How We Do Simple Birthdays (and a Beatrix Potter theme)

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(Flowers from our garden and simple homemade raspberry cupcakes for Lucy’s first birthday party.)

We do simple family birthday parties at our house. Not that we don’t make a fuss over our kids! We make a fuss. It’s just not an expensive, stressful fuss. It’s more of a homemade laid-back fuss. We really can’t afford large, extravagant parties and the details of event-planning are not (really really really not) my strong suit. Now some mothers delight in planning parties and crafting intricate party bags and going to town on decorating. I am not one of those mothers. If you are, more power to ya! Just don’t invite my kids to your parties and clue them in to the fact that their mother is a bit….shall we say “relaxed” about the whole thing?

So, what do these simple parties look like? Here’s what we do:

We keep it small. Our guest lists include only family and godparents. We have lot of family in town which is wonderful. But, it means that if we added friends to the guest list, things would get ginormous real fast. So our parties stay in the 12-15 people range. In additional to making it less stressful/expensive for us to plan and execute, small parties are more enjoyable for my kids because they’re not overwhelmed by tons of people or people they don’t know very well. They can revel in being the center of attention, but they don’t have emotional meltdowns due to the overstimulation of too many people.

(Benjamin’s farm birthday setup for when he turned two)

We keep decorations simple. We pick a simple theme and go with it. If decorations can be foraged from our yard, so much the better!

(Benjamin’s dinosaur cake for his third birthday. Jurassic ferns compliments of our backyard.)

We open some presents. The birthday boy or girl gets a present from us, each set of grandparents, and aunts and uncles.

(A homemade carrot cake for Benjamin’s farm-themed second birthday)

I bake the cake or cupcakes. I can bake something tasty and gluten-free for my allergic kids and it’s cheaper than ordering from a fancy place, but I bake it myself because I really like the tradition/ritual of it. After the birthday kid goes to sleep on their birthday eve, I stay up and bake the cake and remember the day they were born. I think about my labor and the delivery. I sneak a taste of the frosting and get all teary-eyed thinking about my kids. I love it.

(Benjamin’s pirate cake when he turned four)

And our kids love their parties. They talk about what theme they want for their next party all year long, they wrap their toys up in towels and afghans and pretend they’re giving me “birthday presents,” they sing Happy Birthday ALL THE TIME. They know they’re loved and celebrated.


I know there are many ways to handle birthdays and I’m certainly not presenting the way we handle things as the “right” way or the only way. But I just wanted other event-planning challenged parents out there to know that their party doesn’t have to be pinterest worthy to be beloved by their children. I love our little family parties and treasure the memories. I know someday my kids will get to the age where inviting friends will be important to them and we’ll figure out how to make it happen when we get there! But at this point, they’re all content to party with family and I’m grateful.

And since I haven’t shared most of the photos of Lucy’s second birthday, I’ll give you an idea of what we do for birthdays with her Beatrix Potter party. First of all, when she turned one, we slapped together a party in one afternoon because I was miserably ill with all the time morning sickness and one Sunday morning when I felt up to sweeping my floors and throwing together some cupcakes, we called our families and invited them over for an impromptu party. It was a bit simple even for me. Luckily, she was too little to remember this themeless birthday and she had a great time, but I wanted to make her second birthday special. Far in advance, we settled on a Beatrix Potter theme and I picked up little Peter Rabbit things all year.



These pretty yellow flowers always crop up in our garden right around her birthday so Benjamin had a big time collecting some to decorate the table.

I got out the pretty china tea set my sweet mother-in-law passed down to us to make chamomile tea (like Peter Rabbit had.)

We had some little snacky foods like veggies (from Mr. McGregor’s garden?) and chips and dip and I asked my mom to bring berries and cream (since Peter’s well-behaved sisters had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.)


I made gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with pink and purple cream cheese frosting (colors chosen by the birthday girl.) I got the sweet cupcake toppers when they were on sale at zulily. We made a stack of pretty books to display them on a china plate (I don’t own a cupcake holder.)


I found this adorable pop-up Beatrix Potter scene for $1 at the Goodwill used bookstore. Score!

How do you handle kids birthday parties? Any other event planning challenged parents out there? (Please say yes!) 

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  1. Elizabeth says

    Very sweet :). We are also low key about birthday party details, and our guests consist of family as well. I usually make this homemade cake, and it always comes out hilariously lopsided. The kids and my husband request it every year, though. I swear it gets uglier by the year, and it is now a family joke. On my son’s 7th birthday, we realized at the last second that we didn’t have any candles in the entire house (oops), so my husband stuck matches in the cake. It was the sorriest sight, and we all had a good laugh. We are now more careful about remembering the candles! My kids also feel loved and excited for their special day, lopsided cake and all!

  2. says

    I love your birthday party style! It makes me feel inspired to not put so much Pinterest inspired party pressure on myself. My daughters nursery is Beatrix Potter themed and so will her first b-day party. Have a great day!! ~ Jamie

  3. Megan says

    If there were no other reason to like you (HA), this post and the one about baby showers would earn you my undying admiration.

    I honestly think my friends are going to be gobsmacked at my future kids’ birthday parties, but this is DEFINITELY the route I’ll be taking.

  4. Becky says

    We keep it simple too. I could not imagine throwing a huge bash; especially when they are so little they won’t remember a thing! As they’ve gotten older (oldest is 5, twins are 4 and littlest is 18 months) I’ve asked them what they want on their cakes and decorate them accordingly. I’ve gotten them each a different themed Happy Birthday banner that we use each year. I get their favorite color balloons to tie up around the house or yard, depending on where the majority of the party is going to happen. We invite family and Godparents…and that’s about it. The hard part comes in that our two families are 2 hours apart so we end up doing this twice for each kid. Although, the oldest and youngest, as well as my own, birthdays are all in July so a lot of times we do one big party. This year we did separate parties per kid at home as they were milestone – 1 year and 5 years. That’s the way we always did it when I was a kid, but I don’t think my mom decorated lol. Just did the cakes :).

  5. says

    I’m event planning challenged and your parties put mine to shame, blush. I don’t even do themes half the time I don;’t do cakes cause the kids request an ice cream cake instead

  6. says

    I love simple parties! While I, too, drool over pinterest parties at times, I gravitate towards simple when I’m throwing a party. Especially for kids! My daughter turned 1 last summer and we just had the grandparents over for a special cake. I bought her a Waldorf birthday ring and that will be our special tradition and “theme” for as long as possible 🙂
    For what it’s worth, I think your raspberry cupcakes are just perfect, and that carrot cake with real carrot garnishes is AMAZING and totally pinterest-worthy!

  7. Emily says

    Yes! You are speaking my language! I do have a particular family member who I am sure thinks the very worst of me for not doing up birthdays more (in the sense of decorations–we certainly do up the love and attention!) but it is just my style to keep it relaxed. The personal touches you do give will someday mean so much more to them than all the decorations and “goody bags” in the world. Bless you!

  8. Kara says

    Simple isn’t the right word….perfect is! Ours are very similar and we love them. I’m beginning to feel a bit of pressure from our 6 year old though. Many of his friends are having friend parties and he’d love to have one – can’t imagine how much worse it would be if he went to school! I’m thinking of having a summer “party” (they have winter birthdays) where each of our sons can invite a few friends but isn’t connected to birthday hoopla and gifts.

  9. says

    Love the Beatrix Potter theme! Too sweet!

    When my son turned 1 we had just moved a few hours from family. We planned a little farm themed party, and my family (13 of them, at the time) was super sweet and drove up to visit, along with Tony’s godfather. We invited a couple of my husband’s friends from school to round things out. It was nice, and easy. For his second birthday, I was on bedrest, with my Mom and a few siblings here to help, and we had just had cake and ice cream. I do believe that simple is best!

  10. says

    I tend to be super lazy when it comes to birthday parties. Cake, ice cream and family. Of course my immediate family consists of 20+ people including a few stragglers that always attach themselves to us, so if I even thought about having more people in the house, I’d go crazy I sure.
    No themes here, I do ask how they’d like to decorate the cake and we do that. What with my family of Latin American descent, music + dancing is about the only “theme” we know. 🙂

  11. says

    We’re all about simple birthday parties too! As kids get older though, I”ve found that they really enjoy celebrating with friends, so we’ve done that a few different ways. Some years we don’t have a friend party and just take them someplace with just one friend they choose (things lke miniature golfing, orange picking, frisbee golf, etc.) Sometimes we do a friend party and a family party, but both parties are SUPER simple (like no decorating, no themes, just some refreshents and firends running around in the back yard). And some years we’ve lived far from family, so we just did a friend party. No matter what, tney always seem to have fun.

  12. Leigh says

    We have no family near y, so our parties are a similar size group or friends and simple. My son is particular about his cupcakes (so far a caterpillar, a dragon and monsters) and a homemade pinata, plus hat I feel like putting together that morning.
    The boys fourth got delayed three months because the day of I was in bed to baby sick to even eat the target cupcakes. He was understanding as long as it would happen one day.

  13. says

    Lovely! I feel like we’re going above and beyond this year because we’re thinking of renting a room at our rec center, but our little house can’t handle the numbers (even when the numbers are just Us, Grandparents, a few Great-Grandparents, an Aunt & Uncle, and a couple second cousins and their Mother(s) – so about 15). Plus the only birthday we have right now is in the middle of winter so we can’t expand out of doors.

    Except for the change of location this year it will be much the same – cupcakes, snacks foods, a few small presents and some play time with the cousins. Nice and simple, just room to run around and enough chairs for everyone to get a chance to sit!

    p.s. Perhaps to Diedre there is or is not a difference between Simple and Low-Key. To me Simple is what you’ve described (a party, but not over the top) and Low-Key is what she describes – just a cake, with immediate family and a gift or two to open). I don’t think you’re showing false modesty here, perhaps just a difference in definitions – though you have put together some lovely parties!

  14. tia says

    oh man, your simple parties put our “birthday parties” to shame. For our 20-month-old, we basically picked up a cake at the local store, put him in a baby tuxedo that he had almost outgrown, and took pictures to make it look like more of a party than it was. Even that was super stressful for me. There were no people there except Mama and Dada, and the only theme I can think of is “procrastination.” Now that he actually has classmates, I dread the day when he gets invited to birthday parties and we start having to up the ante. And he has a new sibling due a month before his birthday this year. I don’t know what we’re going to do for that one. Now he can actually remember things too!

  15. says

    I am totally “event-challenged”…at least, I feel that way compared to several of my friends and bloggy mentors (cough, cough KENDRA!.). But then again, some people absolutely LOVE planning and pulling off parties, so for them, it isn’t a burden at all…it’s fun! I truly do think that some people have an “above and beyond” gift of hospitality.
    For myself, I have (so far) stuck to the rule of thumb that you should have no more kid guests than the age of the birthday kid. For both of our kids’ first birthdays, we just had a family party with my hubby’s side of the family (who are local). For my daughter’s second birthday, we had two of her little friends (and both sets of parents came along). For her third birthday, I invited three little friends but only one ended up being able to make it…and it was so nice and casual! We had lunch, we walked down to a local park, they played, we parents chatted, we had cake and she opened her present, and they played at the house until the guest went home. It was great.
    Also, I really recommend this book. Very helpful with lots of themes, party games, and a truly down-to-earth approach.

    • says

      I know, I know. The funny thing is that in MY head what I do IS simple, because I only do things for our parties that I enjoy doing. And I tell myself, “Hey we didn’t have pony rides or a professional puppet show, way to keep it simple, self.”

      • says

        Haha! This is kind of how I think of myself. Ours are simple in the fact that I make practically everything and no “on location” parties (i.e. Chuck E Cheese) and no brought in entertainers, but yeah, otherwise, people think I’m some sort of party guru. It’s mostly that I have high standards due to what my mama threw for us when we were little AND I’m a tiny bit perfectionisty.

  16. says

    Awww… I love sweet birthday celebrations.

    The pictures from my first birthday always make me laugh. At the time, my dad was an itinerant logger and we were living in Wyoming (in February). So the “first birthday party” picture goes like this. Chubby, smiling one year old, a cake, and four grizzled loggers. I love it.

  17. says

    I cannot count myself in the simple birthday category just because I love all the little details – however, I do embrace fully the same simplicity in going homemade and using things we already have. Being an introvert myself and having 2 introvert leaning children, our parties never have more than 5 or 6 kids invited. Less people for me definitely adds into the simple/low key aspect for my personality.

    I love, love, love how you are able to hold fast to a fun theme without going overboard anywhere – no goody bags, no ridiculous amounts of store bought anything, and not a katrillion little kids running around. Your party here (as well as others I’ve seen peeks of in the past) are perfectly cute, memorable, and sweet.

  18. Maureen says

    These look like beautiful parties! To encourage other “low-key” parents, I can say from experience that even a quiet meal, cake, and presents with immediate family is remembered and treasured by kids (this is the way my family did birthdays when I was a child).

  19. says

    I’m a HUGE fan of the $50 birthday party. Last year I got tired of tying up weekend swith a party to plan and prep, so we started to have parties after school, with simple healthy snacks (like PBJ tea sandwiches & fruit, artfully arranged) plus a cute cake or cupcakes. We do a fun craft that functions as a take-home goody, and play games outside. The thing all the girls love the most is being able to ride the bus home with my girls from school!

    You can still have a fun theme (if that’s your boat) and keep it low-key. We did a “rainbow” theme — rainbow streamers & balloons, layers of fruit like a rainbow, a platter of colorful veggies, and a rainbow cake I made in a Bundt pan by coloring batter and dropping it into the pan (frosted with whipped cream for a cloud effect). It added up to $49 and change. Our craft that year was painting white tees with colorful paint — I used iron-on designs to help everyone. Last year we covered various boxes with scrapbook paper to make fun family mailboxes.

    I will say that in an attempt to keep our parties simple for our guests, we also made it a “no gifts” party. Or did a book exchange of a loved, used book. With 3 kids and three birthdays right around Christmas, it feels right to us.

    Love your lovely and simple party, Haley. And what a great Goodwill find!

  20. Erin B says

    I don’t think you’re event planning challenged. These themes are brilliant! I can never come up with anything! But I may steal ideas. ;o)

  21. April L says

    I went all Pinterest for my firstborn’s 1st birthday. Honestly, it was pretty simple by Pinterest standards, but I spent WAY too much time and money making and buying the perfect decorations. I don’t totally regret it, because it was a great, beautiful party, but Daddy and I were too busy hosting to actually enjoy it. Her second bday was a very small party at home with just a few decorations and a homemade cake by Daddy, and she absolutely loved it. I’m not sure what we’ll do for my 10 week old’s birthday in November. I feel guilty not going all out for his first like I did for his sister, but I don’t know if I have it in me! And I’m pretty sure he won’t notice if everything isn’t exactly the same shade of *insert color here*.

  22. says

    My mom likes to go big or go home, so she wanted to take charge of Ellen’s first birthday. It was fabulous and huge and fun and totally appreciated.

    I, on the other hand, love simplicity and the charm that comes with it. I want my kids to be happy with enough.

    So, I guess either way has its ups!

  23. says

    So I have to tell you that I’m impressed that you have themes and cute decorations. We don’t even have that. We always knew we wanted to keep bday parties simple after witnessing the elaborate parties some of our friends threw for their kids. They enjoy that sort of thing, but to me it’s just too much time and money. My mom loves to make events very special too with lots of little details, but I guess that gene skipped me. Anyway, our bday parties ended up being even more simple than we originally imagined because my oldest was born within a few days of my husband’s bday and right by Labor Day weekend. Labor Day weekend our family (us plus my parents) goes to the river because it’s a long weekend and that’s how my husband likes to spend his bday. So my son just got incorporated into that, which meant he got a few presents and a cupcake at the river with us, my parents and sometimes my husband’s family. The one thing I do though is bake carrot cake cupcakes for him to celebrate with his friends at school. My youngest will be turning 1 in March and without the default river plan, I’m not sure how we’ll celebrate it. Stay tuned…

  24. LJ says

    Haley, you should post delicious cake things ONLY on weekends, so we have chances to bake them and not fantasize about cake for dayyyys until Saturday….;)

  25. says

    This was so precious! Our birthday parties are a lot like this–except the number of guests, since my Dad and siblings are 10 all by themselves. Having a large family makes small parties hard, but it’s all we know, haha. So it’s simple to us, and definitely encourages us not to invite anyone other than family, since the party is large enough as it is. 🙂

    But I loved that you just used what your found thrifting/bargain-hunting, and your homemade things. I loved the stack of books for a cupcake platter! Not going crazy sometimes makes way for MUCH more creative ideas anyways.
    This was how my birthday parties were growing up, and I definitely wasn’t traumatized or felt under-celebrated. I hope my girls enjoy this same simple, family, and home theme to their parties–more than the “theme” they were into at that age. 🙂

  26. says

    Actually, I’ve done a Beatrix Potter theme also. It was last summer for my two kids’ *combined* birthday party (ha – keeping it extra simple there!), and we had several of the same things you did as decorations! The main reason I chose that theme – aside from my oldest enjoying the stories – was that Beatrix Potter was the theme in the kids’ room, and it was very easy for me to just raid their room for all the decor 🙂 So I’m totally in agreement with keeping it simple.


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