COVID-19 Canceled My Daughter’s Birthday Party. Here’s How We Celebrated Instead.

In unprecedented times, happy parenting is key.

The coronavirus stay-at-home order has caused people from around the world to cancel their weddings, vacations, parties, and pretty much every in-person event that was set to take place.  As a result, events were immediately postponed, some went virtual, while others took on a creative new form that cleverly complied with social distancing regulations. These “new normal” alternative routes have slowly become digestible by most adults; however, they are not sitting well with young children.  How do you explain to an elementary school-aged child that the birthday party they have been avidly planning for months has now been canceled? Not rescheduled, just canceled. Not happening, let’s pray it happens in 2021 type of canceled.

This is the predicament my husband and I found ourselves in last month. To further intensify matters, the child of ours facing the birthday party cancellation happens to be our overly needy social butterfly of a middle child: Miss “Sassy” Andriana Elizabeth.  Our princess was turning 6 and this was to be her first big birthday bash where she was allowed to invite her entire kindergarten class, her theater group, and her swim friends.  Over 60 children were on the invite list and Andriana ensured she was meticulously involved with the planning.  This mermaid themed indoor pool party was to feature live goldfish as party favors, under the sea snacks, mermaid food, a tiered mermaid cake, pool games, and large 7 foot tall mermaid balloon decorations.  As a working mother of three, I am constantly planning life months in advance simply to stay on top of things.  Therefore, my middle child’s April birthday party had been planned from January and now I had to find a quick way to undo the detailed planning without further upsetting my daughter.  Furthermore, how do we celebrate this big girl milestone when we are in full social distancing mode and aren’t even seeing our parents?

Innovation, innovation, innovation!  My mind immediately started to race with backup birthday celebration ideas, elaborate surprises, and gifts my husband and I would be showering my soon to be 6 year-old princess and then it hit me.  Who was going to tell Andriana that her birthday party was now canceled and that we do not know when we will be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel?  This is when the mom hat came off and a private crying session commenced in the back of my closet over the fear of the unknown.   I realized that I couldn’t speak to my daughter about her party cancellation due to COVID-19 because I first needed to deal with my own anxiety relating to the pandemic.  Additionally, like most parents, I am not trained in managing my child’s worry and did not know the correct way to talk about the matter with my daughter.  This is when I reached out to the child experts at the Child Mind Institute who have done a stellar job in communicating simple, yet transformative wellness tips that every parent can easily incorporate into their daily regiment in order to keep their household calm and regularly practice purposeful mindfulness. 

After self-examining my emotions and mental state, I quickly found that I was having a hard time dealing with COVID-19 and that some of my anxiety may be inadvertently passed on to my children.  This horrible pandemic has dramatically changed the world overnight and so my child-rearing style needed to also instantly change.  I couldn’t change the global uncertainty, but I surely could change the personal certainty of what our family would do each day.  My parenting received a high dosage of happiness and I started to direct focus on all the good that was pre-existing in our lives. Our family began each day stating what we were thankful for and together we prayed for those affected by the virus.  Not everyday was a happy one, most days were full of crying over homeschooling frustrations and other quarantine-related issues.  What changed was that we now took a purposeful pause to reflect on all the good and all the blessings we had in life.  My children were becoming more appreciative and so this new happier mom self was starting to become more effective in parenting.

Suddenly, celebrating my daughter’s birthday during the coronavirus crisis seemed easy and not as impossible as previously imagined.  The weeks leading up to the day I chose to share the birthday party cancelation news with my daughter were strategically filled with soaking up small moments of happiness in the everyday.  Just a couple weeks before my daughter’s birthday, we were invited to be a part of a birthday train celebration, which highly impressed all of my children.  I instantly earned cool mom status when we rode past the house of a friend celebrating their birthday and I allowed my children to stick their upper bodies out of the sunroof while holding birthday signs and dancing to the music blaring from our car’s radio (most may say this was an example of bad parenting)!  Our laughter could not be contained and that was all my children spoke about for the remainder of the day. 

While many bright rays of sunshine came through during the storm of uncertainty, they were surely not present when we finally did tell our daughter about the fate of her highly anticipated birthday party.  I will not sugarcoat the story, the floodgates did open and the sobbing began.  Our princess needed to let it out just like I did weeks prior.  It is okay to cry and negative connotations should not be associated with expressing emotion.  After the crying ended, the creative planning began and naturally it involved the birthday girl.

It is crucial to explain to your child that COVID-19 may have canceled their party, but it certainly did not and will never cancel their birthday.  

Below are five creative, thoughtful, and forever memorable ways we used to celebrate our middle child’s birthday:

  1.  BAKE TOGETHER
    • The 3 tiered mermaid cake we ordered was also canceled by the baker and so we needed to innovate.  Our former mermaid party now became an LOL Doll themed party.
    • All three of my children got busy in the kitchen, made a huge mess, and ultimately all of Andriana’s favorite treats.
    • Since our LOL Doll decorating skills are pretty bad, we found cute LOL themed cupcake toppers online and placed them on the cupcakes.

  2. SCAVENGER HUNT
    • Hide clues inside and outside your house that lead to your child’s gifts.
    • Print out a mystery map or a list of items they need to find.  Draw the items if your child is too young to read.
    • Have everyone in your household participate, this only adds to the fun.


  3. BIRTHDAY PARTY TRAIN & LAWN SIGNS
    • Social connections are absolutely crucial.  Your children still need their friends.  Surprise your child on their birthday by having your family, friends, and local police department drive by your home while singing Happy Birthday, honking their horns, and holding up handmade birthday signs.
    • I never thought I’d say this out loud, but yes, you NEED one of those loud and colorful happy birthday lawn signs. It will make your child feel extra special and their birthday seem real.
    • Record the festivities. The entire family will want to relive the moment again and again.

  4. BIRTHDAY ZOOM CALL
    • Email your birthday child’s school teacher and have them plan a virtual surprise birthday celebration for your child.
    • Our daughter’s kindergarten class held up birthday cards they made for her during their daily morning class call.  She was so surprised and truly grinning ear to ear.
    • Do the same with family members around the world.

  5. MAKE THEM FEEL EXTRA SPECIAL & CREATE NEW FAMILY TRADITIONS
    • It is crucial to remember that it is not about what your birthday child receives, it is about how much love and attention you show them that day.
    • Have every member of your family write on paper what they think is most special about the birthday child and put it in a keepsake jar.  This will be a forever memorable and thoughtful gift that a person of any age will treasure for years to come.
    • Do something new as a family for your child and highlight that this is being done specifically in honor of their birthday.  Our family took an 11 mile long bike ride and stopped along the way to enjoy pastries we packed.  This has now become our family tradition that was kicked off in honor of our birthday child.

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