A former colleague and mother of three children under the age of 5 posted the following question on Facebook:
“If you don’t invite the whole class to your child’s birthday party how do you avoid hurt feelings?”
It was an interesting question, for a number of reasons. And it drew some interesting responses, some of which I liked and some of which I abhorred.
A common response advised her to just invite the boys. Bleh. Why? I mean, if the kid elected to only invite boys because all his playmates were boys, so be it. You could address any gender discrimination in his preferences that might be causing that at a later date. But otherwise, this is a stupid idea that is far too often employed, often at the behest of schools.
A few people said she should just suck it up and invite the whole class. Seriously? Some elementary school classes have upwards of 30 kids in them. This puts a number of troublesome burdens on the parents that I don’t think is fair. Yet again, this is an idea often employed at the behest of schools.
(Before I go further, I want to comment on what I would consider an appropriate school policy: If you distribute invitations via the school (e.g., dropped in cubbies or backpacks), than the expectation is that you invite the entire class. Otherwise, it is a private event that otherwise does not involve the school and which they should expect no authority over. Of course, even this policy is unenforceable in practice, but at least it serves to move the conversation to more appropriate venues.)
My advice was that she invite the children her child wants to spend his birthday with, working within the parameters set by the parents relating to cost, party size, etc. She could even give him some say in the matter… “You can invite 8 people to Chuck E. Cheese or 12 people to our house.” I said she should use snail mail, email, or some other form of communication that takes place outside of the classroom. I told her to arm her kid with the following statement or some variation thereof for any children upset at their exclusion: “I’m sorry I couldn’t invite you to my birthday. Would you like to have a playdate another day?” Of course, if the relationship is such that even a playdate does not interest her son, he can simply stop after the first sentence. Most importantly, I told her to arm herself with a similar statement for parents of upset children, who often are more of the issue than the children themselves.
The reality is, one day, everyone is going to find that they were not invited to a birthday party or are otherwise excluded with little claim to recourse. It hurts. But it is a fact of life. We should not burden children or their parents with the weight of everyone’s feelings on what should be one of the best days of the kid’s year. We need not make them callous, but we also should feel no obligation to facilitate the self-indulgence that surrounds so many approaches to parenting and child-rearing.
Of course, I am an unfeeling robot who has not yet planned a child’s birthday party and remain convinced that I’m not properly carrying out my duties as an early childhood educator if I don’t make the kids cry every once in a while.
So, what are your thoughts?
*** UPDATE ***
Since we’re talking about birthdays, apparently the five month anniversary of his birth is worthy of the “birthday crown” at my son’s childcare provider. This sort of makes me really angry. But he looks cute in a dopey sort of way. And it hides his massive bald head. So, I’ll take it.
You should all feel very lucky. Zazzy, as a general rule, tries to keep pics of Mayo under court order. But since she has been texting this photo out all day, it seems fair I get to share it. Plus, he looks pretty much like every single baby ever, with nary a distinguishing feature (well, except for the aforementioned big bald but thankfully hidden head).