Birthday celebrations don't have to be lavish to be memorable. A celebrity event planner breaks down what he and his husband do to make their daughters' birthday parties special.
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An illustration of a father's hands and his daughter's hands drawing on a table.
Credit: Kailey Whitman.

My husband, Joey, and I have always loved to honor our daughters—Cielo, 8, and Gracie, 2—on their birthdays and during other milestones simply to create smiles and memories. But their celebrations don't always have to be big to be special.

When planning a party, many tend to just focus on aspects such as the flowers, cake, food, decor, and presents. Yes, they can enhance any occasion, but they should not be seen as the focal point of celebrations—they are just some of the ingredients needed to bring together life's special moments.

I have been an event planner and designer for over 30 years and have executed larger-than-life celebrations across the globe, and what I've learned is a successful celebration needs one formula: happiness, plus joy, plus the inclusion of family and friends.

Here's how Joey and I make that happen for our girls.

Including Them in the Planning Process

For their birthdays, we include the girls in the process of planning their big day. We give them the chance to make decisions so that their parties can represent their personalities. Also, kids tend to see things through a different lens than adults. Their ideas, thoughts, and questions are all so critical to who they are today and who they become tomorrow. That's why it's important to let them take the lead on how they want to spend their special day.

I like to ask questions like, "What colors would you like to see at your party? What would you wish for the music to be and the decorations to look like?" I love to give our children the opportunity to think outside the box, not just creatively but also emotionally.

That also includes creating a guest list of friends they wish to celebrate with—that's especially true for Cielo since she is older and can give great insight. We also look forward to inviting adult guests that play a large role in our girls' lives.

Choosing a Theme

What's a party without a theme, right? We love creating and sticking to one when planning our girls' birthday parties. And it's usually easy to create a theme after hearing what your kids are interested in.

Whether at your home, a public place, or birthday venue, you can bring your theme to life just about anywhere. We've done fun farm themes in the past which have included animals, hayrides, and games—and we made that happen on a beach. Of course, we've also had birthday parties in our own home and still made the theme pop. For example, we've surprised our girls with a fun and festive music-themed party and invited a DJ who was engaging and fun.

Parents can find simple ways to bring their kid's theme to life right at home too. And it doesn't have to be expensive to be fabulous. Once you've decided on a party theme, it makes it a lot easier to go into a craft store or online to search for items that match the feel and look that you are trying to achieve. I suggest picking a primary color and two accent colors as well as getting creative by mixing and matching items to make any theme pop. To be kind to the budget, you can buy just a few really special and specific items related to your theme and make them a focal point on your tables.

You can also incorporate the theme into your cake. A simple way to make a memorable and budget-friendly cake with a personalized spin is to go to your local bakery and have them make a basic white round cake with "Happy Birthday" written on it and then add your own decor and personal flair. Another easy way to connect a theme to your party is to give out party favors that are related to the theme, whether they feature the same colors, the same special characters, the same games—the possibilities are endless!

Surprising Them With Something Unexpected

Even though we love to have our girls weigh in on the details of their parties, we also enjoy sprinkling in some surprises they aren't expecting. Some past surprises have been extravagant like a performance by a dance troupe dressed as fairies in our pool. But not always. We've also surprised our girls with simpler things like themed birthday cakes, and those made them smile just as much. Surprises also don't have to be big to be memorable; they just need to be something you know your little one will enjoy.

Encouraging Them To Soak It All In

In the world of events, I look to make sure that I am creating a moment that takes my clients' guests on an emotional experience. It's a time when you can provide guests the opportunity to separate from their day-to-day life and fully be embedded in a journey of joy.

So, to me, events are not just parties, they are moments that can change people's lives and create memories that last a lifetime, and I love being able to share this mindset and experience with my two girls. My husband and I help them really feel the magic of their birthday party by the emotion and joy we bring to their parties and celebrations. In turn, it also helps to bring their own personalities to life during their parties.

Letting Them Know They Deserve To Be Celebrated

Another thing I love sharing with my daughters is that parties can differ greatly depending on your traditions, your culture, your religious beliefs, and so much more. I love to share the beauty of how our world is so vast in traditions when it comes to life's celebrations and remind them that we are all unique, we are all different, and we all deserve to feel celebrated.