The joys of summer are here. More sun, more free time and – for reasons all too familiar – more birthday parties. More and more, parents are sharing the load of party planning and saving some days of partygoing by arranging joint birthday parties. The practice is familiar to those of us with twins, but now pals at school and kids in the same playgroups with birthdays close together on the calendar are getting into it. Here are some tips for making your joint birthday party a success.
Finding the Right Fit
You need more than just nearby birth dates for a joint party to work. If one mom wants a blowout party with magic and fireworks, while the other only requires cake and “Happy Birthday to You,” things could get messy. Consider your main requirements for a successful party and make your party expectations plain from the beginning. Talk through the following with your co-planner to make sure your objectives align:
- Party date
- Number of guests
- Food and drinks
- Party budget
Make sure you can agree on a theme that will work for both children. Christine McCain, who has two kids just over two years apart, chose the Nick Jr. show “Paw Patrol” as the theme for her kids’ party to keep things gender neutral and appealing to all. “I went with Paw Patrol because not only is it popular, but everyone can relate to one of the characters and the activities for dogs can be done by both boys and girls,” she says.
If the party includes kids with a big gap in age, consider separate activities part of the time so that no one gets bored. “I had a lot more friends for my older one, and my little one was always left behind,” says Kristina Kutsina, owner of Kids World LA and mom of two boys, ages 6 and 9. “At Kids World LA, we offer party hosts for each age group for joint parties. One will do an activity with the older kids, while another does an activity that fits for the younger kids.” If you’re having a party at home, consider having an indoor area for younger kids to play and interact, plus a setup outside where older kids can play games or enjoy entertainment.
Kim Owens, a Valley mom of two who has hosted two joint birthday parties for her 4-year-old daughter, says failure to coordinate the basics led to disappointment at one of those events. “We didn’t allow enough time to ensure important family members and friends for both children were able to make it,” she says.
Becoming a birthday party team isn’t easy, so setting these basic expectations will either help you start out on the right foot or make clear that a joint birthday party is too big for your planning britches.
Once you are on the same page, Rachel Isgar, mom of four and education and etiquette consultant at Please Pass the Manners etiquette school in El Segundo, offers this recipe for co-planning success: “Emphasize cooperation and not competition. Be flexible and realize that you may lose some control since you are not the only one running the show.”
Next, consider how you and your mom friend work best together. Owens says the important thing is to let each mom use her strengths. This leaves room for creativity and ownership for both moms, which gives each of them autonomy despite the shared work. Owens enjoys running errands, while decorating and sending invitations were better handled by her friend.
Another tip for planning logistics is to respect how the other mom functions during the planning process. Screenwriter Michelle McGee has made all of her 4-year-old’s L.A. birthdays joint affairs. “One of the moms had an Excel sheet and was tracking receipts, while the other was fine with us paying for separate things as long as everything made it to the party,” she says. “Don’t take it personally either way.”
Covering All Bases
Once you’ve figured out how to work together, focus on what to work on. This set of major party planning points will keep you organized:
Deliverables – This list of stuff required for the party might include tables and chairs, food and drinks, the cake or cakes, decorations, invitations and paper goods.
Milestones – This timeline should list important dates such as when to secure the venue and pay the deposit, when to send invites, RSVP deadlines, when you’ll pick up deliverables, set-up and breakdown times, and when certain activities happen during the party.
Technical Requirements – These are the logistical requirements that need to be met so that all goes as planned. Does your venue require a permit? Will there be a projector and screen that need power? Do the speakers fit on the stage at the venue, and are microphones needed? Where will you set up the food? How many songs are needed for Freeze Dance?
Limits and Exceptions – These are accommodations you’ll need to make for guests who might have special requirements. Does anyone attending have food allergies or disabilities? Are any of the children afraid of anything they might encounter at the venue (such as dogs at the park or a party clown)? Does an infant sibling need a meal in the middle of the party?
Divide up these areas, do your homework and share what you find out.
Keeping Things Social and Equitable
If you and your co-planner have different financial backgrounds, keep things equitable during the party. “If you go with two cakes, you need parity so one is not bigger or more showy than the other,” says Isgar, adding that the best case scenario is one big cake decorated half-and-half with each child’s preference, name and age. Another way to ensure one child doesn’t outshine the other is to avoid opening gifts. Isgar says she’s seen multiple joint parties request no gifts in invites to avoid situations where one child gets more gifts or more expensive gifts than the other. If you still want a gift table, keep it low key and let the birthday kids open their presents at home after the festivities.
During the party, be mindful of the birthday kids’ different personalities. If one is shy, help them shine in their own way on their special day. “I would keep the guests to a minimum, so that the birthday children are not overwhelmed,” says Antonia King, founder of Zooga Yoga in Culver City, which offers birthday party packages. Because birthday children are usually the focus of entertainers or other party hosts, designate one special activity for each of the birthday children to lead so they get some extra attention from partygoers. Likewise, you and your co-planner should each take your star turn during the festivities.
Enlist someone from each family to greet guests, so arriving isn’t awkward, and set specific beginning and ending times for activities during the party so everyone is on the same page. Make sure to introduce yourself to the other child’s guests if you’re not already familiar with them, and find out how they are connected so you can reminisce with your party partner after the fact. Introduce guests to each other so folks will mingle. Name tags may help keep everyone social.
Last but not least, make sure there are plenty of photos of both parties – including some of you and your co-planner together. “Do pre-photography for the two or more birthday kids,” Isgar suggests.
If you’ve planned well, both families – including the birthday kids – will enjoy celebrating together, and you’ll finish the day with great photos and happy memories.
Carolyn Richardson is a mom of three and Assistant Editor at L.A. Parent.