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What's Proper Etiquette for Kid Birthday Parties?

Do you make treat bags? Who do you invite? Where do you have it? Who do you feed? What do you spend on a gift? The list goes on and on.

Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches, in which local parents are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting issues.

Each week our Moms Council members will discuss a different issue. Join the conversation by weighing in on a topic or asking questions.  

Our Moms Council members include: 

  • Lisa Amey, of Upper Milford Township, is a stay-at-home mom to an 8-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and long time member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International. 
  • Lisa Drew, of Emmaus, is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17-years experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston, of Emmaus, has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling.  She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother to a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, N.J. in January.
  • Lisa Merk, of Lower Macungie, is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 12-year-old and 6-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Megan Patruno, of Allentown, is a mother of three – an 11-year-old boy, an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy. Megan also works as an admission counselor for Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paulof Bethlehem, is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a five year old and a 14 month old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”  

The subject of this week’s Moms Talk is kid birthday party etiquette. It comes from yours truly, Jennifer Marangos, the editor of the Emmaus Patch, and quite frankly, I don’t know where to begin. This is a topic that totally baffles me. ‘Cause, to use the favorite old foggy phrase of pretty much every stand-up comedian over the age of 40, “back in my day” birthday parties were different. 

First of all, when I was four, there was no such thing as a “friend” birthday party. We had family parties. My mom set up a spread for all the aunts and uncles and cousins down in the basement, whipped up my favorite Betty Crocker box cake, spruced it up with some M&Ms and we played all day. 

The gifts were largely clothes – it was a family party after all – and there was no such thing as treat bags for the guests. 

Simple right? 

Yesterday, our four-year-old went to a “friend” birthday party for a child in his class at the day care. The party was out at one of the many Lehigh Valley establishments that host children’s parties. My husband stayed at the party with him. The hosts of the party very generously fed my husband and the other parents pizza and cake, our son came home with a full treat bag, and they both had a great time. 

So here’s what I want to know:

What’s considered proper with kid's birthday parties? How much do you spend on a gift? Who do you invite? The entire class? If so, that can get pretty pricey, depending on where you have the party. And, where do you have the party? Do you have to provide a goodie bag for the guests? (Do any of us need more tiny plastic toys in our lives?) At what age do you start having “friend” parties anyhow? Do you need to feed the parents at the party? And, speaking of parents, at what age do you just drop your child off and come back at the end of the party to pick the child up?

There’s a lot here. Any insight you can provide on any part of it would be greatly appreciated by this confused mom, and, I am hoping, by other parents on the birthday party circuit. Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments. 

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Melissa Moyer-Schneck June 14, 2011 at 03:08 PM
I take it differently based on my experience with my kids and the school class. I have had to deal with bullies in our classes and, honestly, I wouldn't want them at the party....so, my way of not hurting any child's feelings, because, they are after all children, I mail the invitations....but again, we only allow three friends at a party...and this year is the first year we are actually having a big party , so I'll let you know how that goes! lol
Beth June 14, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Melissa, that sounds reasonable. Let's face it-you can't be friends with everyone. And, quite frankly, there are a number of kids in my daughters class that she doesn't want to invite (nor do I). Good luck and I hope it goes well.
Mary Anne Looby June 14, 2011 at 09:43 PM
I don't think the schools are dictating Beth. As I have said before, I've been a Mother for a long time and I can tell you these practices came out of parents complaining on behalf of their kids. Sadly somewhere along the lines someone deceided that all kids should get a trophy and no one should ever be labled a looser. This is all the result of a feel good society that thinks kids should never have to feel bad. The result of this school of thought is children behaving badly everywhere. You see them in restaurants, stores, church etc. I don't know how old any of you girls are, but you can bet that some of your parents generation had a hand in this fiasco. You are right, eventually they grow up and don't get prom queen, or captain of the football team and they take it personally, becuase they were never taught that everyone can't be a winner every time.
Beth June 15, 2011 at 01:10 AM
Thank you for your comment Mary Anne. I guess the best that we can do is just that. I just hope that parents with similar thoughts and yes, morals will feel comfortable speaking up in some of these sticky situations. What is ultimately best for the child? Sheltering them from all the bad in the world? Or just letting them experience situations for what they are? My parents are in their 70's, so not quite part of the baby boomer generation. They have a frugal outlook, a terrific work ethic, and a general sense of kindness and help your neighbor attitude. I feel fortunate to have grown up with those lessons in our house. I hope to impart many of their values on our children. And, in the future, I still won't be inviting the whole class to the party.
Mary Anne Looby June 15, 2011 at 02:41 AM
Beth, your parents are pretty close to my age. It's nice to know that there are parents out there now that still think the way we used to. I grew up in a large family, there were seven of us. Not once did my Mother have to bring toys or cherrios to church to keep us still. I am also happy to say that none of my four children took toys to church or were fed while there. It is sad to see so many children being indulged. They grow up expecting to have everything they want, when they want it. The parties that we had for our kids were always limited in numbers. You are wise to stick to your guns.

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