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The Misplaced Shame

This story takes place nearly two decades ago, but it still makes me uncomfortable to think about it, and I still remember it well, despite being five at the time. I don’t remember the theme or location of my sixth birthday party, but the guests were (as was typical for my family) my cousins, a few of my parents’ friends kids I’d grown up with, a couple neighbor kids, and a small bunch of kids from my new kindergarten class that I’d become close with.

The invitations went out to my friends at school (maybe 5 or 6 kids from a class of 60), and a few days later I received a phone call from a girl in my class I didn’t know very well. We had never played together outside of school, or even really in school, or on the playground, and we never really spoke. We didn’t dislike each other, but we just had different groups of friends, which is what makes the whole thing so strange.

I remember her voice being quiet and unsure, and she asked if she could come to my birthday party. I was completely taken aback, because even at a young age it seemed to me inappropriate (although I didn’t know the right word) to invite yourself to a party. She said her mom said she should just call me and ask if she could come, which is clearly where things had gone wrong. I can think of a million ways the awkward little situation could have been my fault. I could have passed out the invitations in class, in front of other kids (I’m almost positive they were mailed), I could have invited the majority of the class and excluded this girl (I didn’t), I could have been good friends with her and excluded her anyway (nope…) As a little girl then and a bigger one now, I am baffled as to why the mother thought that this course of action would be good for either of us.

It’s clear to me now that the girl probably overheard me and my friends talking about the party, which for adults would have been the height of rudeness but for a few five year-olds at playtime seems pretty normal.

I put the phone down for a minute and described the situation to my Mom, who also seemed taken aback, and I can’t remember exactly what she told me to say but it may have involved letting the girl know if someone else couldn’t come. Probably not the best response, but I don’t think either of us really knew what to do. After I hung up, I got a miniature (and at that point, unnecessary) lecture from my mother about the etiquette of inviting one’s self to a party.

At five I was perplexed, but at 24 it sort of makes me sad, and I’m not sure why. I feel, though, that the violation in etiquette belonged to the other girl’s mother. Not only had her instructions to her daughter been potentially damaging to the girl’s sense of etiquette later in life, but she also succeeded in confusing me and making me feel bad for reasons that at the time, I didn’t really understand.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest! Every so often when the subject of etiquette (especially involving children) comes up, this story comes flooding back to me, filling me with an old, yet somewhat renewed sense of shame.    0105-11


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Louise January 10, 2011, 12:41 pm

    My first thought was the other girl’s mother was hoping she would be turned down so it would be a lesson on how you shouldn’t expect to go to other people’s parties. Or something?

    That’s weird, though. I think it would have been best if the OP’s mom had talked to the other girl’s mom rather than the girl.

  • Charlotte January 10, 2011, 12:42 pm

    That poor girl! Her mother should be ashamed. And it is quite unfair for your 5 year old self to be expected to make such a snap choice.

  • gramma dishes January 10, 2011, 12:49 pm

    I agree. That is a sad story.

    But certainly not a reason for you to feel any sense of shame! You were a very young child being put on the spot quite unexpectedly and OF COURSE you didn’t know how to handle it! You were put in a very awkward situation.

    I feel bad for your Mom too. I’m sure she didn’t expect that either. It’s one of those things you can’t prepare yourself for because you never expect it to happen. And it shouldn’t have.

    Just curious. After that did you ever become friends with that little girl?

  • TheBardess January 10, 2011, 12:50 pm

    Something similar happened to me- or at least to my mom- a few years ago.

    When I turned 18, my mom decided to throw me a surprise party. At the time, I was working as a tutor at my local community college, and I while I was friendly with all of my co-workers, there were four or five in particular with whom I was close friends. Naturally, my mom wanted to invite these four or five people to the party, but she didn’t have their addresses or phone numbers, and couldn’t think of a way to ask me for them without raising my suspicions. So she managed to get the invitations to my boss, who discretely put them in the mailboxes of the tutors who were invited. So far, so good, right?

    The day of the party comes, and my mom invented an errand to get me out of the house while the guests arrived. People being arriving, everything is good, and then one of the tutors who was invited- “Anita”- shows up. With another tutor- “Rachel” in tow. This would be fine, except Rachel had not been invited! It wasn’t anything personal- Rachel and I were perfectly friendly- but we worked different shifts, didn’t really see each other that often, and weren’t really friends or particularly close. “You forgot to invite Rachel,” Anita blithely informed my mother when she answered the door (yes, that’s right. Anita had somehow found out that Rachel was not invited, and had subsequently assumed that her invitation must have been forgotten, and had taken it upon herself to invite her!). My mom was, needless to say, pretty taken aback, but she rallied herself and brought them both inside and did everything possible to make Rachel feel welcome. But yeah, talk about awkward! I’m still not sure what Anita was thinking, because she was usually a very sweet and polite girl. I know that she and Rachel were good friends though- I don’t know, maybe she just thought everybody had the same relationship?

  • lkb January 10, 2011, 12:58 pm

    I’m sorry you feel badly about something that happened so long ago. I wonder if the other girl’s mother, not being familiar with ‘who’s playing with who’ (which can change daily among five year olds), misunderstood what was going on and did this to shame you into inviting her. “How could you not invite my little angel.” She may have had the impression that “everyone” (or every girl) in the class was invited except her daughter (remember the girls involved were only five and they easily miss the details — as you know.)
    At my daughter’s school, invitations are NOT given out unless one is given to EVERY child (or every child of the same gender) in the class, for just this reason.
    Still it happens: My daughter and one other girl were left out of a party last year — still don’t know why. (It’s not exactly something I can ask about it, is it).
    Unfortunately, some of the tough lessons in life are to learn that you won’t be invited to every party; that not everyone in life will like you and/or your kids no matter how hard you try; someone’s feelings are likely to be hurt no matter how hard you try; and and to suck it up and move on.
    Sorry this happened to you.

  • QueenofAllThings January 10, 2011, 1:12 pm

    I hope relating the story helps you let go of the shame, as you have no reason to be ashamed. It is a sad little story and, unfortunately, childhood is full of such stories – little misunderstandings and rejections that can be heart-wrenching. You are absolutely not at fault here, so please stop beating yourself up. I’m sure the little girl doesn’t even remember it 🙂

  • Enna January 10, 2011, 1:13 pm

    I don’t think you should feel shame – embrassed but why feel shame? It was the girl’s mother who made the mistake, unless of course the little girl got the end of the stick which could be the case. I’d put it down to miscommunication? How did the girl’s family have your family’s number?

  • NotCinderell January 10, 2011, 1:28 pm

    It’s possible the little girl was lying about her mother telling her to invite herself. If I were your mother, I would have asked to speak to her mother.

  • karma January 10, 2011, 1:39 pm

    I understand your pain, OP. Sometimes as kids all we know is that something weird and uncomfortable happened, and years later it still is in our memory.
    It is correct that the other mother was wrong to have her daughter call and ask. People do stuff like that though, not realizing how rude it is.
    I figure either the other mom was not raised with good manners, or she just wanted to satisfy her child who probably overheard about the party.
    My daughter, who is now 13, had a party when she was in fourth grade. On the day of the party (all girls) the dad of one girl had the girl call and ask if her two brothers could come. Both brothers were two years younger than that guests (a big deal when you are that age), and male. My daughter didn’t even like being around boys at that age! 🙂
    I told the child to let me speak to her dad. I said, “Sir, I’m so sorry, but this is an all girl party. Do you need for me to come pick up your daughter to help you out?”
    Later that afternoon, this same dad was nearly an hour late picking up his child. I think he had some business to take care of and was looking for free babysitting for all three that day.

  • winter January 10, 2011, 1:43 pm

    As the mother, I would have felt very sad for my little 6 year daughter not getting an invite. No, I would not have told her to call the girl and ask anyway, and I probably would have made sure we had done something special that day to make up for the lack of invite.

    However, having said, would it have been a bad thing to tell the girl to come on ahead to the party? If she had had the guts to ask, she obviously wanted to be there, must have thought you were closer friends than you thought, and since you had many other children there, how could 1 more have been a problem? (unless there was something else going on you didn’t mention, like only 10 allowed at the skating party, etc.) She made the fax paus, but I think etiquette graciousness would have gone a long way to making everyone feel better all around.

  • Elizabeth January 10, 2011, 1:56 pm

    Who has their 5 year old make a phone call like that? Even if the girl’s mom felt a phone was need, which it wasn’t, she should have called your mom. You two were too young to be involved in what seems like very unnecessary drama.

  • Not one of us January 10, 2011, 2:01 pm

    But did the girl end up coming to the party? I have to know!

    I have had children attempt to invite themselves to my 3 son’s birthday parties. It’s a tightrope walk explaining without being rude that the plans have been made and everything is set in stone. I usually end up asking to speak directly to the parent and explaining the situation. Then they can speak to their child.

    Perhaps this little girl attempted to invite herself because she wanted to be friends or because one of her friends was going and she didn’t want to be left out.

  • Allie January 10, 2011, 2:15 pm

    I take it the girl was not, ultimately, invited to the party, which is too bad. It seems, for whatever reason, she really wanted to go. Perhaps her mother thought that ordinary etiquette rules didn’t apply to children, or perhaps she, herself, was etiquette-impaired and thought inviting oneself to a party was okay. Whatever the case, adults often don’t realize how our actions affect our children. Hopefully, the little girl forgot all about it (and has learned some better etiquette since then).

  • Wink-n-Smile January 10, 2011, 2:49 pm

    You did nothing wrong, or shameful. More likely, you feel pity for the girl, and empathize with her feeling of exclusion. Although she had no right to expect an invitation (not being part of your group of friends), knowing that there’s a party makes a child want to go, and her feeling was natural.

    You are a very kind, empathic soul. Kudos to you. I’m sure you learned to be more discreet and avoid talking about parties, and such, in front of those who are not going to attend.

  • ItGirl January 10, 2011, 3:43 pm

    I don’t know – I could see myself lying at the age of 5 (i.e., saying my mother told me to call when in reality, I called on my own). I admit it: I was not perfect. I made mistakes. But I also learnt my lesson. I still remember a mom explaining to me that she would not buy me an ice cream cone as she was only doing that for her son’s friends. I ran home and cried because she was so mean, but then I “got it.” I guess I need to learn through the School of Hard Knocks. Maybe this girl did, too. Either way, there’s no reason for the OP to feel badly.

  • Pam January 10, 2011, 3:49 pm

    You were not trying to be mean and you did not want to hurt her feelings – you didn’t do anything wrong. I wonder what her thoughts are today when she thinks back to inviting herself to your party; she just might be cringing too…. everybody has those “memorable cringe-worthy moments” and they should serve to remind us to be gracious….. : )

  • Lizza January 10, 2011, 4:20 pm

    Did your mom end up talking to her mom? It’s so sad that her mom made her call and ask you that – you were both definitely too young to be involved in that kind of drama.

  • Margaret January 10, 2011, 4:33 pm

    I think the birthday party drama is one of the worst things about my kid going to school, and I don’t think there’s nearly the problem here that there is in other places.

    I taught for a couple of years before I had kids. In my grade one class, a girl had given invitations to all the girls in the class. Many of them attended the party, and the mom came to the school to pick them all up. A couple hours later, the mom phoned the school. One girl’s mother had not yet come to pick her up. The moms had not spoken prior to the party. The party mom needed the girl’s mother’s phone number to get her picked up. The party mom later told me that the extra girl’s mom hadn’t known about the party, and that girl had just wanted to go with the other girls (it gives you an idea of the extra girl’s family situation that the school had not been phoned when she didn’t arrive home on the bus — not evil but neglectful). With my kids, I am NEVER sending invitations through the school — if we know them well enough to invite them to our home, then we know them well enough to phone them or get an address for a mail invitation.

  • SHOEGAL January 10, 2011, 5:05 pm

    When I was in elementary school and someone was having a birthday party – everyone in the birthday girl’s classroom was invited. I’m inclined to believe that the girl was upset about not being invited – related this to her mother. The mother perhaps thought – it was just an oversight – and why not just make a phone call so all this could be cleared up not thinking her daughter wasn’t invited at all. How much can 5 year olds be completely certain of who their really “good” friends are??? If she questioned her daughter – she might have told her Mom – that yes – we are friends – not fully understanding that she wasn’t a GOOD friend – so why would it be such a problem or a breach of etiquette to make this simple phone call to clear it all up?? I know things like this stick with us and actually plays a part in shaping our lives as we grow up – I’m hoping that once you wrote it all down – you’ll be able to let it go.

  • Daisy January 10, 2011, 5:16 pm

    I have to politely disagree with Queen of All Things, who believes the little girl doesn’t even remember. Perhaps not, but as a little girl in the same situation 55 years ago, I can tell you that some feelings of being unwanted never truly disappear. (I had no mother, and my father lacked much experience with polite society. He figured “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” ) Children remember more than we hope, sometimes.

  • Cooler Becky January 10, 2011, 5:34 pm

    As the child who was never invited to anyone’s parties, I would say that I sympathise with that child BUT that I would never have invited myself to a party ever.

    That’s just asking to be the one that’s left out of all the party games or being made fun of by the other children.

  • Miss Miaw January 10, 2011, 5:51 pm

    My guess, and it is only a guess here, is that the little girl has told her mother that you were having a party and was not invited. She might have been sad about it, she might have liked you more than you realised. The mother, not realising that you and her daughter weren’t anything other than casual playground chums, has misread this as, These two little friends have had a fight, and now OP is having a party and not inviting my little angel, and her advice has been ‘well you should tell OP how you feel and how much it would mean to you to be invited’ and then advanced it with ‘I’ll dial the number for you right now’. Either that or she knew fine well that you weren’t great friends and was hoping to shame you into free babysitting for a few hours (she couldn’t possible say no to a five year old!).

    I feel sorry for you, and also for this other little girl. Chances are she didn’t want to call you to invite herself but was made to by her mother, and even though she probably knew why she wasn’t invited, it’s never nice to hear it straight out. The thing to remember is, she’s either forgotton it herself entirely, or like you, she’s looked back on it with adult eyes and realised that her mother was the one at fault. Either way, I highly doubt she blames you at all.

  • Celeste January 10, 2011, 5:53 pm

    I have to strongly disagree with those who say the little girl should have been allowed to go; I understand that she felt sad about missing a party and thats natural. But this party isn’t for children she even knows well and I think that to have said yes to her coming would have set a precedent that tells her she can do what she wants even if its not something shes been included in. Children do need to learn that its not always about them, and i think this was probably a good learning experiance for her , if her mother took the time to use it as one.

  • Asha January 10, 2011, 9:06 pm

    I am trying so hard right now to see why everyone’s saying this poor little 5 year old girl was in the wrong for wanting to come to a party. Maybe she didn’t have any friends. Maybe she was lonely at home too, maybe her mother was single, etc. Since when is it a crime for a child to want to feel included, even if she wasn’t close to the OP? I’m thinking her mother wanted her daughter to contact the OP because it would help the girl branch out and become less shy and introverted and possibly make a/new friend/s. I’m starting to think this site is becoming overrun with prim old ladies who have no idea what it’s like to grow up in the 21st century.

  • Zhoen January 10, 2011, 9:13 pm

    Oh, those long unresolved injustices from early life. Whatever was going on, that you were cornered was unfair. That sense of wrongness will stay with you, of course, and you will never put anyone else on the spot as a result. One of those cut-to-the bone lessons. Very hard.

  • Rebecca January 10, 2011, 9:45 pm

    I remember changing schools when I was about 8. I had difficulty making friends at the new school. Most of the kids teased me and made me miserable. I had one good friend in the class that year. My birthday rolled around and my mother said I could invite 8 kids. So I invited 7 friends from my previous school and neighbourhood, and the one girl from the new school that was my friend. On the day of the party (it was after school), somehow all the other kids in my new class got wind of it, and all day they were asking me, “Can I come to your party?” I felt really awkward so I just said, “No, my mom won’t let me invite any more.” It’s a very handy excuse when you’re that age: “My mom said no.”

  • Jen January 10, 2011, 10:58 pm

    Something similar happened to me when I was eight. My mom had arranged a party for me at a themed restaurant and invited my entire class. One of the mother’s came up to me and asked if her younger daughter could stay too, and I being eight and feeling confronted just stammered. When my mother found out she was somewhat miffed, but what could she do? The little girl was already there. Not that it really matters, but they gave me a check for my birthday that bounced when my mother tried to cash it. Needless to say, they were not invited the next year.

  • Shunya January 11, 2011, 1:59 am

    Admin, the shame is Certainly misplaced!

    What’s wrong if a child asks if she could come to a party she isn’t invited to?
    If it confused you then, okay no sweat, you were just a little kid too.

    But hey, now that you’re not, the shame’s on your lack of kindness and grace that Still makes you see that event as “a violation of etiqutte!”

    Live & love admin, and dont value someone else’s manners more than you value your own humanity!

  • Ange January 11, 2011, 3:04 am

    I was that girl once. When I was around that age, a new girl in class had a birthday party. It was only slightly different that in my case a lot of the girls from my class were invited, not just some. I was not. But it seemed kind of random, since this girl was really new. For example my best friend was invited and asked me if we’d buy a present and go together. Since I wasn’t invited, my mom told me to ask if I could come anyway and then I could go together with my friend. And I did…
    I do remember feeling rather awkward when calling her.

  • Hal January 11, 2011, 3:25 am

    The reason you are seeming compelled to remember this incident these many years later is simple. You are experiencing a sense of shame and you are uncomfortable with the feeling. This proves you are a good person. If you weren’t you would have forgotten the incident many years ago. The little girl you left out should never have been able to learn of your party. No one in your class should have been invited unless all were invited. This is a rule of thumb not to be broken. To risk, even slightly, the chance another person might, by your actions, be hurt or offended must never be risked. Any negative or justifying reaction to this rule reveals your selfish nature. The telephone call you received was also wrong. It should never had been made. It hurt you. Therefore it, too, was out of bounds. No frivolity, such as a child’s birthday party, is worth the hurt feelings of anyone let alone a five year old little girl.

  • Bint January 11, 2011, 4:10 am

    The little girl didn’t do anything wrong because she was far too young to understand that you don’t ring someone up and ask to come to their party when they didn’t invite you. Her parents were in the wrong for letting her use the phone to do this, or for telling her to do it. They are the ones that put the OP on the spot really, and what they did was wrong. They should have spoken to the OP’s mother – which would still have been cheeky but far better than this.

    To those saying the little girl should have been allowed to come: it was the OP’s birthday. She invited who she wanted there. It’s sad if the other little girl wanted to come, but her wishes shouldn’t override those of the girl whose birthday it is. And what message are you giving your 5 year old if you tell them, “Well, I know you didn’t want to invite her but she wants to come so tough”?

  • jenna January 11, 2011, 7:01 am

    OP, of course you shouldn’t feel any shame over this – even at that age you knew what the other girl was doing really wasn’t appropriate. I agree that the girl shouldn’t have been allowed to come to the party – lonely or not, it’s never a good life lesson to invite yourself to things.

    The little girl who called to ask was five years old, too, though, so I am not going to jump all over her for this. The OP clearly had a precocious sense of polite actions, but not all five-year-olds do, especially if their parents haven’t taught them (which the girl-who-called’s parents clearly had not). I would say that 5 years old is to early to expect a child to know the nuances of polite vs. impolite…the basics, sure (like how to address your elders or that every good deed and gift gets a thank you), and they should certainly be learning, but c’mon, at 5 years old, the girl can’t have known everything.

    So…if anyone should have felt shame over this at the time, it should have been the girl’s parents. If the girl remembers the incident and now knows better (which I dearly hope she does), she probably cringes even harder than the OP.

    When I was young I made all sorts of etiquette faux pas…I didn’t know better. Now that I do, you bet I cringe when I remember! My only weak consolation is “I honestly didn’t realize…and now I do and I’m better for it”.

    So, I guess, my vote goes for being less punishing to genuinely clueless kids (and occasional clueless adult) and holding the parents, who should be teaching them, more accountable.

  • karma January 11, 2011, 10:16 am

    @ Winter:
    Winter, I’m not sure I agree with what you suggested. I DO acknowledge the spirit in which you suggested it however as being kindly meant.
    The reason I don’t agree is twofold: One, the mother and child did not show up at their home. Had they done that, inviting them to stay would have been more or less the only option.
    Two, by giving in to their request, the OP’s mother would have reinforced that it is okay to invite oneself. The other mom was silly enough to let the child call and would probably have repeated the offending behavior in the future if she was positively reinforced. Being declined might have taught the rude mom a life lesson she needed to learn.

  • Louise January 11, 2011, 10:50 am


    I don’t see anyone saying it was wrong for the little girl to want to come to the party, but it is a faux pas to invite yourself, even at 5. We don’t know what prompted that phone call — a child’s loneliness? A parent’s manipulation? — but it put the OP and her mom in an awkward situation. I don’t think there’s anything “prim” about not wanting to add one more person. I vaguely recall parties at that age and they were often geared specifically to the number of people coming, such as a party bag for each child, no extras. Maybe an extra child would have required an extra trip to the store, or something. Who knows?

    I think that, if handled correctly, this could have been a good learning moment for the little girl: you’re not always invited to the party, sometimes life isn’t fair, you can’t invite yourself because it’s rude, etc. Tough lessons to learn at 5, but not too early, no?

  • Inga January 11, 2011, 10:58 am

    That sounds like something my mother could have done. She never understood that social rules apply to kids as well as adults, and that even at the age og five of six kids form groups that you are either a part of, or not. I was shy and had few friends, and my mother would encourage med to just go play with the other kids or just call them, not understanding that those kids would think I was weird if I did that, as I was not a part of that group. If I refused, she could get mad at me for not trying to befriend them hard enough. So I would have to choose between making my mother angry at me, or putting myself even lower on the social hierarchy by behaving in ways unacceptable to the other kids. Sometimes parents simply do not understand.

  • many bells down January 11, 2011, 11:04 am

    In this case we don’t know how much the mother was really involved, but the anecdotes of uninvolved parents reminded me of one of my own daughter’s parties.

    We were in a public park with picnic table areas that were commonly used for birthday parties. The table we had was close to the playground and under a big tree. This was perfect, since we had a pinata.

    When we broke the pinata, several small children we didn’t know came running off the playground and began helping themselves to the candy. I was taken aback. I never would have done that even at 5 or 6 – it would have been clear to me even in a public park that this was someone else’s party.

    I’ve no idea where the parents were or why they weren’t supervising their kindergarten-age children in a public playground. I felt bad, but I ended up telling them gently that this pinata was for my guests, and asked where their parents were. They scampered off with the handfuls of candy they’d managed to grab.

  • StepMomster January 11, 2011, 11:11 am

    I have sympathy for your five year old self, the mom on the other end on that telephone call was to blame, not you!

    I have had another weird phenomenom occur when my daughter was 7, we had a party for her filled with girls from our church. We had one grandmother refuse to go home after dropping her granddaughter off, she invited herself in, and calmy monopolized my mother’s time the entire party. She was about 10 years older than my mom, and we were new to the church at the time, so we just endured her presence, but it was really weird.

    The other issue is that I am a twin, so for years me and my sister didn’t get invited to anything! My freinds didn’t like her (she was a poor sport) so they didn’t invite me because they didn’t know how to tell her she wasn’t invited. Finally I had a freind brave enough to ask me to go without her, and when my sister asked to go my mother told her “Well, you might be twins sweetheart, but you are not conjoined. why don’t we go to a movie just us while your sister is at the party, they might only be allowing 8 girls to go, and *brittney* had to make hard decisions with the quest list.”

    I have no patience with parents that don’t have a spine enough to tell younger or other children in the family “no” when their siblings get invited to a party. I have 2 kids 17 months apart, and I have never let either of them crash the party, even though sometimes the other parent will see my son/daughters wistful face and politely invite them. I always say brightly “oh thankyou for such a nice offer! but we have some special plans ourselves!” and withdraw.

  • Dannysgirl January 11, 2011, 11:16 am

    I also must disagree with the posters who thought the other girl should have been allowed to attend the party. I am 34, and not a “prim old lady.” Life is full of things we won’t be able to do. Stroking a child’s ego at five sets a bad precedent. This tells children that Mommy and Daddy will always shield them from hurt feelings.
    On a related note: My MIL works at a private K-8 school where every child who tries out for a sport is allowed to join. The rules for games is that all team members must play, or the team forfeits. There are so many children on teams, that each child isn’t getting that much playing time. Some of the sports have two teams worth of children, making scheduling games hard. How much fun is it to play for only 30 seconds simply to prevent someone else’s hurt feelings?
    How is this ego stroking fair to anyone? I do not understand this attitude that our children must be
    included in every event they want to be in. This does not prepare them for adulthood, where there will be a lot of exclusion. The sooner our children learn to cope with rejection, the better equipped they will be.

  • Ruth January 11, 2011, 11:57 am

    If the mom was behind it, then it was very ill-mannered. But otherwise it sounds like the kind of social awkwardness that 5-year-olds do & are then embarrassed about for years to come. I still remember an awkward phone call I made at 5 to tell a girl’s mom that the girl was mean. In retrospect, I should’ve talked to my parents first…and of course our parents did talk after that call!! But I was 5. I still remember it & feel embarrassed 20 years later, but I probably shouldn’t. At that age, we do dumb stuff and hopefully our parents talk to us about it and we don’t do it again. If her mom was behind it, then she probably didn’t get that talking-to.

  • Lynn January 11, 2011, 12:05 pm

    Asha, I’m intrigued by your response. I don’t see anyone saying that the little girl was wrong for WANTING to go to the party, only that it was wrong for her mother to allow/encourage her to call the OP and try to get herself invited. As we can see from the OP’s response, this action made the OP feel very uncomfortable, even though she’d done nothing wrong herself.

    I think if the mother wanted the little girl to reach out to others more and develop new friendships, which is completely understandable with a shy child at that age, she should have called the OP’s mother to set up a playdate for the girls separately from the party, not tried to impose her daughter on a pre-arranged event that she hadn’t been invited to. Of course we don’t know the full story of the motivation behind the phone call; the mother may have been thinking exactly what Asha described, but she just went about it in a thoughtless way that put the OP and her mother on the spot. I congratulate the OP and her mother for not just giving in and inviting the girl anyway, thus validating the child’s/her mother’s poor behavior.

    Asha, I do think your last comment was uncalled for; as we can see from many of the other comments on this story, people have experienced feelings of loneliness and exclusion as children even though they DIDN’T grow up in the 21st century. That’s certainly nothing new. I don’t see how name-calling and suggesting that people are out of touch furthers the discussion of this topic.

  • Jillybean January 11, 2011, 12:34 pm

    @Dannysgirl – at least they are letting everyone play equally. Better than the teams that let the kids on, take hundreds of dollars in sign-up fees from the parents, make them buy uniforms and equipment, make the parents drive to events over and over again, just to see their kid sit dejectedly on the bench to be put in for the last play of the game. I’m not saying every kid should always make the team or get the same playing time, but youth sports are actually pretty disgustingly unfair (to the child, to the parents, and certainly to the wallet) where I live. And yes, life’s not fair, but tell that to the parent who’s out hundreds of dollars, in what, in my opinion anyway, amounts to a scam (sure we’ll take your money, but be won’t actually let your kid participate).

    As for the OP – I’m not going to say that the OP should have invited the little girl, but I agree with the poster who said if you’re throwing a party that people not invited to it shouldn’t even be privvy to the fact that a party is being thrown. And sure, you were taken aback, but really? The answer your mom went with was, “Sure, if someone else cancels”? Your mom certainly should have asked to speak to the other child’s mother. Her leaving you hanging to deal with it is as bad as the other mother telling her 5 year old to pick up the phone and call you (assuming that even happened).

  • Asharah January 11, 2011, 1:09 pm

    Hal are you serious? “No one in your class should have been invited unless all were invited.” Sorry, but that just doesn’t fly with me. I had birthday parties where I invited people from my class, but my parents would never have agreed to host 30+ kids for a party. I see nothing wrong with inviting 5 or 6 close friends from a class of 60 as the OP did. Kids need to learn, and I do not think 5 is too young, that there will be some occasions in life they will not be invited to.

  • justintime January 11, 2011, 1:16 pm

    Raising my girls as a divorced mom, money has always been tight. The reason to invite 7 girls to the party, (making the total 8 including the birthday girl) is that packages of birthday decorations (plates, hats, gift bags, etc.) come in 8. Just one more girl inviting herself, and a whole new package is required (with 7 items left over). When in fact, this happened, the one left without all the birthday items, was the birthday girl herself.

  • irish January 11, 2011, 1:18 pm

    @Hal, I find your statement ‘To risk, even slightly, the chance another person might, by your actions, be hurt or offended must never be risked’ a little…. baffling? I know we should abide by the rules of etiquette and try to make others feel comfortable and not to hurt them, but really it’s inevitable that you might hurt somebody at some stage in your life. By that logic, one could never end a romantic relationship because it would hurt the other person. To bring it back to the point at hand, there are many possible reasons why not everyone in the class could be invited. The house might be too small, the cost of so many prohibitive, there could have been someone in the class the child OP particularly disliked and didn’t want to obviously exclude (I’m in no way suggesting this was in fact the case by the way, just giving an example). Etiquette is one thing, but living your life by the principle that you must never ever risk causing anyone pain will lead to a life barely lived.

  • Angie January 11, 2011, 2:54 pm

    @ Inga – that reminds me of my mother. My sister and I used to be shy, and I can remember being at playgrounds or gatherings where there would be groups of kids playing that we’d never met before, and my mom would bring us up to them and introduce us, and ask if we could play with them.

    I know she was doing it with the best intentions, to try to help us make friends, but it used to be incredibly awkward. We would stare uncomfortably at each other and I remember feeling like sometimes I really wasn’t wanted there.

    Now sometimes it did turn out that the other kids were friendly and welcomed us in. But usually my sister and I would end up playing together, alongside the other kids who politely ignored us because they were already friends and had no idea who we were.

    @ the OP – the two mothers should definitely have communicated with each other. If the other girl’s mom did tell her to call and invite herself, shame on her. Sure, you don’t want your kid to be left out, but you also don’t teach them to invite themselves to things.

  • livvy January 11, 2011, 5:08 pm

    Life is full of disappointments. Etiquette doesn’t prevent that. Etiquette isn’t meant to provide all people with all things, soothe all hurt feelings, or be the altar upon which a kind and caring person sacrifices themself. In this case, either the little girl who called or her mother was the one making an error, in asking to be invited, whatever their motivations. The host/hostess isn’t responsible to accomodate anyone who wants to come to their event, whether the attendees are 1 or 100 years of age. While it may be nice to be more widely inclusive, it’s not required by etiquette. (Although discretion may be important in such circomstances to avoid hurt.)

    Regarding inclusion, entitlement and child-rearing, I’m on the side with those who hold children responsible for their own actions, and consider the mistakes and mis-steps learning adventures. For sports teams, if you’re paying, it’s a voluntary choice to participate, and also a voluntary choice to practice both on and off the field for a chance at more on-field time opportunity. If you are looking at participation in these things as an opportunity to learn, sign up for one-on-one coaching or practice instead. The older kids get, the more true this is. As adults, we don’t all get turns at being the quarterback, the CEO, the artist.

  • Miss Raven, feeling a bit better January 11, 2011, 5:33 pm

    I’m the OP on this one. It’s been marinating in the back of my mind for years and it feels so good to finally get it out – thank you, Etiquette Maven, for posting it so promptly. To answer a few questions:

    @gramma dishes – No, although we did go through eight more uneventful years of school together. The situation remained until graduation as it was in kindergarten: Friendly enough and got along when we worked together, but we were never really friends.

    @Enna – It was standard practice in my school (public, magnet, in the city) to pass out at the beginning of each year a class roster that listed the names of the children in the class, the names of their parents, and their home phone number. It was helpful for things like carpooling and group projects, and incidents of abuse were infrequent if they existed at all. In fact, my first boyfriend in 2nd grade got my phone number off the class roster and used it to “ask me out” one night after school. One of my sweetest, earliest memories.

    As to the debate about whether the girl did (or should have been invited to) come to the party, she did not. I can’t assume to know anything about her home situation and I can’t remember her mother, but she was a nice girl who had plenty of friends at school. She wasn’t a loner or the odd girl out, and except for this situation she seemed(seems?) very well-adjusted. I think maybe what’s eating at me was that she wasn’t in the end invited to the party, but it wasn’t at home (I think it was at an arcade or a Chuck E Cheese or something where you pay by the kid?) and while we weren’t “poor” growing up, my parents were extremely budget-conscious and did what I understand now to be a great deal of planning to make sure we got the very most out of exactly what we could afford. That’s the best explanation I have now for why she wasn’t asked along.

    @Hal – As for “inviting the whole class,” I have to respectfully disagree with that sentiment and the idea that to dare to do so reveals your evil inherent selfishness. It’s noble and it might work in smaller areas when classes of children are 20 – 30, but I come from a huge city and my class was 60 kids large. In a class that big you can’t be expected to be good friends with everyone, but a lot of kids, myself included, become “best best friends” with a small group, and what is a birthday party without your best friends? Ideally there would be much more emphasis on not making other kids feel bad by talking about the party in class, which is a lesson I apparently had to learn the hard way. But this “not hurting anyone” situation for party invites can extend beyond the classroom, and into the adult world.

    If you worked with a couple people you were close with and invited them to your wedding, would you have to invite everyone in the office or not invite your close friends? What about your church? Or any other area of your life where you are involved in a larger group but close with few? Any time there is a gathering with a restricted guest list, ever, someone risks being hurt. If you are “on the outs” in this situation, your feelings (even as an adult) may very well be hurt, which is natural, but you gather yourself together and move on. You know to not take it personally. For my money, this is a lesson that kids should not wait to learn. Valentines and Halloween candy and birthday cupcakes in the classroom are one thing, but events that take place outside the classroom do not need to be regulated in such a way.

    If a child feels left out and it’s not a legitimate slight, that’s a teachable moment and a good lesson to learn. I wasn’t invited to every birthday party, and I’m not now, but that slight sting I feel as an adult could be much worse had I not learned at a young age that it’s not all about me, and I won’t always be included, for one reason or another.

    If this makes me a bad person in your eyes I understand, but I didn’t grow up all that long ago and did so without rules such as “invite all 60 kids in your class or don’t invite anyone,” which makes me believe that generations and generations before us similarly grew up without it, and did not seem to suffer for it. If anything, do you ever hear the phrase, “Kids these days have such proper etiquette, it’s such a shame that our elders can’t learn a thing or two from the way they’re brought up now”?

    @many bells down – I just have to say that your username is beautiful. One of my all-time favorite poems.

    This got really, really long and I apologize but I didn’t notice this had gotten posted and accumulated so many comments. Thank you, all of you for your input, and I do feel better and letting-go-ish. I also have half a mind to call my Mom and ask if she remembers, and if she did later talk to the other girl’s mother because it seems like something she would have done. I may not remember, and it may give me insight on the situation that I didn’t have before.

  • karma January 11, 2011, 5:38 pm


    I’m going to disagree with you too, respectfully. Here is why:
    Living life on this planet requires that we are not able to give everyone equal shares of ourselves, our time, our energy, our resources, or our friendship. We have to choose where to direct these things. Otherwise we end up attempting to please the world while never enjoying it.
    My parents, being quite poor, would never have been able to host 30 kids for a party (not to mention the inevitable younger siblings that seem to get dropped off). The best they could do was up to three girls coming home with me, with me making it a nice even number. Four, counting me. That was our party limit.
    Considering at that age we make your friends primarily at school, that would mean that this was my only pool of friends. By your logic—I shouldn’t have invited anyone if I could not invite all–that would have made for 12 years of no events.
    The key is to be discreet–an invaluable character trait one must cultivate. My mom always told me that I had to extend the invitation privately, and never to bring it up in front of anyone who was not invited. I was no rocket scientist, but I sure understood why and how to do it effectively.

  • Nobot January 11, 2011, 7:01 pm

    I remember when I was seven, everyone in my class except me was invited to a birthday party. Really, I watched as the birthday boy handed an invitation to everyone except me. He looked embarrassed when he passed over me without an invite, so I think I was forgotten.

    I didn’t call and ask to be invited though. I was really, really hurt, but I thought that would just make things worse.

  • IzzyforRealz January 11, 2011, 8:40 pm

    I disagree with the posters who believe that the OP should have allowed the child to come to her party. The younger they are, the easier and faster they learn, and the less you have to do over when the children are older and have fallen into incorrect patterns of behavior. Yes, the little girl was young, and yes she probably did not know better, but her mother did. Her desire to be invited to the party was a chance for her parents to gently inform her of the boundaries that exist even in childhood. I wasn’t the most popular child in elementary school, but even I would never have dared to call someone I was not good friends with and attempt to invite myself to their house for a play date, let alone a party! Not being rude does not entail that we have no spine, only that we be polite about how we use it. Also, I fail to see what age has to do with etiquette. At 22 I’m hardly a prim old lady, but apparently my opinion would label me as such.

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