The dreaded — I mean, highly anticipated — first birthday party. You survived sleepless nights, blow-out diapers, tantrums, and scary late-night fever spikes. You also navigated the messy, unpredictability of postpartum feelings, lonely 3 a.m. feedings, and everything else. Like the first belly roll, the first real smile, and the first giddy giggle. Turning one is BIG, and it absolutely calls for a celebration, so is it right to consider skipping the first birthday bash?
I flipped and flopped, planned and prepped, made guest lists and checklists, researched first birthday party themes, and priced options. If you don’t have a huge, extravagant first birthday party, you’re doing a disservice to your baby and disappointing everyone, right? Wrong. But it took me a while to come to this revelation. There were many days of illnesses in the month leading up to our son’s big day. As the big birthday approached, we were worn out. It didn’t make sense to throw a 45-plus person first birthday bash after all those weeks sick in bed and caring for a sick baby.
This got me thinking about the dilemma other parents like me face. What if a big first birthday bash isn’t in the cards for your family? Or what if you have zero interest in planning and stressing over an elaborate, expensive day your little one won’t remember? Here are five alternatives to celebrate the big one without a big party.
5 Alternatives to a First Birthday Bash
1. Visit an Aquarium
If your little one loves bath time, imagine her face when she meets a real dolphin or a swimming sea turtle. Way cooler than the bucket of beloved bathtub toys at home! Visual stimulation awaits as your baby is bound to marvel at the sights, splashes, and sounds that an aquarium offers. You can even pack your baby’s favorite sea creature stuffy for the car ride and create a music playlist with ocean-themed undertones. Think classics like “The Little Mermaid” soundtrack, “Baby Beluga,” and “Baby Shark,” so you can have an interactive sing-along on the way to your underwater adventure.
At the end of your trip, pop into the gift shop and select a memorable birthday souvenir to commemorate the outing. Once you’re back home, you can end the day with a bedtime bath and let your little fish enjoy splashing around with her birthday gift. That’s bound to bring a smile to both of your faces whenever it’s time to get squeaky clean.
2. Make Museum Memories
Have a future Picasso on your hands? A museum is a perfect choice to kick off birthday festivities. While children’s museums are likely at the top of your list, many non-kid-specific options exist. With this plan, snap photos of the displays your little one gravitates toward. Once you’re back home, set up floor protection (brown paper bags do the trick) and let your baby express his creativity with non-toxic finger paints or crayons on construction paper or inexpensive canvas. This may be the first time you’re letting your little one get messy with art supplies, and they’re bound to have a ball! As a bonus, you can mark the museum birthday outing with a mini-masterpiece you can proudly display on the fridge.
3. Go on an Outdoor Adventure
Fresh air does the soul good. Depending on the season your babe was born, pack a picnic with the little one’s favorite snacks and foods and bring a few screen-free activities to play together once you spread out a quilt in a local park or backyard.
Your babe will have a fun sensory experience feeling the grass squish beneath his toes, the sun warming his plump little cheeks, and the wind ruffling through his wispy hair. You could also look up a hike your family can accomplish together. Snap a family photo once you reach the destination to mark the moment. While the views are bound to be beautiful, you’re sure to be zooming in on the birthday boy who is the show’s true star.
4. Celebrate with a Scrapbook
Okay, this is the perfect way to celebrate if you’re approaching day 365 and are slacking in the scrapbook department. Turn all those cute, candid, and totally staged photos taking up space in your phone into a tangible keepsake. It is truly a trip down sleep-deprived memory lane to see how far your family has come. Take turns with your partner writing special birthday notes to your baby and listing all her favorites (books, songs, outfits, food).
Get your little one involved in this activity by allowing her to place stickers on scrapbook pages, mark down some award-winning scribbles, and trace a chubby handprint to save for years. You can schedule a fancy photoshoot to mark the occasion. Or create a cute setup at home to document her tearing into a gift or sampling her first taste of a chocolate cake. You’ll have a physical project completed for your little one to cherish, but you will finally have the chance to reflect on how that tiny potato person turned into a giggly, expressive, amazing one-year-old in the blink of an eye.
5. Plan a Grown-up Date Night
Hear me out. During the day, your baby’s birthday should be all about the baby! Let’s not forget the most crucial part of any big one-year-old milestone: the singing, followed by the cake tasting. Once your little love has opened a few gifts, experienced his first sugar rush, and crashed from all the birthday magic, that doesn’t mean the party’s over. Let the parent party begin once bedtime commences for your birthday babe. Pop some champagne or that expensive bottle of wine in the back of your bar cart that you’ve been saving for a special occasion.
If you can swing it, have a trusted friend or relative babysit. Change out of your spit-up sweats, slip into something you feel amazing in, and head to dinner. Celebrating this day is as much about your journey as parents as it is for your baby. This year has brought a lot of new challenges, growth, and ups and downs for the whole family. You survived. And that is worth a toast or two.
There are many ways to celebrate the wonderful, wacky world of one-year-olds. You know your baby best and what is best for your family. If a huge first birthday bash isn’t what you envision, it doesn’t mean you’re a party pooper. It means there are many ways to create happy, healthy homes for our babies so we can raise them well and watch them thrive. If you can share some snuggles and cake with your birthday babe, know you’ve thrown the perfect memory-making celebration. Remember, just because you’re going light on the guest list doesn’t mean you won’t have a full day of love and laughter.