I got an invitation to a toddler birthday party from someone I don’t know. I recognized the name of the child as someone in my son’s preschool class. But I’m not even sure which kid. At first I thought that the parents must be new to Los Angeles and are looking for friends. Then I found out that this is how people throw birthday parties for kids now: You invite every single kid in your kid’s class.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to any toddler birthday parties when I was a toddler. I think I went to birthday parties in kindergarten, but I know I didn’t go to a birthday party for every kid in my class. My kindergarten friends invited me to parties. Not my parents’ friends. Not everyone in my class. Plenty of people in my class in kindergarten and even elementary school had birthday parties that I didn’t get invited to. And I was okay with that. Because they weren’t my friends. I wasn’t the most popular kid, as you can probably tell by this anti-social rant. But I had my friends, and other people had their friends and we all had our own parties and everybody was fine with it. Which is kind of how life works as adults. I’m sure you know and like a couple of your neighbors, but it doesn’t mean you have to invite them to your parties, and vice versa.
My son, Laszlo, doesn’t even have any friends. Because he’s two and a half years old. He has play dates with the toddlers of my friends. And he goes to a preschool where I’m sure he doesn’t mind playing next to the other children. When I ask him who his favorite kid to play with at school is, he says “Teacher Hilary.” When I say “What about the kids? Are there any kids you like?” He says, “Um, Teacher Nicole?”
Maybe the reason for this whole “invite everyone” thing is the fear of one or two kids not getting invited to any parties. When I was growing up, it was a kid named Billy. Billy eventually figured out that to be socially accepted, he needed to take a shower. He grew up and started calling himself WIlliam. He actually turned out to be kind of good looking, once he washed his hair. Do you think Billy would have figured out what he needed to do to blend into society if we had all invited him to all of our parties because we had to?
If a kid is disliked by other kids, maybe he’s a brat who needs to stop being bossy. Maybe he’s a biter who needs to play nice. Let the social ostracizing serve as a wake up call. So your little one wasn’t invited to any parties this year? Maybe he’s got anger issues and you should get him some therapy. Maybe he’s being bullied and you should switch schools. Everyone needs to stop pretending like it’s okay to invite the kid who punches everyone to all the parties.
Maybe parents think that by inviting everyone, including the kids with no friends, everyone will feel included. I’m guessing that if there are cliques at school, the same cliques will form at the party. I’ve heard kids say things to each other that would make me burst into tears. Small children are more brutal than the extremely wealthy and drug addicted teenagers in “Less Than Zero”.
Most of my annoyance with this new way of birthday partying has to do with my social exhaustion. I have more friends than I have time to hang out with. I only get to see some of my best friends once every couple of months. I need to streamline my social obligations. I need to spend more quality time with my real friends, weed out the people who aren’t my real friends, and spend less time going to parties. If I’m going to go to a party, it should be for one of my real friends or for one of my kid’s friends. Life’s too short.
The “invite everybody” birthday party madness not only costs too much time, but also too much money. Let’s say that between my husband and I, we have about 30 friends who have kids. (That’s a low-ball guess). In addition to those kids of our friends, there are just under 20 kids in my son’s preschool class. That’s about 50 kids and 50 parties. If you average that out, that’s about one kid party per week. One employee at a kid’s store in Los Angeles recently told me that most people spend about $30 on a kid’s gift for a birthday party. That’s $1,500 per year on toddler gifts for parties that nobody’s two or three year old kid is going to remember.
Let’s keep the toddler birthday parties what they should be: A chance to socialize with our parent friends. Within a few years, our toddlers will grow into small children who develop friendships. Soon enough, they will tell us who they want to invite to their birthday parties. They won’t be friends with everyone in the class, probably. And that’s okay. You’re not friends with everybody you meet, either.