Yes, it’s birthday time again, and for those of you who don’t already know, ALL of our family birthdays fall within 6 weeks of each other—yes, even our foreign exchange student’s! First comes mine, then a week later it’s Emmie’s, then 13 days later it’s Cleo’s, two days after that it’s Allison’s, and two weeks later, just in time for Christmas, Andy gets his big day. And once again, we face the timeless “birthday party dilemma”: your child is having a birthday party, and either you or your child or both do not want to invite everyone in the class. The reasons can be endless: budget, space, personality, so and so blew out the candles on the cake at our last party…and you revisit the issue every time your child has a party, as friends change and new ways to celebrate are invented. Your child is saying “It’s my party, it’s my birthday, and I don’t want her to be there…she’s been mean to me every day for two weeks.” But you’re friends with the child’s mother…and the child is a sensitive kid…
Then there’s the child who says, “I want to invite everyone but the new girl, because I don’t know her at all” and the parent who’s saying, “But this would be the perfect opportunity for everyone to get to know her.” Do you invite children who didn’t invite your child to their own birthday celebration? Do you invite someone just because she did? You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, yet someone just might end up in tears after this decision is made—either your child or someone else’s… Gee, aren’t birthdays supposed to be a time of celebration?
Here’s my take on it:
I think it all depends on a child’s age and whether they’re a part of a daily class or not. For example, five-year-olds probably won’t care too much who they invite and mom can decide the whole thing—unless they’re a part of a preschool or kindergarten class that gets together daily. Then you may want to think more about it. How do the kids interact? Are there already “friendship issues” in the class? Will some children make others feel bad if they’re not invited? Kids at this age (and other early elementary grades) really can’t understand the issues of budget and space, they’re me-centric and take everything personally. Because of this, sometimes rather than having our own parties, I brought the party to the class. For example, the man who would’ve brought his guitar and puppets to our house and sing “Gonna Get Dressed All By Myself” to a limited audience, simply came to school and entertained the whole preschool class instead. The cupcakes that would’ve gotten mashed into my carpet got mashed on their perfectly-sized low tables instead, as the children sat at 10 perfectly sized tiny chairs. The teacher was thrilled, and so were all the kids.
As kids get older and the drama heats up (those with girls know exactly what I’m talking about), we’ve at least cut the birthday party problems in half due to our “a party every other year” policy. On the off years, our children get to invite one friend to go to dinner somewhere special—and thank goodness our kids (thanks to our encouragement) have often chosen a child who is outside the realm of the daily classroom—a special friend, for example, who moved to a nearby suburb or one that we met at summer swim lessons . It has been a fun way to foster connections and help the kids “catch up”. But when it’s time for a party with tweens and teens, we’ve either had it in the budget to invite all the girls in class or we’ve chosen parties with activities where we just can’t– but I firmly believe it’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t get invited to a party, and parents need to stop helicoptering to “protect feelings” once a child gets above a certain age, say, about third grade. By that time, kids should start understanding about budget and space and also why they didn’t “make the cut”, and a good parent will sit down with their child to discuss all three. Rather than try to soothe the child and “soften the blow” by telling them the birthday child is wrong, or “not a friend”, it would do parents good to seize the opportunity to help the child do some self-examination. Sometimes, not getting invited to a party is the best behavior modification tool around, better than 100 parental lectures or Sunday School lessons about being nice.
I will never forget the time I was the only kid in my entire grade who wasn’t invited to a birthday party, and not just any party. Two girls with birthdays close together were having a combined celebration, and budget was not an issue. It was the party to end all parties, truly the party of the year. I mean, even people they hardly knew were getting invited. But not me. And my mom sat me down to discuss why. At first I was very upset– I thought she sounded like a traitor, wanting me to “fit in” too badly and not recognizing my own opinions on the party givers. “I don’t like them,” I told her, “and I don’t hide it.” Well, I don’t remember exactly what she said next, but I do know she thought it would be wise if I made some changes, and never gave me specific instructions on what to do– she wanted me to figure it all out on my own. So I asked Dad for advice, did some reading…and made it a point after that to lighten up and look for the good in everyone. Not only did those party givers become my friends again, but decades later, I count them among my lifelong best friends. I probably would have missed out on other wonderful friendships and getting to know other fabulous people had my mom not made it a point to talk to me that one winter day.
And had my friends’ parents forced them to put me on their guest list.