Why We’re Keeping Birthday Parties Co-ed a Little Longer

My oldest son turned 6 in January and had his heart set on a party in our house with a homemade Neopolitan ice cream cake in the shape of a football and sports! sports! sports! So, we celebrated in grand form with a “game on” party, featuring games that ran the gamut from designing your own uniform to a series of “Minute to Win It” games to shooting hoops and high-intensity “Just Dance” competitions.

As with any gathering of more than two 6-year-olds, the decibel level was high, the energy level was higher, the neighbors complained that the ceiling lights were shaking (sorry, neighbors!), and mom needed a bubble bath and wine when everything was done. But according to the 6-year-old, the only way it could have been better was if Chuck E. Cheese could have made an appearance. Touche, kid.

Our son has 29 kids in his kindergarten class, nine in his section, and a class culture where you invite all the kids whenever possible. As any good parents would, we debated how to keep the sound levels respectable, the budget moderate, and our 1,000-square-foot, second-floor apartment still standing after the party. (Again, sorry neighbors.)

This year, for the first time, some students are starting to have “just boys” or “just girls” parties. To be honest, there are some things that were appealing about that, especially with a son who wanted a football party. There’s nothing wrong with that choice, and it’s very possible we’ll make a different one next year. But we chose to keep it co-ed this year, and here are some of the reasons I’m glad we did:

Keeping it co-ed keeps it child-like a little bit longer.

In our culture right now, the push to grow up faster is everywhere. Mixing boys and girls just makes sense before puberty starts accentuating differences between boys and girls and attraction starts muddling the waters. While there’s nothing wrong with having a “girls only party” or a “boys only party,” I hesitate to bifurcate too early, highlighting the “otherness” when they’re still figuring out all the things that they have in common.

Keeping it co-ed forced me to think outside of stereotypical “boy” games and decor.

Especially with a son who loves sports, it would have been easy to go with sports-themed ideas, which would have rocked for some boys and some girls and not so much for others. Keeping it co-ed forced me to think of games that appealed to the athletic and the intellectual, the fashionista and the little broseph. What this does is make it more inclusive and enjoyable for everyone, especially those who don’t jive with their gender stereotypes.

Keeping it co-ed encourages my sons to develop real friendships with the girls.

My sons are blessed to have a number of really good little girl friends — some of whom school them in soccer and can outbuild even my engineering-minded son, others who teach them the world of make-believe and how to make the most rad necklace ever. Yet already, I hear stories about boys in their classes who only want to play with other boys or who frequently say, “That’s not something girls can do” or, “Girls are so silly and icky.” Quite frankly, that’s not how I want to raise my sons. By continuing to create spaces where my sons’ friendships with girls are welcomed and encouraged, I hope to continue to teach them that girls are cool, smart, and strong — but most of all, friends.

What do you think? What age did you encourage single-gender birthday parties? If you don’t, how do you keep the birthday party numbers manageable?


Kristen is Southern by birth but has called Boston home since 2008. Unlike most Boston natives, she still really loves the snow and cold. She and her husband have two energetic and kind sons (2013, 2014) and a sassy, smart baby girl (2016). Kristen jokes that she has a master's degree in laundry and a PhD in child conflict resolution — which she uses far more than her actual physics and politics degrees. After seven years as a stay-at-home mom, Kristen went back to work full-time in 2021 as a program coordinator for a research lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. In her "spare" time, she runs her own business (Murph&Moose), serves on multiple alumni committees for her alma mater, and runs half marathons. Her passion is seeing moms feel comfortable in their own skin and less alone in the chaos that is motherhood. Loves: gardening, science, languages, coffee by the vat, running, time with her girlfriends, and the rare moments of silence when all three children are (finally) in bed Dislikes: daylight saving time, non-washable markers, and noisy neighbors who disrupt her rare moments of silence