By Hayley Doyle
The idea of a kids birthday party is… hell.
You might think, if ever I have kids, we won’t bother going to them. They’re noisy, chaotic and ugh, so messy. The soles of your shoes become decorated in soggy butties with cheesy puffs trampled into the grooves. Your clothes get sticky and you’re never sure what exactly from. The piñata brings out the worst in everybody, especially the parents. Someone always cries. Usually the Birthday Kid. And when you get home, you pick at a slice of squashed rainbow cake stuck to the napkin as if it were attached with superglue, because the kids can’t eat it. They’ve had enough. They’re currently experiencing their third sugar crash of the day and although they’re obviously knackered, they use every tactic possible to avoid going to bed. Then, you have to empty the contents of the party bag into the drawer containing all the other bits of broken plastic tat you’ve accumulated over the past however many parties, because you can’t throw it away. That’s contributing to landfill. And you just know that the very second the mini-slinky hits the garbage truck, your kid will have a meltdown because it’s the only toy they’ve ever, ever, ever wanted in their whole, miserable life.
So yeah. It can be easy to understand why you wouldn’t want to put yourself through that.
Until something happens.
Your kid doesn’t get invited.
Suddenly, you’d quite happily endure the bouncy castle injury. The upset tummy. The squabbles over the red lolly or the yellow lolly. The creepy entertainer’s squeaky balloon animals. The fake Elsa’s pitchy rendition of ‘Let It Go’. In fact, there’s nothing you want more than to go to the kid’s party. But you can’t.
Being left out sucks. End of. And gosh, it feels even worse when your kid is on the receiving end. But it’s going to happen at some point. That’s life. We can’t all be invited to and included in absolutely everything and there will come a time when this pinches hard. When I was a kid, I wasn’t invited to the 6th birthday party of a girl in my class at school. I don’t really remember this, but I’ve heard the story from my mum’s perspective over the years. She was understandably furious. I was in the same friendship group as the other little girls who were invited and for whatever reason, I had been “left out”. As an adult, I admittedly get FOMO - often - and maybe it stems from this. Maybe not. But it cuts deep when we’re made to feel less important than others. Somehow we learn how to cope. We mature, we gain perspective, or we just get over it.
So it is possible to help your child through this? Or is it a case of, you live and you learn? If you’re concerned that your little one hasn’t been invited to the party, calmly, try to figure out why. There is usually a genuine reason that’s been overshadowed by hurt and disappointment, and jumping into action to rectify the situation might not be the best approach.
Is there a limited budget? Maybe the party is costly per head and only a handful of friends were allowed to be invited. Not everybody can afford a lavish party in a massive venue. An extra kid might push the parents way over budget. If the child has siblings, they might have to be included within the number and a party for 10 kids is never going to be cheap. It’s worth noting that some children feel anxious about being the centre of too much attention, so a low-key celebration with a smaller number is what works best for them.
Are you friends with the parents? Or is this a case of out of sight, out of mind? Often, children make friends outside of school because the parents are friends with each other. They hang out at each other’s houses and have play dates together. Sometimes, a kids party can be quite a social affair! Parents love to be around other parents, and rightly so; you’re all going through this together! But don’t go chasing the in-crowd. Don’t feel pressured to make friends with another mum just to get an invite to the soft play. It’s possible that the reason your kid got left out was because the other parent didn’t know you, and therefore didn’t know your kid.
Is there a clash of personalities? If your kid is being picked on by another kid, it’s unlikely they will want to invite them to their birthday, right? It can be hard to know the true dynamics between children because they’re in school all day without you there to supervise. But maybe there are daily squabbles that you’re not aware of. While you’d expect a parent to approach you if there was a problem, this is easier said than done. Most parents are hoping that kids learn to work it out between themselves. Parties can be stressful, so it would only be awkward and upsetting for both children if they aren’t getting along, forced to pay together in such a heightened environment.
Perhaps a case of tit for tat? Don’t expect an invite if you didn’t invite a certain child to your kid’s shindig. This can seem quite petty, but often it’s quite simple. If you’re on a tight budget or been given a maximum capacity and you’re worried about who not to invite, to keep the numbers down, it’s going to be the kid who didn’t invite you to their party, isn’t it?
Who is this really about? Is your little one genuinely upset about this? Or are you feeling the rejection more than them? Old wounds are hard to heal. Are you traumatised from not being invited to that girl’s sleepover when you were nine? Although you’re skipping through life relatively unscathed from this experience, you’ve suddenly been triggered. But whatever happened in the past is not related to what’s going on in the present. Maybe your child is totally okay about this and you getting upset will only prod them into feeling bad.
Should I call the other parent? NO! Although, yeah, it’s oh-so tempting to message them with a bit of (super, over-thought) light-hearted banter about your kid’s invite going “missing”. Don’t do it. It’s not fair on anyone. The reason why this has happened could be anything mentioned above or a million other intricacies of parenting issues and childhood friendships. This isn’t about you putting on your cape and trying to save the day. Instead, offer endless cuddles.
Why is my child crying? Because it’s tough. It hurts. And it sucks. So it’s absolutely okay to have a good old cry about this. Even if it breaks your heart, allow them to let it all out. They’re only human and it’s not realistic to brush everything off with a smile. Share some of your own experiences so that they know everyone goes through this…and then take them for a hot chocolate with extra marshmallows.