Birthday party politics


Little E started full-time school last week, and Little O went off to playgroup. Both came home on their second days with invitations to birthday parties. They were so excited – until Cardiff Mummy ruined their delight by explaining that sadly they wouldn’t be able to attend as both parties clashed with Little O’s own third birthday celebrations.

I was sneakily glad we had an excuse. Don’t get me wrong, I love children’s birthday parties – I really do. I have a spreadsheet for Little O’s forthcoming party, a Pinterest board filled with ideas, and will once more be running all the party games myself for the 30 or so children he has chosen to invite. My enthusiasm is probably a good thing, seeing as most weekends we have at least one birthday party to attend. We often have two in a day, most of them in community halls or softplays. Up until now, almost all of the parties have been for children we know and it’s a great chance for us mums to have a natter and munch on cake and biscuits while our little ones run around. Most of the children are ones I care about and I love being there to see them celebrate their big day.

However, all that is changing now my eldest two are making more and more friends for themselves, rather than just hanging out with buddies their parents have chosen for them. I had no idea who the invites had come from. When I asked them to point out the child, neither of them could. It was their second day at their respective schools, so it’s not surprising. It’s very kind of the parents organising the parties to invite us, but if my children don’t know who their child is, then their child won’t know who mine are either. Why would you want to invite a bunch of children you have never met to your birthday party? It just doesn’t make any sense to me!

Some of my mummy friends are in agreement. “I hate having to go to birthday parties where they invite the whole class,” one mum-friend told me. “We often make our excuses if I know it’s someone my children are not that friendly with. Our weekends are precious family time.”

Others think I am being harsh. “It’s difficult for children who have birthdays at the start of term,” said one friend. “They may not know anyone if they are going into a new class so it’s a good opportunity to socialise with the other children and to meet their parents away from the rush of the school gates. They’ll probably end up going to 25 or so of their classmates’ birthday parties, so it’s not fair for them to miss out.”

I recounted these words to another mum friend in a blind panic. It hadn’t even occurred to me to invite Little O’s playgroup buddies that he had not yet met to his party this weekend as he has a hall-full of kids coming along as it is. If I had to invite my children’s class, along with their out-of-school friends, we could end up with over 60 children, plus parents. I know their friendships will change over the years and the people they want to invite will change too, and that’s fine, but for the moment I am uncomfortable with inviting people they don’t know. My friend was quick to reassure me I was doing the right thing. “I have been to a few parties where there have been 50 or more children invited and it is a nightmare,” she says. “Too many kids hyped up on sweets running round everywhere.”

Another mum-friend says she often finds herself begrudgingly going along to parties for children she has never heard mentioned before. “If all the other children in their class are talking about the party before and after, it’s not nice for your child to be the one left out,” she says.

One of my mummy friends deliberately did a smaller tea party for her daughter’s birthday so she wouldn’t have to invite the whole class, while another found herself torn between a party for all the class or a party for 25 or so friends outside of school, as there wouldn’t have been room for both sets of children. She opted for the former but said she felt terribly guilty about not inviting the outside-school friends.

The one consolation comes from a mummy friend whose children are older than mine. “The big parties stop when they get to about seven or eight,” she says. “The children start wanting to do something smaller and more specific, so you won’t have this dilemma forever.”

No, but with three children under five, we’ll be playing birthday party politics for some time to come yet and I can’t see it getting any easier when my three children each have thirty or so parties a year to attend, plus our out-of-school friends. That could be 100 or more parties a year! Where do you draw the line? I’d love to know what other parents think.

What do you do? Do you invite the whole class to the party or just a few select school friends plus their out-of-school friends. How do you break it your child that they can’t attend a party because they have never even mentioned this child before and you were hoping for a family weekend instead? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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