Archives for : May2015

Of Pirates and Princesses

Of Pirates and Princesses…




Each year millions of parents knock themselves out planning elaborately-themed birthday parties they hope will make their kids’ fondest fantasies come true.  In a quest to keep up with the pricey celebrations thrown by the parents of their kids’ friends, or perhaps to give their children something they themselves never had, parents often exceed the bounds of sensible budgeting to rent ice rinks, hire professional entertainers, or spring for half a day at an expensive theme park.

Changing demographics, growing affluence, and an increase in the number of dual-career families have altered expectations, so that the simple at-home, cake and ice cream, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey party now seems to have gone the way of the tyrannosaur.  (Though, if you want to throw a dinosaur party, Paper Warehouse can supply the matching paper plates, cups, napkins, balloons, invitations, piñatas, party favors, hats, and goodie bags.)

A parenting magazine survey reports that 20 percent of the parents polled spent more than $200 for their child’s most recent birthday party.  As more working moms opt for convenience over economy, out-of-home parties have become big business.  Every year, the Chuck E. Cheese chain hosts two million birthday parties.  Fast-food places offer competitive package deals.  Yellow Page ads pitch rent-a-clowns and rent-a-magicians, fairy princess parties, karaoke, aerobics, you name it.  Michael’s Stores, Inc., and Jo-Ann Stores offer craft-related birthday parties.  For $10 per child, each guest can go home with a birdhouse she made herself.  Parents can bring in a cake and decorations, and there’s no need to clean up the house before and after the party.

But the cost of tickets to Disney on Ice for ten kids counts up, and an afternoon of laser tag can be overly stimulating.  Commercial packages might simplify the planning, but extravagant, fast-paced parties sometimes leave the birthday child in tears and the exhausted parents wondering whether it was worth it all.

Looking for an alternative to elaborate, commercialized parties?  With a little planning, a scaled down, back-to-the-family version can be as much fun as the high-priced spread.   If the goal of a birthday celebration is to make your child feel special on his or her day, think about initiating some traditions, creating some memories, and incorporating some home-grown fun.  Maybe every other year should be family party year, where the family does something special alone together—an overnight campout, a scavenger hunt, an at-home game night, videos and popcorn, a nature hike, a fishing trip, miniature golf, or an activity like building a snow fort, making homemade ice cream together, or camping out in the backyard.

A telephone survey commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit organization that promotes responsible consumption, asked 746 children, aged 9 to 14, “What do you want that money can’t buy?”  Two-thirds of them, when asked what they would change about their parents’ jobs, said they wished they could spend more time with their parents.


Birthdays offer ideal opportunities to teach and to develop wholesome traditions.  One mom I know writes her child a letter each year on his birthday.  She will read the letters to him until he is old enough to read them for himself.  She saves a copy of each letter and will present the whole collection to him on his eighteenth birthday.  Letters reflect on highlights of the child’s year, note positive qualities the parents have observed in him during the year, commend him on some of his achievements, and let him know how proud they are of him.  It’s a chance to cultivate character and to nurture godly values.

Some families opt for a party without gifts.  This calls for a fair amount of maturity on the part of the birthday child, but it’s a value worth trying to cultivate.  At the bottom of the invitation, the hosts state, “no gifts.”  Instead, they ask the guest to make a donation to a designated charity—possibly something like the Ronald McDonald House, Special Olympics, or Make-A-Wish Foundation.  The party should include food and fun, but the focus will be refreshingly much less materialistic.

Activities need not be expensive.  Sometimes playing dress-up out of the attic trunk can provide an hour of creative fun.  Stage a treasure hunt.  Let the guests help prepare some of the food—frost and decorate the cupcakes, make a pizza together.  Pick up two or three appliance boxes and provide materials for converting them to houses.  As every parent knows, boxes are nearly always more fun than toys.

As children get older, offer more choices.  Set a budgeted amount for a party, then let the child decide whether he or she would like to use it for a party, or for the purchase of a long-anticipated item, or for a chance to go out with a friend or two.



  • Let the party be planned (at least partially) by kids, for kids. Include your children in the decisions and preparations.
  • Set a reasonable budget, and stick to it. Children often have little concept of (nor do they generally care) whether the food and decorations are costly or inexpensive.
  • Make it manageable. Keep the guest list realistic (preferably no more than one child for each year of the birthday child’s age).  And do have other adults on hand to help during the party.
  • Keep the kids busy. Plan plenty of activities, and always have an alternate plan, in case an activity doesn’t work out.  Avoid competitive games with young children, as this may trigger frustration for some.
  • Avoid sleepovers. Having one friend overnight might be workable.  Having a dozen overnighters brings more trouble and responsibility than you’d ever bargained for.
  • Scale back expectations. While it’s fun to anticipate special events, avoid over-hyping.  Too much buildup courts disappointment.
  • Prepare your child in advance to respond appropriately to guests. It’s an ideal time to instill good manners.  Practice with them:  “Thanks for coming to my party.”  “Thank you for the awesome gift.”  (Instruct your child not to say, “I don’t like it!”  “I’ve already got one of these!” “This isn’t the one I wanted!” or other comments that offend the giver.)
  • Include your child in the follow-up. It’s a teachable moment for demonstrating social skills. Help your child write thank you notes.  A particularly welcome gesture might be to tuck in a photo you took at the party that includes the guest you’re writing to.


Whether your budget is lavish or skimpy, whether your teaching is intentional or accidental, the way you handle birthdays will say a lot to your kids about what you value.   Is the party about materialism?  Impressing others?  Giving the parent a vicarious experience?  Or is it about making the child feel special and having fun with family and friends?

With a little thought and creativity, parties can be fun, economical, and one of your best teaching tools.  A piece of cake.






Preserve Those Special Childhood Moments!

Preserve those special childhood moments!

Ever had one of those special moments when your child did something so charming that it warmed your heart clear through?  Aah . . . if only you could freeze that moment . . .

PRACTICE SAVORING / Aim for the HEART ! / Get creative / SAVE CUTENESS

  • Ramp up your awareness so you’re on the lookout for small, but precious moments, and look for creative ways to preserve them.


  • Journal – Jot down cute things your child says, describe vignettes, little snippets of happenings, small acts that touch you, precocious words or actions. Record in a notebook, on your iPad, or on a scrap of paper.


  • Write a letter to your child on his birthday each year. Reflect on what you’ve observed about him and affirm him for progress.  Save a copy and give him a collection of all the letters for his high school graduation.


  • Record “A Day in the Life of (your child)” showing an ordinary day from waking up to going to bed–video, still photos, or journaled descriptions.


  • Keep a collection of the conversations or actions that touch your heart. Could be in a notebook, computer file, index cards . . . or ?


  • Save a collection of your child’s art work – from her earliest attempts. Jot down the child’s age on the back.


  • Jot down things that your child does that make you laugh!


  • Set aside a special box for meaningful mementoes: favorite toy, a clipping off her “blankie,” his first tooth, a clipping of baby hair . . . Remember to include a small note about the significance of the object.


  • Choose a few favorite photos and add some narrative for an occasional hardcover book (Shutterfly, or similar brand).


  • Make a recording of you or your husband or a grandparent reading a favorite book to your child. Could be audio or video.


Copyright ©Sharon Sheppard


How to Fall in Love With Your Husband


In honor of mothers everywhere, our blog

posts this month will all be centered around

ways moms can enrich their family lives.

Just before I was to give birth to my first child,

my own wise and wonderful mother gave me

this priceless advice:  “The best thing you can

do for your children is to love their father.”


How to Fall in Love with Your Husband . . .

All over again!


1        List 5 things that attracted you to him in the first placeNext list the 5 things you most appreciate about him now.  Write him a love letter and tell him.


2        Have an honest discussion with him about jump-starting your romance.  Tell him you would like to spend more time with him.


3        Flirt with your husband.  Let him know you still find him attractive.  Remember: In a good marriage, the chase is never over.  


4        Get rid of the “Love Busters”angry outbursts, disrespectful behavior, selfish demands, and–above all–criticism.


5        Make time to be alone together (both at home and away from home).  Plan regular dates (once every other week, minimum) and try for at least one overnight getaway a year.

6        Get some sleep!   Sexual desire is often in direct proportion to the amount of rest you get.  Turn off the TV and computer.  Put the kids to bed earlier.  Cut down on some of the commitments that are eating up your time.


7        Initiate SEX.  Make it a priority.  Schedule it if necessary.


8        Put your husband first in your life—above your children.  Really!


9        Pray for your husband and for your marriage every day.


10      Take a sentimental journeyGo back to some of the places that were special to you when you were dating.  Or just reminisce about them!


© Copyright, Sharon Sheppard