My five-year old was recently invited to her first girls only birthday party. It was a fairy themed party on a beautiful, warm Sunday, and everyone had a really nice time. The kids all got wings when they arrived and ran around outside in-between cake and craft projects. It was a sweet and wholesome party - but, half the class was excluded.
I’m struggling with how I feel about this rite of passage. A “girls only” birthday party is the same as a “no boys allowed” birthday party, isn’t it? Looking at it from the flip-side kind of puts a damper on a celebration, no? But at the same time, I’m sure only inviting girls helped to cut the party list down to a more manageable number. Also, this is the way the birthday girl wanted it. And isn’t there an unwritten rule that the birthday child should have it her way on her special day?
So I sit here conflicted and wondering what I would do if/when my daughters want to exclude half their classmates – their friends – from their birthday celebrations. We’ve had the fortunate experience of becoming close with several families from our kids’ preschool, and not surprisingly, these families include sons – sons my daughters really enjoy playing with. My hope, and my expectation, is that our family ties will endure, and I would hate to excluding these children. Likewise, I think my kids would feel terrible getting left out of their celebrations. But maybe I’m just projecting….Maybe I’m the one who would feel bad.
I know when I was around my daughter’s age, getting left out because I was a girl really hurt my feelings. From birth to age 10, my very best friend was my across-the-street-neighbor who happened to be a boy. We knew each other before we were born and spent our first 5 years doing everything together. But when we got to elementary school our friendship went underground, as most boy-girl friendships do at this age. We entered Kindergarten, and suddenly I was getting excluded when other friends (boys) were playing across the street. It was even explained to me that my best friend was just “embarrassed” to play with a girl when his other friends were around.
Kids are pretty forgiving, and I must have shaken off this insult and agreed to the new terms of our friendship: best friends back at home when no one else was around. However, I vividly remember feeling devastated to learn that I was not invited to his birthday party that year. While we had our own “special” best friend birthday celebration which included dinner at Sally’s Stage (the Chicago-land, 70s equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese’s) and laughing so hard that I knocked my two front teeth out on his knee, I always remembered being excluded from “the real” birthday party. Sure the missing teeth served as a solid physical reminder for some time, but emotionally, that event has lived on in my memory for decades.
So what do you think? Am I projecting or protecting? Are single-gender birthday parties a harmless way to celebrate? What do you do when your child says he or she doesn’t want to include someone based on gender?