Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What to do when there’s just one kid you don’t want to invite to the birthday party? Have your own questions? Email [email protected]
Hi Scary Mommy! My kiddo is a 3rd grader, and will be having an outdoor, masked birthday gathering this year. We will send home cake and a juice box rather than eating it at the party, and we will let the kids run around the park I reserved and play some outdoor games. The thing is, my kid has had ongoing issues for over 2 years with one of his classmates. We’ve tried 1:1 playdates, group sessions with the school counselor, and a number of other things to work through these issues, but none of them have helped so far. My kid is often teased/mocked by him, and doesn’t want to deal with that on his birthday. I don’t blame him. We will be inviting everyone else in the class though (via text or e-vite), and I fear this could just create more problems for my son by further angering his tormentor. At the same time, I feel like my son should be able to enjoy his birthday party (the first one in 2 years) without feeling stressed and anxious. I have friends who think it’s the ‘rule’ to just invite him and pray he doesn’t come. WDYT?
I get where you’re coming from. I really do. As a mom myself, I know that the instinct to protect your kid from anything even potentially unpleasant is strong.
But — I am also a former kid who was the only one who didn’t get invited to a birthday party. (Insert Sophia Petrillo-style “picture it” here.) In the fourth grade, I moved to a new school and struggled to fit in and make friends. This was hard enough for my anxious, introverted kid-self anyway (notwithstanding the fact that I was struggling because my parents were embroiled in a nasty divorce, and I was also poor). So imagine how it felt when the most popular boy in our class invited every single person to his birthday party … except for me. I didn’t understand why, other than to think I wasn’t worth hanging out with. It was a blow to my self-esteem that had an impact I felt for the rest of the year, and probably beyond that, considering that I’m now 41 years old and I still feel a trifle pissed off when I think about it.
What I’m saying is, it simply isn’t acceptable to invite everyone except for the “problematic” kid — even if you try to do it subtly by sliding into parents’ DMs with an e-vite. This kid will inevitably find out, and it will hurt. And yes, your kid may have problems with him, but his behavior likely stems from the fact that he somehow feels “less than” anyway, whether it’s issues at home that are presenting themselves at school, or some other sort of challenge he’s having. Bullies bully because they’re misdirecting their negative feelings; hurt people hurt people, and deliberately leaving him out will only add fuel to a fire that burns because his self-esteem is damaged anyway.
He may be a piss-ant, but he’s still a human with feelings, and a child at that.
If the history between your kiddo and this child is as tumultuous as it sounds, he probably won’t come. On the other hand, his parents may see this as an “olive branch” scenario and a reason to call a truce and bring him. But no matter: either he’ll miss the party despite being invited, and you will have done the right thing by inviting him, or he’ll attend the party and maybe — gasp! — actually have some fun with your kid. You’ll be there to keep a close eye on their interactions (and nip any unpleasantness in the bud), there will be other kids and fun things to do to provide a distraction, and chances are they’ll all enjoy the day.
Use this as a valuable lesson in empathy for your son. Ask him how he would feel if he were the one who didn’t get invited. Ask him how he thinks the other kid will feel. Reassure him that you’ll be right there and that you won’t let the kid be an asshole at the birthday party. But let him know that singling out one particular child, probably at the cost of that child’s feelings, is the wrong thing to do.
If it’s still an issue, why not just let him invite a handful of his closest classmates? Chances are he isn’t besties with the other 20 kids in his class anyway. Do the e-vite thing with five or six of them and then don’t worry about who you didn’t invite. If he hasn’t had a birthday party in two years, he’s gonna be stoked no matter how many kids are coming.
But regardless of how many kids come, you can’t just leave one out. It’s a bad look — and a bad lesson for your son about being the bigger person.