Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Birthday Party Etiquette?

So if you haven't noticed, I've been having technical difficulties with the site lately.  On Friday I posted, but it showed up as posted on March 11.  There already was a March 11 post, so yesterday, I tried to move that post to today.  But instead of posting today, that post was posted over Mandi's post yesterday.  Oy vey.  In the end I deleted the post entirely, believing that the universe was sending me a sign that that post was not meant to be.  So here I am today, onto a new topic and hoping for better results! 

This weekend, KJ attended a friend's birthday party.  While my kids have been to friend birthday parties before, this one was a little different for us in that it was the first "stranger" birthday party.  The birthday girl was a friend of KJ's from daycare.  That meant Husband and I didn't really know the girl, and didn't know the girl's parents. 

Of course, this was bound to happen.  At some time all kids get invited to a birthday party where the parents don't really know each other.  It's part of growing up.  But this was our first such invite, so with it came a bunch of new hurdles.  For example, the party was 30 miles away - and Sweet Pea wasn't invited.  I wasn't bothered that Sweet Pea wasn't invited.  There was no reason for her to be invited.  The birthday girl was KJ's friend, not Sweet Pea's.  And while I knew birthday girl's mom knew that Sweet Pea existed (Sweet Pea and birthday girl's sibling are in the same daycare room), that didn't result in an automatic invite for Sweet Pea in my book.  Birthday parties are expensive, often with a cap on the number of kids that can come.  Birthday girl should have her friends there, not her friend's siblings. 

 At least, that's what I thought until I actually went to the party.  After leaving behind a sobbing Sweet Pea, we arrived at the party only to find that we were the only family not to have brought along a sibling.  Siblings were so pervasivee that KJ actually came up to me during the party and told me that he missed Sweet Pea.  I guess I should have emailed birthday girl's mom and asked if Sweet Pea could come along.  I felt terribly guilty for not doing so.  The worst birthday girl's mom could have told me was no.  I totally would have respected that.  And if I had been in birthday girl's mom's shoes, as long as it wasn't overly expensive or impossible to accommodate, I would have totally welcomed a sibling.  I should have asked. 

Then, there was the present.  KJ and I literally talked about birthday girl's present for weeks.  As I've stated, Husband and I didn't really know birthday girl, and we didn't know her parents.  So when it came time to buy her a present, all I had to go on was KJ's word as to what birthday girl liked.  Thankfully, he said Barbie, which seemed reasonable, and we went on a special trip to the store to pick out a gift for his friend.  In the end, we found a (what I thought was) super cool Barbie drawing toy.  KJ was SO excited to give it to his friend.  So I made a big deal about how he had to keep it a secret from her until her party, and then he could watch her open it. 

Except, she never did.  As we walked into the party, all of the guests put their presents in a dumpster.  At the end of the party, birthday girl's dad just rolled that dumpster out to their SUV.  Birthday girl didn't open one single gift at the party.  KJ was disappointed, and so was I.  He had waited days (which to a three year old feels like an eternity) to give his friend something that he picked out especially for her.  And then, he didn't really ever get to "give" it to her.  And he didn't get to make her happy.  Which he was pretty excited about.  And, in my opinion, by not opening presents at her party, birthday girl missed an opportunity to learn about gratitude and giving thanks.  Some things that I think are pretty important. 

When I came to work on Monday I asked my colleagues with kids about the not-opening-gifts-at-the-party thing, and it seems like this is a common North Shore practice.  But it still just doesn't sit well with me.  Kids should learn about being grateful and expressing thanks.  And there are few better feelings in the world than watching someone open something you gave them and truly loving it.  I want my kids to get to experience both.  So while it may make my kids freaks in the future, when they start having birthday parties, it'll include opening gifts.  And it will include giving thanks. 

What's the practice in your area?  Gifts opened at the party or no?  Automatic sibling invites, or party faux pas?  Anything else I should be on the lookout for as we delve into the world of friend birthday parties?



  1. I have seen the non-opening of presents all the time: I think its actually an ok idea. Here's why: you are correct that it teaches the kid about gratitude and thanks, but it also can lead to a LOAD of hurt feelings. For example, at J's last party, we opened gifts and all the kids starting wanting to open all her presents (after she removed the wrapping paper) and she didn't want that. Then there were the kids that wanted to open them before she did. Plus with opening, there is always the risk for the notorious "I already have that" or once they open the "favorite" present they focus on that alone. I can really see the benefits in not opening. I think my sister-in-law has always had the best solution for this. At my nephew's parties, when we come in, we are met at the door by my nephew and then he usually opens the present right there, in front of just us. There is no drama of "I want to help open" from a crowd of kids, and because its just my present there is not the notorious attention paid to that "favorite present". I have always liked this idea.

    J is invited to parties all the time so I've seen it a lot of ways...but this last party I went to I thought had a great idea. They let the kid who brought the present come up and give the birthday girl the present and then help her open it. That way everyone got to "help". I liked that too.

    As for siblings, you are much more polite than I am. I always bring H and L with me when J goes. I don't let him hang with the birthday kids or eat cake etc unless the Mom says okay, but I always bring him along to just play with me while we wait for J. And so far everytime I have went to a party H has been welcomed in with open arms along with other siblings. J and H are only 15 months apart and so the kids that know J know H. If it is at someone's house I normally just take J myself and leave the boys at home, but if I have to I take them. So, I wouldn't feel bad if you decide to take Sweet Pea next time.

  2. My boys are much older but we always opened presents at the party. I did remind them before every party that people took a lot of time and thought to think of a present to buy them. If they got a duplicate or something they already had they were to always say thank you and then we could return it later. One of my favorite memories is how one of the boys opened every gift and said "Thank you! It is just what I always wanted! How did you know!" He was about four so it was so cute.

  3. What a cute story about your boys! Thanks for sharing!