Birthday Parties Outside of the Gender Box

Birthday parties are one place where gender stereotypes can really sneak up on us, especially considering how much of the paper supplies are themed with commercial characters and then even further gendered. My children always have co-ed birthday gatherings and each year they pick a theme for their party. We’ve had parties at a veterinarian’s office, a school gym, pools and water parks, and our house. The themes they choose range from exterminator, dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, Angry Birds, and Wild Kratts. Our parties are creative with a lot of DIY and done on a small budget – but they are always a blast!

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Marketers gender party supplies knowing many folks will buy a boy version and girl version because heaven forbid a boy eat off a cake plate that only has Anna and Elsa on it (with no trace of Olaf, Kristof, or Sven). Let’s just get them a pack of Star Wars for good measure.

Allowing your child to express and explore their interests on the special day we celebrate them is a true gift – it says to them that who they are is important and accepted. So if your son wants a Doc McStuffins or My Little Pony party, or your daughter wants a dinosaur or tool party…..go with it!

Here’s a great example of a mom who decided to follow her daughter’s lead and ended up with a very memorable day for the whole family. Why wouldn’t a six year old girl think a tool/building party to be fantastic?

Pinterest is a great place to find ideas, just don’t let the gender categorization fool you. Pick your theme, buy plates and cups in plain colors, and use decorations and games/activities that support the theme without having to buy pre-fab or commercialized items. You don’t need to create a boy version and girl version for you party – just plan a “kid version” and trust in the abilities of the little people to explore and have fun!

Immy is thrilled with her tool-themed party, image via Clarksburg Mom.

Immy is thrilled with her tool-themed party, image via Clarksburg Mom.

From the Mouths of Babes: Girls Gone Missing

We had so much fun at a good buddy’s birthday party today and it was great for the kids to run around for a few hours before we are house bound when this arctic air hits Wisconsin. The birthday boy was so thoughtful when planning for his party to include Amelia. He made sure that his cupcake flags had a Princess Leia, and the water bottles had male and female Star Wars characters on the labels (so the kids could tell them apart).
I was trying to explain to her who Padme was so we were looking for her image on the table cloth among all the other Star Wars characters. What Amelia said to me broke my heart a little, not necessarily what she said, but the knowledge that was behind it.

“Mom, don’t bother looking. The girls are never on there.”

Girls gone missing.

What message does that give my daughter? What about my son and the other boys at the party?

Where are the ladies?

Where are the ladies?

Birthday Party to Include Girls and Boys

I’m planning my daughter’s eighth birthday party for mid-January (how did eight years go by so quickly!?) and as I was working out the logistics for the invitations I realized that I was going to have to change some of my language. You see, my daughter has a great group of friends that include boys and girls, so her invite list is close to a 50/50 split. Amelia loves all things ocean and swimming related, so we’re having a pool party at a local hotel. The bash is going to be mermaid themed.

But the word “mermaid” excludes boys, and as y’all know I’m all about gender inclusiveness. My daughter is obsessed with mermaids, so I want to honor her interests, but I also want all of her guests to feel included in the party and its theme. Merpeople, I suppose? Amelia’s favorite color is blue so I thought about heading the invite to say something like, “Come take a swim in the big blue, Amelia would love to party with you!” (I don’t know why I have the overwhelming need to rhyme on party invites, but I do.)

Super cute books for ocean-loving kids.

Super cute books for ocean-loving kids.

Last night we were reading a book at bedtime from the series “Mermaid Tales” by Debbie Dadey. These great books feature a group of third grade kids, girls and a boy, who have some fun adventures under the sea. They are called merkids in the books, and that was the word I was looking for to make Amelia’s party invites gender inclusive.

Some brightly colored plates, table cloth, and sand buckets to serve food from so that the food table looks like a coral reef will do nicely. Add in some brightly colored balloons, a little language change on the invites so that all her merkid friends feel included at her party, and some games for the pool and we’ve got a fun party for boys and girls to attend.

The change is that simple to make. It is that easy to accommodate boy-girl friendships, especially when you don’t base a party on a commercialized character but rather a popular theme for childhood. Animals, jungle, safari, ocean, bugs, dinosaurs, space, farm, spies, caped crusaders, enchanted garden, sports, castle themed…..All kids love this stuff, you just have to get away from the branded characters. We’ve had birthday parties at a veterinary office before, and last year an exterminator was the entertainment at my son’s co-ed party. Get creative!

The invites and goody bags will be homemade so that we can avoid the gender stereotypes seen on so many store-bought kids’ invites and party supplies. I’ll make the cake, the snacks are easy, do our own decorations, and the teams for the games we’ll divide by the side of the alphabet the kids’ first names fall in (as opposed to boys vs girls).

Chances my cake and decorations will look like the idea board I’ve put together on Pinterest? 3 out of 10.

Chances my daughter and her friends are going to have a blast at this party? 9 out of 10.

Chances all the kids that day will get the message that boys and girls are important friends for each other and should be sharing spaces and memories together in childhood? 10 OUT OF 10!!

Wish me luck on that cake!

Amelia's cake topper, perhaps the only gendered item that will be at the party.

Amelia’s cake topper, perhaps the only gendered item that will be at the party.

Easy peasy craft project on hand for kids who don't want to swim for three solid hours.

Easy peasy craft project on hand for kids who don’t want to swim for three solid hours.

Colors are for everyone, especially merkids!

Colors are for everyone, especially merkids!











Want some awesome Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies party invites? Go here.

Want to find that mermaid cake topper above? Visit Etsy here.