Children’s birthday parties have become much more elaborate than when we were kids, but I don’t need to tell you that. It’s so easy for parents to become overwhelmed with the details now “required” to throw the perfect party. Here are some things to make sure not to do so you don’t end up crazed and your kids end up actually enjoying their moment.

Don’t go overboard: Oh yeah, we know. It’s so easy to dream up scenarios that include a full orchestra and circus troupe. And so before you begin planning your party, set realistic expectations of how much time you have to commit, how creative you are, what your budget is, and how involved you want to be.  Based on these expectations you can determine whether to host the party at home or outside of the home. If you are a fan of event planning, creative and you have time to organize food, activities, favors and decor, consider throwing the party at home.  If not, save yourself the stress and outsource. It actually costs a lot of money — not to mention time — to plan a “simple” kid’s party at home. Often, the cost of throwing a party at a children’s facility is the same as doing it yourself. Plus, you are spared the headache of planning and cleaning up, and you can actually enjoy the party.

Don’t put it off: How hard can it be? You’ll need a cake and some balloons and be done with it, right? Nope. If you want an easy party, you need to start planning your party about eight weeks before the big day. No kidding. Select a theme for your party — this will help determine the activities, decor, cake and favors. If your child is old enough, get them involved. Get your decor in advance, plan out a game or three. Will you have favors? Will you make your own cake or buy one? One word of warning: As good as it is for you to plan in advance, it also gives your child the chance to change from wanting a wild animals party to wanting a Batman theme. Consider yourself warned.

Don’t cater to the parents: Often, moms and dads forget that their birthday party should cater first and foremost to their birthday child and other children their age, not the parents of those children. Pick a time of day when your child is most rested and will be able to enjoy the entire length of the party. Keep the party to 90 minutes – two hours max. This provides ample time for children to become acclimated, play organized activities and eat. Any longer and you risk meltdowns from kids and their parents. And, keep the food simple. Pizza and cake are easy and popular food options. Many children have nut allergies so it is safest to provide food that is nut-free.

Don’t wait to send that invitation: Send out invites at least four weeks in advance of your party and include an RSVP date 10 days prior to your party. Make sure you keep a list of RSVPs — online invitation sites like Evite and Paperless Post allow easy tracking of guests’ responses. Send a reminder invite/email two weeks prior to those you have not heard from. Parents are busy and it becomes a handful keeping track of schedules — we often need reminders! You will need to know the final number of guests in advance to make sure you have enough food and favors.

Don’t bash Pinterest: I know, we make fun of (or should we say are intimidated by) the supermom projects on Pinterest. But if you are planning a party, there’s no better place to turn for ideas from themes to favors to kids activity recommendations. Assume your mermaid cake won’t turn out quite as well, but hey, looking at those examples gave you an idea of how to make the waves, right?

Don’t assume you have to accept presents: If your little one has plenty of toys and you want to try something new this year, host a book exchange. On your invitation ask that everyone bring a book in lieu of a gift, which they will then exchange for a new one.  Or, ask your friends to bring a toy and donate all gifts to a local children’s shelter.  This provides an opportunity for you to give back and teach your child an important lesson along the way. Explain to your child that they will certainly get a present from Aunt Hilda, grandma and mom and dad, and this is another fun way to celebrate. Let your kid help you decide which present exchange to do, or where to take the gifts for children who don’t have them. (Hint: It’s easier to start this practice if you start it young. Then it becomes habit.)

Don’t forget your mannersMake a list when opening gifts which you can use to create thank you notes — a practice that is not done enough these days. Sites like Tiny Prints and Minted offer cute stationary that can be personalized with your child’s name. Or, create a collage of birthday party pictures on a photo card to send out as a thank you and keepsake from your party. You can also keep it simple like I did this year: cut out pieces of construction paper, decorate with a sticker, write thank you, and have your child sign their name.  Short and sweet, it’s the thank you that counts!

Don’t forget to have fun: Remember, this is a birthday party for a child. If there are friends, activities, and sweet treats the kids will enjoy regardless of the details. So, don’t stress and enjoy the day.  Time goes by fast — before you know it, they’ll be planning their own birthday parties.

Anjali Varma is the mother of two boys and owner of Bethesda’s Kidville, a play space for classes, hair cuts and birthday parties. She is also the founder of the Modern Mompreneur.