kids

"I didn't invite all my son's friends to his party. Then one mum confronted me."

I remember the first time my son wasn’t invited to a school birthday party when lots of other kids in his class were.

The rejection hurt briefly, but then I just gave the parents of that child death stares at all future school encounters — squint-glaring at them from across the room at the parents’ drinks night and the orchestra concert — basically handling the situation like an adult.

JOKING.

Of course, I know not everyone can be invited to everything — that’s a basic principle of life. But I do get that the first time you work out your kid’s the one left off the list, you have a moment of, ‘oh, okay.’

Team Mamamia confess: The weirdest things our kids have done.

Video by MMC

Most parents I know have been through it. When our cherubs start school, the parties seem to include the whole class, but at some point there’s an “ah, it’s my kid’s turn off the list” experience as the kids get older and the parties grow more intimate.

In my experience, parents accept it is what it is, and move on/silently hold a grudge for the next decade. They don’t address it with a child’s parent, except the one time a mum did exactly that to me.

This mum — let’s call her Paulina, because I’ve never known a Paulina — was not amused when she discovered her son wasn’t invited to my son’s fifth birthday party.

Paulina was in fact ‘not amused’ enough to incite an ugly confrontation with me that was destined to be re-told on a national website seven years later.

(Yes, that’s what I’m doing right now.)

On a sunny afternoon, Paulina accosted me in the car park at school pick up.

“Hi,” she called out, in what I very quickly realised was mock cheerfulness.

We both had our kids in our hands, and just FYI, for this whole interaction, they didn’t even look at each other because they were five and barely knew each other.

Paulina got straight to the point.

“I’m just wondering why we weren’t invited to the party?”

birthday party etiquette
Paulina was in fact ‘not amused’ and got straight to the point. Image: Getty.
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A few thoughts ran through my mind:

The kids aren’t friends. They’re in the same year level but not in the same classroom. I’ve invited everyone in the classroom — I haven’t excluded anyone.

That’s 22 children. Dear Lord, isn’t that bloody enough?

But I didn’t say any of that to Paulina. I was instantly annoyed that she had not only questioned a personal choice of mine, when we were mere acquaintances who’d only met at information night in Term 1, but that she’d done so in front of the kids.

So I’ll be honest, I went low.

I told her, "I'm a sole parent and I can't afford to have the whole class", just to watch her squirm.

It worked. Paulina was obviously shocked; it wasn’t the answer she was expecting. She’d wanted to make me uncomfortable, but instead, I’d pretended she was single-mum-shaming me.

Somewhat embarrassed, Paulina accepted my excuse. Her face sort of went into a grimace as though I’d spoken about a grotesque ugliness, and she said, “Oh okay”, and walked on.

I was glad I’d instantly shut down that inappropriate conversation and made her feel awkward. I was also pleased the reason I’d given spared any sort of implication about her son not really being my son’s friend, and admitting that 22 other kids were coming, especially considering it happened right in front of him.

But to avoid the truth, and mostly to have a jab at Paulina, I’d used an old trope that single mums are disadvantaged; that they don’t have unlimited resources and are forced to make difficult choices because they alone are insufficient in some way.

When the reality is, every parent makes those sorts of choices, too.

In retrospect, her confrontation of me in the school car park in front of our five-year-olds was so rude, I should have been brave enough to be honest: our sons aren't friends, and we can invite whomever we want. And then she, who chose to do it in front of the kids, should have had to explain that to her son.

Years later, I still regret using single parenthood to explain a personal decision I shouldn’t have had to explain. Paulina never really spoken to me again after that, which was the silver lining – but I’ve remained mad with myself, because the last thing single mums need is other people believing they’re not as good parents and providers as married mums are.

To be honest, I’m not even cross with Paulina. I can understand as a mum why she was thinking of her son. Maybe that was the tenth party he hadn’t been invited to that year. She might have been simply worried that he wasn’t fitting in.

I just wish she’d also respected me enough to realise I was just doing my best, too.

What's the worst excuse you've ever given for not inviting another child to your kid's birthday party? Or have you found yourself on the other side of this situation? Tell us in a comment below.

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