In a pure and perfect world, anyone who means anything to my soon-to-be-5-year-old daughter would gather around a cake each year and celebrate her life with her. They’d bounce for hours in silly inflatable castles, pin numerous tails on donkeys and take home oodles of plastic party favors. But there’s one modern kids’ birthday party trend that I’m having a tough time getting into: the one where you invite every single one of your child’s classmates — all 25 to 30 of them.
When I was a kid, you were guaranteed an invitation to a party thrown by one of the members of your core group of friends, but getting anything outside of that group was gravy. In those days, one out of every 10 parties was actually thrown at a venue — and by venue, I mean take your pick of either a roller-skating or ice-skating rink. The majority of birthday bashes consisted of us being ushered into the basement, fed pizza, chocolate and fruit punch, thrown a few board games and a movie to watch and left to our own devices. They were glorious.
But a kid’s party these days isn’t a party unless parents are running around town beforehand, finalizing a billion details like they’re the guest services coordinator on a Disney cruise. Until this year, I managed to avoid a bombastic venue party, but caved when my daughter, now in pre-K, requested one and actually has friends whose names she can remember. After peppering her with questions, I managed to get her guest list down to 15 kids, five of whom are in her class — which is perfect considering many venues where I live charge for 12 children and then tack on an additional fee of something like $49.99 for each additional child, as if those kids will be dining on caviar and truffles and carried to an inflatable on a ruby throne.
“Wait, you know you have to invite everyone in her class, right?” one mom friend informs me after we’ve been texting back and forth about party drama.
Um, no? Gulp.
“You have to! You can’t leave anyone out.” She goes on to explain that, while most parents she knows agree its nuts, we are expected to either invite everyone in the class or no one at all — there’s no middle ground these days, and teachers frown upon cherry-picking certain friends.
But the invites are already made out, I argue, the down payment paid, the final amount factored into that month’s budget. Furthermore, after interrogating my daughter for the names of certain children in her class photograph, she continuously draws blanks — she couldn’t pick out half these kids in a lineup. If her teachers felt strongly about us inviting an additional 18 kids — which, after doing the math, would mean we’d have 33 kids at her party, not including parents or guardians — they’d have to rent out a party bus and throw their own separate shindig for her.
At this point, I feel it’s important to say that, most of the time, I’m not a wretched shrew. I don’t actively want anyone’s kid to feel bad about not being invited to a party, so we invited everyone from my daughter’s dance class, which is a whole lot smaller than her school class, and picked just a few girls with whom she’s close to in her school. But I am stupidly cheap. I can’t bring myself to spend $800 on a preschooler’s birthday party, especially when she won’t know more than half of her guests in two years’ time.
And there’s something else that irks me about the whole invite-everyone mentality. Somewhere down the line, maybe not in pre-K or kindergarten or first grade, but at some point, my daughter is going to find out she wasn’t invited to a certain event. She might feel disappointed and yearn for a chance to hang out in a cool venue — but she should learn the difference between wanting to be somewhere and wanting to be somewhere because she truly loves the company of the people in attendance. And if they really loved each other’s company that much and the child’s parents were either able or willing to pay for another guest, she would have been invited in the first place.
Of course I’ll feel bad for her when she’s left out, but as long as she isn’t the only person singled out for some Mean Girl reason, I feel like it’s a good life lesson for kids to learn: You aren’t always going to get an invitation to everything, and that’s okay. Your genuine friends will be there to celebrate your milestones, but feeling FOMO because you won’t be partying with that girl with the brown hair who sits in the third row in your algebra class?
I’d rather teach my kids to focus on and nurture the friendships they have than long for the party invitations they haven’t received.
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