My daughter Patricia is beginning her first experiences with elementary school and her first experiences in hard hitting school. When I was a kid, birthdays were pretty low key. A party usually consisted of a group of children who went to a friend’s house, ran through his garden, ate cake, and sang happy birthday. Today, I am learning that there is this whole “birthday party scandal” out there. Birthdays have been over-marketed and parents are forced to break the bank with themed parties at expensive venues. And of course, when your child sees everyone else having a party, they want one too.
When my daughter was in preschool and kindergarten, it was nothing to invite the whole class, or at least all the girls or all the boys. But as children progress through elementary school, the parties begin to dwindle and children have to make decisions about who to invite and who not to invite.
I guess it was going to happen: Patricia had her first experience being the stranger. She was not invited to a party for someone she considered a good friend. This girl is in her class, lives down the street, plays frequently in our house, and my husband and I have socialized with her parents. Apparently they didn’t teach him very well how to keep his party a secret. She proceeds to tell my daughter that she is going to the movies for her birthday and that she can only invite four friends. My daughter was not one of them. My daughter told me about it and I didn’t believe her. I thought there was some mistake. Surely this girl who we considered a good friend would not leave her out on purpose. Your mother wouldn’t allow it, right? Incorrect.
The invitation never came.
I racked my brains:
Could it be that children don’t get along?
No, they get along very well, when they play, there are no fights and they are all smiles and giggles.
I doubt it, after all, it seems that I am good enough to take care of their children and accompany them to the bus stop when they need me.
My daughter was upset for a few days but got over it quickly, it’s not her nature to be upset, she has a happy disposition. But I? Uhhh … As much as I would like to consider myself a step above all these petty and trivial things of children, it is true that I am a bit angry and disappointed. Of course it’s just a birthday party, it’s just a movie, it’s no big deal. My daughter doesn’t even like to sit and watch movies (and what a bad idea for a party anyway). So why do I care?
Well … I guess it’s my problem, maybe it’s some of my old insecurities at stake here. Being excluded hurts, no matter your age. They not only despised my daughter, they also despised me. This neighbor of mine didn’t think enough of either of them to be in the top four (and still, she could have made room for one more). He would never exclude his daughter. I know that every kid can’t have a big party every year, but excluding someone who is actually closer than some of the other guests is hard to accept.
So what to do?
Should I ask why they didn’t invite her?
No. It’s your party, you can invite whoever you want. A “pity” invitation would be humiliating, even if I offered to pay you.
Should I play dumb and make some impromptu comment at the bus stop, “Hey, isn’t it your birthday this month? Are you doing something special?”
No, that just puts the kid in a bind. Also, I’m not one to make people squirm, even if they deserve it.
Should I cut ties with these people I thought were our friends?
No, that will only cause more bad feelings and may ultimately hurt my daughter. Children enjoy playing with each other. Why take that away from them when it was really the parents’ fault for planning a party that only a few kids can attend?
So what did I do? Well, basically nothing. I am not a confrontational person (I have never seen a “confrontation” have a happy ending). However, it turned out that this girl and my daughter asked to have a play date shortly before the party. I happily agreed and arranged for her to come over to our house and they laughed and laughed all the time.
In the end, we never got the invitation, but perhaps in a very innocent way, having this most recent play date, we bring the point home to the mother who ultimately makes all the decisions for her son. Now I understand that we may have had different perceptions and expectations of our friendship. Perhaps the neighbors have a slightly lower status on the social scale. To them, we were casual acquaintances, not good friends. Perhaps our “friendship” is based more on geography than anything else.
Since all of this happened in December, I told my daughter that I could invite some friends to decorate cookies and gingerbread for the holidays. I told him to invite some children who he had not visited before. I guess this taught me that children and adults should have a wide social circle. I’m not trying to exclude our neighbor on purpose, I’m just trying to encourage my daughter to make new friends so that these unavoidable situations matter a little less.
My advice on birthday parties? If you’re throwing the party, don’t put your child in the position of picking some and excluding others. Plan a party at your house, have some games, let them dance to some music, and keep it simple. These elaborate parties in expensive venues only stress parents, cost a lot of money, and can force kids to make hurtful and exclusive decisions about who to invite. If you are not invited, plan a fun activity on or around the day of the party. Maybe invite a friend or two and never talk about it again.
So am I going to invite this neighbor to our next party? You gamble. Two mistakes do not do good.
When the invitation never comes
My son is not invited