Birthday Party Blunders – pet peeves, etiquette, and no-nos

I have committed a major mommy faux-pas…I’m a wee bit embarrassed by it…

We’re in the height of birthday party season. As a mom of twins who are in the same social circles, I ALWAYS make it a point to check that the birthday invitation was intended for both children. I’m sensitive to the fact that it’s wrong to assume that just because my kids are twins, they’re both invited. I mean, I know that more kids at a party = more cost.

We recently received a birthday invitation for a bounce-house place… for some reason, I had a major brain-fart and forgot to check that the invite was for both kids, and just assumed that it was for both children. On the evite, I responded “YES, 2 children, 1 adult.”

Within minutes, I received an email back with the subject “birthday party invite.” The body of the message said, “I’m sorry but Bubba is NOT invited as this is a girls-only party.” Notice the emphasis on “NOT.” I was mortified because to her, I’m officially THAT mom…I quickly declined, not because of my embarrassment, but because of childcare issues; although, I’m sure that move annoyed the host-mom even more.

(I should say that this is countered by another email I unsolicitedly received from another mom of twins for a girls’ only party. She said, “As a mom of twins, I know how heartbreaking it is to leave one twin out, so please feel free to bring Bubba, too…he won’t even notice that it’s all girls.”)

I saw this embarrassment as an opportunity to highlight birthday-party etiquette (and annoyances), and so I asked on Facebook: “What is your pet peeve when it comes to birthday parties?” Below are the responses.

This is what over-the-top birthday parties looked like in early 1900s. Credit: wikimedia

Invitations and Responses:

Not Responding At All – when did it become OK to not respond at all to a birthday party invitation? “RSVP” means “response sil-vous-plait,” which for you non-French speakers means “Please respond.” If you don’t respond, then the host/hostess will not know how much food to buy and how many gift bags to plan for. I mean, how hard is it to call the host family and say, “I’m really sorry but we won’t be able to make it?” Worse, if you don’t respond, don’t plan to show up, because the party host(ess) probably has not accounted for you in preparing food and favors.

Siblings (twins or otherwise) – if an invitation is addressed to “Sally,” it’s not ok to assume that Brother Johnny is invited as well. The invited parent should double-check if it’s ok to bring Johnny, and honestly, the considerate thing would be to offer to pay for Johnny if he plans to participate, eat cake and get a goodie bag. To the inviting parents, although cost may be an issue, if you can swing it, it’s generally nice to respond “Of course Johnny can come, and no payment is necessary.” In secret code, this is an acknowledgement from the invited parent that adding an additional child could pose a burden, and a responding thanks for acknowledging that this might be burden.

When it comes to twins/multiples, if the siblings are in the same class, it’s tricky to invite one and exclude the other. Inviting parents should specify “For Sally and Johnny” or put a disclaimer as to why Johnny is not invited (i.e. girls only). For invited parents, the same rules in the section above apply – if only Sally is invited, do not assume Johnny is too. If it’s not clear who was invited, then ask the inviting parent.

The Day of the Party

Parties that are Over-The-Top – by far, one of the BEST parties we attended was one where the mom set up munchies on a table and rented a gym space at the rec center. While they did have an animal entertainer (one of those traveling animal shows) come, she just brought a bunch of balls and orchestrated a bunch of relay races. The kids spent the entire 3 hours screeching with enjoyment. It was simple, low-stress (for everyone) and the kids came home exhausted. We’ve also been to parties that are way over-the-top and while they are really impressive, they put pressure on other parents to meet or exceed these standards.

Food – this is one that was eye opening to me, as it never occurred to me: a lot of parents complained about having too much junk food at the party. I personally don’t mind the munchies, as that’s kind of what I associate parties with – my kids look forward to birthday parties because it’s the one chance they have to eat loads of M&Ms, chips AND cupcakes all in one shot. When I host parties, I always make sure there is some healthy stuff (pretzels, fruit, watered down juice, water), but it never occurred to me to filter out the sweet stuff. Apparently, I am somewhat in the minority in this sentiment – many parents don’t really like the junkfood smorgasborg.

Drop Off versus Staying – we are at that tricky age where some parties are drop-off and some require parents to stay. Some of the parents in our circle have become smart and have addressed the invitation as “please drop off.” Again, if it’s not clear, then just ask.

I received a lot of responses on this topic – parents of older kids said it’s annoying for parents to linger when it’s clearly a drop-off party. This is because it puts stress on the host(ess) to find space and food for the parent, and also to be the “happy host(ess).” Parents of younger kids felt it was annoying when parents dropped off, and the kids clearly needed supervision (the phrase “free babysitting” came up a few times).

Gifts – I posted this in an earlier post, but it’s a safe assumption to make that for every kid attending, you bring one gift (so, in my case, if both my kids go, I bring two gifts). It’s also a safe assumption to make that if you go to a party for two or more kids (twins/multiples), you bring one gift per child. Basically, the general rule of thumb is: treat each kid as an individual, not as a unit.

Being on Time – like anything, it’s generally polite to tell the host parent if you’re going to be early or late. My friend had a family show up a half hour early…she was in the shower when they showed up at her door. While the family said, “don’t worry about us, we’ll just hang out here…” the host(ess) still feels like they need to entertain. On the flip end, if you’re going to be late coming (or late picking up), PLEASE just let the parent know – while coming late is not a huge deal, it’s nice for the host family to know whether they should wait before starting entertainment/games/food.

After the Party

Party Favors – the one universal comment I heard was that EVERYONE HATES GOODIE BAGS!!!! How have goodie bags even become a “thing?” I confiscate the bags even before my kids have a chance to look at them – this enables me to weed out the choking hazards and toys that will cause me endless grief (those stupid “sticky hands” leave greasy stains all over EVERYTHING). In my opinion, the party is enough (thank you for inviting us!) but if you feel like you want to give your guests a parting token, the best goodies we’ve received have been: cool school supplies, a playground ball (kickball-style), gift cards to the local FroYo place, and custom cookies. The favors from the dime bin at Target just create more grief than they are worth.

Thank you notes – Yes, it is polite to send a thank you note, and yes, it would be nice if you spelled the guest’s name correctly on the note. It doesn’t need to be too terribly personalized – something to the effect of, “Dear, Sarah – thank you for celebrating my birthday with me, and thank you for the awesome gift. Love, Robert.” Simple and to the point.

Now, more than ever, I am aware of the “annoyances” that might cause another parent headaches; both as a party-goer and a party-giver. Some of the responses were eye-opening for me (and they are not all my own opinion), and hopefully, they might shed some light for you on what irks other parents. At the end of the day, however, what really matters is that the kids go home happy and a big milestone has been acknowledged. Happy Birthday!

2 thoughts on “Birthday Party Blunders – pet peeves, etiquette, and no-nos

  1. I LOVED THIS POST SO MUCH! I recently just attended several birthday parties, as well as hosted one. Not RSVPing is a major pet peeve and was shocked at the amount of people that failed to respond to invitations to my daughter’s school friends, INCLUDING one whose party we had just attended the week before — and never received acknowledgement on gifts we bought and made. We skipped thank you cards this year (although I firmly believe in them) and instead made little individual YouTube videos for each child and emailed them to the parents “for” their 4-yr old children. I also wrote messages from us acknowledging the gifts that they brought and my daughter’s video thanked her friends for coming to her party and spoke about what she received. After making about 15 videos, I felt ok with our decision to skip handwritten cards (try to focus a 4 yr old for that length of time) and they were well received. Also — we did pizza, fruit, and pretzels. But anything goes at birthday parties for food! You had such awesome points, Vivian. So glad you posted this! You nailed it.

  2. I’m with you on the junk food. Never even occurred to me that this would be a pet peeve since I figure what’s a party without some cake & ice cream? Oh, and pizza!!!! YUM! 🙂

    On that note, another thing to add is dietary restrictions. This is my own opinion, for what it’s worth. If the child has dietary restrictions (ie: lactose intolerant, vegetarian, etc.), the parent can contact the host ahead of time to inquire about the menu so they can plan accordingly. However, the parent should not expect the host to tailor their menu to meet their individual child’s needs. Food allergies (ie: peanut allergies) are a different story. Parents should make the host aware of any life threatening allergies and, the host should make reasonable adjustments to ensure the safety of the child, within reason. If the child has a life threatening allergy to milk, eggs, and other commonplace foods, then the parent may need to consider other options. We can’t expect the birthday child to forego a birthday cake on their special day!

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