No birthday party invites from supposed friends

Hi BPN parents! My kid’s birthday is coming up and we are creating a guest list. My kid would like to invite friends from school. However, through the years, my kid has not been invited to their birthday celebrations which makes me wonder 1) how solid these friendships are 2) whether I should invite them (as I have done in the past) and 3) how much of my concern to share with my kid as I don’t want to cause hurt feelings and I also want my kid to know when a friendship is real and reciprocal. My kid has longstanding friendships and gets along well with others in general. Thanks for any advice! 

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

You don't mention your child's age, which affects how I would discuss this with them. I have observed some families have blowout parties, invite the whole class or big friend groups. This seemed especially true in preschool/kindergarten. Some families really don't do a big friend thing for birthdays, whether it's their cultural or familial tradition, or budget limitations - or, the past 2 years, COVID caution. I think as long as you and your child both feel like these are good friendships, why not invite them to the party? Is friendship transactional? Isn't your child's wish to celebrate with his friends? This advice does change slightly for middle school, where it may be that cliques have formed and your child isn't quite aware of the changing friend groups.

I would just invite school friends because he needs friends at school, even if they're not reciprocal or deep.  Even though he is excluded now, maybe in the future he will be included now and then. Even if he doesn't get invited to parties, having friends come to your own party is nice.  My kid was similar, and it was a little heart-breaking.

If you are thinking about the birthday celebrations during covid, don't give too much thought into whether your kid was invited to their celebration. Things have been too weird and many families did not have a birthday party. If they did, they limited the size severely to family or their pandemic pod or just 1 or 2 friends. We have no way of knowing why people do or don't do things. It is your child's birthday party and if your child wants to invite friends, do invite them. It's about your child and kid's happiness. Have fun!

If your kid wants to invite these friends to their party, I think you should invite them. You don't know the circumstances of the previous parties -- maybe they were really small, had to invite a lot of relatives, or were on a tight budget. Also, kids pretty much live in the present -- maybe at the time they were making the guest list, they weren't playing much at school. I know that my kids have invited friends to their parties and it wasn't reciprocated, and vice versa -- they haven't invited kids whose parties they attended. I don't think you need to discuss your concerns with your child, unless you're really concerned that they are constantly being excluded. 

Do not be that parent that dumps their baggage on their child. If your child wants to invite these friends, let them. There could be so many reasons they were not invited to other birthdays. This happened to my daughter over the years and my response was usually- maybe their parents only allowed a certain number of kids. AND when she had parties she had to cull her list several times simply because of cost. So she understood how it worked. The last thing you want to do is make a big deal out of it. Of course this mostly works for elementary school kids. Junior high is a whole different story.

I felt similarly about my kid’s recent birthday party. We had a low-stakes park party where guest number wasn’t a big deal, and I let him invite anyone he wanted. We have sometimes run into his friends at other kids’ parties at the park that my kid was not invited to (or I’ve heard about parties or seen photos online), and I sometimes think that it bothers me and my overthinking self more than my child. I figured he could invite as many people as he wanted, and put the ball in their court. 
One child he invited I’m almost sure does not reciprocate his feelings about the friendship, and we just never heard a response and he didn’t show up. Another child was sort of hot and cold throughout the school year, but my child decided that he wanted to invite them to foster a better friendship going forward. 
It turned out being a lovely, fun party with everyone who did show up, and I’m glad I just let my insecurity pass over me and didn’t insert it into the day. Best wishes for the party, and I hope it’s a fun day! 

My kids are still toddlers so I don't have experience in this specifically, but my thinking is that this party is for the child, so ask the child who they want to invite and then invite those people. If they don't come, then they don't come. If they do, that's great! All that matters is your kid has a good time at their party. If they ask you later why "so and so" didn't come to my party, you can tell the truth, which is I'm not sure, there are a few reasons why someone wouldn't come, maybe they were busy, or maybe they just didn't want to, etc. Not everyone has to be friends or go to each others parties. But you did the nice thing and invited them and that's all that matters. Hope you all have a great time!

I am always embarrassed by who my 8 year old daughter chooses to invite to her birthday party. Last year it was her preschool friends, most of whom she hadn’t seen in at least three years. Everyone was delighted to be there. Kids are weird. Your kid will invite whomever brings them joy and that’s what’s important. (Also, my kid only wants to host a couple of kids at a time for parties, which means she gets invited to a lot more parties than she reciprocates. It’s not personal.)

Could be a few reasons, none of which are personal.  

1) Covid, people are not having big parties, maybe just 1-2 friends over for an activity or treat, or just a family celebration.   

2) Not everyone does birthday parties every year for their kid.  Growing up, my husband and I each had maybe 1-2 birthday parties during our respective childhoods, and most years were just a nice dinner and dessert with our families, (and a day off from doing the dishes/chores, and a couple other perks like when it was TV time, we got to choose what to watch).    That's what I envisioned for my kid as well, and I was surprised when a couple of his friends had a big party with somewhere between 8-30 kids every year.  We ended up alternating, one year with grandparents or a family outing, the next year with friends, etc. 

3) My kid is an introvert.  We did one outdoor park-based party with lots of kids.  While it went well, afterward he was able to express that he appreciated the party but felt overwhelmed and he did not ever want to have a big party like that again.   After that, he wanted MUCH smaller parties, sometimes just 1 or 2 friends for a sleepover or up to 5 friends for a movie or playdate (and even that was a lot).  If your kid and/or their friends or their friends parents are introverts, that could be the thing. 

Something else to consider is to take the pressure off of birthdays.  Why not get together with friends on regular days?  If you can organize an after-school or weekend playdate - just low-key invite friends to your house or to a park, or invite some parents & kids to your backyard for a bbq individually or in a group, or come up with something like a pre-halloween party, then your kid is more likely (not guaranteed) to receive reciprocal invitations.