Like most parents out there with young children, our refrigerator is full of birthday invitations. Sometimes our weekend days consist of juggling at least two birthday parties while wrangling our everyday family and household responsibilities, spending time with one another and our extended families, as well as managing our businesses. It takes time to coordinate, but both my husband and I choose to make it a priority to not only attend our personal friends’ children’s birthday parties but also those of their classmates – whether we know them or not.
So why do we attend?
There are actually two reasons ::
Our children, especially our oldest, literally start asking “who” is coming from the moment their birthday is on the horizon. They both want to know which family members are coming and which friend will be coming to play with them and enjoy their personally decorated cupcakes or cake. For our daughter, even at the tender age of three, she was already exhibiting her party planning skills, including suggesting her friends and classmates dress up in their favorite costumes, picking out her theme and cupcake or cake design. It is really important to them – so, I imagine her friends and classmates ask as well and are as excited as they are about their birthday celebration, too. Why would I take that away from them?
The second reason we attend is, as most New Orleanians with small children know, it is a difficult process to find the “perfect” school for our little one. The process is not easy and it is the community we have chosen for our children to learn, play and nurture them through their young years. We not only want our children to build on lasting friendship and respect their classmates, but as parents we, too, want to get to know the most influential people in their classmates lives. They, more than anyone else in their lives, are shaping the personalities, beliefs and virtues that their classmates bring into the classroom and expose our children to every.single.day.
This has to quite possibly be the number one reason why parents and their children do not attend their classmate’s birthday party.
Some have a “birthday closet” and others, like myself, have a “birthday bin” filled with gifts, clothing and accessories ranging in all ages and for boys and girls along with a wrapping area stocked with gift bags, wrapping and tissue paper. Since shopping is my least favorite excursion, when I do find myself at the store I stock up, especially when I see a particular item that I know one of the close friends would enjoy.
For me, personally, I do not want this to be the reason why my child’s friend is unable to attend. Before the school years, there were a couple of years I included “No presents, please, just your presence.” Because it did create some awkward moments when some parents did bring a gift, I decided to opt out the following years. Recently, friends of ours included a basket at their son’s birthday in which donations, in lieu of a gift, were given to a charity fund dear to their hearts. And if I do know of a parent just having a newborn, a family recovering after sickness or other circumstances, I will personally reach out to them and say “please just bring yourselves.” Luckily, we are fortunate enough to know our circle of friends very well and thankfully our children’s classmates families to have such a relationship.
Time Away From Loved Ones
After a long work week away from family, I understand that taking a couple more precious hours to attend a party is a sacrifice. What has worked in our household is that my husband and I will take turns with the birthday attendee followed by an errand, and it has actually become a bonding time for us to catch up on stories from the week during the car rides and answer the little one’s gazillion questions. In the process, the other parent is able to spend some one on one time with the other child as well or have a quiet household during the weekend, perfect for their nap time.
The Sibling Conflict
Having kids of different ages with different friends, I completely understand the dilemma. Accounting for siblings has limited us on birthday party venues and guest lists. And I know most parents out there would concur that the last thing any host wants to do is have someone feel left out. Knowing that there is an expense to host parties, I suggest reaching out to the host beforehand and offering to pay for the admission of the other child and ask if there is room.
This is the community we have been fortunate enough to find and want to become a part of – so why would we not want to be a part of such special celebrations?
Unless I’m out of town, I take my child to attend every party he’s invited to, regardless of whether I know the child or their parents. I see it as a way to get to know people. These are the children my son will eventually be going to middle school and high school with. If the child isn’t in his class now, maybe they’ll be in class together next school year. The more people you know, the better.
Think of it this way: Elementary school kids generally don’t care if their parents are around. But when they get older, they don’t want mom or dad anywhere near them. So get to know these kids and their parents now. The more you know, the better. Kids often get in trouble because their parents don’t know who they’re hanging out with.