Why Your Kid’s Next Birthday Party Could Be Totally Different

Written by Dawn Rundman

I love inviting people over for parties, events, celebrations, and open houses. Eleven years into living in our home, my family has hosted these gatherings:

Birthday party for me

Birthday party for my husband, Jonathan

Themed birthday parties for my kids, including pancake, fairies, Frozen, spy, Star Wars, Harry Potter

Anniversary open house

Observance of Harry Potter’s Birthday on July 31

Outdoor carnival

Grilled Cheese party (exactly what you imagine it to be)

Wedding shower for coworkers

Baby shower for coworkers

Art Party (held the day after Thanksgiving as an alternative to Black Friday; families make art together)

Harry Potter Back-to-School Party (are you sensing a trend?)

Get-to-Know-the-New-Pastor brunch

Salad course for my church’s Progressive Dinner

Loose Ends Night (everyone brings a project they’ve been meaning to finish)

Hamilton Sing-along

I have loved every one of these parties. I love hearing the doorbell the first time it rings to signal that the party has begun. I love the energy and laughter that fill our house. And when the last guest leaves, Jonathan and I debrief with each other before we tackle the mountain of dishes. I love our friends! I had so much fun. Did you get a chance to talk with So-and-so?

But my favorite kind of gathering is one we started to host a few years ago. Instead of planning our kids’ birthday parties with a few of their friends, we asked if they’d be interested in an open house with friends of all ages from church, school, and other places. They agreed to this format (even after I made it clear that I’d be including our standard “Your presence is the present” message). Since then, each October and January we invite about 40 people to stop by for a birthday open house on Sunday after church. The guest list is a mix of people from church, families of our kids’ friends, local relatives, and other family friends we don’t see often enough.

The stretch from noon to 5 is a delight—some friends stop by for a few minutes, while others stay the whole time. Everyone signs a giant card for the birthday kid. (Last year when our son turned 13, we asked people to write him a message or card telling him what they wish they’d known at 13. I highly recommend this!) We eat, laugh, and connect with each other. The guest of honor circulates through the grown-ups for a while, then returns to play with friends.

Expanding our guest list in this way opened the door to a different and more profound type of celebration, one that underscores this parenting discovery: Deep hospitality happens when you invite other people into the life of your child. The party may only span a few hours, but it affirms the importance of caring adults in our kids’ lives and gives us a chance to gather them together and thank them.

You may not be interested in changing up how you celebrate your child’s birthday, but if you were asked to name the adults who know, love, and care about your child, who would be on the guest list? Recognizing their importance in your child’s life and inviting them into your home is one of the most hospitable things you can do!

DAWN RUNDMAN develops faith formation resources for kids, youth, and families at 1517 Media, the parent company of Beaming Books. Dawn presents workshops and keynotes at congregations and conferences on the topics of early childhood ministry and the thrilling intersection of faith and science. Dawn lives in the Twin Cities with her prom date/husband Jonathan and their two kids.

The Values Project is a year-long initiative designed to equip families to raise children who thrive emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Get inspiration, practical ideas, family activities, and parenting tips from our network of seasoned parents and faith leaders, because it takes a village to raise a good human. Each month we’ll explore a different value–like honesty, loyalty, creativity, kindness, and more.

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