I’m not sure I’m doing this right

EXCLUDED:  barred from participation, consideration, or inclusion

I received a sad call from a friend this afternoon.  Her little one has a case of the birthday party blues.  And, Son’s party is the cause.

You see, Son’s birthday is coming.  While we stuck with family only parties for the first four years, when he turned five we let him have his first friend party.  Well, he liked it and wants to do it again this year.  So, we told him he could select a theme and a list of friends to invite.

The theme was easy: Wild Kratts!

The list was harder.  Son’s first brainstorm included roughly thirty kids.  With some effort, we reduced the list to fifteen.  But, reducing it to my sanity limit of nine children proved challenging.  Several of his friends were eliminated to comply with my limit.  My friend’s little girl was one of those eliminated.

We did everything we could to reduce the chance of hurt feelings for those not invited.  We mailed the invitations instead of distributing them at school.  We gave Son strict instructions not to discuss his party at school.  But, word got out and tender hearts have been bruised.

Following the phone call from my friend, I talked with Son about how his friend’s feelings are hurt.  His heart-in-the-right-place solution was to have a second party to invite the friends he had to eliminate from the list.  Again, I found myself imposing sanity limits.  I explained that we can’t always avoid hurting friends’ feelings when it comes to invite lists but that we can be sensitive and make sure to communicate that we like them and are their friend but simply had to make tough choices due to number limits.  Son listened attentively and then said he would tell her that he liked her but his mom made him pick the people he liked best.  At that point I realized that this might not be a reasonable social minefield to expect a kindergartener to navigate.  Feelings would only be hurt more by poor word choice, his total lack of diplomacy, and his cut-to-the-chase attempt to communicate the harsh realities involved in reducing a guest list.

So, I changed course and reiterated my gag order.  I told him that in addition to avoiding talking about his birthday at school, if he heard others talking about it he should remind them that talking about his party might hurt the feelings of friends who weren’t invited.

We also talked about how hard it was for him to select just a few of his friends to attend his party.  I pointed out that he might be disappointed to discover that he is not invited to someone’s party but that he should remember that it doesn’t mean they aren’t friends.

I’m not sure I could have done anything to avoid this situation.  I think this may just be an inevitable part of navigating elementary school.   This isn’t the last time this will happen.  Son is on the offending side this time, but he will be on the offended side his share as well.  Both my friend and I know that this is part of growing up – there will be parties our kids aren’t invited to and they will feel disappointed and sad about being excluded.

It happens.  And, it sucks.


9 thoughts on “I’m not sure I’m doing this right

  1. I REALLY love this post. Thanks so much for sharing this story. It worries me that many parents believe they can or should protect their children from making tough choices or from experiencing disappointment. As I was reading, I was chanting in my head “Please don’t tell me you invited the girl, please don’t tell me invited the girl…” Nice job!

  2. It even happens sometimes as an adult. I guess he might as well learn early on. It’s hard to avoid, unless perhaps you had the party at a park or Chuck E. Cheese and made the parents come too to keep an eye on things. Hmm. Maybe I’ll keep that in mind….

  3. I’m such a weenie, I probably would have folded and invited the girl. I really need to grow a backbone when it comes to things like this. Good for you standing firm and teaching your boy wisely. I hope I remember this in a few years 🙂

  4. I would have folded. I have been in a couple of situations where a bunch of people had to be excluded and in the end the limits were dropped. It WAS more work, but I am glad that it worked out for everyone. There is always next year and perhaps a different venue and other parents to shanghai. Phillip

  5. I’m sure you ARE doing it right. I totally agree with Dr. Sayers about NOT protecting our children from everything. (I think of the helicopter mothers of former students, and dare I say, a sister of mine??!! who I do not want to become.) Often easy to say, and hard to do! It also makes me think of a scene from a TV sitcom (Yes, I confess I LOVE Modern Family) where the oldest daughter can’t complete her college application essay because the topic is overcoming a challenging obstacle and in her 18 years she can think of none. Better to learn some of life’s lessons while a child when a built in support is there. That would be YOU! (and your other half!) Thx for sharing.

  6. Tough one for sure and it sounds like you have done a great job talking it through and explaining. Really tough age for understanding now but you’ve planted the seeds!

  7. Hi Kristina, nice post. In my experience I haven’t had to cull party lists because I find that happens naturally. Only a certain percentage of invitees will come to any party, for kids or adults. And most of the time the ones who make it are the ones you want to see the most. I just invite everyone and lets the chips fall where they may. As to shielding kids from disappointment…Is that even possible???? Anyone who’s every tried to mediate a dispute between two young children knows that disappointment can be found anywhere and in fact will be found regardless of intervention and best intentions. Sometimes we all gotta cry.

  8. This post hits close to home. Both of my dudes have birthdays this month, and it is the all about friends parties. I, too, mailed invites, but I did get an email from a friend about why her son wasn’t invited. As I was glad she approached it with me, I was also put in a bad position. I told her the truth – it was a sleepover and I had only allowed a very small group to come. I could tell she was not satisfied, but I didn’t know what else to say… I really like how you explained it – we had a talk about not broadcasting the party, but it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.

  9. Honestly, I’ve found that it’s far less stressful to just invite all the kids my daughter wants to come to her party, than to wrestle with whittling down a list and avoiding hurt feelings. We also tell our daughter to keep tight lipped about the party at school, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on her. What if other kids are the ones talking about it? What does she do about that? And then the idea of there being a secret social event that other kids in her class or in her set of friends on the playground aren’t invited to doesn’t sit well with me, either.

    Most years we just have it at our house and invite all of her neighborhood friends, church friends, and school friends. We usually end up inviting the whole class b/c it makes it easier to pass out the invites that way. Usually we don’t have more than 15.

    At our house, we use the larger party as a lesson for my daughter in hospitality and inclusion. She’s 9 and we ‘ve been doing friend parties for 6 years now. She has learned that, as a good hostess, she needs to spend at least a few minutes with each child there. When she’s opening presents, she remains enthusiastic and appreciative of each gift all the way through. And when it’s time to leave, she meets each child at the door, gives them a hug, and thanks them for coming to her party. I’d rather her learn these skills than how to keep a party secret.

    Birthday parties are also a good chance for her to expand her social group, and for me to meet parents of kids in her class. She goes to a magnet that pulls from all over the city. It’s a highly diverse school, filled with people we wouldn’t normally bump shoulders with in our neighborhood or at our church. I’ve had a number of meaningful friendships with other parents in very different walks of life begin at one of my daughter’s birthday parties.

    There are some things we have to do differently for a large party. For cake and ice cream, we move the dining table out of the way, and they just sit on the floor. They’re generally happy with that. (One year I taped a bunch of large kitty paw prints on the floor to mark places for kids to sit.) We remove or hide any toys that have millions of tiny parts. We do cupcakes instead of cake because that’s faster to serve, and no one fights about who gets a corner piece. My budget for favors is usually $1 to $1.50 each, which is easily done at the dollar bins at Michael’s. We don’t mess with games or structured activities; the kids are more than happy to just run around in the backyard or play with the toys that we do leave out.

    I will say that if you have it some place like a skating rink or an inflatable play place, you’ll have to be more careful with the invite list, as you’re paying for each kid that shows up. And I’d also have to say that this is just for a cake and ice cream kind of party. We just did a slumber party for 12 girls and that was close to madness.

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