Carolyn Hax: How to keep twins’ birthday party from getting out of hand

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn! I’m struggling with how to celebrate my twins’ fifth birthday. They attend preschool and are in separate classes. The norm seems to be to invite everyone in the class, so we invited both classes to a party at a play place. We have 25 RSVPs so far.

This seems tacky to me now. We just wanted a party for them to play with their friends. I’m sure their friends’ parents are wondering if they have to buy gifts for both twins. My kids do not need any more toys.

My question is actually twofold: Should I try to rein in this party and somehow request no gifts or a charity donation instead, and how do parents of older twins handle this?

— Struggling

Struggling: Yes, spread the word that you’re collecting for a charity in lieu of gifts. Check with a local shelter, pick something easy for your guests and use this excess for good.

You can also do what we did in this situation, and have a grab bag — every guest brings one gift for the bag (set a low price limit, like $10) and every guest takes one home. You contribute two to cover your twins. The grab-bag plan not only prevents the grotesque haul of 50 gifts to one family, but also replaces party favors, which are pretty universally awful.

In the future, buck the “norm.” One of my kids’ schools recommended the formula of inviting either the whole class or less than half of it — safeguarding, say, one or two kids from finding in out horror that everyone got together without them. I actually think it should be more skewed, to a just a few kids or everybody.

A small gathering (say, one or two friends per kid) is perfectly acceptable, not to mention developmentally apt. So is doing nothing above and beyond, truly. A cake and a movie is plenty. Party culture gets insane fast.

For your own sanity, in fact, for any kid — not just multiples — it can be really helpful to treat birthdays with different intensities over the years. One year, big, okay, but then make another low-key, and another just family, and another friends-focused, and etc. Creating fixed expectations can mess with the response you get — especially when you peg them high, leading to the ever-increasing chance of disappointment. If you instead show a range of ways to show you care, then there’s a better chance they’ll see and appreciate what you’re doing on its own merits.

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