Birthday Blues (*UPDATED WITH ADORABLE BABY PICTURES*)

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.

IMG_1667

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).

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

54 thoughts on “Birthday Blues (*UPDATED WITH ADORABLE BABY PICTURES*)

  1. In my experience, children and particularly very young children tend to see things in extremes — it’s either sunshine or rain. Either you are my BEST FRIEND FOREVER whom I love intensely, or you are my mortal enemy for whom I seethe with hatred. When you didn’t invite me to your birthday party, you announced which camp you want to be in.

    Can you imagine if we conducted, say, our politics that way?

    Acquiring maturity involves learning moderation, mellowing out those spikes. Adults, whether parents or teachers or other guides for children, have to steer kids towards a moderate middle, so as to allow the adult whom that child will become to be able to navigate a world that sometimes throws adversity at people.

    The “I’m sorry I couldn’t invite you, would you like to get together some other time?” is a fine response. But the real lesson comes from learning how to accept such a response with a degree of grace. One must develop coping mechanisms.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. I think your advice was spot on. I either do all included or a very small group.

    ” 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.”

    Good on ya. I regularly tell little ones coaches (in obvious jest) to make her suffer and cry so I don’t have to. It’s good to know ones job.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. I would tell her to take off the rose colored glasses and accept that hurt feeling are a part of life b/c we can’t always invite everyone. She sounds as if she believes that hurting some kids feeling over a birthday party is going to scar him/her for life.

      Quote  Link

    Report

      • I’m not sure what can be done to stop such PC idiocy. Sadly we may have past the point of no return when folks began giving out participation trophies so we could spare kids hurt feelings. Never mind that giving everyone trophies dilutes the accomplishment of the kids that worked hard to win.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  4. You did good, Kazzy.

    One of the greatest joys of having children in their 20’s is that I DO NOT HAVE TO PLAN BIRTHDAY PARTIES ANY LONGER.

    That’s worth shouting about. Yippee. Pass the cake and the party poppers please.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. I think this was always an issue. I remember it being an issue when I was a kid.

    Inviting the whole class is more equal and kind. Inviting the whole class is adult’s showing compassion for the Ralphs of the world. A kid does not even need to be a Ralph to be the odd duck out in elementary school and not getting invited too many parties. It seems to me that other lesson (besides the one mentioned by Burt) is that just because someone is weird and dances to the beat of a different drummer or is a bit off does not mean that they should be ostracized or lonely or made to feel bad.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • ND,

      I think it is more complicated than that. You are right that birthday invitations or, more broadly, social inclusion, are opportunities to teach children about compassion. But, practically, they are not always ideal for that nor is that necessarily the primary focus. Suppose Jimmy had his hard set on going to the batting cages for his birthday. A party at the batting cages costs $15/head. Jimmy’s parents can afford to spend $150 on the party but even that is a stretch. But Jimmy’s got 20 classmates. Do Jimmy’s parents have to bite the bullet and pay twice what they can afford? Do we tell Jimmy that in spite of what he wants, he’s got to give that up, on his birthday of all days, to demonstrate compassion for his classmates? You run the risk of further exacerbating the issue… “Stupid John… if I didn’t have to invite him, we could be at the batting cages.” Not the way you’d want the kid to react, of course, but a real possibility.

      Ultimately, it comes down to circumstances. If Jimmy says, “I want to invite the whole class except for Robbie because Robbie smells… what a weirdo!” I think it appropriate for a parent to push back against that and probe further. But if Jimmy says, “I’d really like to take the Bubble Gum crew…. you know, my three best friends… on a camping trip,” I don’t think it necessary to shame him for that.

      Tl;dr – Social ostracizing among young children can be an issue, but not all instances of non-friendship qualify as such.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • That’s fair,

        With education (and, presumably, child rearing in general) there is always the tension between preparing the children for the world as it is and preparing them for the world as you wish it were. Ideally, you can position them to be ready for the world as it is while empowering and inspiring them to improve upon it.

        I’d love it if Mayonnaise, of his own volition said, “Batting cages, shmatting cages… it’ll be more fun to have everyone there.” But I don’t want him to come to expect that from others because in all likelihood he will end up sorely disappointed.

        I think there are also some weird hang ups around social etiquette and invitations and the like that I can’t necessarily explain but which I think gets in the way. To me, a superior tack would seem to be proactive about the potential for hurt feelings. To reach out to people and say, “Hey… circumstances dictate that I can’t include you in something I might otherwise like to. I wanted to let you know why and hopefully we can find another way to connect.” This seems better than people finding out after the fact they missed out on something they didn’t even know was happening -OR- to be anticipating an invitation that never comes.

        I actually had that happen once, where a friend was getting married but he/his bride/their families opted for a very small wedding with a limited guest list. He reached out to let me know that I was on the bubble (he put it more gently than that) but wanted to involve me as the chief planner for his bachelor party. Besides the fact that I’d rather go to the BP than the wedding any day of the week, I thought it classy of him to recognize a tricky spot he was in and take steps to mitigate any potential fall out and there were absolutely no hard feelings.

        Maybe I’m dead wrong, but my gut tells me you’re not supposed to do it that way.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Kazzy, if we really wanted to raise children to embrace the world as it is we would probably have to be much less gentle with them and have a more dog eat dog form of child-rearing or teach children to brace themselves. A lot of neglectful and abusive parents justify their acts this way, that they are teaching their kids grit or some other dumb thing in order to rationalize their decision to be bad parents.

        My opinion is that deciding to raise children for the world as it is tends to be a justification for abusive and neglectful parenting or a way to raise some rather aggressive, defensive, and paranoid people.

          Quote  Link

        Report

    • Inviting the whole class is more equal and kind. Inviting the whole class is adult’s showing compassion for the Ralphs of the world.

      Yes, but if a kid is an outcast and is only invited because the birthday child’s parents forced them to invite everyone, the kid will still know. Chances are, the outcast will be alone at the party and have an awkward or unpleasant time.

        Quote  Link

      Report

    • ND:

      “Inviting the whole class is more equal and kind. Inviting the whole class is adult’s showing compassion for the Ralphs of the world”

      Sure it would be more equal and kind but that doesn’t mean that it is realistic or even feasible.
      I couldn’t afford to invite all of the kids in my child’s class to a party but then again I can’t afford $300 shoes either.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • Will:

        I just spent 300 getting some bushing replaced on my car and am about to spend 400 to fix the glass shower door in my master bathroom. So no I don’t have extra money to spend inviting my kid’s whole class to a party just to make some limousine liberal happy.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Well, I guess as long as you have never spent $300 – or had the money to spend $300 – on anything that wasn’t strictly necessary, NewDealer’s shoes (and my tablet) are fair game.

        I am not quite sure what you are getting at. If someone has spent $300 on something that was not a necessity, are they under an obligation to spend money to invite all of their child’s classmates to a birthday party?

        Even if someone could easily afford to invite everyone, I really do not see any obligation to do so. Most kids are not friends with all of their classmates, so why should they invite people they do not want to spend time with?

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • Moreover (and here is where I will once again expose myself as a bad/selfish parent) – $300 on shoes, or a tablet, can be potentially viewed as an investment of some kind – even if overpriced or not strictly necessary, these items will make your life somewhat better or easier, for some time to come – the shoes for comfort and/or your job; the tablet may also be used for your job (or, to shop for/order school supplies for your kid in a money- and time-saving fashion).

        Below a certain age, even the kids who ARE friends with your kid and had a good time at the party will have forgotten the whole experience within hours (or days). So will the kids who had a bad time, or were not invited at all. So was that $300 well-spent? Maybe spending $150, and limiting the guest list, was the smarter call.

        I’m not saying never spend any money at all on fun (and – hopefully – memorable) experiences for your kid, but I think many people go a bit overboard with say elaborate parties for 2-yr-olds who can barely comprehend what’s going on.

        I realize these kids here are slightly older than that, but I still often seem to see some stuff that looks like excess to me, and people letting their imagined “obligations” (and, “keeping up with the Joneses”) get the better of their common and financial sense.

          Quote  Link

        Report

      • I am not quite sure what you are getting at. If someone has spent $300 on something that was not a necessity, are they under an obligation to spend money to invite all of their child’s classmates to a birthday party?

        My comment wasn’t about children’s parties at all. I considered NotMe’s bringing NewDealer’s shoes into this out of line. Most of us have things that we purchase that aren’t strictly necessary, it doesn’t matter that NewDealer’s preference is shoes (or that mine is tablets).

        I actually disagree about ND on the necessity of inviting the entire class. I do think that there is a tipping point, where if you invite more than half of the class you need to invite everybody, but I don’t think people should be under an obligation to include everybody, for the reasons outlined by others on this thread.

          Quote  Link

        Report

  6. Kazzy, I think we underestimate the extent to which children can differentiate between acquaintances, just friends, good friends, best friends, BFFs, BFFAEAEAEAEFAE and so on. When I was a kid, I remember that the expectation was that usually, unless you planned to throw a huge one, you only invited your closest friends. And you knew who you were close to and who you weren’t. How? by differentiating between those who played nasty tricks on you and those who had your back. And between you and the invitee, you know who had your back and you know whether the guy played a nasty trick on you. And you know who treated you nice when you were down and who conspired with others to deceive you. You’re supposed to learn these things when you are young. Admittedly I had to have it hammered into me repeatedly that there were real assholes out there. People’s feelings only get hurt when a lack of invite is a sign of exclusion and not a failure to include

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. On that big, bald head thing:

    I did tell you, I hope, that both of my babies, from about 5 to 7 months, resembled Charles Barkley?

    My favorite time is 5 months. They find their feet. “This is where I end.” Defining the limits of self so that they can begin cataloging the beyond self. I get a thrill every time I see a baby in a stroller or car seat, feet in hand.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. apparently the five month anniversary of his birth is worthy of the “birthday crown” at my son’s childcare provider

    You realize of course that this was done solely for the benefit of Zazzy and you? Mayo was irrelevant to the whole process. That is your birthday crown sitting on his head only because it would be socially awkward for them to put it directly on you.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  9. Kazzy,
    Spot on.

    To answer your questions specificily:
    How to avoid hurt feelings? You don’t.
    Your advice: Totally agree
    I see no reason why the school needs to get involved. Things happen at school that the school has no part of. If the party is not during school hours / at the school, then I see no need for any rules about inviting the whole class. Of course, if you’re not inviting the whole class, then I’m not sure why you necessarily need to deliver invitations at the school, but assuming you do, I see no reasons why the school needs to get involved and I would ignore any “rules” the said school would have made regarding this.

      Quote  Link

    Report


    • The only defense I’ll offer of the school-policy I advocate would be grounded in some sort of, “Those are our cubbies you want to put invitations into and, as such, we have some control over that.”

      But more to the issue at hand, you’re going to have kids saying, “Cool, what’s this? Oh, rad, a birthday invite! Thanks, Johnny.” And other kids saying, “Wait… where’s mine. I didn’t get one. Johnny, why didn’t I get one?” This can be a real distraction. It also provides a teachable moment, but I think the harm done might outweigh that, depending on the age of the children. I don’t think we should insulate children from hurt feelings, but given that birthday parties can be REALLY BIG DEALS, I think discretion is advisable. I just think it is the better tack to distribute the invitations through other means.

      That said, there really is nothing schools can do about the issue, so I think kind words of advice offered proactively to parents is the best route.

        Quote  Link

      Report

  10. Simplest route to avoiding hurt feelings: give everyone an invite to a Chuck E Cheese play date — or something similar. Don’t try to do birthday parties at your home. Never works out. Not enough room, too many opportunities for hurt feelings and broken glassware. Etcetera.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • Not everyone will be able to afford pizza for the whole class but I’m with you. Little one can have everyone for a fun (and expensive) time on the town. If she want’s home cooked, back yard, maybe four kids.

        Quote  Link

      Report

      • In case it wasn’t clear, finances are a major factor here.

        I think it wrong to put pressure on parents, either via school “policies” or social pressure, to host parties they can’t afford in the name of inclusion or force their child to sacrifice their birthday wishes to accommodate a class’s worth of feelings.

        Now, if the costs are to be shared… that introduces a whole other element that can be complicated along other factors. “We want to organize a gathering at this place… bring your wallet.”

          Quote  Link

        Report

    • In case it wasn’t clear, I can be a pathetic parent. I hate throwing birthday parties. I mentioned that not everyone can afford a night on the town. I was not trying to make anyone here feel bad. I was making a poke at myself.

        Quote  Link

      Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *