Thursday, April 16, 2009

Birthday party etiquette: Invite the entire class, or not?

For the past few years, my youngest kids have been young enough that birthday parties weren't a problem. We'd invite the neighbors, family members, and a few close family friends, the kids would play together and eat cupcakes, the adults would chat, and it was a low-key, easy-to-throw affair.

Now, my youngest daughter is 4. She's been in preschool for a while, and has started attending birthday parties and going on playdates. And I've got a dilemma to deal with: Do I invite her entire class to her birthday party this year, or not?

After attending several gymnastic parties and a few others with princess themes, though, I'm not sure that a simple family gathering will do. And I'm not sure that I want it to.

When I was a kid, in the (gulp) '70s, my parents used to insist that I invite my entire class to my summertime birthday parties -- plus my classmates' parents and siblings. We had a pool and a huge yard and kids would swarm around like cake-fueled bees while the parents would sip beer and eat grilled chicken and much fun would be had by all.

Or so I assume. I never heard my parents complain. But I'll level with you: The idea of inviting all of my kids' classmates and their families to my house is enough to give me the vapors.

On the other hand: The idea of my 4-year-old knowing about a classmate's party but not being invited to it breaks my heart, and I don't want to make another child feel that way. In fact, that's how most parents seem to view the issue. "I know life's not fair," Momlogic's Julie wrote recently. ""But I don't know why my son has to learn that lesson in second grade. Isn't that a little young to adopt a 'life sucks, then you die' philosophy?"

Have birthday parties just become too PC? At Cafemom, one member points out: "Everybody has become so worried about hurting other's feelings in this regard that I've seen parents nearly go broke because they not only felt compelled to invite every kid in the class but they take it a step further and invite all the kids in the same grade!... If your child does not hang out with people at school, why would you want to invite them?"

I threw the question out to my readers at's Child Caring blog, and was surprised to find it touched a nerve with many of them:

  • "I think we're all taking this birthday party question a little too seriously," one commenter wrote. "Why are we so darn afraid of letting our children experience the world? Isn't our job to help them become independent, successful adults? How can we do that when we shelter them from every hurt feeling?"
  • "Children will get over it if they are not invited to every single classmate's party. They are much more resilient then we give them credit for," posted another.
  • "I heard a great Birthday Party rule of thumb from a friend: Invite the same number of children that your child is years old," suggested another reader.
  • "Depends on how big the class is. If it is 15 or 20 kids that she sees everyday, then yes, I would invite them all. (It is not like inviting a whole class of 300 to a graduation party.) Alternatively, you can invite just the girls (or boys if you have a boy). Maybe just have the party at a playground and make it informal with cake and ice-cream. It doesn't have to cost alot if that is even a concern of yours," one commenter pointed out.
  • "I would invite the whole class, but at a minimum you should invite all the kids whose birthdays / after school adventures your "butterfly" was invited to," was another suggestion.


*Pink Preppy Party Girl* said...

Hi, I found your nice blog. I want to write a post about this too. I have struggled for many years about how to have a polite birthday party. My kind daughter was excluded from a party in a suite at a professional hockey game which includes a party bus. She is actually fine with not being invited--which is really what you want for them. I do think there is a kind way of having a party and am going to give this some thought.

Linda Flynn said...

I've always thought it was silly and unnecessary to invite the whole class, as long as it was handled respectfully and discreetly. Last week, however, one of my 4th grade daughter's classmates had a sleep-over/waterpark party and her parents decided to load up 12 girls (out of 24 in the grade) in the parking lot at pick-up. It was stunningly brutal for the girls not invited to have to watch this party begin right in their faces. Although my daughter is fine not being invited to every party, she was aghast at having to witness this and hid on the floor, sobbing in embarrassment. I still think there are legitimate reasons not to invite everyone, but let's at least be kind about it.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 6 years old her birthday is one day before her class mate We booked my daughters party and invited all the girls in her class 11 plus 2 boys We hand delivered the invites to the children's houses The very next day her class mate paraded around the playground giving out invitations for her party The child in question tells my daughter she hasn't invited her as she doesn't like her Still waiting to see if our invite is accepted.
I don't have a problem if she doesn't want to invite my daughter but I felt the comment was very mean and hurtful

Anonymous said...

When my chid was 4 and in preschool, I also assumed we should invite the entire class or all of the girls in order to avoid hurt feelings. When I told my daughter about her choices she burst into tears ad started saying, "please don't invite ******* to my party. She is not nice to me." She had not told me that a little girl and 3 of her friends had told her they would never be her friends because they did not like her. Coming from a wonderful daycare and having an extremely friendly child, it had never occurred to me that at age 4 everyone would not be getting along and playing together. So that was my lesson in not inviting the whole class. The teacher was kind enough to hand invites to the parents when they arrived at pick up. We were very discreet. Sometimes in the pursuit of not hurting other children's feelings we expect our children to process things like an adult.

Anonymous said...

I get the birthday invite thing and OK with it. But a back to school party in a class of nine and you don't invite my twin sons? Seems a bit messed up.