Can We All Get On The Same Page About Birthday Party Etiquette?

Can We All Get On The Same Page About Birthday Party Etiquette?

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I was recently visiting a friend who was planning her daughter’s seventh birthday party. They’d moved to a new town a handful of months prior, and she invited the kids from her daughter’s class at her new school to the party. She was expecting fifteen kids to attend.

As my friend planned out various games and snacks, she began wondering if she needed to plan for adults to be at the party, too. In her old town, parents usually just dropped kids off and picked them up when the party was over. But she’d been to a kid’s party in their new city where parents stuck around the whole time.

There was no real indication on the invitations to any of these parties whether parents were expected to drop kids off or hang out during the party. Both options appeared to be a regional or local custom, an unspoken thing people do, a social norm that everyone in that particular circle understood.

It would be super helpful if we could all get on the same page with this, folks. Universal birthday party rules, so to speak.

Personally, I understand parents wanting to stay at parties, especially when kids are young and you don’t know the kid’s parents very well. I’m not keen on the idea of dropping my child at a stranger’s house where I don’t know if a gun might be accessible or a family member might be a pedophile.

On the other hand, I also know that if I were to have fifteen kids and fifteen adults filling my home, I wouldn’t be able to throw a birthday party. We simply don’t have the space. Holding the party in a public venue might be a bit more doable, but that’s not always a viable option.

Either way, it’s hard to plan for food when you don’t know if you might have double the number of people you’re expecting. A cake for 15 is a lot different than a cake for 30, which leads to another question: If parents do stay through the party, should there be enough food and drink for them too? Or is it rude for adults to assume they’re going to partake in the cake at a kid’s birthday party?

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And what about younger siblings? If a parent is staying with a kid and they don’t have childcare, can they bring the toddler along? What about the only-slightly-younger sibling? If they come along, are they going to get a goody-bag? Do they participate in the games? Is it rude to expect a host to accommodate that many extra people? Is it rude to say “Sorry, Junior’s not invited”? Would the host rather the invited child opt out if that’s the case?

I wondered if this was really a confusing thing, or if I was just making birthday parties unnecessarily complicated. So I asked on my Facebook page what parents would do if their child was invited to a 7-year-old’s birthday party when they’d only met the mom briefly in the school pick-up line.

Some said they’d be comfortable dropping their kid off by that age. Some said they’d definitely stay. Some said they’d feel it out for a little bit, and then leave. Some said they’d ask which the host preferred when they RSVP.

One mom said she’d stay, but not eat anything. Another said that when she plans kid parties she always plans for the parents to come—but she also said she’s had parents drop off a kid with their younger siblings and then leave.

So, it appears there is nowhere near a consensus on this topic.

What would be helpful is if parents would specify on the invitation whether or not it’s a drop off party, or if parents are welcome to stay. That would save people having to wonder or feel weird about asking.

And while we’re on the subject of birthday parties, an RSVP means the host needs to know if your child (and you, if that’s the case) are coming. I’ve heard many parents lament that people don’t RSVP anymore, and that makes planning difficult. If the invitation says RSVP with a phone number or e-mail address, make sure you contact the host one way or the other. It only takes a minute, and it’s helpful (not to mention polite) to let them know if your kid—and you—are coming or not.

I’m sure we won’t all agree on whether or not parents should stay with their kids at birthday parties at various ages, but maybe we can at least agree to indicate what we prefer or expect when we send out invitations. A simple “Drop-off O.K.” or “Parents welcome” will clear up a lot of confusion.

Okay, now that we’ve tackled that beast, shall we talk about party favors?