27/04/2009 13:27 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Skipping Kids Birthday Parties - How Bad?

We are planning our childrens' combined birthday party right now. Since their birthday is in about five minutes, we thought this was a good time to start. Our kids are not twins, but their birthdays are two weeks apart, so we have a party for both of them on the weekend in between.

I was talking to a friend about this and he asked me what our other friends do for birthdays. In our community, it's a range from backyard to bigger "event" type parties. We do the backyard or playground version, in part because of our aforementioned total lack of birthday-planning skills.

"How bad is it if you don't like going to these parties?" my friend asked, "Like if you skip other kids parties and don't care?" Hm, I asked, "Well do you RSVP? Because that seems mean to the mum otherwise." Yes, he RSVPs, it's just that he doesn't really see the big point in going to the parties, or in throwing a big party for his little one.

I know lots of parents (us included, some years) who have "gotten away with" just taking the kids out for ice cream on their birthdays. Is there a base-level of celebration that must occur to qualify as a good parent on your child's birthday? Is it bad to downsize the birthday to a family-only affair? To find out, I called friend and counselor Rosanne Tobey, L.P.C., Director of Calm and Sense Therapy."I think birthdays are what you make them," Tobey answered, rather sensibly. "What is important is that the child feel celebrated, how your family chooses to do that is up to you." So a small party is fine, yes?

"Small, intimate birthdays can have just as much meaning, if not more, than a large party full of children. But large parties are okay as well, just know that every birthday need not be an extravaganza in order to make a child feel special."

I was glad to hear this because on some years we've done more than other years, and I somehow feel that on the parenting grade-scale you're supposed to do pretty much the same thing every year. But maybe that's silly. Here are Rosanne's other thoughts about how to have a meaningful party that your child will have fond memories of:

Make your child feel special. Even if you're just taking her out for dinner, sing happy birthday, get a cupcake, have her wear a hat or a tiara, anything that shows her this is her special day.

Create traditions. This doesn't mean doing the exact same thing every year, party-wise. Maybe every birthday you tell your child the story of the day they were born, or take a picture of him wearing the same hat. He will grow to look forward to and treasure this consistency.

Don't compare. Even if your kids are always talking about the huge parties their friends are having, you don't have to buy into the birthday-party hype. "When your party is large just because everyone else has a large party, the party is not about the child anymore, it's about keeping up appearances."

However, Tobey points out that if you know you're going to have a small party, consider only accepting invitations throughout the year to parties of the children that you would invite to a smaller gathering so you don't end up feeling pressured to "return the invitation."

So, answer the question: How Bad? "Honestly, I give this a zero. I think you should call downsizing birthday parties: how good! The larger the parties get, sometimes, the more diluted the child's connection to those attending. The bottom line on birthdays is, when you treat a child like they're very special it's a good thing. If that means breakfast in bed and presents at 7am or a special dinner alone with mum and dad on their birthday, it's good. Especially in this economy, parents should not feel pressured to show children they love them with expensive gifts or expensive parties."

Sabrina Weill is editor-in-chief of