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How to Plan a Military Kid's Birthday Party as a Solo Parent

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My son's third birthday party was amazing.

Ah. May. Zing.

We had a bounce house. We had a pony. We had a petting zoo. There was a llama in our yard, people.

I got it into my head that a good mom would handmake the invitations with an adorable stamping and craft paper set I bought. A great mom would handmake goodie bags and thank-you notes too. A spectacular mom would handmake all of that and put together a Martha Stewart-worthy spread of food for all the kids and parents.

I was aiming for spectacular. I was that mom.

And by that, I mean THAT mom. I was that obnoxious mom who generates eye rolls from all the other moms because I was attempting to raise the bar so high that only a pole vaulter could clear it.

Did I mention that my husband was deployed for all of this planning and stamping? He came home just days before the party -- so I was also that Army wife who forced her fresh-home-from-combat husband into an awkward and stressful social situation. Go me.

But it really was a great party ... so great that my son is 11 now and we haven't had a home party for him or either of his younger sisters ever since. Home parties are stressful, y'all. I get flashbacks just thinking about hosting one.

It's bound to happen if you're an MHP. These kids of yours will have birthdays every year, and one of these years, you'll be the only parent home to plan and execute the celebration.

If you don't want that twitchy eye thing that plagued me for weeks after I'd cleaned the last pile of llama poop from our yard, here are six things to consider:

1.Can you celebrate on an off day?

If the Must-Do Parent will be home a bit before or shortly after your child's actual birthday, just move the day of the celebration up or back a bit. Trust me, your kid won't mind -- especially if you still celebrate (on a smaller scale) on their actual birthday. No kid will turn their nose up at celebrating twice.

Do the actual party when the Must-Do Parent can be there, and a special dinner on the actual birthday. (Just don't plan a huge home party for right after the Must-Do gets home from deployment, m'kay?)

But if the Must-Do is deployed, or won't be home for weeks or months before or after the big day, you'll have to consider other options. Such as ...

2. Do you have (reliable) family or close friends in town who can (and will) help?

If so, have no fear. You've got backup. Plan whatever kind of party your backup will agree to help you execute. Problem solved.

But if you don't ...

3. Keep your expectations realistic. (Also known as: "no llamas this year.")

I recently Googled "kid-friendly birthday party food" looking for suggestions for something other than pizza to serve at my youngest's birthday party. I was immediately directed to a netherworld of pictures of food shaped like animal faces. Food that, in the excitement of a birthday party, kids wouldn't even notice. That kind of food, adorable as it is, is just a time drain for the person making it. Save your energy, Grasshopper. When you're an MHP solo planning a party, Pinterest is not your friend.

Likewise, there's this awesome children's park in my town, and for four years now, I've thought about how great it would be to have a birthday party there for one of my kids. It's a great location, but having a party there would mean me planning everything, me entertaining all the children, me watching all the children, me running the whole party, probably without help. Ain't gonna happen. Really, it wouldn't even be safe.

So we transition ...

4. Have a party where the venue will provide the entertainment.

Fortunately, for a small (or not-so-small) fee, there are plenty of places that will handle nearly every aspect of the birthday party for you. You know these places. You've been to these parties. My daughter's 4th birthday party last week (the reason why all of this is on my mind) was at a gymnastics gym. We showed up with Capri Suns and cupcakes, and the gym handled everything else. I didn't have to clean up before or after, and I didn't have to entertain the children. I also don't have twitchy eye now. See how that works?

When my middle daughter turned 5, we had her party at McDonald's. I doubt any of the other parents were impressed, but the kids all loved it. And it was cheap. And easy.

So. Very. Easy.

5. Take video and pictures to share with the Must-Do.

Better yet, ask the other parents to snap pictures and video and share theirs with you, that way you'll be in some of the photos. They won't mind. Actually, they'll probably be happy to help because ...

6. ... The one good thing about solo-hosting a birthday party is that everyone will cut you some slack. So cut yourself some, too.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting Family and Spouse Featured

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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