Do You Invite The Whole Class To Your Kids’ Birthday Parties?

Do You Invite The Whole Class To Your Kids’ Birthday Parties?

Children’s birthday parties aren’t always easy to plan, especially the guest list. Do you invite the whole class or not? Rudri Patel thinks that you should, because promoting a philosophy of inclusion is the most important thing for young kids. Stacey Gill believes every family should be able to throw the party it wants, even if that means handpicking only a few friends from school.

 

I Invite the Whole Class to My Kid’s Birthday Party

By Rudri Patel

manycupcakesMy car slides easily into the designated school lane. I watch a set of girls and boys interact, laughing, swinging their arms, the boundary between innocence and knowledge still a blur. Third in the carpool line, I turn around and glance at the back seat as my ten-year-old daughter climbs in, maneuvering her backpack as she lands in her favorite spot.

My daughter’s words start to spill. “Momma, I didn’t get invited.”

The air is contaminated by her sadness.

“Invited to what, honey?” My voice is calm, though I cringe at the thought of her being excluded from anything.

“Jenny invited all the girls in the class to her birthday party except for Heather and me. I’m so sad. I thought I was her friend too.” She crinkles her nose, a sign—one I know well—­­­­­that tears will soon overpower her.

“It’s fine, sweetie,” I say. “I understand you are upset, but don’t let it get you down. It’s only a party.” I hope to distract her by turning on the radio, as Taylor Swift’s anthem of positivity, Shake it Off, blares from the speakers.

But she is immune to Taylor’s battle cry, and I feel powerless as tears run down my little girl’s face.  

*   *   *

As an introvert, I often breathe a sigh of relief when I am not invited to a large social gathering. I prefer connecting with a few friends who get me, rather than bulldozing through a crowd of people who may not remember my name.

However, what works for me does not always gel for my daughter and that’s the reason I don’t extend my preferences to her social life. Since the age of four, I’ve invited all of her classmates to her birthday parties, instead of handpicking just a few, because I am sensitive to the need for young girls and boys to feel included. To keep parties from being cost-prohibitive, I may choose to have them at home or I may select a venue where fun doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. I also might budget in other areas—having a less costly cake, for example, foregoing on goodie bags or incorporating simpler decorations. Teaching my daughter the philosophy of inclusion matters more to me than accessorizing a party.

Parties where everybody is invited allow girls and boys to play, talk and learn from one another. This act of inclusion might get a more introverted girl to stop hiding behind her mother and take a shot at the birthday piñata or it may give the boy who moved to a new school mid-year a chance to get to know his classmates. Inviting everyone to the party offers girls and boys the possibility of making new connections, of meeting a special friend they wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Our children spend the bulk of their time at school, interacting with their classmates for at least eight hours a day. When one of them chooses to exclude a few children from a birthday celebration, the message being conveyed is “you are not good enough to come to my party.” This does nothing to further an atmosphere of kindness in the class and only creates unnecessary negative feelings among students who will most likely be exposed to each other for years through the same school system.

When only a few kids are singled out from a birthday party, it is also likely the chatter about the upcoming event will infiltrate the classroom. This kind of exclusion may cause a climate of bullying, one that has the potential to intensify as children grow older. I want my daughter to understand there is room for all of us in her schoolmate’s lives, at least for now. Of course I know it won’t stay this way forever. As children mature, they will naturally gravitate toward certain friends. But at this young age, they are still forming their personalities, opinions, likes and dislikes—so why not include all the kids so they can have the freedom to get to know one another better outside the school?

I understand the view that at some point all of us are excluded from something and that this is a lesson children will eventually learn. But why does it have to happen when they are so young? Why not preserve some of their innocence and build our children’s self-esteem? A stronger foundation in their youth might teach them to be more inclusive in day-to-day interactions in the future, whether this means refraining from gossip, protecting another classmate from bullying or saying a kind word to a friend.

*   *   *

As soon as we get home, I hug my still distraught daughter and wipe away her tears. As I embrace her, I envision her own upcoming birthday party in my mind.

The invitation will go out to all of her classmates.

One of the best gifts a kid can get, whether it’s her birthday or not, is feeling wanted by her peers. This is why there is much value in learning how to make room at the party for everyone.

Rudri Bhatt Patel is an attorney turned writer. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Brain, Child, Role Reboot, The Review Review and elsewhere. She writes her personal musings on her blog, Being Rudri. She is working on a memoir which explores Hindu culture, grief and appreciating life’s ordinary graces. Connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

I Do Not Invite the Whole Class to My Kid’s Birthday Party

By Stacey Gill

fewcupcakesWhen my kids were in elementary school I had a conversation with a friend who was planning her daughter’s birthday party. She wanted a simple party at home but lamented that she couldn’t fit all the kids in class in her house. She’d have to come up with something else. When I asked her why she was inviting the entire class to the party she said, “Well, you have to invite everybody.”

I looked at her pointedly and said, “No, you don’t.”

An entire class of first graders is a lot of amped-up six-year-olds to corral, keep track of and contend with, to say nothing of the cost. I understood the impulse to be inclusive and while inviting everyone is perhaps “nice,” throwing an enormous, extravagant party, especially for a six-year-old, was something I had no intention of doing.

This birthday party conundrum continues to be the source of much parental angst, but I’ve never particularly felt conflicted by it. To me the answer is pretty clear. Your party, your terms. No one has the right to dictate whom you can or can’t invite to your own kid’s birthday party.

Although recently some have tried. Schools are now stepping into the fray in an attempt to placate parents and avoid hurt feelings on the part of the students. Some are issuing policies that require everyone in the class to be invited to a student’s birthday party. I find this intrusion into family life not only rather unbelievable but completely out of line.

Of course I understand the desire to protect children from getting hurt, but a child’s birthday celebration is a personal, family matter, one no school (or any other entity) has any business insinuating itself into. The school is certainly well within its rights to set rules about distributing invitations on school grounds during school hours, but to tell parents how to run their personal affairs is overstepping its authority.

That’s not to say these matters shouldn’t be handled delicately or responsibly with consideration for others. But including everybody isn’t the priority above all else. The fact of the matter is children should be free to invite whomever they’d like to attend their celebration and not everyone is a friend. Not everyone is a pleasant child (or person). And, not everyone gets invited to everything. Pretending otherwise doesn’t protect or in any way serve our kids.

Back in preschool, my children’s school policy was that every classmate was referred to as a friend. At that young age the policy was understandable. It enforced the notion that everyone should be kind and treat others as you would a friend, even if not all children abided. But as my kids grew I didn’t feel the need to maintain the charade. I knew better and so did they. Kids are pretty perceptive creatures. They may not articulate it, but they are keenly aware of the social situations around them. The insistence that everyone is a friend despite actions demonstrating otherwise doesn’t fool them, and I’d rather speak honestly with my kids and help them work through any difficulties with classmates than gloss over problems or pretend they don’t exist. I’ve always taught my children they don’t need to be friends with everybody—not everyone has the same interests or shares the same views—but they do need to be polite and try to get along with the people in their class. That’s just solid life advice.

So when it came time to throw parties for my own kids in grade school, we planned the parties that made sense to us. Typically, they were small affairs. Both my children have winter birthdays so I’ve never had the luxury of throwing a backyard party or one at the town pool, where space and cost wasn’t much of an issue. We planned what I thought were appropriate, manageable and affordable parties, and my children invited the kids they were truly friends with, some kids from the block, some from school and some relatives. I made it clear that they were not to discuss the party at school. We never distributed invitations there: I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

It’s possible word might have gotten out about the party at school, but I did everything in my power to minimize that risk. My goal was to be realistic and practical and do what was best for my family, which I believe is every parent’s aim. If some of the children’s feelings were hurt in the process, that’s unfortunate, but it’s also a part of life. I don’t believe in shielding kids indefinitely from reality. Disappointments and frustrations are a part of that reality. We need to help our children learn how to deal with it.

Stacey Gill is an award-winning journalist, the mastermind behind the humor blog, One FunnyMotha, and co-author of I Still Just Want to Pee Alone, the third book in The New York Times best-selling series. Her work has appeared on such sites as The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, BlogHer, Babble, and Scary Mommy. For a good time, find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Do You Invite the Whole Class to Your Kids' Birthday Parties?

 

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The 4 Gender Stages of Co-ed Twin Birthday Parties

The 4 Gender Stages of Co-ed Twin Birthday Parties

By Rachel Pieh Jones

twin parties2

 I love twin birthday parties. Two-for-one.

 

I love celebrating my kids. I don’t love throwing birthday parties. I am not into complicated decorations, cute themes, or goodie bags. I like baking and eating cake. I like playing games and staging competitions. So, I love twin birthday parties. Two-for-one.

I have boy-girl twins. Once in a while I considered throwing two separate parties on consecutive days but that simply seemed too daunting and in the early years my twins shared friends. I prefer the utter chaos of one fantabulous afternoon to the never-ending exhaustion of back-to-back sugar highs. Two cakes but only one day of raucous fun. Two easily definable teams for game time. You know how people tell mothers of twins when we are pregnant with them that this is such a great deal? Well, when it comes to birthday parties, this finally pays off. My twins have had a total of twenty-eight birthdays but only half that number of parties. Score!

I have now quit throwing birthday parties for my twins. They can have sleepovers or can hang out with friends and we’ll have a family celebration on our own but no more big parties, they’re too old. However, in the earlier years even as we lumped all the kids together no matter their gender, I had a thing or two to learn about parties, kids, and especially twin kids and twin parties. One of the main discoveries was the four gender stages of coed twin birthday parties.

Stage 1: Gender Neutral, ages 0-7

These are the easiest years. Kids just didn’t care who is a boy and who is a girl. My kids shared all their friends and wanted to invite essentially the same kids. My son invited girls and my daughter invited boys. No difference. At the party, the whole group hangs out together. They play the same games, ooh and aah over the same gifts, take home the same prizes, cry about the same birthday sugar-induced concerns.

Stage 2: Gender Wars ages 8-9

Around age 8 my twins became hyper alert to who was a boy and who was a girl. Though they had always known, ever since that fateful bath when they both (as toddlers) discovered my son had something my daughter lacked, they hadn’t cared. Now? They cared big time. Boys have cooties, girls have cooties. Now, they play the same games but the teams are girls against the boys and the winning team is proof of that gender’s superiority. This is a great age for water balloon battles at the birthday party. There are separate invitations, separate goodie bags, separate cakes. Each gender is still interested in the gifts for both the boy and the girl, primarily so they can scoff at the others’ foolish gifts.

Stage 3: Gender Ignoring ages 10-12

By this age the cooties are gone. Calling out about cooties implies paying attention to the opposite gender and that is no longer cool. Now, there is such a thing as cool and cool includes the mandate to simply pretend ‘the other’ doesn’t exist. At this stage, the girls play games inside while the boys play games outside, and then they trade places. They no longer sing Happy Birthday to both twins and they no longer care about the gifts the other receives.

Stage 4: Gender Spicy ages 13+

Gone are the years of warring and ignoring. Enter, the years of attraction. A coed birthday party is the perfect place to check out the girls, or the boys. Now there are battles over who to invite or not to invite. “He likes her but she doesn’t like him so he can’t come,” my daughter might say. To which my son might respond, “Not his fault. Don’t invite her.” As the mom who prefers one massive party to two parties, I insist they work it out or don’t have any party. The invitations are negotiated and then the party begins and the eyes slide across the room, the flirting begins and mom decides no more co-ed birthday parties.

Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at:Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.

Learning Autism

Learning Autism

By Jennifer Smyth

Holly and Nick art 3The minivans and SUVs all arrived at once.  I held the screen door open as the girls bounced into the house. My daughter Holly had wanted a “Holly-ween” themed party for her 8th birthday and had invited the 12 other girls in her class. Since it was October, and school had just started a month before, there were a few new faces at our door.

One of those faces was framed by long brown hair that had wayward strands tucked behind one ear. Her name was Emily.  The large smiling skull on her purple shirt stood in contrast to her petite frame as she almost tip-toed through the doorway and into the foyer.  The last one to arrive, she was instantly enveloped by a throng of excited, screeching girls. Nick, my son, and Holly’s twin brother, was also jumping up and down with excitement, his arms straight and stiff all the way down to his wrists; his hands flapping wildly.

Although Nick went to a different school, most of Holly’s friends knew him from past parties and events. Their interest, curiosity or fear depended on their own personalities, prior experience with “a Nick,” or just the mood du jour. But he was a new experience for Emily. She took a step backwards and stared at Nick, who was a head taller than her and built like a linebacker.

“Emily, this is Holly’s twin brother Nick.” I said, kneeling down, keeping Emily to my left and shifting Nick to my right. And then knowing he was listening to me, despite the fact that his hands were still flapping and he didn’t make eye contact, I spoke to Nick.

“Nick, this is Emily. She’s in Holly’s class this year. Can you say Hi?”

Nick, completely wrapped up in the excitement of the moment, ignored my request and continued to jump and screech with glee.

I herded everyone into the living room, which was adorned with cobwebs and Jack-o-lanterns. Holly and Nick were having separate birthday parties and Holly had been involved in every aspect of the party planning, paying special attention to the décor. “Mom, it can’t be too scary,” she had said. Some of my friends won’t like that.”

Sure enough, we had to remove a dangling skeleton for one friend and a furry spider for another before getting down to the business of tossing bones into cauldrons. Emily was in the corner crying. Tiny little Emily, in a house she had never been to, with grown-ups she had never met and a boy who had very confusing behavior. I crouched down next to her, and saw Holly watching me from across the room.

“What is it sweetie?”

“I want to go home,” she sniffled.  She was looking over my shoulder, nervously scanning the room. When she saw Nick, she visibly tensed and cried.

“Is it because of Nick?” I asked. She nodded.

It would be disastrous if she left the party before it even started. My heart ached for my misunderstood son and for my super sensitive daughter who would internalize her shame and anger.  And perhaps worst of all, Emily would leave not knowing “a Nick.”

“Emily, please stay. We have lots of fun things planned.”

“I want to go home.”

“Emily, will you do me a favor? Will you be my special helper? You can stay right by my side. Will you try? If you still really want to go, I promise we can call your mom.” She nodded. I needed to show her Nick, not tell her about Nick. The scary skeletons and spiders could be removed, but Nick was permanent.

Although my husband Brendan and I were both home, we had enlisted the help of our niece, Amanda for the party. She had been our go-to babysitter for the last four years.  The girls would be vying for her attention. In addition to being “young,” Amanda had beauty and charisma that rivaled the Disney stars the girls worshiped, and more importantly, she was a Nick expert.

Amanda was kneeling down helping one of the girls tie her shoelace when Nick came running up from behind, crashing into her with a big laugh. I pretended not to notice as I asked Emily to help me get the toilet paper ready for The Mummy Wrap. Just keep her close. Let her take it in.

Nick was playfully flicking Amanda’s hair and anticipating her response. She finished with the shoelaces and then reached around and grabbed Nick into a half hug, half tackle while her fingers disappeared under his chin and he laughed his infectious hearty laugh.

In groups of three, the girls raced to be the first team to use all their toilet paper to completely mummify one member. While Emily was safe inside the winding spirals of two friends’ rolls, I waved Brendan over. “Emily is afraid. Can you keep Nick happy, but on the outskirts as much as possible?” I whispered. “I don’t want her to leave, it will be so upsetting to Holly.”

The only problem I could foresee was if Nick wanted me and only me, which happened sometimes. In that case, he would zero in on me like a drone set on its strike zone. He would relentlessly pull at my arm and make loud vocal demands, until I either gave in, or Brendan removed him kicking and screaming. But for the moment Nick was happily ensconced in the chaos of the party.

Once all the mummy wraps had been cleaned up, Emily and I led the giddy girls into the kitchen where those who dared stuck their hands into dark holes to feel zombie brains, witches’ hair and frogs’ eyes. The girls squealed with disgusted delight. Nick came bounding in, grinning ear-to-ear and shrieking before running back out. Emily barely flinched. She had her hand inside a hole, no doubt wondering about the authenticity of what was dripping through her fingers as she squished it.

The girls gobbled up the bread stick “fingers” dipped in pizza sauce before the graveyard cupcakes. As they ate, Amanda summoned them to the living room for Halloween Bingo. I was back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen, clearing plates and getting drinks, until all the appetites were satisfied and all the chairs were empty, including Emily’s. Yay Emily! I exhaled. She had scooted off with the other girls, no longer needing me at her side.

Nick ping-ponged in and out of the rooms, with various levels of excitement; exhibiting the same behaviors that were novel before and which were now “just Nick.” When the front door creaked open for the first parent collecting her chocolate faced, party weary girl, Nick came running. Danielle, who was a regular at our house said goodbye to all the girls, and then turned to Nick with her hand up, “High five?”  He high fived her as she left. When Emily’s dad came to the door, Nick came running once again. Nick and Emily were standing in the same spot where it had all begun a few hours earlier, but Emily wasn’t retreating. She was cautiously waiting. For what?

“Do you want to give Nick a high five?” I asked. She nodded. Nick smiled as she high fived him, and I whispered in her ear. “Thank you for staying. I’m proud of you”

That night after I tucked Nick in, I went into Holly’s room. She was sitting on her bed with a look that told me there was something on her mind. Her perfectly shaped lips didn’t turn up at the ends to smile and she had that lost-in-thought gaze, as if trying to solve a puzzle in her mind.

And then the invitation, “Mom?”

“Yes Holly?”

“There’s something bothering me. “

I had an idea where this was headed, but I waited.

“Emily was afraid of Nick at the party today.”

“I know sweetie.”

“It hurt my feelings.”

It had hurt mine too, but I didn’t tell her this.

“I understand, but remember, lots of people have never met “a Nick” before,” I said. “And Emily stayed even though she was afraid and by the time she left, she gave Nick a high five. That’s how things change, one person at a time.”

Holly pushed her long brown hair away from her face, and snuggled into her bed. I began to tuck her into her pink teacup-patterned sheets. She had outgrown both the color and theme of the sheets, but she hadn’t outgrown the ritual of being tucked in. First the sheet, then the blanket, and finally her down comforter. She would kick it all off before even falling asleep, but this was our ritual, and I would do it for as long as she would let me.

Jennifer Smyth is a work in progress. She lives in Fairfield, Connecticut with her wonderful husband and two amazing kids.

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The Case Against Party Favors

The Case Against Party Favors

 

0-4I’m a party pooper. There’s no better way to define my general bad attitude about birthday parties, many of which I find too fussy, too commercial, and too expensive. More often than not the child in the center of the celebration is either bored or overwhelmed. Sometimes both. And these observations arise from the parties I’ve hosted for my own children, not only the ones we’ve attended as guests.

Each year I’ve scaled our parties back considerably. I’ve experimented with parties at home, parties with no gifts at all, and parties where I suggested a nonprofit organization to which parents could contribute in lieu of gifts. However, as the “in lieu of gifts” maneuver is gaining popularity, I’m finding the idea increasingly preachy and presumptuous and maybe even self-righteous. So now I’m back to letting the kids get gifts. After all, allowing a child one day to get spoiled is not the worst thing—that is, unless the parent has confused that child’s birthday guest list with her wedding day. In which case, yes, gifts are a problem.

The good news is that the gift issue no longer bothers me now that we’ve stopped—brace yourselves—inviting the entire class to our kids’ parties. We’re down to a handful of friends and it’s so much more manageable and dare I say, enjoyable, for everyone. Nevertheless, there’s one party tradition I can’t seem to squash and it’s the one that bothers me most of all because it makes the least sense. Party favors.

Why in the name of all that’s sensible are we parents perpetuating this worthless tradition of handing out junk at the end of a party? A party that we’ve already graciously hosted no less. When did the party itself not become favor enough?

I can understand the purpose of party favors in certain situations. At a wedding, for example, when many guests have travelled far and incurred expenses to do so, then perhaps a pretty little bag of mints at each place setting adds a touch of gratitude on behalf of the bride and groom.

But if I’ve spent money to take my son and some of his friends to our local indoor trampoline park of terrors where they were happily entertained for an hour and a half then fed pizza and cake, why must those kids also leave with a present? Isn’t it my son’s birthday we’re celebrating? Wasn’t the party something of an experiential “gift” to the guests?

But party favors teach kids to think about others, you might say.

See, I doubt that. I think we’re teaching kids—the guests—to forget about the reason they’re at these parties in the first place, which is to celebrate someone else. It reminds me of the idea that everyone on a team needs to receive a trophy instead of celebrating a few players who made big strides that year. It’s as if we can’t let one person feel good unless everyone feels good.

One of my daughters has a bad habit of discussing the goodie bag she hopes to receive the second she opens an invitation. “How about we think about a creative gift for your friend?” I’ll suggest. Somehow I’ve failed to impart on her that these parties are about celebrating other people and when it’s her birthday, we’ll celebrate her. This is ultimately why I came around on the birthday gift issue. I like the idea of giving each child (not just mine, but everyone’s) an opportunity to celebrate his or her one special day. Why do all the children need to receive a token gift at all the parties? And my issue is not simply that most party favors are plastic bags full of junk. My kids have also returned from parties with some seriously overpriced parting gifts, but that’s more of a “keeping up with the Jones” issue.

Let me illustrate my point with the worst call I’ve ever made vis-a-vis birthday parties. Once upon a time (two years ago), before I saw the light on small parties, I let my daughter and her friend persuade me to host their joint-birthday party at Build-a-Bear. Since we were splitting the party with another family, I did not think it was the worst idea ever. As it turns out, it was the worst idea ever for numerous logistical and economical reasons. But the lowest point occurred when a few of the kids asked for their party favors before they would leave the store with their parents. These kids could not see that the bears were the party favor.

Kids are accustomed to doing an entertaining project of some kind at a party or being treated to a few hours of fun and still leaving with something else. They are used to taking the focus off of the child whose birthday they’re celebrating and thinking about what they’re getting in return.

I don’t like it—any of it. And although I know there are other parents who cannot stand the junk that comes home from these parties, I suppose I’ll have to be the first in my circles who will finally let the party end with “thanks for coming” and a friendly wave goodbye. The revolution has to start somewhere.

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