My five-year-old daughter, Anna, gets invited to a lot of birthday parties. While it's a strain on my wallet, she’s always happy to spend even more time with the same kids she sees every day at school. I find that being invited to parties on her own accord—meaning, she's not invited simply because I'm friends with the parents—gives her some ownership over her social life. I can tell she finds it exciting.
This year, as a senior kindergarten student, Anna's been invited to even more parties than usual. Sure, she knows a few extra people than she did last year, but the main reason for the increase is that there's a class policy in place: if parents want to invite some students to their kids' party, then they have to invite all of them. (This isn't a school-wide policy, but one set by my daughter’s teacher.)
Out of curiosity, I looked into whether or not this was common practice. A quick Google search revealed that other schools in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. follow this practice, too. Some schools said that doing otherwise would go against their mission and values. The main reason some schools enforce this rule is to prevent certain kids from feeling hurt and excluded.
These hurt feelings are ones I’m familiar with—when Anna was still in daycare, the "invite everyone" rule didn’t apply. During pick-up time, some kids would have birthday-party invites visibly peeking out of their cubbies—and there wasn't always one for Anna. Even if she wasn't really friends with the kid hosting the party, she'd get upset that she wasn't included. Sometimes the feelings would pass, but other times they'd continue to resurface. It was tough to see her go through it—and sometimes it was difficult not to take it personally myself—but I also felt it was par for the course. Hurt feelings are a part of life. And, at that age, it's rarely ever personal. It usually has more to do with whether certain parents knew one another or the overall costs for the party.
The more I think about it, the more I'm against the "invite everyone" policy. I understand the pros: no kids are left out, parents can connect with each other and you avoid bad blood or awkward confrontations. And it's especially great for kids who have birthdays at the beginning of the school year and don’t have established friendships yet—it's the perfect "get to know you" opportunity, for both kids and parents.
The cons, however, outweigh the positives in my eyes. First, there's the cost factor: more kids means more money being spent by the parents hosting the party. It's also highly impractical—with 25 to 30 kids per class, it usually means you have to seek out a venue that can host that number of people, which will only increase the financial strain. Before you know it, it starts to feel as if you're buying gifts every other week, and it can also present scheduling problems. What if some kids are out of town one weekend? They may wind up feeling bad when they can’t attend some of the parties. And kids with summer birthdays? They spend a whole school year attending huge parties for classmates but when their big day rolls around, everyone is on vacation.
I’m sure teachers can chime in with their experiences on why this does or doesn’t work. But, from the parent's side of things, here are a couple ways to avoid both the "invite everyone" policy and hurt feelings:
1. Have parents give all birthday invites to teachers so they can discreetly put the envelopes into certain kids’ backpacks to minimize hurt feelings. No more colourful invites poking out of cubbyholes!
2. Have an opt-in email list with parent information. This way, paper invites can be mailed directly to people's homes and there's no paper trail left in the classroom. Just be sure your kid doesn't spread the word that he's having a birthday party where not everyone is invited.
For now, I’ll wrap up this non-toxic Minion-themed nail-art kit and send Anna off to splatter paint in honour of Bronwyn’s sixth birthday. For the record, I have no idea who Bronwyn is—Anna has never mentioned her before. Next year, maybe she'll be in a classroom with less rigid rules surrounding birthday invites. My fingers are crossed.
How do you feel about an "invite everyone" birthday party policy?