Party Manners: Vintage Party Advice

Not long ago, we visited a used book fair. I picked up a few vintage party planning books. This one, The Calling All Girls Party Book, is my new favorite. Published in 1966 and sold for 60 cents, it was written for young teens who wanted to host their own party. It’s a sweet book with a focus on doing it yourself and using what you have — so it’s really right up my alley. Some of the ideas sound fun to try, like the garden party or bon voyage party. Others are still surprisingly modern and classic, like the Alice in Wonderland party.

I love reading this 40 years later, appreciating the advice that is timeless and smiling at the advice that’s dated. (After all, the back cover promises parties “which are sure to swing every time”!)

Timeless Advice (And My Two Cents)

“Planning a party is half the fun.” How true is that? That’s why I’m in this business!

“The most successful parties are those that are well organized. That means you’ll have to make your plans early.” Words to live by.

“It’s not necessary to invite everyone you know to your parties.” And that’s how you have a successful at-home party.

“It is always wise to plan two or three games more than you will have time for.” You really don’t want to look at your watch at the end of the last game and realize you still have 30 minutes before pick-up time. 

“Don’t think that you will have to spend a lot of money to give your party room a festive air.” There are so many darling party supplies available that it’s hard to say no. But I find that if I start by pulling out everything I already have that might work for a party, I realize I don’t have to buy as much as I thought.

Dated Advice

“Those of your guests who do not care to watusi and frug will not feel left out of the fun when you have games in addition to dancing.” I’ll have to get my Mom to show me the watusi and frug. Maybe a retro dance party would be fun!

“Instead of pinning a tail on a donkey, invite your guests to pin a lock of hair (made of wool) on Ringo Starr’s head.” Well, maybe on Justin Bieber’s head.

“Liverwurst Sandwich Filling Recipe” Enough said.

“Even quizzing each other on school subjects can be fun at a pajama party.” Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the ’60s were more fun than that. Please don’t do homework at your parties!

“You probably have some idea of what you’d like to be when you grow up: a nurse, a teacher, a secretary, a wife and mother.” All fine choices, but aren’t you glad our horizons have broadened?

I’d love to hear about your favorite party from childhood. Please leave me a comment below. Maybe we’ll find some inspiration that we can update for our own kids.


Party Manners: Drop Off or Not?

Drop off parties hold a certain appeal: parents love them (two child-free hours!) and your house will be less crowded.

If you elect a drop-off party, be sure you have home and cell numbers for each parent in case of emergency. Also make sure you have other adults to help you run the party … BFFs, aunts, or even a favorite babysitter can be essential to a smooth party.

The question of whether or not to make your party a drop-off event really depends on three factors:

  1. The age of your guests.
  2. The type of party you’re hosting.
  3. How well you personally know the children and parents.


My experience is that children do better with moms in attendance if they are age five or under. Younger children may need personal assistance with crafts, and so having a parent in attendance can be helpful. By age six, children have a sense of how to behave appropriately at your party even without mom. They are more independent, better able to handle crafts, and more confident interacting with friends without having mom in the background.

Party Type

More active parties (for instance, a water party, or a party with an inflatable bounce house) really require parents to be in attendance regardless of the child’s age. If there is any chance a child could be accidently hurt, you need the parents on site.

Personal Knowledge

If you have invited children you don’t know well or at all, don’t make the party a drop off, regardless of age or party type. You have no idea if these children will respect your instructions and your home. The last thing you need is to be distracted throughout your party because one or two children are out of control.

Our flower fairy party was a drop-off and it worked for all these reasons. The girls were all six. I knew each guest (and which one might need extra attention). I had my core party team of Grace’s godmother, their aunts and one fabulous friend all in attendance to help. Our crafts were well-within the girls’ abilities. And while I love our group of moms, it was kind of nice to have a less crowded event.

So what do you think? Drop off or not?

Party Manners: Opening Presents

That’s my girl … a wee bit excited about a birthday gift she just opened.

I believe that the guest of honor should open her gifts during the party. Unless you are hosting a very large party, this should take only about 30 minutes. Guests and adults are as interested in seeing what the honoree received as the birthday child is. (To keep the time gift opening takes to a minimum, we do open parent-to-child and sibling gifts on their actual birthday.)

Yes, some children will have trouble being patient with this portion of the party or may even feel jealous that they are not receiving gifts. They will survive.

Opening presents gives the birthday child a chance to express gratitude, and for the gift givers to feel proud of their selection. Thoughtfulness, patience, gratitude: these are basic life skills, so why not practice them early? And after all, opening presents is what your child is looking forward to most of all!

Just in case, I always remind my two of a few gift opening rules:

  1. Say something nice about everything you open.
  2. Say thank you.
  3. If you already have the gift, do number 1 and 2 anyway.
  4. If you don’t like it or are disappointed for some reason, do number 1 and 2 anyway.

We attended a party last year where the guest of honor did not open gifts. And then later did not send thank you notes. So open the gifts, nudge your child to say thanks and help them write their thank you notes the next day.

Party Manners: The Problem of RSVPs

For every party, there are parents who don’t respond to your invitation and then don’t attend the party, or who don’t respond and then do show up. Either scenario presents a planning problem.

Here’s a story from the trenches: one of my friends was hosting a 6th birthday party for her daughter. Grandparents arrived with their twin granddaughters (not mine, I promise). Grandma mentioned that Twin A had been throwing up that morning but she hated for her to miss the party. Eew! Cheers for my friend who very nicely told the grandparents that they couldn’t stay and pass their germs to all the other guests. And no, this family had not RSVPed.

My rule is: if the party is four days away and I haven’t heard from someone, I call. My excuse (not that I need one) is that “I’m trying to finalize goody bags and I’m hoping little Susie Q will be able to make it to the party.”

If I still can’t get a confirmation, I plan for invitees to arrive anyway. I’d much rather over plan and spend a little extra than have to scramble at the last minute. (This is just one more reason I like at-home parties: if you pay for extras at a facility, you’ll spend much more than you would at a home-based party.)

I wish I had a solution that would guarantee all invitees would RSVP. Do you think “Please Reply by DATE” would be more effective than “RSVP”? Is it too demanding sounding? I’d love to hear your ideas on this Party Manners topic.

Party Manners: Picking a Day and Time

In today’s Party Manners, let’s talk about when you should host your party. (Cue laughter from my friends: for the last four personal parties I’ve thrown, we’ve had to change the day after invites went out. Things happened, like 101.4 degree fevers. Which is a whole other topic: why your party will never be perfect but will still be great!)

I always host parties on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. We’ve been invited to parties that start at 6 p.m. or later, and frankly, we try to say no to those invitations. They just don’t work for our bath and bedtime schedule. Even on a Friday or Saturday night, we put our girls to bed at their normal time so they are not over-tired and grumpy the next day. As they get older (they are 6 1/2 now), we can flex more on bedtime. But honestly, it’s usually just not worth ruining a weekend family day for a party.

Based on a strictly unscientific poll of other moms, invitations for weekday or weekend night parties make our eyes roll. Of course I know plenty of parents who let their kids stay up later than we do (8 p.m.), and that works for them. But be aware that if you schedule a party for a time other than Saturday or Sunday during the day, your invitations may be met with reluctance … not because they don’t want to attend, but because the parents don’t want to disrupt everything else to attend.

I think 2 p.m. is just about the perfect party time for a number of reasons:

  • You’ll have morning party prep time.
  • Your guests will be done with lessons or religious services.
  • Your guests will be ready for a post-lunch snack, and yet the party is still early enough that dinner won’t be ruined.
What’s your favorite party day and time?

Party Manners: How Many Children to Invite

See Little Miss Big Cheeks in the tulip shirt circa 1975? That’s my fifth birthday party, with all FOUR of my guests: Nina, Tommy, Beth and Jimmy. (I actually remembered two of their names!)

So why the trip back in time? Today, one of my daughters brought home a party invitation from school. School’s only been in session for two weeks. When I asked her who NAME was, she said, “NAME? Who?” That’s what I thought.

So let’s start a series about my ideas on how to throw a party with some good old fashioned values. Today’s topic: how not to invite the entire class to your child’s birthday party.

I like to err on the side of a smaller party. With fewer friends, your child is better able to interact with each guest. No guest will feel slighted or left out because the birthday girl is too busy with others. And, your party will be less expensive to plan as well as easier to manage.

I don’t believe there is a magic number like “the number of guests equals the age of the birthday girl or boy.” There will be your child’s obvious best friends, and possibly “must invites” like cousins. Since those children will automatically bump up your guest list, you’ll need to decide how many additional children you are comfortable hosting. The size of your space, the number of helpers you’ll have, and your budget may dictate the number of additional guests.

Of course, you want to avoid causing hurt feelings by leaving someone out. So here are some tricks to reduce your guest list.

  1. If you have a girl, make the party a girls-only affair. Same goes for boys. (And really, boys don’t want to attend a tea party anyway!)
  2. Invite only guests and not their brothers or sisters. If a parent asks if their other child can attend, especially if the party is not a drop-off, practice saying “Oh I’m so sorry, but we just don’t have room for any extras. I so wish I could tell you yes.”
  3. Decide to invite from only one group of friends, for instance, school but not ballet and Girl Scouts.

If you will be inviting only some children from a certain group, be sure to distribute invitations discreetly. Mail or deliver them to homes if at all possible. Or, send the invitations to a teacher and ask him or her to put the invitations in cubbies or backpacks. Don’t have your child pass out invitations. And, caution your child to not talk about their party with other children.

And there you have it: a party you can manage … not one for 22.