Birthday party
Photo: Photodisc/Thinkstock
There are few topics that can stir up as much divergent opinions among parents as children's birthday parties. Some parents feel passionately that every child deserves a special day once a year, even if it's an elaborate budget-buster. There's another camp of parents who think small and simple can be special. I am solidly in the latter camp. I've been asked over the years by readers to write down my "Birthday Party Manifesto" for small and simple celebrations, so here it is:

1. I believe a child should get one, maybe two, all-out birthday celebrations. Your baby is turning 1, and you want to invite the whole neighborhood? Go for it. You have dreamed about giving your daughter a Quinceañera or sweet 16 to die for? By all means, get the DJ. Just don't set the bar so high every year that you have to keep topping yourself...or take out a second mortgage.

2. I believe that my child's party should not be your problem. No tricky directions, long drives or inconvenient hours. No additional equipment, permission slips or protective gear will be necessary for your child to attend one of my parties. Just drop off your child and go to the movies. In fact, please don't stay. Then I won't have to make "grown-up" food or try to talk to you when I am corralling a half-dozen kids to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

3. I believe that a goody bag filled with candy and small plastic toys is a waste of money and fossil fuels. When you come to my house for a party, you get a single item as a parting gift. It is usually a playground ball that I buy at the grocery store for three bucks each. I write your child's name on it and hide it in the back yard. So not only is it a goody gift, it's a party game.

4. I believe the cake should be tasty first and fit the theme second. I promise no elaborate cakes that taste like plaster of Paris because there is so much frosting holding the whole operation together. Better yet, let's skip the sheet cake altogether. The resurgence of cupcakes make be the single most important development in the history of birthday baking in the new millennia; every guest gets a tasty treat and there is no fight over who gets the rose.

5. I believe that no gift should cost more than $20 or be bigger than a 36-inch plasma TV. I am begging you, no more giant plastic toys. Please, feel free to bring a single book or a big, new box of crayons and some paper—that's great. That's what I give. And nothing beats a crisp $10 bill. Kids love money.

6. I believe that once a child is in first grade and up, it is okay to invite only their friends and not every kid in the class. Yes, that is what I believe, even if it sounds mean. I mean really, enough is enough. It's supposed to be fun, not a free-for-all that ends in tears for half the participants, including the birthday boy. One guest per year of the birthday child's age is the perfect formula.

7. I believe in starting on time and ending on time. I have been to parties where the festivities get going about an hour late or and the cake cutting is done long after the birthday child has lost interest/patience/his mind. Move it along—that's my party-giving motto.

Where do you stand on the birthday party issue? Over the top? Under the radar? Or maybe, you're on the fence! What's part of your "Birthday Party Manifesto"?

Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, writer and talk show host. She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website,, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.