Once upon a time a child's birthday party was a simple affair; an opportunity to invite your child's closest friends and family round for jelly and ice cream and - if you were feeling really generous - a slice of birthday cake wrapped in a napkin to take home. But these days parents seem intent on pulling out all the stops for their childrens birthdays and think nothing of hiring pricy venues, booking bouncy castles and even commissioning caterers - and inviting the whole class.
I've had the same conversation over and over again with mums at the school gates of late. Just last week a mother sidled up to me, shooting a furtive sidelong glance around us and pulling up her collar as she leaned in close and whispered in a confessional tone: "I'm not inviting them all."
I thought she was going to cry with relief when I told her I had issued an edict to my nearly-four-year-old decreeing that he could invite no more than 20 children to his upcoming birthday party at the local sports hall. Even twenty sounds like ten too many to me.
Suddenly everyone seems to feel this pressure to invite the entire class. I suppose it only takes one parent to open the floodgates and invite the whole class before all the other mums feel like its a trend. And we all know how much mums like to keep up with fashion.
Well, I've never been one to conform and I'm not about to start now. I've got friends who admit to inviting the whole class out of fear that they'll fall out of favour with the other mums if they don't. Frankly I don't mind if someone thinks badly of me for leaving out their little darling - anyone inclined to mutter about it behind my back isn't someone I'm likely to love hanging out with anyway. I'm just not interested in letting my life be ruled by the Mum Mafia.
Jude, a mum of four, points out that inviting the entire class to four birthday parties a year would be enough to bankrupt her. "It gets my goat when other parents do it", she says. "I think it's adult peer pressure - parents do it because they don't want their own kids to get left out of other parties - but what kind of example is that to set to children?"
To combat the peer pressure Jude set a limit of 10 for her daughter's recent party. With 12 girls in the class, she soon started feeling an awkward pressure to invite them all, and felt bad about leaving out just two of her daughter's classmates. "But you have to draw the line somewhere," she says. "If you have the parties at home, like we do, you just can't have 26 screaming sugar-fuelled kids running amok. I'm just glad she wants a sleepover this year so I can definitely say no more than four."
Recently Parentdish ran a feature bemoaning the rudeness of parents who didn't even reply to party invitations.
Is it mean-spirited to come right out and say that I suspect those who invite the masses only do so as a social symbol or in the hopes that their child will amass a horde of presents? Perhaps there are those who throw huge birthday parties because of their unfaltering love of the human race and their desire to be all-inclusive - but I doubt it.
When I was a child birthday parties were special partly because of the people who came to help you celebrate - they weren't a free-for-all to which anyone you vaguely knew was invited. I don't think that's being exclusive or unkind - in fact I think it's beneficial for children to understand that parties are special occasions, to which you invite people who are special in your life. I also suspect that the invite-the-whole-class trend might be partly to blame for the fact that so many children seem to have an eye-watering sense of entitlement for ones so young.
My four year old has agonised over the invite list for his birthday party but when each of his friends arrives on his big day he'll have the joy of knowing that he's partying with real, treasured friends - not little strangers who just happen to share his classroom.
What do you think?
Have you invited the whole class or do you stick to a select few?
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