your partner. Have your partner get the kids away from you and put them to bed so you can clean up the kitchen. Then you can re-convene, so you can enjoy your food and wine in peace and talk about all the weird things your relatives just said to you.

During the party, if you have some guests who are “work horses,” ready to jump at the chance to clean up, let them have at it! I recommend using paper plates and cups to make tidying-up super easy. Trash it all!

GIT Tip #11: Make Your Child Write The Thank You Cards

While your child is opening gifts, keep a record of who bought what so you can be the evil – I mean intelligent – parent raising a responsible child. Thank you cards are a great way to teach your child gratitude and appreciation, especially if they write them with you. Starting at age 4, your child may be able to sign his own name, or you can make letters with dots that he can trace over. I like to spread out this tedious task by keeping it to four thank you notes per weekend, otherwise your child may revolt.

Party planning is never easy, but there are ways we can survive, and possibly even enjoy our kid’s birthday parties. Hosting a party at home not only saves you money, but it means you have more control. Do what you want, when you want, all with a glass of wine in your hand!

_____________

Want to share your stories? Sign up to become a Spoke contributor!