Dear Fellow Parent,
I read the words you wrote about an invitation your kindergartener received and the best way to describe what I felt was heartache, especially as I read the comments applauding your decision.
We declined the invitation to the birthday party, because my child says they’re not even friends.
I did understand where you were coming from. I know birthday parties can feel like a nuisance and a bother. I’ve been receiving and sending invitations for over a decade now.
But let’s pretend for a moment that the parents who sent that invitation did so with the best of intentions. Let’s assume they weren’t trying to get more gifts for their kid or make things more complicated or busy for your family.
Maybe they sent that invitation to your child, because they were thinking of their own.
For some kids, managing school and friends—and all the nuances and challenges that along with that world—is easy. Maybe you have a child that’s extroverted. Maybe you have a child with a lot of self-confidence. Maybe you have a child that’s resilient. Maybe you have a child without special needs or other exceptionalities.
For some kids, school and friends can feel like an impossible obstacle course. So challenging and confusing they’d rather stand on the sidelines and watch, even though they understand it doesn’t feel as good as playing the game.
Then along comes a birthday party: a dazzling, fun, exciting, level-the-playing-field opportunity. A chance for that kid on the sidelines to be enticing enough for the other kids who don’t play with him at school, who don’t call him friend, to want to spend a couple of hours in his company.
Sometimes even when the birthday venue and theme has been decided on, and the painstaking decision-making about who to invite has been made, there can still be doubt. Those sparkling invitations can stay untouched in the bottom of your child’s backpack for days, because she is too scared to hand them out. Because she is too afraid to watch the faces of the kids as they receive them.
I don’t know your child, and I don’t know you. But I do know there are parents who find this hard. I do know there are parents who lie awake at night wondering if their child will have the courage to hand out the invitations in the morning. I do know there are parents who hope there are other parents teaching their children to have the compassion it takes to show up.
Maybe you’ll never have to be one of the parents who find it hard. I know what that’s like, because I have children who find it easy. But I also have a child who doesn’t. And because of that, we’ve become a family that shows up and says yes to every invitation we can.
When our kids hold out an invitation, sometimes it's a name we don't recognize. We remind them that some invitations come with little thought, while others come with a lot of heart and sometimes it’s hard to tell.
We ask them to assume it was heart. And we have never regretted how much we've learned from those experiences.
And so I’m asking you to stop and think the next time your child holds out an invitation from someone who isn't their friend.
Your kindergartener is only at the beginning of a lifetime of friendships. Birthday party invitations can be a wonderful opportunity to teach your child empathy, acceptance, and kindness. All of those traits will serve her far beyond the hours she spends running around an indoor playground.
Sometimes a birthday party invitation is just a birthday party invitation.
But sometimes, it’s also an invitation to be a friend.
From Your Fellow Parent (and Friend)