My name is Jolie and I’m an Introvert of the first water.
I am also a mother of five. Five rambunctious, never-slow-down-to-tie-your-shoes, people-loving kids who dragged me into the seething mass of humanity and never let me look back.
I put my five kids through one elementary school, which equals 16 years of PTA for over 800 students, some 30 teachers, and three different principals. If you do the math, it quickly becomes obvious that I had to find my party groove or die trying.
Oh, I knew what I was getting into. If I played my parenting cards right, each of my kids was going to have a birthday. Every year. With celebration rituals involving cake, confetti and cowering behind the rhododendron unless I came up with some serious game.
Introverts can’t afford to waste one ounce of energy when faced with hours of party, people and pandemonium. We can spend introverted energy on the ones we love. We are parents. We are motivated. We can do this.
We are tired already.
Roll up your sleeves and get out your pencil. I’m going to dive into ways that Introverts can organize or attend those big, loud, memorable kid events without losing our cool and maybe come out the other side looking like the life of the party.
Or at least live to party another day.
#1: Decide on your precedents while it’s still early days.
You cannot underestimate the lengths to which Extraverts will go to celebrate their offspring. This is not a competition and your little one does not have to be compared to the other little ones. Nor, heaven help us, to their own siblings. Keep it simple, sweetheart. If you go with pony rides when your child turns three, you will have to have camel rides at seven, and by 10 you’ll be hosting a run with the bulls. Take five minutes to sketch out what the next 10 birthday parties might look like and dial it back from there. Way back.
#2: Keep it small.
I see you weighing the popularity contest in your head, but resist the temptation. Perhaps your child prefers the company of a few good friends rather than the entire Little League team coming over. A good rule of thumb is having one guest for each year of the birthday kid. Keep in mind that little guests usually come with at least one parent in tow, and the bigger the guest, the hungrier they are. No matter how small your guest list is, the party will still feel like a full house.
#3: Establish expectations and boundaries.
Let everyone know what time the party begins and when it will end. Ask parents to drop off and pick up their kids promptly. Once guests arrive, set a few ground rules like no jumping on the furniture or running inside the house. Kids are used to following rules in the classroom, sports and grocery stores, so this is not anything new. Letting them know the rules up front makes for a more cooperative group.
#4: Keep communicating.
As the party progresses, let everyone know what is coming next. Mention that the cake is being served in 10 minutes so that guests have time to complete what they’re involved in and anticipate the next fun thing. This also signals the other adults to help move the group in the right direction for you. Having a schedule planned out in advance also helps you not forget something important in the chaos of the moment.
Whatever task, small or large, that can be done by someone else, arrange it ahead of time or ask on the fly. Consider a potluck for the meal. Assign someone as the party photographer. Someone else can serve the snacks or award game prizes. In order for you to stay present for hours straight and take some well-earned moments of solitary splendor, make sure you have a backup adult for yourself. And then back up your backup.
#6: Build solo time into your party plan.
Yes, you must build it in and stick to it! You can duck into the kitchen for a quick tidy, wait out front for the pizza delivery, or tie up some “last-minute” balloons. Easy to do as a guest yourself, but required when you host. Have someone take over while you slip away to the restroom for a five-minute de-stress. Set a timer. Breathe. Run some cold water over your wrists. Close your eyes. Roll your shoulders. Remind yourself that you are a rockstar. And get back out there.
#7: Plan activities that are easy, low-maintenance and interesting.
Delegation is the way to have an insect petting zoo, mobile arcades or a scientist visit without adding stress to your day. Crafts should be prepped into something so easy a kindergartner can do it solo. (Find a kindergartner in advance and make sure!) Movie nights, Wii tournaments, swimming pools, Lego-building contests, board game tournaments or scavenger hunts are self-entertaining low-key activities for parties that require less planning and interface.
#8: Dress for success, both you and your child.
Introverts shouldn’t lose energy to a lap full of cake, paint spilled on a favorite blouse or new shoes that hurt for hours on our feet. Be confident, comfortable, and in a place to laugh off life’s little misadventures. You don’t want to spend a lot of time and money on a birthday outfit—for either of you—that isn’t meant to be partied in.
#9: Save the energy for what matters.
The people. The memories. The relationships. As time wears on, we wear out, but if you’ve planned your energy-spend wisely, you will still be smiling when it’s time to say goodbye. Be sure to have those small chats with the other parents. Take a moment to give your kid a hug. Deliberately avoiding burnout means we can deliberately be present when and where it matters most.
#10. As a final thought: cheat.
Yes, I said it and it’s something to consider. Technology’s opened up a whole new world of options for kid parties and can be used to our advantage. Virtual online parties let friends join the fun from the other side of the planet and many creative party parts can be shipped in a box ahead of time. Contests, karaoke, virtual field trips, scavenger hunts, trivia, or dress up, the list is only limited by your imagination.
Kids are chaos, and there is joy in that. Introverted parents can avoid party overwhelm and stress through good preparation, careful energy regulation during the event, and some serious post-party treats.
A nap comes to mind.