My daughter Patricia is starting her first experiences with elementary school and her first experiences in the school of hard knocks. When I was a kid, birthdays were actually pretty low key. A party usually consisted of a bunch of kids going to a friend’s house, running around their yard, eating cake and singing happy birthday. Nowadays, I’m learning that there is this whole “birthday party racket” out there. Birthdays have become over-commercialized and parents are forced into breaking the bank with themed parties at expensive venues. And, of course, when your kid sees everyone else having a party, they want one too.
When my daughter was in preschool and kindergarten, it was nothing to have the whole class invited, or at least all the girls or all the boys. But as the kids move through elementary school, the parties start to scale back and the kids have to make choices on who to invite and who not to.
I guess it was bound to happen: Patricia had her first experience being the odd one out. She wasn’t invited to a party of someone she considered a good friend. This little girl is in her class, lives down the street, frequently plays at our house and my husband and I have socialized with her parents. Apparently, she wasn’t coached very well about keeping her party under wraps. She proceeds to tell my daughter that she’s going to the movies for her birthday and she can only invite four friends. My daughter wasn’t 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 to be a good friend wouldn’t purposefully leave her out. Her mother wouldn’t allow that, right? Wrong.
The invitation never came.
I racked my brains:
Could it be that the kids don’t get along?
No, they get along beautifully, when they play, there’s no fighting and it’s all smiles and giggles.
Is it me?
I doubt it, after all, I seem to be good enough to watch their kids and walk 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 stay upset, she’s got a happy disposition. But me? Uhhh…As much as I would like to consider myself a step above all this petty and trivial kid stuff, I’m admittedly a little angry and let down. Granted, it’s just a birthday party, it’s just a movie, no big deal. My daughter doesn’t even like to sit through 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 play here. Being excluded hurts, no matter what your age. They didn’t just a snub my daughter, they snubbed me. This neighbor of mine didn’t think enough of either one of us to be in one of the top four slots (and even so, she could have made room for one more). I would never exclude their daughter. I know every kid can’t have a big party every year, but excluding someone who is actually closer than some of the other invitees is hard to swallow.
So what to do?
Should I ask why she wasn’t invited?
No. It’s their party, they can invite whomever they choose. A “pity” invitation would be humiliating – even I if offered to pay her way.
Should I play dumb and make some off-the-cuff remark to them at the bus stop, “Hey, isn’t your birthday this month? Are you doing anything special??”
No, that just puts the kid on the spot. Plus I’m not one for making people squirm, even if they deserve it.
Should I cut off ties with these people who I thought were our friends?
No, that will only cause more ill feelings and in the end may hurt my daughter. The kids do enjoy playing with each other. Why take that away from them when it really was the parent’s fault for planning a party where only a few kids can come.
So what did I do? Well, basically nothing. I’m not a confrontational person (I’ve never seen a “confrontation” have a happy ending). However, as it turns out, this girl and my daughter asked to have a play date shortly before the party. I cheerfully agreed and arranged for her to come to our house and they laughed and giggled the whole time.
In the end, we never got the invitation, but maybe in a very innocent way, by having this most recent play date, we drove the point home with the mother who ultimately makes all the decisions for her kid. I do understand now that we may have had different perceptions and expectations of our friendship. Perhaps neighbors hold a little less status on the social ladder. To them, we were casual acquaintances not good friends. Maybe our “friendship” is based more on geographics than anything else.
Since this all happened in December, I told my daughter she could have a few friends over to decorate cookies and gingerbread for the holidays. I told her to invite some kids that she hasn’t had over before. I guess this taught me that kids and grown-ups need to have a broad social circle. I’m not purposefully trying to exclude our neighbor girl – I’m just trying to encourage my daughter to make some new friends so these inevitable situations hold a little less importance.
My advice on birthday parties? If you’re throwing the party, don’t put your kid into a position of picking some and excluding others. Plan a party at your house, have few games, let them dance to some music and keep it simple. These elaborate parties at expensive venues only stress out the parents, cost a lot of money, and they may force kids to make hurtful and exclusionary choices about who to invite. If you’re the one not invited, plan a fun activity on or around the day of the party. Maybe invite a friend or two and don’t speak of it again.
So, am I going to invite this neighbor girl to our next party? You bet. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
When The Invitation Never Comes
My Kid’s Not Invited