March 26, 2012

Party on, dude

Every now and then, I read an article or a comment on someone’s blog that goes something like this:

What’s up with this new crap about inviting the whole class to the damned birthday party?  Birthday parties are getting too big and too expensive.  Why should I invite everyone? There are 22 kids in the class.  I told my daughter we were only inviting the kids she’s actually friends with.  She doesn’t even know half these kids, for chrissakes.

Now, I sympathize.  My son has a very hard time with large birthday parties and indeed cannot handle a large one for his own birthday. Sometimes, he opts out of having a party, but we sort of hit the jackpot because his birthday falls on or about Labor Day, which means that we could invite 497 kids to the party and all but 8 would be out of town.

No one wants all those kids storming about the house.  Not everyone has room for all those kids.  Not every child can handle a large party.  I get all this.

Nonetheless, every time I read one of those rants, all I can think is: you must have a child who would be invited to the parties even if the whole class weren’t invited.

Not every kid has a close group of friends, and believe me, the loners know who they are.  Some kids move a lot (thank you, btw, to those who invited my kids to their birthday parties the week after we moved here).  Some kids have two working parents or a single parent and can’t host a lot of playdates, so they don’t build up those networks.  Some kids have abusive parents and come into school too tired, hungry, or dirty to have the energy to make friends.  Some kids just lack social skills.

When you don’t invite them to the birthday party, you heap insult upon injury.

So, when we do birthday parties, we include everyone.  This works out nicely for Benjamin, who’d be delighted to have most of the zip code at his party.  To keep down costs, we have been known to do a co-party with another child.  We’ve done recycling parties, where the main activity is playing with trash.  Last year, Zach’s party consisted of watching a movie in our basement, eating pizza, and breaking a piñata.  All told, only slightly more expensive than a family dinner, and it had the added advantage of the kids sitting still 95% of the time.

While we’re on the subject, what’s up with the “girls” or “boys” birthday parties?  Not for nothing, but it seriously screws over the boys who are only friends with girls.  I promise, if your daughter is having an American Girl birthday party, my sons will want to be there, doll in hand.

I’d like to give one of my clever little endings to this post, but I’m just too annoyed by this subject to think of one.

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  • Reply Karen March 26, 2012 at 12:53 am


  • Reply Heather March 26, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    I’ve gotta disagree. I’ve never done the invite all the kids sort of thing. I tried to stick to the “invite as many kids as you are turning” rule. I also encourage my kids not to attend the party of kids who are in their class but with whom they are not friends. I hadn’t really thought about the few kids who may not have 3 or 5 friends to invite. I would assume that child doesn’t really want a bunch of classmates coming to his party and then doing their thing at the party and going home with just a few “Happy Birthday” and “Thanks for inviting me to your party” conversations. Yuck. Wouldn’t that just make the birthday kid feel even worse? In elementary school I don’t think the kids are even aware of who is having a party and who isn’t.

    On the other side though- my children love to “boo” neighbors. Which is basically a ding-dong-ditch but you leave a pack of stickers, candies, crap, whatever at the door. It is traditionally done at halloween but just about any occasion can turn into a need to boo someone. First snowfall, it is thursday, whatever. My children are required to boo the odd neighborhood houses where the children are not part of the group. At first it was a fight but now my kids see it as a chance to maybe get those kids involved or at least give the kid a bag of junk.

    Perhaps I’ll just be happy for a day that some how my children ended up with social skills (and friendships) their parents are lacking.

    • Reply emily March 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      It’s not so much the kids with few friends needing people to invite; it’s the kids who are outsiders and never invited to other kids’ parties. Trust me, they know.

      • Reply Heather March 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm

        Parents don’t know who those outsiders are. I’m fortunate to be in my kids’ schools. A lot. Lunch duty, recess, photocopying, in the classroom for projects, working with food services, etc. It is sometimes very easy to spot. For me I can usually pick out the boys the first week of school. The kid who eats alone with his coat still on. With girls, I can’t find them. Maybe because I was that girl and kept my nose in a book to appear busy? Maybe because the girls always seem to have at least one good buddy? Maybe because I still can’t fathom that my girls are social enough to pick who to do the science fair with and don’t just do it alone and I can’t figure our their circle of friends? I still have two young enough that I have a lot of say in birthday invitations however, so food for thought here.

  • Reply bea March 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    This is one of those conversations that must, I think, take local customs into account. Until this weekend, I was honestly unaware that there was even such thing as a custom of inviting the whole class to a birthday party. No one I know does this, and neither of my kids has ever been invited to a birthday party that was attended by the whole class. The norm would be about 6-8 kids. The meaning of a party that size is entirely different, however, in a community where inviting the whole class is an established norm.

    I must confess that I’m glad I live in a community where these more modestly-sized parties are the norm, however. I can’t imagine ferrying my children to 19 birthday parties a year, and I am even less willing to imagine hosting a party for 20 children. And I say that as the mother of a boy on the autism spectrum who spent his first three years of school without receiving a single birthday invitation. (He’s received two invites this year, at least one of which was initiated by a peer rather than a parent, so that’s real progress!) I don’t think full-class parties are the solution (especially in a school where there are three classes in each grade, so in reality, many children will have friends in other classes – do you invite all 60 second-graders?). It would be nice, though, I’ll admit, if people recognized an obligation to reciprocate the invitations they’ve received.

  • Reply Deena@StayAtHomeFOODIE March 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    I have mixed feelings about this.
    Alexa has been in 4 schools in 4 years. Thankfully, she’s outgoing and makes friends easily, so she’s been invited to a number of parties.
    I used to make her invite the whole class, but this year I changed my mind… she’s the victim of the class bully. Why should she be forced to invite the bully to her party? Shouldn’t she be allowed to feel safe at her own birthday party?
    We decided that she can choose who she invites this year. It came to about 9 people in her classroom (out of 20) including one boy, 6 girls from other classrooms, 3 people from a preschool a few years back, 2 people from her soccer team… you get the picture.
    I understand about looking after the outsiders, but sometimes you’re kid’s emotional well being has to come first.

  • Reply melaniek March 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    At our school kids have to at a miminum invite everyone of the same sex to their party, or they cannot hand out invitations at school…but I never have a friends party for my kids (who are just about to celebrate their 7th and 4th birthdays)…. and I kinda wish birthdays went back to being more of a family affair especially when they are young, my kids do not need more toys and stuff and as someone who hates to see goodie-bags handed out at parties (i cannot be the only one who dreads dragging home more plastic coins, rings, bracelets, tops, erasers, jars of slime etc)…. so I just find it easier not to have them.

  • Reply niobe March 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I’m not into birthday parties, so we really don’t invite anyone, at least for the younger kids. I suppose I might have to have parties when they’re older, but I’m going to avoid it for as long as I can.

    When my oldest was school-aged, he invited only his friends — not everyone in the class. But, on the flip side, if he chose not to invite certain kids, he certainly didn’t expect to be invited to their parties. Which was fine with him.

  • Reply Rayne of Terror March 26, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I’m a twin and growing up in the 80s, not only did we invite the whole class to our (infrequent) friend birthday parties, we invited the entire grade level. To me inviting the whole class seems like the regular thing to do. We have invited the entire class for both the 6th and 7th birthday parties. About 50% of the children show up. This year we did a Tae Kwondo party, last year we did a gymnastics party. I had one parent thank me heartily this year because her daughter doesn’t get invited to parties. So that felt good, BUT…

    We live in a very small town where many of my son’s classmates are first or second cousins. Neither of us are from here, but we have lived here the entirety of Henry’s life. I have asked teachers about how Henry gets along and have been told he is very popular. And yet in the pre-k, k, and 1st grade years he has been invited to 3 birthday parties. I don’t know. Is this my fault? Do I need to do more social directing? Is this town that insular? If you have 10 same age cousins, why invite anyone else? ANYWAY, Henry knows parties are going on without him because 1st graders don’t have the boundaries to know if you are throwing a party and not inviting someone, then don’t talk about it to non-invitees.

    I will continue inviting the whole class and hopefully at some point my kid will be invited to parties in return.

  • Reply Anjali March 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    When my kids are young, birthday parties are a family/close friends of parents affair. We invite 4-8 families– our relatives and our best friends– and our kids are friends with their kids. The parents stay and have cocktails, the kids play and eat cupcakes. Usually, my kids will invite 1-2 kids from their class, too. But that’s it. It’s usually their best friends. (And sometimes they don’t have best friends in their class so no one from the class is invited.)

    Also, when I send out evites, I tell the parents not to tell their child about the invitation until the day of the party so they don’t talk about it at school. This works really, really well. No one knows they’re coming to a party, so they can’t talk about it on the playground.

    When they get older (8-9 years) we do slumber parties with 2-3 kids. I just can’t do a whole class slumber party at my house.

  • Reply Heide March 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Well. I’m a big fan of small birthday parties, for my own sake. But with this post, you made me think. Then again, I was often left out as a kid, and I’m not sure if it would have made a difference to get invited to more birthday parties.

  • Reply Katherine May 22, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I’m reading this because my dd is having a party and I feel so guilty about not inviting some friends. My dd has some friends who are two-three years younger than her and I told her she could only invite her older/her age friends to her sleep-over party this year. I just can’t handle having kids younger than 9 sleeping over at my house. We have 3 kids and from experience, it’s just a pain to have little kids sleeping over. They want their mom, or they don’t mind, or they make a huge mess. Seems like once they start getting into 4th grade they are really ready to behave and stay over with no problems. But that’s just my experience. Anyway, I feel bad because our neighbor had our daughter over for her kids party, but we’re not reciprocating just to be polite. It’s my daughter’s party and if she wants a sleep over, it has to be kids her age. I LOVE having family only parties. Takes care of the whole thing. Only family, no one gets their feelings hurt. P.S. Growing up, hardly anyone had big ole parties at venues and the few kids who did have a party, it was at their house. There was cake, ice-cream, presents and games. No over-the-top goodie bags and entertainment and moonwalks etc., etc. Why can’t things be simpler now?

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