The Birthday Dilemma

2 Feb

My five-year old was recently invited to her first girls only birthday party. It was a fairy themed party on a beautiful, warm Sunday, and everyone had a really nice time. The kids all got wings when they arrived and ran around outside in-between cake and craft projects. It was a sweet and wholesome party – but, half the class was excluded.
I’m struggling with how I feel about this rite of passage. A “girls only” birthday party is the same as a “no boys allowed” birthday party, isn’t it? Looking at it from the flip-side kind of puts a damper on a celebration, no? But at the same time, I’m sure only inviting girls helped to cut the party list down to a more manageable number. Also, this is the way the birthday girl wanted it. And isn’t there an unwritten rule that the birthday child should have it her way on her special day?
So I sit here conflicted and wondering what I would do if/when my daughters want to exclude half their classmates – their friends – from their birthday celebrations. We’ve had the fortunate experience of becoming close with several families from our kids’ preschool, and not surprisingly, these families include sons – sons my daughters really enjoy playing with. My hope, and my expectation, is that our family ties will endure, and I would hate to excluding these children. Likewise, I think my kids would feel terrible getting left out of their celebrations. But maybe I’m just projecting….Maybe I’m the one who would feel bad.
I know when I was around my daughter’s age, getting left out because I was a girl really hurt my feelings. From birth to age 10, my very best friend was my across-the-street-neighbor who happened to be a boy. We knew each other before we were born and spent our first 5 years doing everything together. But when we got to elementary school our friendship went underground, as most boy-girl friendships do at this age. We entered Kindergarten, and suddenly I was getting excluded when other friends (boys) were playing across the street. It was even explained to me that my best friend was just “embarrassed” to play with a girl when his other friends were around.
Kids are pretty forgiving, and I must have shaken off this insult and agreed to the new terms of our friendship: best friends back at home when no one else was around. However, I vividly remember feeling devastated to learn that I was not invited to his birthday party that year. While we had our own “special” best friend birthday celebration which included dinner at Sally’s Stage (the Chicago-land, 70s equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese’s) and laughing so hard that I knocked my two front teeth out on his knee, I always remembered being excluded from “the real” birthday party. Sure the missing teeth served as a solid physical reminder for some time, but emotionally, that event has lived on in my memory for decades.
So what do you think? Am I projecting or protecting? Are single-gender birthday parties a harmless way to celebrate? What do you do when your child says he or she doesn’t want to include someone based on gender?


13 Responses to “The Birthday Dilemma”

  1. becomingcliche February 2, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    I have three kids, and I don’t invite an entire class to a birthday party. It’s expensive. I don’t expect my kids’ friends to invite everyone to their parties, either. It’s hard to see our kids left out, but it’s an important life-lesson. My son was recently invited to a birthday party whose theme was makeup and sparkly dresses. He was more than happy to opt out.

    I am a big Mercer Mayer fan, and he wrote a book in his Little Critter series called “Just Not Invited.” It was a great tool the first time a classmate had a party to which my child was not invited.

    • Hillary Manaster February 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

      No doubt we all hate the idea of our kids getting excluded. What I grapple with is exclusion based on gender. I know it’s unrealistic to think my kids should like and include everyone (and vice versa), but I do hope they have diversity in their friendships. I’d hate to see either of my kids miss out on engaging with 50% of the population and all those opportunities to learn and grow – socially, emotionally, academically…. Learning to deal with being left out is definitely an important life lesson. I love Mercer Mayer too. I’ll be checking out the title you recommended. Thanks!

      Sent from my iPad

  2. ashleybustamante February 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    becomingcliche, I can see what you’re saying. I grew up in a family with 5 kids–no money for a big production of a birthday party! I was always told I could invite 6 of my closest friends, and that was it. It wasn’t that my parents were trying to be mean, but it was just all we could afford. So I know where you’re coming from as far as not inviting the entire class.

    I think the main point of the post was not to address the quantity of kids invited, but the criteria for who is invited and who isn’t. Having an “all girls” or “all boys” party automatically excludes children, regardless of friendships. It’s a tricky situation. It’s easy to think “Well,it’s a princess party, so what boy would want to go anyway?” And in many cases, boys wouldn’t want to go to a princess party. But this isn’t always the case. My youngest brother was invited to a party where all the rest of the guests were girls. Everything was decked out in pink and glitter, but he was really close friends with the girl who invited him, so he went and had a great time anyway, because they were friends. It’s difficult sometimes to know how to handle these things, but I think whenever possible it’s important to try not to place criteria that might cause kids who are normally friends to have to separate.

    • Hillary Manaster February 2, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

      These situations are difficult to handle. You make such a great point – we really should be mindful of the “terms and conditions” that separate kids, especially when they’d enjoy being together. Sent from my iPad

  3. Stacie February 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I agree Ashley. I think the point was to talk about exclusion based on gender alone. I completely understand not inviting the entire class. Parties are so expensive–especially when you have them at a place that charges by the kid. I had this issue with my daughter’s sixth birthday. It was at Chuck E Cheese and she only wanted girls at first until I spelled it out that some of the kids she has the best time with wouldn’t be there if she made that stipulation. She agreed that she wanted some of the boys in her class there as well. However, she picked out princess invitations and lip gloss for the party favor bags. We used the same invitations for everyone, but I explained that we should fill the party bags with items that everyone will like. I had a hard time not sending mixed messages about gender throughout this process. I am wondering how other people have handled this type of situation.

    • Hillary Manaster February 2, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

      I love the way you handled this situation with your daughter – explaining without making the decision for her and encouraging her to think about what all her guests might like without making her feel like she shouldn’t like those things herself. It’s tricky business! I’ll be filing your example away for my own future use 😉

      Sent from my iPad

  4. Rebecca Hains February 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    It’s a great question! My son is three, so we haven’t dealt with exclusionary parties yet. I understand limiting party sizes for practical and financial reasons, but choosing one sex to attend seems problematic.

    I have to say that last week, I was pleasantly surprised when my son received an invitation to a preschool classmate’s princess party. Everyone in the preschool class is invited. He wants to go: At three, he hasn’t yet figured out that our culture expects him to dislike girls and girls’ interests (evidence: see my blog post here ).

    I’m glad–I’ll take a princess-party-for-all while it’s on offer. Boys like sparkles, too, until they learn that they “shouldn’t”!

    • Hillary Manaster February 2, 2012 at 11:20 pm #

      Isn’t three a great age?! It’s amazing, though, how quickly gender messages make an impact. Thanks for the link to your post. I’m looking forward to checking it out. Sent from my iPad

  5. rachhs2 February 2, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I think the biggest problem becomes in the assumption of what makes a party a boy party vs. a girl party. In this case, the assumption that boys would not like fairies.

    • Hillary Manaster February 2, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

      That’s a big part of it too. Adult gender attitudes and the millions of messages about what it means to be a boy or a girl and what is “for them” and “not for them” have a huge impact on who and what kids choose to engage with.

      Sent from my iPad

  6. Beth February 3, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    My daughter, now almost 5, has attended 2 girls only birthday parties – a ballerina theme and a dress-up tea party theme. I did not consider the exclusion aspect of these parties. I think there have been parallel boy only parties, but my daughter has never mentioned feeling left out. My feeling is that if the birthday child wants to include only one set of kids, that is OK. Not everyone has to be equally invited.

  7. Beth February 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    I’ve been thinking on your post further, especially as I make preparations for my own daughter’s birthday party (her first friend party). I still believe kids can pick and choose who to invite. I am interested in the parent role in the party. At the parties I’ve taken my daughter to, fathers are rarely present except maybe the birthday child’s dad. I’m the one tasked with organizing my daughter’s party. So my question is, why do adults separate out the child rearing chores along stereotypical gender lines? Why is mom the party planner?

    • Hillary Manaster February 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      You bring up an interesting point. In my experience parent chaperones are pretty equally divided, but it’s interesting that that hasn’t been your experience. I do agree that you can’t always include everyone on your kid’s birthday list. I also see how making a gender specific party makes drawing the line much easier. It’s the message that it sends about gender based exclusion and gender segregation that I worry about…’s tricky though. I really do see it from multiple sides.

      Sent from my iPad

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