An article called Being Left Out Hurts: Moms, Stop 'Social Engineering' by Lisa Barr just came out on Today.com. It is an important article about how she sees many mothers encouraging their kids to leave out other "less popular" kids in some pretty terrible ways. Leaving people out in that way does hurt and it should not happen. In the comments, people talk about how this kind of treatment leads to depression and suicide in teens and adults.
For those reasons, and being a former "left out" child myself, I have been glad that we actually spend more time in social circles that say everyone has to invite everyone to everything every time.
I was all for inviting everyone, until I realized it was an extreme position and was teaching my son some detrimental lessons.
Shouldn’t my child be allowed to say that he does not feel comfortable or safe around another person? I do not think it is appropriate for me to force my son to accept playing with a child that often pushes people around and does not play well with others. One time when he was seven, my son did tell a parent he did not want a playdate with their child. I was at first mortified, but I also knew my son did not feel safe with this very physically aggressive child who had hit him before. Sometimes we parents might talk to each other and discuss how our kid is a biter and we might then work together as a community to help our kids interact well together. That usually happens between really good friends and family, and is not something you will find in every interaction that you have with other people’s kids. In general, our children need to know that they can say “no” to unsafe people and unsafe situations.
Insisting that we have to invite everyone to a party sounds good in theory, but it is an inaccurate assumtion to think this is accessible and healthy for every family. I did not realize this until it became a truth for our family.
My son has not had a birthday party in six years. We have not had one because most parents say everyone from the class has to be invited to the party. The last time we invited the whole class to our sons birthday party, I almost lost my mind. It was too many kids and my anxiety disorder could not handle the event. I spent days after his party, completly non-functional, unable to care for my son. Other times we could not have a big party because we were living with my parents and my Mom's illness meant we could not have more than 2-3 kids over, and we could not afford an off-site birthday party, let alone any party for 35 kids. Some families, due to illness or a variety of other reasons, do not have the ability to have a party with 25 kids.
When we promote the idea that everyone needs to be invited, we are teaching all of our kids that worthiness is contingent on how many friends you have. One of the hardest things to learn in life is that our self worth is not contingent on how many parties we get invited to or what crowd we hang out with. This has been important for our son to learn because we have moved around a lot and he has been in many different schools. Sometimes he finds a group of friends, and sometimes he did not fit in with the class at all. This is also good preparation for him for the future. As adults, we do not socially spend time with people we don't have anything in common with, and that is not because we are trying to be mean. We will not be friends with every person at work, in church, or in our book club.
If I show my son that he has a choice in who spends time with, then he learns that other children get that choice as well and he learn to respect boundaries.
I think we have been looking at the issue of being "left out" as two sides of a coin- either you invite everyone, or you are being mean and leaving people out. There is a lot of middle ground in between that. If we help out children navigate that middle ground, we will be preparing them well for the future.