As a parent, you want to do everything you can to protect the feelings of your child and when those inevitable hurts occur, it tears you up because there is nothing you can do to stop the hurt from happening.
Children base their level of friendship on tangible things. They can't rationalize certain situations and know that friendship means more than being invited to things or sharing a snack together.
Being a teacher, I often hear the phrase "You're not invited to my birthday party" come out of the mouths of children trying to hurt the feelings of their friend. Birthday parties are huge for little kids and it is an outward demonstration of friendship.
Last week, my 4 year old son was absolutely devastated to discover that a boy that he thought was one of his favorite little friends was having a birthday party that included many other children from his preschool class and he was not invited. When he asked me if he was invited and I had to respond "I guess not, honey", he looked up at me with his eyes glistening wtih tears and said in a quiet voice "why not, Mommy?".
This broke my heart. My dear, sweet son thought that because of something he did, he was not invited to the party of his little friend. What was I to say to him to explain this?
We try to teach our children to share, play nicely and not leave anyone out, but then when it comes to birthday parties- the biggest event of months for some, and something that the birthday boy or girl are excited to talk about- we allow our children to be selective in who they invite and foster that feeling of superiority for the birthday child and the feeling of inadequacy in the ones that are not invited.
I understand the need to limit numbers for parties- logistically speaking or to fit into a "rule" of children allowed at a birthday party- but to willingly and knowingly do it at the expense of a young child that can't comprehend the reasoning is only teaching our children that it is ok to hurt the feelings of others as long as there is a "reason" to it.
We see this behaviour in adults as well. Those dinner parties that only a select few are invited to, the yearly parties centered around annual events, Christmas parties, etc. Adults are continuing the trend that they learned as children about party ettiquette and are using their party invitations as leverage in friendships and wielding them as superiority swords over their "friends".
With the birthdays of both my boys quickly approaching, I will look past the difficulties of having a larger group of children than I maybe would like, in order to allow my children to invite all the friends they desire so no one feels left out. I don't want my children to learn that it is alright to leave someone out and hurt their feelings at any time, especially for an event that is highly anticipated and publicized in the world of preschoolers.
In a time when teachers ask parents to send a Valentine's Day card or Halloween treat to every child in the class so that no one feels left out, why are we still allowing birthday parties to be elite events for only the select few "worthy" friends?
Now, don't get me wrong, many of the students in the preschool class have invited every child to their parties. I think that when one child doesn't do this, it makes it more obvious and pronounced. When my son asks "I was invited to so-and-so's party and I don't even play with her very often, but I play with so-and-so all the time and he didn't invite me. Why, Mommy?" What is a mother to say?
When I know the answer is that the mother of that child has a "birthday rule" and only invites a set number of children, how do I explain to him that he didn't make the cut this year?
Friendship is not based on numbers and how many children will fit comfortably around a table. I will not allow my children to think for a moment that it is ok to leave someone out because there is not room at our table. We can pull up another chair and make room to include that person. If we are going to instill in our children the importance of sharing, playing together nicely, being honest, etc, it needs to start with events that they can see and relate to.
I want my children to learn from example, and I am going to do my best to ensure that the example set by the boy he thought was a good friend is not the one that he follows. When it comes time to pass out invitations to his friends, I will ensure that no other child has to ask his or her mommy why they weren't invited to celebrate their friend's special day. No child should have to ask that question and no parent should have to try to explain away that hurt.